The appearance last month of a critical article on the “Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy” in the London Review of Books by Professors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Steven Walt, Academic Dean of the Kennedy Center at Harvard University, two nationally known academic figures with impeccable credentials, propelled into the mainstream an issue that had long been confined to the margins, not only by the efforts of the lobby, itself, but by those on the Left who prefer to view US foreign policy as being determined by corporate elites who are largely unaffected by the agenda of what Noam Chomsky, the foremost proponent of this theory, has described as another “ethnic lobby.”
That the authors squarely placed the blame for US policy in the Middle East and for the war in Iraq on the influence of the Israel Lobby elicited the predictable reactions from both camps. The attack dogs of the lobby, led by Alan Dershowitz and CAMERA, smeared the article -- an abbreviated version of a longer Harvard monograph -- as an updated version of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” based on sources from “Neo-Nazi” web sites and, of course, “anti-Semitic.”
From the left, Prof. Chomsky was not long in providing a subtle dismissal of the paper on ZNet and on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! After a perfunctory sentence praising the two professors for having raised the issue, he writes, “we still have to ask how convincing their thesis is. Not very, in my opinion.” His comments, predictably, were picked up and quoted approvingly in the Jewish and mainstream press. What was surprising to this writer, however, was that the very first attack from the Left came from someone who had himself been victimized by the lobby, Prof. Joseph Massad, of Columbia University.
Three years ago, Massad was the target of The David Project, a relatively new entrant to the lobby's ranks, which conducted a witch hunt against him based on statements he allegedly made to Jewish students and for allegedly creating an uncomfortable atmosphere in his classroom for Jewish students, none of which could be substantiated.
Massad’s article, “Blaming the Lobby,” first appeared in the March 23-29 issue of Al-Ahram, the English-language Egyptian weekly, and was subsequently posted on CounterPunch. What was disturbing was not only Massad’s rush to the lobby’s defense, but that he failed to respond to the points raised by Mearsheimer and Walt and provided, instead, what could best be described as a legal brief for the Chomsky position. For those unfamiliar with the subject and details of the Mearsheimer-Walt paper, it was, no doubt, very convincing.
It was for this reason that, rather than write a general response, I decided to examine and refute his article, point by point. (Excerpts from Massad's article are in block quotes, followed by my responses)
Joseph Massad: In the last 25 years, many Palestinians and other Arabs, in the United States and in the Arab world, have been so awed by the power of the US pro-Israel lobby that any study, book, or journalistic article that exposes the inner workings, the substantial influence, and the financial and political power of this lobby have been greeted with ecstatic sighs of relief that Americans finally can see the “truth” and the “error” of their ways.
Jeff Blankfort: There have, in fact, been very few books or articles in either the mainstream or alternative media that have attempted to expose the inner workings of the Israel lobby and when they have appeared they have largely been ignored by the US Left. When they have been mentioned, it has been largely to refute them. Moreover, the issue is never on the agenda in pro-Palestinian conferences or mentioned at any of the anti-war rallies that call for an end to Israeli occupation.
The underlying argument has been simple and has been told time and again by Washington's regime allies in the Arab world, pro-US liberal and Arab intellectuals, conservative and liberal US intellectuals and former politicians, and even leftist Arab and American activists who support Palestinian rights, namely, that absent the pro- Israel lobby, America would at worst no longer contribute to the oppression of Arabs and Palestinians and at best it would be the Arabs' and the Palestinians' best ally and friend.
Here Massad disingenuously conflates Washington's corrupt allies in the Arab world with those of who have made serious, factual criticisms of the role that the Israel Lobby has played in influencing America's Middle East policies. None of the latter have advanced the notion that without the lobby, America might, at best, be the “the Arabs' and the Palestinians' best ally and friend.” While this might be the position held by a few former members of the Foreign Service, it has never been advanced by the lobby’s Left critics. They have no illusions about the evils of US imperialism that have and will continue to exist, irrespective of the lobby, although the lobby has been useful in pushing the US political agenda elsewhere.
What makes this argument persuasive and effective to Arabs? Indeed, why are its claims constantly brandished by Washington's Arab friends to Arab and American audiences as a persuasive argument? I contend that the attraction of this argument is that it exonerates the United States' government from all the responsibility and guilt that it deserves for its policies in the Arab world and gives false hope to many Arabs and Palestinians who wish America would be on their side instead of on the side of their enemies.
Again, Massad creates a straw man by falling back on Washington’s Arab friends to set the basis for discrediting Mearsheimer and Walt. There are those, including this writer, who are both long time opponents of US imperial policies, in general, and serious critics of the Israel Lobby and who in no manner exonerate the US from the responsibility for its actions. The latter seem non-existent in Massad’s viewpoint.
