Berman, Congressional Foreign Affairs Boss, Cites Israel as a Prime Motivator in His Politics, Then Calls Israel Lobby a ‘Total Canard’

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 28 Comments

This is an astonishing video. Two nights ago, on February 20, Congressman Howard Berman, the soon-to-be-chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, visited the Sherman Oaks Homeowners Association in his Los Angeles district. During the Q-and-A, a couple of audience members submitted written questions about the Israel relationship. The moderator lumped the questions and asked Berman how he would rate the presidential candidates on Israel.

Berman first offered an astute insight: "I cannot recall a Presidential election where less time has been spent by any of the presidential candidates discussing this issue."

(Absolutely true, and doesn’t it prove that our politics are broken? The issue has never been so important, and never so verboten in the public square…)

Berman then assumed he was talking to a friendly crowd. He said Israel "is why I went on the Foreign Affairs Committee–" he corrected himself– "it’s part of why I went on the Foreign Affairs committee in the first place. I’m a great supporter of Israel." He hastened to add he was also a supporter of a "sensible" peace process that takes into account "Israel’s longtime security needs."

(Not a word about Palestinians, or occupation.)

Yes, Obama, McCain and Hillary are all good on this issue. Berman feels "comfortable that all three of them are deeply committed to Israel." [my emphasis] But as president, that could change. In his shrewd way, Berman said that you can never be completely sure where a president might want to go on this issue. "And on this particular issue, the single most important thing is to maintain the high level of Congressional support because they become a brake on– they become a force on what the Administration does."

At this point, the tireless and ferocious James Morris rose in the audience, breaking the rules. He pointed out that the moderator mentioned his name when he offered the question to Berman, but that this was not his question. His question was about the Israel lobby and the Iraq war and Walt and Mearsheimer. The moderator had chosen to mingle his question with others, misrepresenting it.

Berman answered with a near-tirade about Walt and Mearsheimer. He said the "notion that the U.S. Congress is voting because of the Israel lobby" goes back to "the old scapegoat theory." Who do we blame for our problems? "It’s those people." The idea that he voted for the Iraq war because Israel wanted him to is a "total canard," he says; and he rejects this out of hand. As though he were "bought and paid for by some nefarious interest." Etc. Israel is supported in the U.S. for a "variety of historical and political reasons and because of the nature of that democracy."

The dialogue is fascinating for a number of reasons.  Berman is the post-’67-war Jewish generation: he began in politics as a Vietnam dove, and as the Almanac of American Politics states, more than that "as a backer of Israel." In the beginning of his answer in Sherman Oaks he was very direct about how his concern for Israel motivated his political engagement. Not once did he mention Israel’s wretched record in human rights or its denial of democracy to Palestinians under its governance. (It is this moral bankruptcy that is making the establishment Jews increasingly suspect to young aware Jews). Then in a page from the playbook of the Israel lobby, Berman said that the most important thing is to keep up the pressure through Congress, as a "brake" on the inevitable Arab/global pressures that will come to bear on a president. The Israel lobby in Congress.

Then he was challenged by Morris, and Berman began speaking in highblown Holocaust-shadowed rhetoric– scapegoating,  nefarious, canard, and all the historical connections between us and Israel. 

This is not helpful language. When I say Israel lobby, I include the natural inclinations of empowered Jews like Berman, who see Israel as a democracy at existential risk because of the threat of its Arab and Muslim neighbors. This is his natural concern, and it motivated him to seek an important position in Congress, and to cluck over his love of Israel to his constituents. Fine; that is how faction works. These people genuinely believe this and are engaged on that basis.

Can you imagine what journalists would do if an evangelical Christian took the chairmanship of a committee that controlled funding for abortion, or stem-cell research? The papers would be all over it. They would laugh when that congressmen said that the issue of a religious agenda re stem cells is a "total canard." Yet here we have a genuine religious interest, genuinely engaged (until Berman has to throw up all his defensive denials), on issues that today have far more consequences for Americans than the (fading) social conservatives’ agenda; and the press is silent. I don’t blame Berman here so much as the press. Berman is the Religious Left in American life, an important component of our politics, our foreign policy, and the distorted thinking behind the Iraq debacle. And so far the Religious Left has successfully silenced scrutiny of its actions by saying that even to bring it up is to be antisemitic. America is better than that.

(And so are Jews. If there was a true debate of these issues, Jews like Leon Hadar and M.J. Rosenberg would tower in the media as moral voices–Jews who in the midst of sectarian war, still think of the Other.)

