In his farewell address in 1796, George Washington warned the nation he had served as its first president against a “passionate attachment” or “inveterate hatred” toward any nation. Some Americans were impassioned about revolutionary France. Within a few years, agents of foreign minister Talleyrand would boast to American diplomats of French power within the United States, and demand large bribes and loans to advance relations. The correspondence was eventually published in the US, in the XYZ Affair, which embarrassed France and the French party in the US, and incited US opinion against France. The rupture was not permanent, and relations eventually resumed on dispassionate terms, to the benefit of both countries.
Since the 1992 publication of The Passionate Attachment: America’s Involvement With Israel, 1947 to the Present, by George W. Ball, undersecretary of state for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and his son Douglas B. Ball, Washington’s prescient term has become ubiquitous to describe the US-Israel relationship. No agents of Israel have ever been embarrassed by boasting of Israel’s power in the US, or by demanding loans and aid. The protestations of American diplomats at Israel’s aggrandizement and damage to US interests have embarrassed them, not the pro-Israel party, which has gone from strength to strength until quite recently.
This has produced a loose establishment diaspora of US diplomats, military and intelligence officers, politicians, academics and journalists critical of the US-Israel relationship, in Washington and elsewhere. On March 7 a quorum of these and other critics gathered in Washington, for a “National Summit to Reassess the U.S.-Israel ‘Special Relationship.” The event was organized by the Council for the National Interest, If Americans Knew, Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, and Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. There was a full day of six panels with a total of 25 speakers. Despite the full program moderators kept the event on schedule. The ballroom of the National Press Club was filled, and the event was broadcast live on C-Span. Video of each panel and separate audio for each speaker, and near-complete transcripts, are at the IRMEP program page. The proceedings survey Israel’s influence and its damage to the US.
How does the Israel lobby influence Congress?
The first speaker on this first panel was former Congressman Paul Findley, at 92 the grand old man of Arabophile politicians, the handful honest and courageous enough to oppose what the US and Israel do in the Middle East. Findley’s advocacy for Palestine cost him the seat he held in Congress for 22 years, but he regretted not doing more, said he should have made it “the cause of the day.” He called for President Obama to issue an executive order, bypassing Congress, suspending aid to Israel until it recognized Palestinian sovereignty over the territories occupied in the 1967 war, and negotiated a two-state solution, which would require all Israeli officials to leave, and for any remaining Israelis to live as foreign nationals. He extolled the benefits to Palestinians, to the US standing in the region, and not least to Israel.
Janet McMahon of Washington Report discussed the work of pro-Israel political action committees. They hide behind innocuous names, and bundle contributions from individuals, which typically are many times the PAC contribution. Pro-Israel PACs have in the past followed AIPAC’s instructions on which candidates to donate to. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the main congressional Israel lobby, is not a PAC and does not donate. Such advice is illegal and has been investigated but never prosecuted. Pro-Israel PACs should have ranked sixth in donations to Congress in the 2012 election cycle, as compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, but were not even in the top ten. 58% of pro-Israel PAC donations go to Democrats.
Former Representative Cynthia McKinney of Georgia delivered a taped message, recounting the pressure she and Representative Earl Hilliard of Alabama faced as members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, which contributed to their election defeats. She had advocated enforcement of US law against weapons sales to human rights violators such as Israel and other positions.
Delinda Hanley of Washington Report discussed US aid to Israel, which is the major recipient of US foreign assistance, despite a GDP per capita at the level of the European Union and high rankings in UN socioeconomic indexes. Direct aid totals over $3.1 billion annually, totaling $134 billion since 1949, plus $19 billion in loan guarantees. Tax-deductible contributions subsidize Israeli institutions and Zionist propaganda. Economist Thomas Stauffer estimates $1.6 trillion in direct and indirect costs of Israel to the US for the period 1973-2003. Israel continues to enjoy US largesse even as public needs for infrastructure and social purposes in the US rise.
Do Israel and its lobby exercise too much influence on U.S. decisions to wage war in the Middle East?
Historian Stephen Sniegoski, author of The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel, surveyed the rise of the neoconservatives in US politics and their influence on the Iraq war. This began in the 1970s, with the rightward migration of Jewish former liberals, who rose in the Reagan Administration in the 1980s. During the Clinton Administration they founded the Project for a New American Century and plotted the invasion of Iraq, and then served in the George W. Bush Administration. The 9/11 attacks provided the opening to advocate the invasion of Iraq, and to overcome resistance within the government. While the neocons include gentile radical nationalists, the movement is mainly a Jewish ascendancy in conservative politics.
