The uneven alliance: How America became pro-Israel
Israeli lobby in the US managed to infiltrate all aspects of government, thus formulating US policy directly.
Mere days after Donald Trump won the US presidential election, American Zionists moved quickly to ensure that Israeli interests were fully guarded by the new administration.
The Zionist Organization of America wasted no time, hobnobbing with notorious racists, also known for their anti-Jewish agendas. ZOA's annual gala on November 20 hosted none other than Steve Bannon, a leader in the so-called alt-right, otherwise known as white supremacy in the United States.
Under his leadership, Breitbart, seen as a major platform for the alt-right, fuelled anti-Semitism (needless to say, racisms of all shades) argued Alex Amend and Jonathan Morgan in AlterNet.
Watching top Israeli officials and leaders of the Jewish community in the US hosting - ever so enthusiastically - Bannon at ZOA's annual gala appeared perplexing to some. Others casually explained it as the nature of politics, as Israel needs its US alliance even if it meant accommodating anti-Semites.
But it is hardly that simple.
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Bannon's ties with Zionists go back well before the rather surprising Trump election victory. In fact, Israel has never had a problem with true anti-Semites. Instead, it merely rebranded any criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land as anti-Semitism.
By conflating the term, the Zionists managed to largely silence all debate on Israel in the US, and despite stubborn attempts to break Israel's stronghold on Zionist control over the Palestine and Middle East narrative in US media, government and society as a whole, Israel continues to maintain the upper hand, as it has for decades.
Speaking in the White House's East Room on February 15, in a joint press conference with President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cordially thanked Trump for his hospitality, then uttered these words: "Israel has no better ally than the United States. And I want to assure you, the United States has no better ally than Israel."
But it was only half true. The US has indeed been a stalwart supporter of Israel, offering it over $3.1bn in financial assistance each year for the last a few decades, an amount that dramatically increased under President Barack Obama to $3.8 bn. In addition to hundreds of millions more in all kinds of financial, military assistance and "loans" that went mostly unaccounted for.
However, Netanyahu lied. His country has not been an equally strong ally to the US; in fact, Israel has been a liability. Let alone the various serious episodes of Israeli spying on Washington and bartering US secrets and technologies with Russia and China, Israel has been the cause of instability in the Middle East region.
Since World War II, the US has vied to achieve two main foreign policy objectives in the Middle East: Control the region and its resources and prop-up its allies (often dictators), while maintaining a degree of "stability" so that the US is able to conduct its business unhindered.
Nevertheless, Israel remained on the warpath. Wars that Israel couldn't fight on its own required American intervention on Israel's behalf, as was the case in Iraq. The outcome was disastrous for US foreign policy. Even hardened military men began noticing the destructive path their country had chosen in order to defend Israel.
In March 2010, General David Petraeus, then head of the US Central Command told the Senate Armed Services Committee during a testimony that Israel had become a liability for the US and that has become a challenge to "security and stability", which his country aimed to achieve.
He said: "Israeli-Palestinian tensions often flare into violence and large-scale armed confrontations. The conflict foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of US favouritism for Israel. Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the AOR (Area of Operations) and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab World. Meanwhile, al-Qaeda and other militant groups exploit that anger to mobilise support."
Although speaking strictly from a US military interest, the Israeli lobby attacked Petraeus almost immediately. Abe Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which often mischaracterises its role as that of combating racism in the US lashed out at the top American commander calling his conclusions "dangerous and counterproductive."
That spectacle alone demonstrated that Israel's power in the US has grown tremendously through time.
In the US, no one is immune to Israeli criticism, including the president himself, who is expected to accommodate Israeli whims, without expecting any Israeli reciprocation.
A particularly telling episode revealed the degree of Israeli influence in the US, when then-House Speaker John Boehner plotted with then-Israel's ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer to arrange a visit and a speech before Congress for Netanyahu, in defiance of President Obama.
Netanyahu then raged and raved before a united Congress (with a few exceptions) that repeatedly endowed the Israeli prime minister with many standing ovations as he belittled their president and strongly criticised US foreign policy on Iran.
