The Israel lobby’s shame

The Israel lobby has many detractors for a host of reasons, but their actions have actually caused great harm to Israel.

Olmert was continuously looking over his shoulder during the summer of 2006, using a murderous war as a means to secure political favour on the domestic front [EPA]

Reading David Grossman’s To The End Of The Land led me to wonder why J Street is lambasted for accepting support from George Soros while the “pro-Israel” lobby is never called upon to account for supporting policies that have produced so much grief and mourning in Israel.

I won’t reveal the plot. It’s fiction but, as is well-known, Grossman’s 20 year-old son, Uri, was killed during the 2006 war in Lebanon. I am not giving anything away when I say that this would not be the same book if Uri had come home from that war.

But the book is not only about war. It is about the choking reality of a day-to-day situation in which Palestinians and Israelis are both suffocated by occupation.

So why doesn’t Israel just end the occupation for its own sake? Why not accept the Arab League (formerly Saudi) Initiative and achieve peace with all its neighbours out of self-interest? It won’t be easy, but the wars and the occupation are harder.

Why not just choose the risks of peace over the far greater risks of war so that kids like Uri Grossman don’t have to die?

We all know the answer. Politics. 

As in the United States, the right and the left played “Capture the Flag” and the right won. The safe position is to be a hawk, no matter how many die as a result of right-wing policies.

Uri Grossman was killed after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert rejected a cease-fire that the United States urged him to accept. Olmert was under pressure due to a corruption scandal and needed to look tough. He not only rejected the cease-fire, he ginned up the “pro-Israel” lobby here to make sure no member of Congress endorsed it. Those who did quickly found themselves under siege.

The Israelis should have accepted the cease-fire because the additional fighting gained them absolutely nothing. And, a few days later, they did accept it with the only difference being that Israel lost an additional 24 soldiers. Uri Grossman was killed on the very last day of the war.

I wonder if the “pro-Israel” organisations in the United States have any regrets about their efforts to keep the war going. They call themselves “pro-Israel” and yet the policies they support without deviation invariably lead to more bereaved Israeli families like Uri Grossman’s.

The status quo lobby is almost always wrong. Back in 1971, Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat offered Israel peace in exchange for an IDF pull-back of two miles from the banks of the Suez Canal.  But the Israeli government, and the lobby here, didn’t like that deal. They wanted the whole Sinai, right up to the Canal. Sadat said: either give us the two miles through negotiation or we will take the whole Sinai back through war.

And two years later, in the Yom Kippur War, the Egyptians crossed the canal and within days Israel had lost 3,000 soldiers. Israel held on to the Sinai but, when Sadat offered peace again, Israel took him up on his offer.

In 1979, the entire Sinai was returned to Egypt. The bottom line: had Israel and its backers here not rebuffed Sadat in 1971, 3,000 Israeli lives would have been preserved.

Nine years after the Yom Kippur war, the lobby enthusiastically backed the disastrous Lebanon war, which produced another thousand Israeli dead, the massacre of thousands of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila, and led directly to the creation of Hezbollah which now essentially runs Lebanon. (The Israeli government had already used its considerable power in the occupied territories to successfully advance Hamas, which it assumed would stick to praying rather than pursue an agreement based on territorial compromise like the PLO.)

And today the lobby is working with the U.S. and Israeli governments to defend Israel’s rejection of a 60-day settlement freeze. The latest is that Dennis Ross, formerly of the AIPAC-created Washington Institute for Near East Policy and now the top Middle East guy at the White House, has put a whole goodie bag of US concessions on the table if only Israel will accept a one-time freeze.

The lobby without fail supports Israeli positions designed to evade peace while extracting whatever it can from the United States. The US looks like a sap but Israel pays a much higher price in lost opportunities — and lives.

And here’s the thing. The lobby never feels any need to apologise for any of its disastrous errors. Thousands of Israelis have been killed as a result of policies the lobby has supported, but it sails on, never looking back, and always labelling anyone who opposes the status quo “anti-Israel.”

Instead, it is J Street that is attacked for accepting money from George Soros, whose sole goal in backing J Street was to prevent more killing.

So why is the lobby so brazen and unapologetic? I think I know why. Guilt.

They will never admit it, but the “pro-Israel” hawks know that they have played a significant role in preventing Israeli-Palestinian peace. They know the damage their policies have done. They know that despite calling themselves “pro-Israel,” the results of their work are anything but.

And that guilt makes them obsess over J Street. They are ashamed.

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.