Let me start with the premise of the argument, namely its effect of shifting the blame for US policies from the United States onto Israel and its US lobby. According to this logic, it is not the United States that should be held directly responsible for all its imperial policies in the Arab world and the Middle East at large since World War II, rather it is Israel and its lobby who have pushed it to launch policies that are detrimental to its own national interest and are only beneficial to Israel.
The authors are not absolving the US of its own responsibilities but trying to explain how US Middle East policies came to be formed. They are not saying that without the interference of Israel and the Israel Lobby that the US would not pursue its imperial interest in the Arab world, but that it would do so without generating the problems that US support for Israel has engendered and which have been so costly in lives and money.
Establishing and supporting Arab and other Middle East dictatorships, arming and training their militaries, setting up their secret police apparatuses and training them in effective torture methods and counter-insurgency to be used against their own citizens should be blamed, according to the logic of these studies, on Israel and its US lobby.
Again, Massad is creating a straw man. The authors are not blaming the entirety of US policies on either Israel or its lobby, but dealing with specific issues in which US support for Israel has had negative effects on the region and US relations in the region.
Blocking all international and UN support for Palestinian rights, arming and financing Israel in its war against a civilian population, protecting Israel from the wrath of the international community should also be blamed not on the United States, the studies insist, but on Israel and its lobby.
The authors are essentially correct. Every US president since Richard Nixon, with the Rogers Plan in 1969, has made an effort to get Israel to withdraw from the territories it occupied in 1967, not out of any love for the Palestinians, but because Israel’s continuing occupation of those lands, from the Sinai to the Golan Heights, was creating unnecessary problems in a region where maintaining stability of the regions’ oil resources was and remains a necessity. Every one of those plans was undermined by the lobby.
In 1975, Gerald Ford, upset because Israel was refusing to disengage from areas it had taken in the Sinai during the 1973 war, halted aid to Israel and publicly let it be known that he was going to make a major speech that would call for a downsizing of US-Israel relations and demanding that Israel to return to its 1967 borders. Within three weeks, AIPAC presented Ford with a letter signed by 76 senators, from liberal Democrats to extreme right wing Republicans, warning him not to take any steps that would jeopardize Israel’s security. Ford did not make the speech.
His successor, Jimmy Carter, was repeatedly in conflict with both Israel and the lobby. Neither wanted the Camp David treaty but Carter doggedly pushed it through, although it required a multi-billion dollar bribe to get Begin’s signature. In 1978, before the treaty went into effect, Begin invaded Lebanon, hoping, some speculated, that Egypt would react and the treaty would be nullified since Israel did not want to give up the Sinai. Carter further angered Israel and the lobby by demanding that Begin withdraw Israeli troops from Lebanon three months later.
When he told Begin, publicly, to halt settlement building, the Israeli prime minister responded by announcing the start of 10 new settlements while the lobby criticized Carter for bringing up the subject. When UN Ambassador Andrew Young violated an Israeli demand and a lobby-enforced rule that prohibited US officials from meeting with the PLO, (much like the lobby imposed rule about US officials meeting with Hamas officials today), he was forced to resign. When Carter, like Ford, was considering giving a televised speech in 1979 in which he planned to outline the divergence of interests between the US and Israel and denounce Israeli intransigence on the Palestinian issue, he was warned by the lobby, as one Jewish leader put it, that he would be the first president to “risk opening the gates of anti-Semitism in America.” Carter decided not to give the speech.
Massad raises the issue of UN votes. There was an exception to all those US vetoes and it came during the Carter administration. In March 1980, Young’s successor, Donald McHenry, also an African-American, voted to censure Israel for its settlement policy, including Jerusalem. The lobby was outraged and Carter was forced to apologize. The last straw for the lobby was when Carter called for an international conference in Geneva to settle the Israel-Palestine question that would include the Soviet Union. It didn’t matter that he was forced to apologize for that, too. In 1980, he received 48% of the Jewish vote, the poorest showing of any Democrat since they began counting such things.
When Israel invaded Lebanon in June 1982, both houses of Congress roared their approval, it being, after all, an election year. When the reports of the siege of Beirut were becoming too much to ignore, Reagan asked Sharon to call a halt. Sharon’s response was to bomb the city at 2:42 and 3:38 the next afternoon, those hours, coincidentally, being the numbers of the two UN resolutions calling on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. When Reagan, like Carter, also publicly called on Begin to halt settlement building, the Israeli prime minister announced the building of new settlements and sent the president a “Dear Ronnie,” letter letting him know who was making those decisions.