Obama felt isolated as if a target of a political coup; a few Democrats fumbled in a disorganised press conference to respond to Netanyahu's accusations, but they were certainly the tiny minority.
That spectacle alone demonstrated that Israel's power in the US has grown tremendously through time from a "client regime", to a "partner".
But how did Israel achieve such commanding influence over US foreign policy?
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In an article entitled: "Steve Bannon's web of weirdness: Meet the bizarre billionaires behind the president-elect's chief strategist," Heather Digby Patron named a few of these "bizarre billionaires". They included, Sheldon Adelson, a right-wing billionaire with a gambling empire, who is "singularly focused on the state of Israel".
Adelson's relations with Bannon (and Trump) has well preceded Trump's victory, and seemed to take little notice of the fact that Bannon and his ilk were viewed by many American Jews as frightening, racist anti-Semites with a menacing agenda.
Adelson however, cares little for the true racists. His obsession to shield Israel's militant Zionist agenda trumped all other seemingly little irritants.
But the gambling mogul is not the exception among powerful Zionists in the US.
| In the US, no one is immune to Israeli criticism [Ammar Awad/Reuters]
Writing in Mondoweiss, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network explained the love affair between Israel and anti-Semites: "From Russian Tzars to the Nazis to Mussolini to the colonial British Empire to the Christian Right -Christian Zionists; (The Zionists') embracing of Trump and renowned reactionary political strategist Steve Bannon is no exception."
Israeli commentator Gideon Levy agrees. In an article published by Haaretz on November 21, Levy wrote, "When friendship for Israel is judged solely on the basis of support for the occupation, Israel has no friends other than racists and nationalists."
Thus, it is no surprise that Adelson is funding a massively rich campaign and lavish conferences to combat the influence of the civil society-powered Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), while plotting with American elements that consider the word "Jew" a swear word in their own social lexicon to support Zionist Israel.
By putting Israel and Zionism first, these rich individuals, powerful lobby groups, hundreds of think-tanks, thousands of networks across the country and their allies among the religious right, are now the main wheelers and dealers in any matter concerning US foreign policy in the Middle East and Israel's political and security interests.
Zionists often speak of a historical bond between the US and the Jewish people, but nothing could be further from the truth.
On May 13, 1939, a boat carrying hundreds of German Jews was not allowed to reach American shores and was eventually sent back to Europe.
That was not a foreign policy fluke.
Three months earlier, in February 1939, members of Congress rejected a bill that would allow 20,000 German Jewish children to come to the US to escape the war and possible extermination at the hands of the Nazis.
The oddity is that the bill was rejected despite the fact that it proposed bringing the children as part of an already existing quota for annual visas allowed to German citizens.
Not only did the Congress shoot it down, but the public had no interest in the matter either, as allowing Jews into the US was quite an unpopular affair.
While these Jews were not always welcome, Zionists were already forging strong alliances in the government and applying pressure on the White House to establish a "Jewish state" in Palestine.
READ MORE: The Israel lobby - All bark but little bite
Indeed, the early days of Zionist lobbying go back to the early 20th century, but such lobbying became truly fruitful during the presidency of Harry S Truman to pressure the White House to back the partition of Palestine.
Writing in his memoir, Truman noted, "The facts were that not only were there pressure movements around the United Nations unlike anything that had been seen there before, but that the White House, too, was subjected to a constant barrage."
"I do not think I ever had as much pressure and propaganda aimed at the White House as I had in this instance. The persistence of a few of the extreme Zionist leaders - actuated by political motives and engaging in political threats - disturbed and annoyed me."
| Donald Trump addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at an afternoon general session during his candidacy [Joshua Roberts/Reuters]
Since then, those "extreme Zionists leaders" have grown in numbers and influence beyond anything Truman could have ever imagined.
In their seminal article, The Israel Lobby (which served as the thesis of their book) in the London Review of Books, two prominent American scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt took on the painstaking task of deconstructing the power of the "formal" and "informal" Israel lobby that has grown exponentially in recent years.