Retired US Air Force Colonel Karen Kwiatowski recounted her experience in the Near East and South Asia office in the Pentagon, which hatched the Office for Special Plans, the center of Iraq war planning in the Department of Defense. NESA, in the office of the Secretary of Defense, was headed by Navy Captain William Ludy, a lowly rank for such a position, but Ludy had neoconservative connections. He told his analysts to rely solely on OSP and ignore other sources within the government. OSP was headed by neoconservative appointee Douglas Feith, and tailored intelligence to support the war. Visiting Israeli officials were very familiar with it.
Historian Gareth Porter discussed the findings of his recent book, Manufactured Crisis. The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare, and the current negotiations over Iran’s nuclear power program. Israel has used the threat of war on Iran to manipulate the US and the EU over Iran sanctions and negotiations; the US is to do any fighting. The neoconservatives had intended regime change in Iraq to lead to Lebanon, Syria and Iran but Iraq backfired. The US has tried to manipulate the International Atomic Energy Agency against Iran. Israel has fabricated evidence on an Iranian nuclear program and fed it to the US through an Iranian anti-regime terrorist group, and German intelligence. The US has just re-introduced this discredited evidence in the current negotiations, raising doubts about US sincerity in reaching an agreement with Iran.
Retired Army Brigadier General James David served in the Middle East from 1967-69, among many other assignments. He emphasized the hypocrisy of ceaseless US calls for freedom and democracy, except in Palestine, where the US calls for the opposite. He also criticized Israel’s ceaseless imprecations of Palestinian and Arab threats, when it holds overwhelming power and commits heinous atrocities. He praised the boycott-divestment-sanctions movement, and the internet, noting that he found the Israeli Haaretz more informative and reliable than US media.
Does the “special relationship” transcend rule of law?
Grant Smith, of IRMEP, surveyed the history of the “Israel lobby” since the 1940s. Smith has written half a dozen books based on documents unearthed with the Freedom of Information Act. He described a pattern of systematic illegality, beginning with arms procurement and smuggling, nuclear fuel procurement and smuggling, evasion of foreign agent registration and lobbying laws, and extensive industrial and political espionage. All this has been detected by US law enforcement and intelligence agencies, but investigations have been quashed and prosecutions thwarted or limited to minor figures, through Zionist influence. Smith concluded that US law is essentially unenforceable against the Israel lobby.
Ernest A. Gallo, retired US Navy and CIA communications technician, is president of the Liberty Veterans Association. He was on board the electronic intelligence ship USS Liberty when it was repeatedly attacked and nearly sunk by Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats in the eastern Mediterranean during the June, 1967 Arab-Israeli war. 34 crewmen were killed and 174 were wounded. He described the official cover-up, including the Navy’s superficial investigation, orders to the crewmen’s families to keep silent, the surreptitious awarding of the Congressional Medal of Honor to the captain, and the failure of Congress to investigate, as it normally does any peacetime attack on a US naval ship. An unofficial investigation in 2003 by retired senior officers and diplomats found that Israel knew that the ship was American, called the attack an act of war against the United States, and said that it was covered up for fear of embarrassing Israel and confronting its lobby.
Mark Perry, an author on military, intelligence and foreign affairs, in addressing the topic of national security reporting, emphasized the terms “national interest” and “skin in the game.” He defined “national interest” as ideological, in terms of free trade, markets, and elections, and as economic, noting that 89,000 jobs in Texas depend on US relations with Qatar. He noted that the Central Command was formed in 1983 to protect US shipping, not to confront Iran. He cited the military’s emphasis on “skin in the game” in assessing allies, and noted that the skin in any war with Iran would be American. He cited the congressional testimony of then Central Command head General David Petraeus that failing to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict was the primary obstacle to obtaining respect and satisfying US interests in the Middle East.
The Jonathan Pollard case may be the exception that proves Smith’s rule. Retired Navy intelligence captain and attorney for military, intelligence and law enforcement, M.E. “Spike” Bowman worked on almost every espionage investigation from 1979 to 2009. He called Pollard one of the four worst espionage cases in that period. Israel wanted not secret but specific top secret and SCI documents (sensitive compartmented information) and had from a different source a Defense Intelligence Agency catalog of documents. By his own admission Pollard provided 360 cubic feet of material. Then Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger wanted the death penalty but it was not legally possible. Pollard is eligible for parole but will not seek it because he wants clemency so he can go to Israel immediately.
History: How did the “special relationship” come to be?