In Reagan’s second term, he, too, tried to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict with what came to be known as the Shultz Plan, named after his Secretary of State, George Shultz. It called for an international conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who had replaced Begin, was having none of it. One cartoon of the day depicted Shamir sitting in a chair, cutting up pieces of paper while Reagan and Shultz looked on. “How cute,” said Reagan, “he's cutting up paper dolls.” “Those aren’t paper dolls,” responded Shultz. “That’s our peace plan.” Another showed Reagan and Shamir sitting in armchairs across from one another with Shamir holding a smoking gun in his hand while a dove falls from the sky. Reagan says, “You didn’t have to do that.” Shamir’s intransigence finally provoked 30 senators, including some of Israel’s biggest supporters, into sending him a letter asking him to be more cooperative. They were hardly prepared for the firestorm from the lobby that followed that sent each of them stumbling to apologize. The Shultz Plan was effectively dead.
When George H. W. Bush succeeded Reagan, he made it clear that he wanted a halt to the settlements and for Israel to get out of the OT, as well. He arranged for the Madrid Peace Conference over the objections of the obstinate Shamir, making concessions as to the composition of the Palestinian delegation to appease both Israel and the lobby. Was this conference, like the one called for by Carter, like the one planned by Reagan just a charade? Before the conference took place, Shamir asked the US for $10 billion in loan guarantees. Bush made compliance with that request contingent on Israel agreeing to halt all settlement building, its agreement not to settle any Russian immigrants in the West Bank, and to wait 120 days, to see if the first two requests had been complied with. An enraged Shamir decided to go over his head to the lobby-controlled Congress.
After receiving a letter signed by 242 members of Congress urging the swift passage of the loan guarantees, Bush realized that the Lobby had enough votes to override his threatened veto of the request. This led him to take the unprecedented step of calling a national press conference on the day when an estimated thousand Jewish lobbyists were on Capitol Hill pushing for a swift passage of Israel’s request. In the press conference, Bush denounced the arrogance of the lobby and told the American people how much aid each Israeli man, woman and child was getting from the US Treasury. The polls the next day showed that 85% of the American public was with him and a month and a half later only 44% of the public supported giving any aid to Israel at all while over 70% supported giving aid to the former Soviet Union.
AIPAC, in the face of Bush’s attack, pulled back, but then launched a steady attack against him which began to be reflected in the US media where even old friends like the NY Times columnist William Safire would eventually desert him for Bill Clinton. Under tremendous pressure and with the election approaching, Bush finally consented to the loan guarantees, but it was too late. The Lobby blamed him for Shamir having been defeated by Rabin and his goose was cooked.
Additionally, and in line with this logic, controlling Arab economies and finances, dominating key investments in the Middle East, and imposing structural adjustment policies by the IMF and the World Bank which impoverish the Arab peoples should also be blamed on Israel, and not the United States.
It would be curious to know what Arab economies the US actually controls. Massad doesn’t say. He is again being disingenuous, however, refusing to refute what Mearsheimer and Walt actually wrote, but accusing them of making allegations that have little or nothing to do with the Israel-Palestine issue or the Iraq war. It is no secret, however, that pro-Israel Jewish neocons have been heavily involved in creating the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank and the IMF. Indeed, Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Gulf War, is now the head of the World Bank.
Finally, starving and then invading Iraq, threatening to invade Syria, raiding and then sanctioning Libya and Iran, besieging the Palestinians and their leaders must also be blamed on the Israeli lobby and not the US government.
One must ask, where has Prof. Massad been? While it was not well known, but no secret, that the Lobby played a key role in getting the votes for the first Gulf War, the reporting of which resulted in the firing of the Washington Jewish Week’s Larry Cohler at the behest of AIPAC inductee Steve Rosen, the orchestration of the current war by a handful of Jewish Likud-connected neocons with the support of the Israel Lobby was widely reported in the mainstream press. If there was a question as to who was the chief architect, it was a choice between Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, and Scooter Libby.
Massad must certainly be familiar with the “Clean Break” paper that Perle, Feith, and Meyrav Wurmser, wrote for Netanyahu in 1996, calling for the overthrow of Iraq, Syria and Iran, which Mearsheimer and Walt mention. Is he not also familiar with the “Project for a New American Century,” another document drawn up by pro-Israel Jewish neocons? Not familiar with the Office of Special Plans, set up by Feith and run by another Jewish neocon, Abe Shulsky, which was directed to provide the phony intelligence that would justify the invasion when the CIA staff was not prepared to do it. Is he not familiar with the admission by Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9-11 commission, who admitted that the war in Iraq was for “the security of Israel”: but that would have been a “hard sell” to the American people? And, as for implementing and maintaining the sanctions, the advocacy of the lobby was equally evident.