P.S. A word on the political stakes here. Berman says that the U.S. supports Israel for a "variety" of historical and political reasons. I.e., the average American loves our democratic ally in the Middle East. John Mearsheimer disagrees. At a speech last fall, here in audio, he said, "contrary to the claims of Israel’s strongest backers, support
for that [U.S.-Israel] relationship among the American people is not wide and not
deep…. If there was an open and free-wheeling
discussion of Israeli history, Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories, and the US relationship with Israel,
it would probably lead many Americans to pressure their leaders in Washington to abandon the special relationship and treat Israel like a
normal country."

Who is right, Berman or Mearsheimer?

28 Responses

  1. Jim Haywood
    February 22, 2008, 1:01 pm

    In response to the Mearsheimer-Walt charge that the Iraq War was orchestrated by the Israel Lobby, Berman falls back upon the identical formula which the New York Jewish News employed last year in an editorial:
    "We were much more concerned about IRAN than Iraq."

    Well, yes. Rattling the sabers against Iran has been the centerpiece of AIPAC's legislative strategy for several years now. In response, Congress has passed resolution after resolution condemning Iran. But Howard Berman asks us to believe that "there is no Lobby."

    Funny, in the latter half of the video, Berman looks like a kid caught red-handed with his whole arm buried in the cookie jar, denying that he even LIKES cookies as he struggles to speak through the wad of cookie dough in his mouth.

  2. MM
    February 22, 2008, 1:04 pm

    I think you know the answer to that one, Phil.

    This is one of your best posts on the Lobby that I've read in the last year–Berman is the archetypal "sensible" American Zionist congressman, and your post pierces his propagandistic armor like a blazing arrow. Once again, bravo.

    (I was going to do a Witty caricature but recently he has been his own best parody. I'm sure he will extoll the fact-challenged bizarro Zionist view of Berman's, that the 98% want their country to send billions of dollars and lose thousands of young lives for Israel every year, because FRIENDS do that for each other, yadda yadda yadda.)

  3. D.
    February 22, 2008, 1:24 pm

    BTW, Berman was one of the Democrats who voted for the war.

  4. Richard Witty
    February 22, 2008, 2:06 pm

    I just watched the video.

    Berman was right. The question and the questioner were insulting, innaccurate, a canard.

    Good for adrenaline, lousy for discussion of real issues.

  5. Shlomo #5
    February 22, 2008, 2:20 pm

    to R. Witty: You just saw a man say he joined the Foreign Relations committee because of his concern for Israel, and then say that the idea of a pro-Israel lobby is a "canard". These are mutually contradictory statements.

  6. Shlomo #5
    February 22, 2008, 2:36 pm

    true, Jessica, but it is naive to think of the lobby in terms of votes. it's more about power and money and the ability to control the media discussion.

  7. Peter H
    February 22, 2008, 3:04 pm

    Richard,

    When you say that Hilary and Obama are "Supportive, but NOT rubber stamps", wht do you mean? Can you give an example where either Hilary or Obama has criticized Israel?

  8. Ed.
    February 22, 2008, 3:27 pm

    “Berman is the post-'67-war Jewish generation"

    It's no coincidence that guys like Berman have brought their compartmentalized thinking to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and today claim that Palestinian resistance is due exclusively to Islamic anti-Semitism and has nothing to do with Jewish Zionist-perpetrated terror.

    He's also in the ignoramus Holocaust indoctrinated generation that convinced itself and everybody else that the Holocaust happened in a vacuum due to innate Christian and gentile hatred of Jews, as opposed to the truth, which is that Jewish Bolshevism’s slaughter of millions of Christians in the Soviet Union established the rules of conduct that led to the Holocaust.
    link to vdare.com

    Left-liberals who cynically joined with Jewish-liberal authoritarians to scapegoat Christianity for the Holocaust made a huge mistake by collaborating with them, and are now reaping what they have sown in the Clinton-Neolib/Bush-Neocon Zionist-loving Leviathan.

    This is what happens when professional-victim political movements take control of a society: suddenly everything that any group that can finagle its way into the victim class does is justified, and we become a society of self-pitying narcissists with a chip on our shoulders looking for a fight–ie the post-9/11 America that went rampaging into Iraq that was played for fools by…yes, you guessed it…the Jewish Neocons.

    American left-liberals were wrong when they allied themselves with opportunistic Jewish authoritarian “liberals”, and they are wrong to ally themselves with interventionist Neolibs who will continue to make matters worse, because they are only different from the Neocons in style, not substance.

    Only a culture of self-sufficiency and self-responsibility — anathema to parasitic Neocons and Neolibs, will provide any kind of long-term answer.

  9. Richard Witty
    February 22, 2008, 4:21 pm

    The thesis of the Israel Lobby is entirely a canard. Its a fascist invocation.