Harvard scholar Stephen Walt outlined what had changed and what had not since the 2007 publication, with co-author John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, of their celebrated book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. He recalled their basic argument that the unprecedented generosity of the special relationship, with its possible Cold War strategic value now a strategic detriment, and any moral case offset by Israel’s own oppression and aggression, could only be explained by the Israel lobby. Since then discussion has widened in the media; the Lobby was unable to have Syria bombed and Iran further sanctioned; the charge of anti-Semitism is losing its power. On the other hand, President Obama’s first term bid for a settlement freeze and two-state solution failed utterly; there was a craven response to Israel’s Cast Lead attack on Gaza; elements of the Lobby intervened publicly and radically in the 2012 elections; aid still flows unconditionally; settlements grow and grow; the two-state solution may be dead; the Lobby continues to receive great deference; establishment insider discourse is still closed, though outsiders may comment. “Reports of the Lobby’s demise are greatly exaggerated”; change does not happen overnight, and a “broad tent” of opponents is needed.
Geoffrey Wawro, a military historian at the University of North Texas, offered a broad survey of the US-Israel relationship. President Wilson initially opposed the Balfour Declaration, but was swayed by its popularity with Jewish voters. President Truman’s diplomatic advisers were thwarted by his aides, and the Palestine portfolio brought into the White House and domestic politics. Such pressure plagued Eisenhower in 1956, even as Israel withdrew from Gaza and Sinai, turned Kennedy’s independent policy into the first arms sales, and led Johnson not to call for withdrawal after June 1967, disregarding the US ambassador’s 1965 warning that Israel had to be restrained, and pressured if it made further conquests . Nixon and Kissinger declined to extract concessions from Israel during the 1973 war and greatly increased US aid afterward. Obama has failed at every attempt to address issue; Israel might agree to a settlement to blunt the BDS movement, and as prerequisite to Sunni Arab coalition against Iran.
Ohio State international law professor John Quigley discussed the impact of the special relationship on US international legal views. Despite legislation requiring that the US embassy be moved to Jerusalem, successive presidents have not done it. Otherwise, President Johnson initially opposed but then assented to Israel’s June, 1967 attack, which the Bush Administration used as “pre-emptive” precedent to justify invading Iraq in 2003. The US has claimed that Palestinian statehood can arise only from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but the legal criterion is recognition by the world community. The Carter Administration found Israel’s settlements illegal, which has dwindled to John Kerry finding them “illegitimate.” Ambiguous statehood status has been used to prevent the Palestinian Authority from seeking redress at the International Criminal Court. The right of return of refugees has been recognized but put off pending recognition of Israel by the Arab states, even though Egypt and Jordan do now.
Alison Weir of CNI and If Americans Knew recounted her involvement in the Palestine question, following the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa intifada in 2000. In traveling to Palestine and researching, she found a wide disparity between actual events and US media reports, and an overwhelming disparity of Israeli power and Palestinian suffering. In studying the Zionist movement in the US, she found its first influence in advocating US entry into World War I, in order to induce Britain to issue the Balfour Declaration supporting Zionism in Palestine. She noted the opposition of the US diplomatic and military establishments to Zionism, and the comprehensive Zionist mobilization to overcome it. She also noted Zionist manipulation of Jewish opinion, to overcome its non- and anti-Zionist tendency. Weir noted the lionization of journalist Dorothy Thompson for her criticism of Nazism, and her demonization when she objected to Zionism’s destruction of Palestine. All this is documented in mainstream sources cited in her book, Against Our Better Judgment.
Has the lobby captured political parties and news media?
Journalist Jeffrey Blankfort quoted anti-Zionist author Lenni Brenner’s statement that “the Left is the rear-guard of the Israel lobby.” Blankfort cited Noam Chomsky for setting parameters of criticism, and influential activist Phyllis Bennis for enforcing them in groups like US Campaign to End the Occupation. Chomsky holds that Israel is a US strategic asset, and that US has opposed a settlement with the Palestinians for its own reasons, both of which are “demonstrably false.” These parameters have influenced all US critics of Israel. Blankfort cited the left media, notably Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, for failing to report on Israel’s influence. When the Mearsheimer-Walt book The Israel Lobby appeared, Goodman did not interview the authors, but Noam Chomsky. For such reasons the US Palestine solidarity movement has been a total failure, according to Blankfort.