Indeed, over the years, many pro-US Arab dictators let it leak officially and unofficially that their US diplomat friends have told them time and again how much they and "America" support the Arab world and the Palestinians were it not for the influence of the pro-Israel lobby (sometimes identified by the American diplomats in more explicit "ethnic" terms).
Those diplomats probably telling the truth as they saw it as statements many have made, after leaving the Foreign Service, attest. As far as using ethnic terms, in Israel they refer to it as “the Jewish Lobby.” Is that what he means? Does that imply if a non-Jew uses the term it is “anti-Semitic?”
While many of the studies of the pro-Israel lobby are sound and full of awe-inspiring well-documented details about the formidable power commanded by groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and its allies, the problem with most of them is what remains unarticulated. For example, when and in what context has the United States government ever supported national liberation in the Third World? The record of the United States is one of being the implacable enemy of all Third World national liberation groups, including European ones, from Greece to Latin America to Africa and Asia, except in the celebrated cases of the Afghan fundamentalists' war against the USSR and supporting apartheid South Africa's main terrorist allies in Angola and Mozambique (UNITA and RENAMO) against their respective anti-colonial national governments. Why then would the US support national liberation in the Arab world absent the pro-Israel lobby is something these studies never explain.
Yet another straw man. It is not a question of supporting a national liberation struggle but determining overall policy for the region, in general. It should have been clear that a Palestinian mini-state run by Yasser Arafat or any of his cronies would have been no threat to the US at all, in fact, it would have been useful since its reactionary policies would have had a crushing effect not only on the Palestinians themselves, but on those peoples in the Middle East and around the world that have supported the Palestinian struggle for so many years. Moreover, it would have been economically dependent on both Israel and the surrounding reactionary Arab states.
It was clear that the US intended to use the mini-state for its own reasons when it built a four-story PA security office in Ramallah, that Sharon had destroyed during the Al-Aksa Intifada, and brought PA security forces to CIA headquarters in Langely, Virginia for training -- many of whom were also assassinated by Israeli forces in the early days of that Intifada. Sharon clearly didn’t want a sibling rival that might prove useful to the US.
The United States has had a consistent policy since World War II of fighting all regimes across the Third World that insist on controlling their national resources, whether it be land, oil, or other valuable minerals. This extends from Iran in 1953 to Guatemala in 1954 to the rest of Latin America all the way to present-day Venezuela.
The US has made a modus vivendi with the major sources of oil globally without requiring an armed takeover until the present war. The Palestinians, having none such resources would, at best, regain their water aquifers that are presently controlled by Israel but in which the US has no direct interest, so this argument of Massad’s is irrelevant. Moreover, the Palestinian situation is unique among liberation struggles in that its “leadership” under Arafat and until Hamas’s victory, rather than fighting the US, has eagerly sought its embrace.
Africa has fared much worse in the last four decades, as have many countries in Asia. Why would the United States support nationalist regimes in the Arab world who would nationalize natural resources and stop their pillage by American capital absent the pro-Israel lobby also remains a mystery unexplained by these studies. Finally, the United States government has opposed and overthrown or tried to overthrow any regime that seeks real and tangible independence in the Third World and is especially galled by those regimes that pursue such policies through democratic elections.
The overthrow of regimes from Arbenz to Goulart to Mossadegh and Allende and the ongoing attempts to overthrow Chavez are prominent examples, as is the overthrow of nationalist regimes like Sukarno's and Nkrumah's. The terror unleashed on populations who challenged the US-installed friendly regimes from El Salvador and Nicaragua to Zaire to Chile and Indonesia resulted in the killing of hundreds of thousands, if not millions by repressive police and militaries trained for these important tasks by the US. This is aside from direct US invasions of South East Asian and Central American countries that killed untold millions for decades.
Why would the US and its repressive agencies stop invading Arab countries, or stop supporting the repressive police forces of dictatorial Arab regimes and why would the US stop setting up shadow governments inside its embassies in Arab capitals to run these countries' affairs (in some cases the US shadow government runs the Arab country in question down to the smallest detail with the Arab government in question reduced to executing orders) if the pro-Israel lobby did not exist is never broached by these studies let alone explained.