    Berman said it right. The presumption that any external entity, Israel Lobby or Israel, dictates or even bounds what Congress does or feels is ludicrous.

    The common thread among individuals of responsibility is empathy for others that share similar responsibilities to civilians.

    The urging of Peace (rather than revenge) is the morally and politically right stance.

    The inflation of Berman stating that he entered politics to be able to act from that political sensitivity, to some suspicion that he is a puppet of the Israel Lobby, is a fraud.

    Phil,
    You end up in the status of malicious, when you conflate his comments so. What do you say about me in private?

    Next time say them to my face.

  10. the sword of gideon
    February 22, 2008, 4:42 pm

    Let me see if I have this straight Ed. We're parasites who really had that whole gas chamber thing coming. And those happy go lucky lads from hamas and hezbollah, islamic jihad, and Iran aren't really anti-semitic its just that things like the president of Iran calling Israel a microbe is all in good fun. The rockets that come every day, its just a joke. I understand it all now. By the way, were you born an asshole or did you just develop into one?

  11. Jim Haygood
    February 22, 2008, 4:44 pm

    "The thesis of the Israel Lobby is entirely a canard. Its a fascist invocation." — R. Witty

    Funny, that's not what Steven Rosen, formerly AIPAC's director of foreign policy issues, says. This quote is from Jeffrey Goldberg, writing in the New Yorker:

    "AIPAC’s leaders can be immoderately frank about the group’s influence. At dinner that night with Steven Rosen, I mentioned a controversy that had enveloped AIPAC in 1992. David Steiner, a New Jersey real-estate developer who was then serving as AIPAC’s president, was caught on tape boasting that he had “cut a deal” with the Administration of George H. W. Bush to provide more aid to Israel. Steiner also said that he was “negotiating” with the incoming Clinton Administration over the appointment of a pro-Israel Secretary of State. “We have a dozen people in his” —Clinton’s— “headquarters … and they are all going to get big jobs,” Steiner said. Soon after the tape’s existence was disclosed, Steiner resigned his post. I asked Rosen if AIPAC suffered a loss of influence after the Steiner affair. A half smile appeared on his face, and he pushed a napkin across the table. “You see this napkin?” he said. “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.”

    link to newyorker.com

    Got that, Richard? AIPAC says they can get seventy Senators' signatures on a cocktail napkin in 24 hours. You say that's a canard.

    Having spent some time lobbying in D.C. myself, and witnessing the Lobby in action, I'll take AIPAC's version over yours. Maybe you need to get out more … stop spending all day schmoozing in Phil's mom's kitchen. She's got other things to do than to babysit the likes of you.

  12. Defenestrator
    February 22, 2008, 5:18 pm

    I suppose the military-industrial complex has no sway over politics, nor does Wall St., according to Richard Witty.

    The "canard" is that lobbyists have no power. If they had no power, they wouldn't exist.

  13. Joshua
    February 22, 2008, 6:19 pm

    It's remarkable that despite all the evidence to support it, and even the admission of many Israeli officials that such a lobby exists in the US, and all the footnotes from Walt and Mearsheimer's book (and essay) that Richard is still able to block it out and call it a fabrication.

    It's a pity that he didn't join the Stephen Plaut's of this world and say that the Arab Lobby is a bigger influence than the Israel Lobby, which dates all the way back to the Truman years when we was amazed at its clout.

  14. syvanen
    February 22, 2008, 7:57 pm

    I think it is a healthy sign that Israel is not being mentioned in this campaign. First, we must accept that if it is mentioned then it must only be in the most glowing terms and words like occupation, Palestinian suffering, even-handedness, etc cannot be uttered for that way lies doom. The fact that the candidates are avoiding it could be for one of two reasons: maybe simple shame or perhaps politicians are detecting changes in the public attitudes and see excessive support for Israel is turning off significant numbers of voters.

  15. syvanen
    February 22, 2008, 7:57 pm

    I think it is a healthy sign that Israel is not being mentioned in this campaign. First, we must accept that if it is mentioned then it must only be in the most glowing terms and words like occupation, Palestinian suffering, even-handedness, etc cannot be uttered for that way lies doom. The fact that the candidates are avoiding it could be for one of two reasons: maybe simple shame or perhaps politicians are detecting changes in the public attitudes and see excessive support for Israel is turning off significant numbers of voters.

  16. syvanen
    February 22, 2008, 7:58 pm

    I think it is a healthy sign that Israel is not being mentioned in this campaign. First, we must accept that if it is mentioned then it must only be in the most glowing terms and words like occupation, Palestinian suffering, even-handedness, etc cannot be uttered for that way lies doom. The fact that the candidates are avoiding it could be for one of two reasons: maybe simple shame or perhaps politicians are detecting changes in the public attitudes and see excessive support for Israel is turning off significant numbers of voters.

