Can Obama beat the Israel lobby?

Henry Siegman writes:

How one gauges the importance or shortcomings of Barack Obama’s comments on the Israel-Palestine conflict in his speech of May 19 depends on how one understands the history of the Middle East peace process. My take on that history has always reminded me of the gallows humor that used to make the rounds in the Soviet Union: Soviet workers pretend to work, and their Kremlin rulers pretend to pay them. So it has been with the peace process: Israeli governments pretend they are seeking a two-state solution, and the United States pretends it believes them—that is, until President Obama’s latest speech on the subject. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The main agency for the promotion of this deception in the United States has been the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), whose legitimacy is based on the pretense that it speaks for the American Jewish community. It does not, for the lobby’s commitment is to Israeli governments of a certain right-wing cast.

AIPAC went into virtual hibernation during the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the 1990s because he disliked its politics and the notion that an Israeli prime minister needs AIPAC’s intercession to communicate with the US administration. The chemistry between them was so bad that Rabin encouraged the formation of a new American support group, the Israel Policy Forum.

It is not widely known that in 1988 the three major US Jewish “defense” organizations—the American Jewish Committee, the American Jewish Congress and the Anti-Defamation League—joined in a public challenge to AIPAC (as well as to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations), charging that the policies it advocates do not always represent the views of the American Jewish community. I am familiar with the episode because I served on the executive committee of AIPAC for nearly thirty years—from 1965 to 1994—while heading the Synagogue Council of America and then the American Jewish Congress. As the New York Times reported at the time, the challenge was “politically significant because it suggests that American Jewish opinion is more diverse and, on some issues, less hard-line than the picture presented by AIPAC, which is viewed by Congress and the Administration as an authoritative spokesman for American Jews.” AIPAC managed to neutralize the challenge by promising deeper consultation with the three organizations, which of course it never did.

Today, AIPAC gives full and unqualified support to an Israeli government most of whose members deeply oppose a two-state solution. The lip service that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, pay to such an accord is a cover for their government’s overriding goal of foiling one. In fact, it is a goal that Israeli governments have pursued since 1967, when the Palestinian territories came under Israel’s control. As Aluf Benn of Haaretz noted this April:

Israeli foreign policy has, for the past 44 years, strived to prevent another repetition of this scenario [Israel’s withdrawals from territory beyond its legitimate borders, forced first by President Truman and then by President Eisenhower] through a combination of intransigence and a surrender of territories considered less vital (Sinai, Gaza, the West Bank cities, South Lebanon), in order to keep the major prizes (East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights).

Most members of Netanyahu’s government do not hide their opposition to Palestinian statehood, and they openly advocate Israel’s permanent retention of the occupied territories. Danny Danon, a Likud member and deputy speaker of the Knesset, published an op-ed in the New York Times the day before Netanyahu met with President Obama at the White House, calling on Netanyahu “to rectify the mistake we made in 1967 by failing to annex all of the West Bank.”

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5 thoughts on “Can Obama beat the Israel lobby?

  1. Norman

    Interesting that Canada is doing the heavy lifting here. But then, all things considered, this is a financial group, is it not? Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know who controls the cash in the World, now does it! Of course not, so then it stands to reason that the G-8 members will grovel at the feet, just as the U.S. Congress did as well. A sad day indeed, when a small country can dictate how the Western world will support the aims of the few, who in my mind have become the equivalent here in the 21st Century, of the same one of the 1st 1/2 of the 20th Century, the ones that the world are reminded of every year, less they forget.

  2. MB

    Here’s Gilad Atzmon’s view on AIPAC.

    Netanyahu’s successful speech before the American joint houses was an extravaganza of Jewish power: there can be little doubt that as far as American elected politicians are concerned, Benjamin Netanyahu actually appears to be far more popular than even the American president himself.

    Yet, you may want to ask yourself — are Netanyahu and the Jewish State really popular amongst the American people? Do the American people approve of their elected politicians being AIPAC’s puppets? Are the American congressmen and senators serving American interests by aligning themselves so subserviently to AIPAC’s goals — or are they increasingly being subjected to pressure from a foreign state’s lobby?

    It is all becoming pretty much like watching the way power operates in a totalitarian regime: American politicians are submissively obeying ‘the call of Zion’ as they stand up and applaud Netanyahu at all the ‘right moments.’ And they clearly realise, all too well, that failing to do so would mean immediate political annihilation.

    The Israeli and Jewish press were very impressed with Netanyahu’s success in Washington. But, what we saw in Washington may well turn out to be bad news for Israel and American Jewry: the endless trail of Jewish collective tragedies is there to teach us that Jews always pay eventually ( and heavily ) for Jewish power exercises. Yet, surprisingly ( and tragically ) enough, Jews somehow consistently fail to internalise and learn from that very lesson.

    Sadly enough, every form of Jewish political gathering is, unfortunately, an exercise in Jewish power — whether in the American Senate, or even within the Palestinian Solidarity movement.

There is a devastating pattern that can be observed here, that some Jews seem to follow — they push relentlessly towards an aim or goal that they interpret as a ‘collective Jewish interest’ — and again and again, for some unknown reason, they repeatedly fail to notice potential ‘hazard lights’, consistently misinterpreting tolerance as the ‘Goyim’s stupidity’.

    And as we have seen in history, repeatedly, Jewish collective tragedies always follow a pattern that begins with such rich tales of golden ages of assimilation within the corridors of power . One need only look at Spain, Eastern Europe and Germany, and these are just a few examples of such repeated patterns.

    The grave failure of America’s leading political institutions to confront AIPAC could very easily turn into a gigantic tidal wave of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish feelings. If the Jewish Lobby in America were at all responsible, it would be aware of the possibility of such an adverse reaction — but it is obsessed with its own success. The United States seems to lack the political will and know-how to restrain AIPAC, and the meaning , implications and results of it all may very well turn out to be devastating.

    I guess that the answer to AIPAC is not yet another J-Street lobby, attempting to buy the very few remaining unaffiliated American politicians.

I’d like to urgently suggest here, that ‘hands off international politics’ should be the immediate Jewish call to their relentless lobbies.

    But I know very well that is not going to happen.

  3. delia ruhe

    Yes, MB, Gilad Atzmon certainly knows his Jewish history — a history of hubris. When I teach this stuff my students pick up on it too. It’s as if the Jewish community cannot resist reenacting the story told in the Hebrew Bible. That story is a tragedy ending in the creation of the Diaspora.

    If you know the work of historian Ian Lustick, you will know that he is not at all confident that Israel will survive. Noting that Israel is the last of the Western colonial projects, he gives Israel a 50/50 chance of ending up like France in Algeria. It is a sobering possibility.

  4. Alice

    But all of that Washington enthusiasm puts me in mind of Biden’s comment more than a year ago e.g. ‘this is getting dangerous…’. and he didn’t mean for Israel, nor do I. If we really have vowed unfaltering allegiance to Israel, we should be worrying about us and our young men and women.

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