Massad presents a long history of US depredations of the Third World countries that has no relevance to this issue. Mearsheimer and Walt do not state or imply that, absent the Israel Lobby, the US would support nationalist regimes in the region. In 1958, Pres. Eisenhower sent the Marines to Lebanon to prevent what was thought to be a radical nationalist move against the status quo, but the US has only invaded Arab countries twice, Kuwait in 1991, to oust the Iraqis and in 2003. As pointed out earlier, the first required the assistance of the Israel lobby capped by the phony incubator story that was orchestrated by Rep. Tom Lantos, an author or co-sponsor of numerous Iraqi and Syria sanction bills and anti-Palestinian legislation. (According to the Jerusalem Post, Lantos represents Israel in countries where it has no diplomatic recognition.)
Israel and the lobby had anticipated that the Senior Bush would remove Saddam as called for in the Clean Break and when he didn’t they started criticizing him and planning for a future administration that would do the job and the record on that is very clear. AIPAC took credit for writing the anti-Syrian legislation that led to the withdrawal from Lebanon of the relatively small number of Syrian forces that were in the country and more recently the Lobby has been the only sector of US society actively calling for what is unmistakably an armed confrontation with Iran.
The arguments put forth by these studies would have been more convincing if the Israel lobby was forcing the United States government to pursue policies in the Middle East that are inconsistent with its global policies elsewhere. This, however, is far from what happens. While US policies in the Middle East may often be an exaggerated form of its repressive and anti- democratic policies elsewhere in the world, they are not inconsistent with them. One could easily make the case that the strength of the pro-Israel lobby is what accounts for this exaggeration, but even this contention is not entirely persuasive.
From the end of the Vietnam War to the beginning of the first Gulf War, the profits of the weapons industry continued to soar, proving that an actual shooting war was not necessary for the arms manufacturers to make windfall profits or the capitalist system to survive. Given that both US political parties are committed to what is euphemistically called “national defense,” there is no debate in Congress over the size of the military budget. Consequently, except for the Middle East, what the US has sought politically has been stability, the kind of stability that provides a ready source of raw materials and an outlet for US products. Those products include, of course, US weaponry, some of which may be used to quiet domestic rebellions, and some, like fighter jets, for national pride and kickbacks on both sides. It is only in the Middle East where a stable environment is required to maintain the oil that fuels much of the world’s economy, including our own, where there is continued instability, and that is what both Mearsheimer and Walt correctly contend is the fault of Israel and the Israel Lobby.
One could argue (and I have argued elsewhere) that it is in fact the very centrality of Israel to US strategy in the Middle East that accounts, in part, for the strength of the pro-Israel lobby and not the other way around. Indeed, many of the recent studies highlight the role of pro-Likud members of the Bush administration (or even of the Clinton administration) as evidence of the lobby's awesome power, when, it could be easily argued that it is these American politicians who had pushed Likud and Labour into more intransigence in the 1990s and are pushing them towards more conquest now that they are at the helm of the US government. This is not to say, however, that the leaders of the pro-Israel lobby do not regularly brag about their crucial influence on US policy in Congress and in the White House. That they have done regularly since the late 1970s. But the lobby is powerful in the United States because its major claims are about advancing US interests and its support for Israel is contextualized in its support for the overall US strategy in the Middle East.
Here, Massad seems to be placing the blame for Israel’s intransigence on the Lobby while denying its effect on US policy, a curious turn of thinking. Massad refers to what he has written elsewhere about the “centrality” of Israel to US Middle East strategy but it is sorely missed in this article when such an explanation is required to refute Mearsheimer and Walt. It would be more useful than reciting the well known history of US imperialism elsewhere that has little bearing on this dispute. He owes it to Mearsheimer and Walt as well as the reader to describe what he believes to be “overall US strategy in the Middle East” and how Israel serves it, to the extent that justifies the billions of aid and political cover in the international arena.
The pro-Israel lobby plays the same role that the China lobby played in the 1950s and the Cuba lobby still plays to this day. The fact that it is more powerful than any other foreign lobby on Capitol Hill testifies to the importance of Israel in US strategy and not to some fantastical power that the lobby commands independent of and extraneous to the US "national interest." The pro-Israel lobby could not sell its message and would not have any influence if Israel was a communist or anti-imperialist country or if Israel opposed US policy elsewhere in the world.