Alan C. Brownfeld, of the American Council for Judaism, noted that the classical Reform view of Jews as a religious minority, not a nationality, was at one time held by most American Jews. Zionism became a majority view because of Nazism and the Judeocide, and Zionism has had very negative effects on Jewish life; it is subversive of liberalism. Synagogues fly Israeli flags, and Jews are urged to make aliyah. Judaism has become idolatry, substituting Israel for God. American Jews support secularism and pluralism in the US, and obscurantist established religion and fanatical chauvinism in Israel. The American Jewish press reads as if written for an ex-patriate community. Brownfeld feels his views represents a “silent majority” of American Jews. Campus Hillel foundations are resisting official Zionist guidelines in their programming. Zionism is in retreat.
Justin Raimondo of Antiwar.com noted the historic opposition of American conservatism to Zionism and its sympathy toward the Arabs. In the 1940s and 1950s, conservative publisher Regnery issued a stream of titles in that vein, which was shared by flagship journal National Review. He contrasted this with the sympathy of the left, in the views of Henry Wallace, the USSR’s support for partition and provision of arms through Czechoslovakia. The Cold War and Stalinist anti-Semitism changed the Soviet orientation, and the June, 1967 war earned criticism from the Left. The neoconservatives, Jewish former leftists, oriented the right toward Israel. The neocons were reinforced by the dispensationalist Christian Zionists, in whose eschatology Israel and the Jews are central. Raimondo finds this component of the Israel lobby the most important, but they and the neocons contend with libertarian anti-interventionism on the right.
Scott McConnell, founder of American Conservative and a former neoconservative, pointed to events at National Review to illustrate the neoconservative takeover of the right. William F. Buckley let neoconservatives dictate his treatment of editor Joseph Sobran and columnist Pat Buchanan when they were accused of anti-Semitism. McConnell found the accusations somewhat justified in Sobran’s case, and cited Buckley’s convoluted absolution of Buchanan; their arguments about Israel’s influence in the US and on US policies, and the consequences, were buried. Sobran eventually left as editor, while Buchanan was marginalized on the right. The neoconservatives effectively supervised discussion of Israel and related matters in National Review, the largest publication on the right, and young conservatives got the message.
Philip Weiss, co-editor of the Mondoweiss blog, cited examples of continuing Israel lobby hegemony in the media, including CNN’s featuring of former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren as new commentator; the triumphant book tour of Israeli author Ari Shavit, arranged by four senior Jewish American journalists, including David Remnick and Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker, Leon Wieseltier, and Thomas Friedman; and acknowledgment by New York Times Jerusalem correspondent Jodi Rudoren of her Jewish background and familiarity with the “American Jewish and Israeli story”, which she has not transcended. Weiss noted positive changes also, including Friedman’s frank recognition of the Israel lobby, and the fair New York Times review of John Judis’s book Genesis, about Zionist influence on President Truman and earlier. Weiss’s journalistic instincts sense a wealth of hidden stories about Zionism to be written, which will eventually lead to high noon for the Israel lobby.
Is Israel really a U.S. ally?
Paul Pillar, 28-year veteran of the CIA and National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia, argued that alliance is based on broad congruence of interests and mutual benefits. He found that Israel’s ethnocracy is foreign to the US; that the US and Israel share some adversaries, but deal with them in different ways; that the occupation and blockade of the West Bank and Gaza are not a US interest; US aid to Israel, $234 billion in current dollars, has opportunity costs. Israel does little for the US that the US would not do for itself. Israel is not a regional military asset; Palestine is the chief grievance of terrorist suspects under interrogation; Israel is the chief source of extremism and terrorism directed against the US. If Israel were afraid of Iran it would support negotiations; denouncing Iran distracts from the occupation, and prevents Iran from becoming a western partner. US should disregard labels and look at interests in the case of each country.
Ray McGovern oversaw national intelligence estimates and the presidential daily briefing in 27 years at the CIA. He argued that “alliance” meant a mutual defense treaty, which the US does not have with Israel. The US offered such an alliance after the 1973 war, but Israel refused, because it preferred not to define its borders, and because an alliance would limit its freedom of action. McGovern noted the British Downing Street memo citing the CIA director’s statement that “intelligence is being fixed around the policy” of invading Iraq. He noted strong Israeli influence on the Bush Administration; the charges of anti-Semitism to his suggestion that Israel wanted to dominate the region; and that Israel’s assassination of Sheik Yassin in Gaza prompted the assault on US Blackwater mercenaries in Fallujah, in occupied Iraq, leading to US atrocities against the city
Philip Giraldi, a veteran of military intelligence and CIA counterterrorism, argued that not only is Israel no ally, but it is no friend, and influences policy in ways that are detrimental to the US and to itself. US officials close to the Israeli government were behind the Iraq war and the phony intelligence that justified it. Israel and its US partisans are trying to create a false casus belli and force the US into war on Iran. Congress is attempting to effectively delegate the decision to Israel. Israel’s actions are sui generis; its lavish aid is dispensed on terms favorable to it and costly to the US; it interferes in US elections; its government officials rebuke and mock US officials from the president down; its officials give alarmist briefings to Congress; it brazenly conducts espionage against the US government, including a murky operation before 9/11, and against US industry, and sells its products to anyone; 125 investigations into Israeli espionage have been stopped due to political pressure.
