Monday, April 20, 2015

Misraelbe With friends like Israel...

    - Foreword -
If I told you that the AARP was the nation's most powerful lobby, you would probably not be surprised.  If I said that the National Rifle Association and Organized Labor were the third or fourth most powerful lobbies, you would likely agree.  But would you be surprised to know that the second most powerful lobby in the U.S. is a lobby that advocates solely for the benefit of another country, often at the expense of our own?  Below is a recent Working Paper courtesy of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government about the Israel Lobby.  Whether you agree with the authors' conclusions or not, as they say in the article, the "facts are not in serious dispute among scholars."
A few of the interesting points from the article (there are many more):
  • The U.S. gives $3 billion annually to Israel, or $500 per Israeli citizen
  • While Israel was an asset in the Cold War, it is now a strategic liability
  • Israel spies on the U.S. more aggressively than any other ally
From Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government's website, what follows are select paragraphs from a 2006 paper by University of Chicago's John Mearsheimer and Harvard University's Stephen Walt.
A rebuttal paper by Israel defender and attorney Alan Dershowitz of O. J. Simpson fame can be found on the same website.  In his 2006 memoir The Best Defense, Dershowitz notes that "Almost all of my clients have been guilty."  Based on the available evidence, we can now count Israel among his [guilty] clients.
Expanding on their paper, Mearsheimer and Walt have published a book, 'The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,' a New York Times Best Seller.  If you'd rather not read the excerpts below, YouTube offers the following video from Berkeley's Conversations With History series featuring both Mearsheimer and Walt.  If the embedded video below fails to display, please search YouTube for Mearsheimer Walt Conversations with History.

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Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing the amounts provided to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct U.S. economic and military assistance since 1976 and the largest total recipient since World War II. Total direct U.S. aid to Israel amounts to well over $140 billion in 2003 dollars. Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one-fifth of America’s foreign aid budget. In per capita terms, the United States gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year. This largesse is especially striking when one realizes that Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to South Korea or Spain.
As discussed below, Washington has given Israel wide latitude in dealing with the occupied territories (the West Bank and Gaza Strip), even when its actions were at odds with stated U.S. policy. Moreover, the Bush Administration’s ambitious strategy to transform the Middle East - beginning with the invasion of Iraq - is at least partly intended to improve Israel’s strategic situation. Apart from wartime alliances, it is hard to think of another instance where one country has provided another with a similar level of material and diplomatic support for such an extended period. America’s support for Israel is, in short, unique.

(London Review of Books - abridged, non-Adobe version)


Saying that Israel and the United States are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: rather, the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around. U.S. support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question, for example, that many al Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden, are motivated by Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. According to the U.S. 9/11 Commission, bin Laden explicitly sought to punish the United States for its policies in the Middle East, including its support for Israel, and he even tried to time the attacks to highlight this issue.
[Another] reason to question Israel’s strategic value is that it does not act like a loyal ally. Israeli officials frequently ignore U.S. requests and renege on promises made to top U.S. leaders (including past pledges to halt settlement construction and to refrain from “targeted assassinations” of Palestinian leaders). Moreover, Israel has provided sensitive U.S. military technology to potential U.S. rivals like China, in what the U.S. State Department Inspector-General called “a systematic and growing pattern of unauthorized transfers.” According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, Israel also “conducts the most aggressive espionage operations against the U.S. of any ally.” In addition to the case of Jonathan Pollard, who gave Israel large quantities of classified material in the early 1980s (which Israel reportedly passed onto the Soviet Union to gain more exit visas for Soviet Jews), a new controversy erupted in 2004 when it was revealed that a key Pentagon official (Larry Franklin) had passed classified information to an Israeli diplomat, allegedly aided by two AIPAC officials. Israel is hardly the only country that spies on the United States, but its willingness to spy on its principal patron casts further doubt on its strategic value.

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The “shared democracy” rationale is also weakened by aspects of Israeli democracy that are at odds with core American values. The United States is a liberal democracy where people of any race, religion, or ethnicity are supposed to enjoy equal rights. By contrast, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this conception of citizenship, it is not surprising that Israel’s 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, or that a recent Israeli government commission found that Israel behaves in a “neglectful and discriminatory” manner towards them.

Similarly, Israel does not permit Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens to become citizens themselves, and does not give these spouses the right to live in Israel. The Israeli human rights organization B’tselem called this restriction “a racist law that determines who can live here according to racist criteria.” Such laws may be understandable given Israel’s founding principles, but they are not consistent with America’s image of democracy.

(London Review of Books - abridged, non-Adobe version)


The explanation lies in the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby. Were it not for the Lobby’s ability to manipulate the American political system, the relationship between Israel and the United States would be far less intimate than it is today.

The core of the Lobby is comprised of American Jews who make a significant effort in their daily lives to bend U.S. foreign policy so that it advances Israel’s interests. Their activities go beyond merely voting for candidates who are pro-Israel to include letter-writing, financial contributions, and supporting pro-Israel organizations. But not all Jewish-Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them. In a 2004 survey, for example, roughly 36 percent of Jewish-Americans said they were either “not very” or “not at all” emotionally attached to Israel.

Jewish-Americans have formed an impressive array of organizations to influence American foreign policy, of which AIPAC is the most powerful and well-known. In 1997, Fortune magazine asked members of Congress and their staffs to list the most powerful lobbies in Washington.  AIPAC was ranked second behind the American Association of Retired People (AARP), but ahead of heavyweight lobbies like the AFL-CIO and the National Rifle Association. A National Journal study in March 2005 reached a similar conclusion, placing AIPAC in second place (tied with AARP) in the Washington’s “muscle rankings.”

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It is not surprising that Israel and its American supporters want the United States to deal with any and all threats to Israel’ security. If their efforts to shape U.S. policy succeed, then Israel’s enemies get weakened or overthrown, Israel gets a free hand with the Palestinians, and the United States does most of the fighting, dying, rebuilding, and paying.
Furthermore, the Lobby’s campaign for regime change in Iran and Syria could lead the United States to attack those countries, with potentially disastrous effects. We do not need another Iraq. At a minimum, the Lobby’s hostility toward these countries makes it especially difficult for Washington to enlist them against al Qaeda and he Iraqi insurgency, where their help is badly needed.
But there is a ray of hope. Although the Lobby remains a powerful force, the adverse effects of its influence are increasingly difficult to hide. Powerful states can maintain flawed policies for quite some time, but reality cannot be ignored forever. What is needed, therefore, is a candid discussion of the Lobby’s influence and a more open debate about U.S. interests in this vital region. Israel’s well-being is one of those interests, but not its continued occupation of the West Bank or its broader regional agenda. Open debate will expose the limits of the strategic and moral case for one-sided U.S. support and could move the United States to a position more consistent with its own national interest, with the interests of the other states in the region, and with Israel’s long-term interests as well.

(London Review of Books - abridged, non-Adobe version)

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