Comparing the Israel Lobby to the old China Lobby is like comparing the NY Yankees, when they are winning, to a semi-pro team. The China lobby did not have several dozen Chinese members of Congress, hundreds of organizations and thousands of religious institutions and billions of dollars in political contributions behind it. It did not own or control any section of the US media or was there, outside of the handful of the nations’ Chinatowns and the John Birch Society, an army of grassroots activists. The Cuba lobby which is, in fact, more properly called the anti-Cuba lobby, not coincidentally, has a strong working relationship with AIPAC for their mutual benefit, but it doesn’t begin to compare with the Israel Lobby’s power although it has seen to it that Florida will stay in the Republican column. Of course, if Israel was a communist or anti-imperialist country, the Jews in the US would no doubt be like the anti-Castro Cubans, calling on the US to liberate it.
Some would argue that even though Israel attempts to overlap its interests with those of the US, that its lobby is misleading American policy- makers and shifting their position from one of objective assessment of what is truly in America's best interest and that of Israel's. The argument runs as follows: US support for Israel causes groups who oppose Israel to hate the US and target it for attacks. It also costs the US friendly media coverage in the Arab world, affects its investment potential in Arab countries, and loses its important allies in the region, or at least weakens these allies. But none of this is true. The United States has been able to be Israel's biggest backer and financier, its staunchest defender and weapon-supplier while maintaining strategic alliances with most if not all Arab dictatorships, including the Palestinian Authority under both Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas. Moreover, US companies and American investments have the largest presence across the Arab world, most prominently but not exclusively in the oil sector.
US support for Israel does not target it for attacks? That would be news to the families of the marines, soldiers and sailors killed in the bombing of the marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, as well as American diplomats who have been targeted in the region over the years. Had Israel not invaded Lebanon, these American servicemen killed in their barracks might still be alive, as well the members of the CIA who were wiped out in an earlier bombing of the US embassy in Beirut. Furthermore, without getting into the serious questions that remain unanswered about the 9-11 attack, it has been accepted by those who believe the official narrative that US support for Israel was one of the reasons behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. If the authors and others, including this writer have argued are correct, a significant portion of the responsibility for the dead and wounded on both sides in Iraq can be laid at the feet of Israel and the Israel Lobby, but the latter, in particular.
It is difficult to measure the effect on investment potential and sales of American products in Middle Eastern markets, but to say that it isn’t “true” that it would increase if the US was not supporting Israel is hardly realistic.
Also, even without the pathetic and ineffective efforts at US propaganda in the guise of the television station Al-Hurra, or Radio Sawa and the now-defunct Hi magazine, not to mention US-paid journalists and newspapers in Iraq and elsewhere, a whole army of Arabic newspapers and state-television stations, not to mention myriad satellite television stations celebrate the US and its culture, broadcast American programs, and attempt to sell the US point of view as effectively as possible encumbered only by the limitations that actual US policies in the region place on common sense. Even the offending Al-Jazeera has bent over backwards to accommodate the US point of view but is constantly undercut by actual US policies in the region. Al-Jazeera, under tremendous pressure and threats of bombing from the United States, has for example stopped referring to the US occupation forces in Iraq as "occupation forces" and now refers to them as "coalition forces." Moreover, since when has the US sought to win a popularity contest among the peoples of the world? Arabs no more hate or love the United States than do Latin Americans, Africans, Asians, or even and especially Europeans.
The US, as a country, is not loved or well liked anywhere except, perhaps, Israel. Much depends, of course, on an individual’s political consciousness, but most of the peoples of the world have had a love-hate relationship with the US, despising its policies but colonized by its materialism. The war on Iraq and the US voters’ re-election of Bush have put more weight in the “hate” column, and in Latin America, Bush has proved to be the most unpopular US president since they started taking polls. It is not unlikely that as the war continues and the US continues to make threats against Iran, again pressured by the Lobby, the degree of antagonism towards the US and US products is certain to increase.
Finally we come to the financial argument, namely that the US gives an inordinate amount of money to Israel -- too exorbitant a cost that is out of proportion to what the US gets in return. In fact, the United States spends much more on its military bases in the Arab world, not to mention on those in Europe or Asia, than it does on Israel. Israel has indeed been very effective in rendering services to its US master for a good price, whether in channeling illegal arms to central American dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s, helping pariah regimes like Taiwan and apartheid South Africa in the same period, supporting pro-US, including Fascist, groups inside the Arab world to undermine nationalist Arab regimes, from Lebanon to Iraq to Sudan, coming to the aid of conservative pro-US Arab regimes when threatened as it did in Jordan in 1970, and attacking Arab nationalist regimes outright as it did in 1967 with Egypt and Syria and in 1981 with Iraq when it destroyed that country's nuclear reactor. While the US had been able to overthrow Sukarno and Nkrumah in bloody coups, Nasser remained entrenched until Israel effectively neutralized him in the 1967 War. It is thanks to this major service that the United States increased its support to Israel exponentially.