Michael Scheuer was scheduled to speak but did not. He headed and later advised the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, among many assignments. While still at the CIA he published two anonymous books, on bin Laden, and on the US “war on terror.” He has argued that US patronage of Israel was a major grievance of bin Laden, and that the Iraq invasion, which he attributed chiefly to the influence of the Israel lobby, was a huge gift to al-Qaeda. His appearance would have brought the discussion of whether Israel is a US ally to a negative crescendo.
The packed schedule and brisk moderation left little time for discussion, though overall there were few differences among the panelists, and in the allotted time few arose with the audience.
Justin Raimondo’s claim that evangelical Christian Zionists are the most powerful component of the Israel lobby was not echoed by other panelists. Mearsheimer and Walt called the Christian Zionists an “important junior partner” in their book, while emphasizing that Jewish organizations were the most important component. The Christ at the Checkpoint conference of evangelicals, held biannually in Bethlehem since 2010, was denounced vehemently by the Israeli government this year. Porter Speakman’s 2010 film With God on Our Side is another sign that evangelical support for Israel is diminishing by the day.
Ray McGovern offered the acronym “O.I.L.”, “oil, Israel and logistics” (bases) to explain the invasion of Iraq, and opined that “no one in this room would argue that Iraq would have been invaded if it had had no oil resources.” No other panelist seconded this. Mearsheimer and Walt found “logical and empirical difficulties” with this claim, and noted that the flow of oil was not endangered, that Saddam Hussein had been prevented from selling it by sanctions, which the oil companies were eager to end. Stephen Sniegoski has written of “‘War for Oil’–the Notion That Will Not Die.”
Scott McConnell argued that by the 1970s Nixon and Kissinger had accepted Israel as a strategic asset in the Cold War. Mearsheimer and Walt acknowledged the argument, but also noted that US support for Israel’s aggression had pushed the Arabs into Soviet arms, prevented a settlement, and fueled anti-Americanism in the region.
One questioner complained about the “religious dogma of the Holocaust taught in public schools which cannot be questioned,” and made some flaky comments about Jewish persecution of Germany at the 1919 Versailles peace conference and in the anti-Nazi boycott. Jeff Blankfort described the school curriculum in California, where he had worked as a teacher. He noted that the schools teach “weeks of Anne Frank” and Elie Wiesel’s Night because material is provided by Jewish organizations, and that was only in English. History teachers are required to teach more about the Holocaust (omitting such facts as the ideological and practical affinity of Nazism and Zionism) than about the genocide of the American Indians, or about slavery.
Philip Weiss then stated that “we should not be problematizing the education of the Holocaust” even if AIPAC and the ADL set the curriculum. He stated that “the West incurred a debt toward the Jews from the Holocaust and the Palestinians paid for that,” as if the creation of Israel were compensation for the Holocaust. He also stated that “one of the great discoveries of the past few years is that the West owes Palestinians a debt also,” as if the Jews, or Zionism and its supporters, do not, a point the conference was called to establish. Neither Brownfeld nor Weiss affirmed the exploitation of the Holocaust on behalf of Zionism and Israel, which has been attested by writers such as Norman Finkelstein and Peter Novick.
Next year’s summit might note the Zionization of US domestic law enforcement after 9/11, with hundreds of police delegations traveling to Israel for training and effectively, ideological conditioning. It might also note the damage to civil liberties and growth of Islamophobia from 9/11. These are domestic costs of the “special relationship.”
There was a patriotic tone to some presentations, and most of the speakers emphasized American interests. This is an observation, not a complaint. The American system of government expresses the democratic sovereignty of the American people, however corrupted and attenuated that principle is. Israel’s influence is fundamentally a usurpation of our sovereignty as US citizens. Veterans of the national security establishment, and democrats left, right and center can agree on that. They may or may not be allies in the class struggle, but they are allies in the medieval-modern struggle which Zionism has joined. As Stephen Walt noted, we need a “broad tent.”