The Israel Lobby’s Sway Over the US Agenda Is About Expert Lobbying, Politicking, and Tricky Payoffs to Members of Congress
How Much Power Does the Israel Lobby Wield in Washington?
Lots. They can count on the unconditional backing of the US Congress economically–to the tune of some $3 billion annually, making them the US’s most-favored aid recipients both militarily and diplomatically. The State of Israel’s excesses in the Middle East have been protected by US vetoes in the United Nations Security Council 43 times (a UN veto record) since 1972, most recently a draft UN Security Council resolution on June 1, 2018, that rejected President Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (Source: middleeasteye.net) Here’s a link to the full list of vetoes compiled by Jewish Virtual Library.org.
A flagrant example of the Israeli government’s clout in Washington was the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 speech before a joint meeting of Congress. The speech, essentially a harangue against the Obama administration’s Iran nuclear deal, lasted 43 and a half minutes. It would have been shorter had it not been repeatedly interrupted–by standing ovations. That meeting was convened between House Speaker at the time, John Boehner, and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, to arrange a speech before Congress for Netanyahu, in defiance of President Obama and without his knowledge. Obama only found out about Netanyahu’s scheduled speech to Congress after it was accorded.
Support for Israel in the United States Congress is overwhelming. Only 50 members of both houses of Congress boycotted Netanyahu’s 2015 speech. The US and Israel clearly have shared interests–in their pretensions to co-dominance in the Middle East, their virulent allergy to Iran, and their decades-long efforts to conceal Israel’s nuclear arsenal, for example, but are those common interests so powerful as to justify slavish American adherence to all the Israeli extreme-right-wing Likud party’s policy and junkyard-dog defense of all Israeli human-rights abuses?
Outside of Congress there are grave doubts on these questions, including within the American Jewish community. The subject, which had been simmering for a long time, gained notoriety in 2006 when university professors, John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago) and Stephen Walt (Harvard University), wrote an article entitled The Israel Lobby that was finally published on the other side of the Atlantic in The London Review of Books (Vol. 28, No. 6, March 23, 2006) after being rejected by all the relevant American media. Why was it so universally shunned in the US? The most convincing answer to this question reinforces the main theme of the article: the Israel Lobby’s power was so great that nobody in the US dared to publish an article that criticized Israel.
The Most Powerful Card in the Israeli Deck?
The most powerful card in the deck where US-Israeli relations are concerned, the one that trumps all the others, is and has been for many years the “anti-semitism” card. It’s the Israel Lobby’s ace in the hole. Whenever any American, whether journalist, academic, notable private citizen or politician objects to any of the policies or actions of Israel’s far-right Likud Party government, the Israel Lobby in the United States whips out the anti-semitism card, whingeing vociferously, “This is anti-semitism!” Actually it usually isn’t. Usually it has to do with clear and present issues of human rights or international law, subjects like the massive building of illegal settlements on Palestinian land–what little is left of it–or deploying snipers to maim and kill unarmed Palestinian demonstrators–men, women and children–on the other side of the Israeli fence/wall.
Ironically, the very word “semitic” doesn’t even belong exclusively to the Israelis, though they have appropriated it for their own use, much in the way the Americans have appropriated “America” and “American,” terms that rightly refer to all the lands and peoples of two entire continents. According to Britannica.com “semitic” refers to:
Semite, person speaking one of a group of related languages, presumably derived from a common language, Semitic (see Semitic languages). The term came to include Arabs, Akkadians, Canaanites, some Ethiopians, and Aramaean tribes including Hebrews.
US Representative Ilhan Omar, the Most Recent “Offender”
The citizens of Minnesota have recently seen fit to elect Ilhan Omar, a young Somali-American woman, to the United States House of Representatives. She’s outspoken, and had the impertinence the other day to suggest that the Israel Lobby was able to use “Benjamins” to get their chosen candidates for the United States Congress elected. (“Benjamin” is slang for a hundred-dollar bill.) A summary look at successful congressional election results, collating them with candidates’ stands on issues that the Israeli Likud Party considers sensitive, would seem to corroborate Omar’s veiled allegation that sympathizers of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other members of the Israel Lobby were buying elections. But truth is scarcely an issue here, any more than it is in so many other questions on the current American agenda. Besides, who isn’t buying elections in the United States these days?
The immediate pro-Israel backlash was led by President Donald Trump himself who said he thought Omar should resign. Both the newly-elected representative from Minnesota and the House’s other new Muslim representative, Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian- American, have criticized the Israeli government for its grotesque treatment of the Palestinian people. The mere mention of the Israeli apartheid system is politically dangerous for American elected officials. In 2016, when presidential candidate Bernie Sanders dared to say that “We are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity,” it became a major media event.
Ben Ehrenreich, writing for The New Republic on Feb. 15, 2019, sums up the back story of Ilhan Omar’s alleged faux pas in a single eloquent paragraph:
By the time Ilhan Omar walked onto the national stage, a lot had changed, and not much at all. Since 2006, we’ve seen three devastating and overwhelmingly one-sided Israeli assaults on Gaza, the massive expansion of settlements in a brutal and seemingly endless occupation, the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations and anything that could be called an Israeli “left,” a widening gulf between Israeli and American Jews, and an Israeli prime minister who went out of his way to embarrass a popular Democratic president and to embrace the neo-fascist right. Ever-larger cracks are appearing in the defensive wall the U.S. media has for years erected around Israel: Critical voices—even Palestinian ones—are increasingly making it into the op-ed pages. Space for debate is finally opening up. And the controversy that blew up around Omar is a foretaste of how bitterly that space will be contested.
According to Alex Kotch, writing in The Guardian on Feb. 13, 2019:
Aipac played a role in forming separate pro-Israel Pacs and has encouraged its members to donate to its favorite candidates for decades; it spends more money than any other pro-Israel group every year to lobby the federal government; it holds annual conventions featuring sympathetic members of Congress; and it’s spent nearly $16m since 2000 to send groups of congresspeople to Israel to learn about the two countries’ relationship through the Aipac lens.
In part because of AIPAC’s political efforts, the US has remained Israel’s strongest ally, funding its military and selling it weapons, siding with Israel on UN resolutions, and hardly slapping Israel on the wrist when it expands its illegal West Bank settlements or its soldiers kill hundreds of unarmed Palestinians, Including children, medics and journalists.
Kotch adds in his Guardian article:
The furor over the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has led more than half of US states to pass laws attacking BDS. These laws clearly trample on the constitutional right to free speech and expression, but that didn’t stop the US Senate from passing the very first piece of legislation this session, which forbids Congress from pre-empting such state laws.