Here, Massad seems to be channeling Noam Chomsky. Israel has never seen the US as its master. Not a single Israeli soldier has shed a drop of blood for US interests and as Ariel Sharon said on Israeli army radio several years ago, the US knows that no Israeli soldier ever will. At the time of Israel’s attack on Egypt in 1967, France was the major arms supplier and the certain sectors of the US government were engaged with members of Egypt’s military. To describe the defeat of Nasser as a service done by Israel for the benefit of the US, which the term, “service,” clearly implies, may be convenient for Chomsky and Massad but it is a both an oversimplification as well as a distortion of history. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1973 war, when Israel, under attack by Egypt and Syria, threatened to use its nuclear weapons unless the US came through with a massive conventional arms airlift, that US support for Israel really took off. So did the oil prices as an Arab oil boycott was implemented in response. Was the very real threat of a nuclear war, which would have brought in the Soviet Union, in the US interest? Was the Arab oil embargo?
Israel’s arms sales in Latin America and South Africa were done to benefit Israel’s arms industry and that they were useful to the US was a secondary factor. What the Lobby was able to do was keep members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including the notable Ron Dellums, from publicly condemning Israel’s arms sales to South Africa in violation of international sanctions, and to silence those members of Congress who were quick to condemn US actions in Central America but afraid to do so when Israel was the malefactor. That fear is no less prevalent in Congress today where any member can get up to criticize George Bush but none dare say a negative word about the Israeli prime minister, irrespective of who holds that office.
Israel’s role in the Jordanian-Palestinian conflict in 1970 is always raised by those who argue for Israel’s usefulness. We are told that Israel was acting at the behest of the US when it threatened to intervene if Syrian tanks moved south to defend the Palestinians under attack by Jordan’s King Hussein and that this prevented the possible overthrow of the US-friendly Hashemite regime. This fits neatly fits into the client state scenario, except it is missing a key element. What was crucial in that situation was the refusal of Hafez Al-Assad, then head of the Syrian air force, and not a supporter of the PLO, to back up the Syrian tank force that had entered Northern Jordan. Shortly thereafter, Al-Assad staged a coup against the pro-Palestinian president Atassi and proceeded to throw hundreds of Palestinians and pro-Palestinian Syrians in prison and break up the radical Syrian-supported militia group, Al-Saika This bit of history has apparently now been written out of history.
Moreover, Israel neutralized the PLO in 1982, no small service to many Arab regimes and their US patron who could not fully control the organization until then.
It was appreciated in the beginning by many Lebanese, particularly in the south who found some elements of the PLO heavy-handed and were tired of having a liberation war fought on their soil, until they began to experience Israeli occupation for themselves and began to resist. The Israeli attack violated an 11-month cease-fire that had been negotiated by Ambassador Philip Habib and to which the PLO had strictly adhered. The Senior Bush, then vice-president, opposed the Israeli invasion and wanted Israel to be censured and was overruled by Reagan and Alexander Haig. A year before Bush Sr. was angered by Israel’s attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor and wanted Israel censured at that time, but was again overruled.
None of the American military bases on which many more billions are spent can claim such a stellar record.
A stellar record? What Massad has done here is only distinguishable from an AIPAC press release justifying increasing US aid by its criticism of US imperialism but hardly by its tone. He has avoided dealing with most of the specifics that Mearsheimer and Walt raise by simply repeating what Chomsky has written in a dozen or so books and hundreds of speeches and articles with little evidence to back it up.
Critics argue that when the US had to intervene in the Gulf, it could not rely on Israel to do the job because of the sensitivity of including it in such a coalition which would embarrass Arab allies, hence the need for direct US intervention and the uselessness of Israel as a strategic ally. While this may be true, the US also could not rely on any of its military bases to launch the invasions on their own and had to ship in its army. American bases in the Gulf did provide important and needed support but so did Israel.
Israel did provide training to US troops on the techniques used to occupy and repress a hostile Arab population, only too pleased to have the US join it as the only foreign occupier of Arab soil which I believe was one of the reasons the Israeli government (as well as the lobby) wanted the US to invade Iraq. With the US taking the same kind of harsh measures to repress the Iraqis, it would be less likely to complain about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and this has proved to be the case. Israel has been called by Chomsky America’s “cop on the beat” in the Middle East, but when military intervention has been thought necessary it has always been American soldiers that have done the fighting. In fact, US soldiers were sent to Israel during the first Gulf War to operate the Patriot missile batteries to defend the Israelis.
