Israel’s winter blitzkrieg into Gaza, like all its other forays against Palestinians, was made in the U.S.A. This is thanks to enormous U.S. financial support for Israel – roughly $3 billion a year – combined with unwavering political backing, even in the face of genocidal policies.
A stream of books and articles in recent years attributes this deadly relationship to the influence of the well-financed, highly organized Israel lobby in the U.S. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, represents a pro-U.S. government perspective. Other writings take an anti-imperialist point of view, like those of retired sociology professor James Petras (The Power of Israel in the United States) and leftist author Alexander Cockburn (in The Nation and CounterPunch).
These writers claim that when Israel says “Jump,” the United States answers “How high?” This is a dangerous error. Small, isolated, dependent Israel no more dictates to the imperialist U.S. giant than a tail wags a dog. To assert otherwise covers up U.S. culpability for the crimes against Palestine and impedes the fight for justice in the Middle East.
Serving U.S. interests
After World War II, the U.S. became the top world power and moved to wrest control of the Mideast from Britain.
Support for Israel kicked into high gear in the 1960s when President Kennedy authorized the first major sale of weaponry to Israel. This was part of a Cold War plan to counteract Soviet arms sales and influence in the Middle East while boosting U.S. profits. Following the Six Day War in June 1967, the U.S., impressed by Israel’s victory over Egypt, Jordan and Syria, incorporated Israel as a vital asset.
U.S. aid to Israel is a guarantee of billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money gushing into the pockets of arms manufacturers. And, through its repression of the Palestinians and wars with its neighbors, Israel serves as a weapons development and testing ground for Uncle Sam.
Alexander Haig, Secretary of State under Reagan, is one of many officials who have acknowledged Israel’s value to the U.S. as a military proxy – in Haig’s words, “the largest American aircraft carrier in the world,” one that cannot be sunk and carries not even one U.S. soldier. Obviously, in the eyes of the empire, Israeli workers and soldiers are merely cannon fodder.
Where the critics go wrong
The Israel lobby is a conglomeration of Zionist (Jewish nationalist) organizations, rightwing Christians, pro-Israel politicians, finance capitalists, and well-off American Jews who support U.S. corporate interests in the Middle East.
Critics of the lobby diverge from one another in their political philosophies.
Professors Walt and Mearsheimer hold a minority view in a ruling-class debate over how best to advance the goals of the U.S. via its relationship with Israel. They oppose the Israel lobby, but not the idea of a Jewish state; they think that Israel should be more “evenhanded” with the Palestinians. They do not believe that Zionism, by definition, makes equality for non-Jews impossible in Israel.
Walt and Mearsheimer blame the lobby for undermining the U.S. as a moral force and international mediator for democracy in the Middle East. But this benevolent characterization of Washington’s role is absurd. The millions of people who have suffered and died as a result of U.S. foreign policy are the proof.
Anti-imperialist James Petras, in a surprisingly patriotic notion, agrees that the U.S. and its “democracy” are damaged by the lobby’s “control” over Middle East policy. He implies that U.S. torture and assassinations are modeled on Israeli practices.
Has Petras forgotten the School of the Americas, which taught torture tactics to dictators in the Western Hemisphere for decades, or the apartheid system in South Africa, based on Jim Crow segregation in the U.S. South? Is he unable to see the parallels between atrocities against Native Americans and Palestinians?
Alexander Cockburn argues that the lobby squelches anti-war sentiment in Congress and encourages war in Iran. Congress’ overwhelming endorsement of Israel, he says, is an “astounding demonstration of the power of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and other Jewish organizations lobbying for Israel.”
But the Israel lobby doesn’t dictate U.S. actions in the Middle East. What drives the U.S., first of all, is its dependence on the region’s oil – which means holding down Arab rebellion. Washington’s goals happen to dovetail nicely with the expansionist ambitions of its junior partner, Israel.
And what fundamentally drives the lobby is a shared understanding that Israel would not last a day without U.S. backing, and that such support is not written in stone. Its ongoing mission is to make sure that Washington remains convinced that Israel is a loyal and indispensable agent of U.S. interests in the Middle East.
Both Petras and Cockburn blame the lobby for the Democratic Party’s support for war in the region. But, regardless of the lobby, the record shows that the Democrats are just as much the party of war as the Republicans, in the Middle East as around the world.
Defenders of Israel routinely accuse all its critics, including the writers discussed above, of being anti-Semitic. But the Jewish people are not the same as the state of Israel.
This, however, is a distinction many people do not make – and, of course, the Jewish nationalist state of Israel itself encourages the identification of the two. Because of this, to falsely blame U.S. foreign policy on the Israel lobby – often called the Jewish lobby – does encourage anti-Semitism. It stereotypes Jews as evil outsiders magically able to give orders to the most ruthless empire in world history, scapegoating Jews for U.S. imperialism. And it minimizes and mocks all the Jews who are not Zionist cheerleaders for Israel.
There are deep class lines among Jews, just as among every people. Jewish workers have a rich tradition of socialist politics and joining with others to fight for the underdog. They are not guided by Zionism – which, according to its founder Theodore Herzl, was designed to give oppressed Jews an alternative to revolution.
Neither are these workers “self-hating Jews.” And neither are they, nor many other Marxist and humanist critics of Israel, anti-Semitic.
Rather, they see a ruthless drive for profits as the only rational explanation for U.S. and Israeli atrocities. The ruling class does not want peace, because war is indispensable to its power and profits.
What will make peace possible
Far from being a safe haven for Jews, the state of Israel has proved to be a menace to them, as well as to everyone else in the Middle East. No poor or working person or refugee is safe inside or outside of Israel.
History has proved that Zionist Israel as an exclusive land for Jews is inherently racist and cannot last. The only possible answer is one, secular, democratic state of Palestinians and Israelis, with divisions and inequalities bridged by a socialist economy. Increasingly, many are coming to believe that a one-state solution is the only solution.
The recent bombing of Gaza sparked international outrage, including a welcome upsurge of Jews committed to ending Zionism. Though polls at the time showed that the majority of Israelis, rallied by their government and media, backed the Gaza attack, 10,000 Israelis demonstrated against this assault in Tel Aviv. Young Israelis and soldiers continue to protest and go to jail for refusing to be occupiers.
Working-class Arabs and Jews, united against capitalism in the Middle East and the U.S., can breathe fresh life into the struggle to bring this tormented region peace.
Email Adrienne Weller, a Jewish veteran of anti-fascist organizing, at firstname.lastname@example.org.