My number one priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel.
— Former House Speaker Richard Armey
Rocky was a boyhood friend. He was as big and as strong as his name. In his wild days, Rocky hung out with a runt whose obnoxious mouth regularly got my friend into serious bar fights. One night Rocky was beaten senseless when he stepped between the runt and someone with dangerous friends. I never understood his irrational defense of a guy with obvious “needs.”
But then—K Street realpolitik notwithstanding—I have difficulty understanding America’s irrational defense of Israel, a country whose “needs” are as much at odds with the security of my country as were the runt’s “needs” at odds with the health of my friend.
Earlier this month 7,000 activists and politicians attended the America Israel Public Forum Committee’s 2008 Policy Conference in Washington D.C. This was AIPAC’s premier pro-Israel event, which attracted a bipartisan who’s who of Congressional sycophants. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s keynote address drew nearly half the members of Congress.
Along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, both presumptive Democratic and Republican presidential candidates bent a knee and lowered their head in supplication, pledging an unwavering fealty along with an additional 30 billion taxpayer dollars in military aid to Israel.
John McCain told attendees, “The threats to Israel’s security are large and growing and America’s commitment must grow as well. I strongly support the increase in military aid to Israel … our shared interests and values are too great for us to follow any other policy.”
Barak Obama dittoed, “Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable … Our alliance is based on shared interests and shared values. Those who threaten Israel threaten us … as president I will never compromise when it comes to Israel’s security.”
As an American citizen, I’d like to think the number one “non-negotiable” of anyone who would be president is the security and the interests of the American people. Instead of reading from the same AIPAC-vetted script, McCain and Obama would better serve their country by reading from the same Constitution—the version enshrined in Washington D.C. not in Jerusalem.
AIPAC is the most powerful of the dozen or so major organizations and think-tanks that comprise the “Israel lobby” in the United States. This influential lobby dictates U.S. Middle East foreign policy: “You can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here,” admitted Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC) upon leaving office in 2004.
Recently, former President Jimmy Carter pointed out that the Israel lobby makes or breaks American politicians depending on their willingness to promote Israel’s “security” as their number one foreign policy priority: “It’s almost political suicide … for a member of Congress who wants to seek reelection to take any stand that might be interpreted as anti-policy of the conservative Israeli government.”
Predictably, politicians wanting to keep their government and K Street paychecks merrily dance the mizinka, the Jewish traditional marriage (of convenience) polka.
Most detrimental to the democratic process, however, is the way the lobby manages the political and social discourse by tarring critics of Israel’s policies and actions regarding the Palestinians, Gaza and the West Bank with the brush of anti-Semitism, a black epithet that once applied is difficult, if not impossible, to scrub off.
But does our “non-negotiable” support for Israel make us more secure, or is it a MAD policy akin to the insane Cold War strategy of “mutual assured destruction?” Such a strategy may, in the war on terror between “radical Islam” and “freedom-loving democracies,” result in the mutual assured destruction of both the United States and Israel.
A Pentagon Defense Science Board report published in 2004 concluded, “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather they hate our policies.” And the policy that motivates their young men to bring the Middle East conflict to America by crashing passenger planes into the most prominent symbols of our affluence and military might is our “non-negotiable,” irrational support for the policies of Israel’s right-wing government.
In 2003 it was in Israel’s national security interest to see Saddam Hussein and his perceived regional threat disappear, and to let the American military do the killing and the dying to ensure that it vanished. It was never about American security. Period!
While Israel and their American lobby are not exclusively responsible for the Iraq War, it was their cooked intelligence reports and political clout that both stiffened the spine of the neocon administration bent on war and weaken the knees of American politicians who would be voting for the war.
Likewise, Israel’s “security” demands that Iran not further its nuclear ambitions, peaceful or otherwise. It is once again in their best interest to let the U.S. do the killing. The Bush administration and Senators Hillary Clinton and John McCain promised to do just that using American nukes. AIPAC is intent on holding them to their promise.
Former chief United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, Scott Ritter, wrote in his 2006 book, Target Iran, “Let there be no doubt: If there is an American war with Iran, it is a war that was made in Israel and no where else.” That war will both inflame and unite the Arab world against Israel and its benefactor and will once again bring the “chickens home to roost” on American shores.
Keep in mind that Israel has never lost a major war since 1948. It has the most technologically advanced and deadly military in the region and, according to journalist Chris Hedges, is the world’s fourth largest arms dealer and security technology exporter. It has over 200 nuclear warheads, enough to wipe the Arab world off the map in minutes. It has accomplished all this with chutzpa and 154 billion in U.S taxpayer dollars—monies it is not required to account for, unlike other countries that receive U.S. aid.
Keep in mind also that it is official U.S. policy that Israel not expand its settlements in the occupied territories. However, Israel is constructing a 40-foot high “security barrier” in the West Bank—at a cost of one million U.S taxpayer dollars per mile—that will effectively annex 40 percent of Palestinian land for Jewish settlements and further the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. This MAD policy waves a shoe in the face of Palestinian Arabs who have struggled for sixty years to live free in the State of Palestine. Be assured, Arabs know who is footing the bill.
Past victimhood is no moral justification for Israel’s repressive, draconian “defensive” policies against Palestinian resistance, whether that resistance takes the form of slingshots or backpack explosives. Nothing excuses the killing of innocents on either side, but we do well to remember that terror bombing was midwife to the birth of the state of Israel. Indeed, Israeli historian Benny Morris speculates, “The Arabs may well have learned the value of terrorist bombings from the Jews.”
Former Israeli Prime Minister Yizhak Shamir argued that “neither Jewish ethics nor tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.” Defending his terrorist past to an interviewer in1998 he further claimed, “Had I not acted as I did, it is doubtful that we would have been able to create an independent Jewish state of our own.” No doubt Palestinian fighters are thinking the same regarding an independent Palestinian state of their own.
Since there is no overwhelming strategic or moral reason for the United States to continue its “non-negotiable” support of Israel, that country should be treated like any other ally and not like an over-indulged adolescent. It is time Israel makes its own way in the world. To assume it is incapable of doing so is anti-Semitism worthy of the brush stroke, and a MAD policy we can no longer afford.
More than likely, the runt would not have been as belligerent had Rocky not been watching his back.
[Author’s note: For a non-AIPAC vetted view of the Middle East conflict see Ramzy Baroud’s The Second Palestine Intifada, Ilan Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.]