They argued that the power of the lobby is now so great to the point that it has largely orchestrated the US war on Iraq in 2003, only to shift following the war fiasco to advocate wars against Iran and Syria; in addition to ensuring that there can never be a balanced US foreign policy on Israel and Palestine.
"So, if neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America's support for Israel, how are we to explain it?" they asked in their article, offering only one possible answer: "The explanation is the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby."
While certainly not all Jewish Americans are part of or even supporters of the lobby, the massive pro-Israel network managed to sell the idea to many US Jews that their fate is linked to supporting Israeli policy, no matter how destructive or self-defeating.
"Jewish Americans have set up an impressive array of organisations to influence American foreign policy, of which AIPAC is the most powerful and best known," the two American scholars wrote.
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According to Fortune Magazine's 1997 issue, AIPAC is considered the second-most powerful lobby in Washington, an assessment that was upheld by the National Journal Study in March 2005.
"The Lobby" also relies on Christian evangelicals who have long advocated the return of Jews to Palestine as to fulfil some biblical prophecy pertaining to the end of times. Historically, Zionists have had no quarrel working with such hate-peddling preachers as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and John Hagee.
Hagee, in particular, has emerged as possibly the most powerful of these figures. His eagerness for the final battle between East and West - Armageddon - led him to establish Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
While AIPAC boasts over 100,000 members, as of January 2015, CUFI's membership was estimated at two million.
When Israel attacked Lebanon in the summer of 2006, thousands of evangelicals descended on Washington to lobby Congress to support Israel unconditionally.
They arrived from all 50 states and, in one single day, they reportedly held 280 meetings on Capitol Hill.
But unlike the early days of Zionist lobbying, the lobby is no longer standing on the sidelines urging to the Congress and the executive branch to adopt a pro-Israel agenda.
In the last two decades, they have managed to infiltrate all aspects of government, thus formulating policy directly.
Mearsheimer and Walt, but also others discussed the evolution of the lobby in the form of the neo-conservatives during the presidency of George W Bush which was coupled with the proliferation of "think-tanks" and policy forums, all with the ultimate aim of backing Israel, no matter the high cost for the US - and needless to say for Palestinians and the Middle East.
Moreover, the lobby is no longer satisfied with attempting to sway Washington, by pressuring the Congress and the executive branch - where being pro-Israel has been the expected natural state of mind for American lawmakers (save the few courageous ones) - but "It also strives to ensure that public discourse portrays Israel in a positive light, by repeating myths about its founding and by promoting its point of view in policy debates," according to The Israel Lobby.
"The goal is to prevent critical comments from getting a fair hearing in the political arena. Controlling the debate is essential to guaranteeing US support, because a candid discussion of US-Israeli relations might lead Americans to favour a different policy."
| The fear of losing complete control over the narrative is frightening for the pro-Israel lobby [John Minchillo/AP]
This is why the lobby is currently mobilising to stop and even criminalise the BDS movement, for, even if it failed to nudge US foreign policy in a more sensible direction, BDS is relatively succeeding in creating more platforms for open discussions on many university campuses and some media.
Several US states have officially launched initiatives to defeat BDS and more are likely to follow. The fear of losing complete control over the narrative is frightening for the pro-Israel lobby. For them, only Israeli myth peddlers and fear-mongering preachers must be allowed to speak to Congress, media and public.
Although recent polls have shown that younger Americans - especially among Democratic party supporters and young Jewish Americans - are losing their enthusiasm for Israel and its Zionist ideology - the battle for the US to reclaim its foreign policy and a sense of morality regarding Palestine and the Middle East is likely to be long and arduous.
The lobby put down roots decades ago, and is a combination of many forces and backed by "bizarre billionaires" and infinitely dark agendas. The outcome of this lobbying has played a significant role in a horrendous foreign policy that has killed, wounded and displaced millions, from Palestine to Iraq and elsewhere.
Only a better and more honest understanding of the rule of the lobby can serve as a first step towards its dismantlement.
Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include "Searching Jenin", "The Second Palestinian Intifada" and his latest "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story". His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.
Source: Al Jazeera