AIPAC is indeed powerful insofar as it pushes for policies that accord with US interests and that are resonant with the reigning US imperial ideology. The power of the pro-Israel lobby, whether in Congress or on campuses among university administrators, or policy-makers is not based solely on their organizational skills or ideological uniformity. In no small measure, anti- Semitic attitudes in Congress (and among university administrators) play a role in believing the lobby's (and its enemies') exaggerated claims about its actual power, resulting in their towing the line. But even if this were true, one could argue, it would not matter whether the lobby has real or imagined power. For as long as Congress and policy-makers (and university administrators) believe it does, it will remain effective and powerful. I of course concede this point.
So it is “anti-Semitic” to believe the lobby’s claims about its power? What an extraordinary statement. What would he call those who say the lobby is lying? It is quite clear that the professor is treading on very shaky grounds here. He has obviously not studied his history and what has befallen those politicians who have challenged the lobby and were subsequently targeted and defeated beginning with Sen. J William Fulbright who in the early 60s sought to restrict the lobby’s growing power. There are several books written by both supporters of the lobby and its critics that clearly demonstrate its influence as well as the tales of former members of Congress who were its victims. What is distressing, as this statement indicates, is that Massad has obviously not read the available literature on the subject and yet he believes he is qualified to criticize Mearsheimer and Walt’s paper without having done so.
What then would have been different in US policy in the Middle East absent Israel and its powerful lobby? The answer in short is: the details and intensity but not the direction, content, or impact of such policies.
Absent Israel and hence the lobby one can’t begin to speculate. To raise the question is just a distraction.
Is the pro-Israel lobby extremely powerful in the United States? As someone who has been facing the full brunt of their power for the last three years through their formidable influence on my own university and their attempts to get me fired, I answer with a resounding yes. Are they primarily responsible for policies towards the Palestinians and the Arab world? Absolutely not.
The full brunt of their power? A great deal, admittedly, but hardly the full brunt, which he would realize if he had made an effort to familiarize himself with the lobby’s history. But again, Prof. Massad offers no reason why the US could not support a truncated Palestinian state and why the US supports Israel’s maintaining the occupied territories despite the efforts of every president from Nixon to Clinton to get Israel to give them up.
The United States is opposed in the Arab world as elsewhere because it has pursued and continues to pursue policies that are inimical to the interests of most people in these countries and are only beneficial to its own interests and to the minority regimes in the region that serve those interests, including Israel. Absent these policies, and not the pro-Israel lobby which supports them, the United States should expect a change in its standing among Arabs. Short of that, the United States will have to continue its policies in the region that have wreaked, and continue to wreak, havoc on the majority of Arabs and not expect that the Arab people will like it in return.
Every two years, one hears or reads, regarding some issue that deals with Israel, that “the president” or “Congress” “is not likely to act [against Israel] due to domestic political considerations in an election year.” What Mearsheimer and Walt recognize and that Massad fails to acknowledge, is the extent that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a domestic US issue. That the Palestine solidarity movement, of which Prof. Massad is a part, has ignored that fact is a primary reason that to this point in time it has been an utter failure. This should be a source of embarrassment and reflection, but it so far there is no sign of it.
There was another Columbia professor who had a more profound understanding of the situation who is sorely missed and, perhaps, never more so than at this moment. I refer to the late Edward Said. In his contribution to The New Intifada, entitled, appropriately, "America’s Last Taboo," he did not mince words:
What explains this [present] state of affairs? The answer lies in the power of Zionist organizations in American politics, whose role throughout the "peace process" has never been sufficiently addressed -- a neglect that is absolutely astonishing, given the policy of the PLO has been in essence to throw our fate as a people into the lap of the United States, without any strategic awareness of how American policy is dominated by a small minority whose views about the Middle East are in some ways more extreme than those of Likud itself. (Emphasis added)
And on the subject of AIPAC, Said wrote:
[T]he American Israel Public Affairs Committee – AIPAC -- has for years been the most powerful single lobby in Washington. Drawing on a well-organized, well-connected, highly visible and wealthy Jewish population, AIPAC inspires an awed fear and respect across the political spectrum. Who is going to stand up to this Moloch in behalf of the Palestinians, when they can offer nothing, and AIPAC can destroy a professional career at the drop of a checkbook? In the past, one or two members of Congress did resist AIPAC openly, but the many political action committees controlled by AIPAC made sure they were never re-elected... If such is the material of the legislature, what can be expected of the executive?
Although it is trying, the Israel Lobby does not yet control our academics. On the critical issue of the lobby’s power, it is time they stop acting like it does.
Jeffrey Blankfort is former editor of the Middle East Labor Bulletin, long-time photographer, and has written extensively on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
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