  17. Shlomo #5
    February 22, 2008, 8:12 pm

    "The inflation of Berman stating that he entered politics to be able to act from that political sensitivity, to some suspicion that he is a puppet of the Israel Lobby, is a fraud."

    Richard, you seem to misunderstand what is meant by the Israel Lobby. Berman isn't the puppet of any lobby. He IS the lobby. The lobby isn't in Israel, it's here. It's you.

    No one wants to silence Berman or you, but we would like to be able to talk about you.

  18. Richard Witty
    February 22, 2008, 8:47 pm

    The inflation is that the "Israel Lobby" controls anything. It does no such thing.

    Its a faction, a moderate one, not tiny and not monolithic. Definitely not conspiratorial.

    But, you speak as if it were. Fixated on it, inflating its influence and methods.

    How many topics on this blog are of the same topic over and over? Is that all you think about Phil?

    And, if you do, what history do you read? Have you read Bennie Morris, Baruch Kimmerling, even Elan Pappe?

    Have you read the "official" Zionist histories? Sachar say?

    Do you think Walt/Mearsheimer did?

    Too many have read lines, but so few have read actual books, and fewer have then read the references sited.

    And, so many have the audacity to then claim that individuals that do actually read and perspectives that differ from their own, parrot a "party line".

    What was the last book that you read, Phil, that differed from your prior opinion?

  19. Shlomo #5
    February 22, 2008, 9:46 pm

    why does the lobby expend so much effort if it doesn't have any effect?

  20. Gene
    February 22, 2008, 11:27 pm

    Witty: "I am concerned about Israel. Would that in your mind disqualify me from public office, or committee leadership."

    Well sure, especially when, as seems the case, you would invariably give paramount place to Israel, while allowing America's interests to limp along a distant second.

  21. americangoy
    February 22, 2008, 11:46 pm

    Oh thank you for linking us to this video.

    Amazing video.

  22. uk
    February 22, 2008, 11:49 pm

    "Berman isn't the puppet of any lobby. He IS the lobby. The lobby isn't in Israel, it's here. It's you. . . . No one wants to silence Berman or you, but we would like to be able to talk about you."

    EXACTLY! The wisdom of Solomon!

  23. uk
    February 23, 2008, 12:05 am

    Richard and any others who find M&W lacking should try reading Edward Tivnan's "The Lobby: Jewish Political Power and American Foreign Policy" (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987).

  24. Charles Keating
    February 23, 2008, 7:24 am

    Here's Tom Hayden's personal experience with the Berman brothers; it details how the "canard" works in detail. Better take a couple shots of booze before you proceed:

    link to warwithoutend.co.uk

  25. Richard Witty
    February 23, 2008, 8:39 am

    Charles,
    So support an alternative candidate.

    But, do so on grounds that are actually likely to avoid polarizing.

    Maybe thats not possible. Maybe the only way to change things is to propose things militantly, and then later coopt.

    Phil misuses the term "post-zionism", or at least in a manner that takes the substantive meaning out of the term.

    There is a meaning of "post-zionism" that is only defined by time. As in the formative leaders of the early generations of Zionist EFFORT are past. Few in the governing generation have met Ben Gurian, even Golda Meir, or Dayan or Begin.

    The boldness of Zionism is past, is one meaning.

    The other meaning, the substantive one would be that "Zionism is no longer necessary". A POST-Zionism.

    Phil alludes to that in the US, that he perceives that Jews are secure now, not attacked all that much for being Jews (except around Zionism), that Jews are prominent in many areas of influence (left and right).

    But, in the world, there is still anti-semitism, and to an actual extent that might require haven. And, certainly to a latent extent, that the idiots could and prospectively would impose in a way that is persecutorial.

    That is the significance of the Roth book. As Phil alluded, when traversing the media and blogosphere, the most informative fact is conveyed in skillful fiction.

    Definitely fiction. (Not so much about Lindbergh's ideology and practise. You'd have to actually read the book.) But, also informative.

    Including the role of the "good Jew", the temporarily acceptable one to the opportunists that scapegoat as their means to credibility.

    The ONLY argument, the only work, that facilitates post-Zionism in the substantive sense, is the effort of mutual acceptance, the effort TO co-exist.

    To the extent that the understandable and valid reasons for Zionism are dismissed, then Zionism remains a necessity.

    As ironic or koanish as that is.

    It is similar to the Torah promise "If you keep my commandments, I will give you the land… and the rain in its time". The koan element of it is that one of the commandments is "thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's possession". How does one acquire the land without first wanting and then acting to acquire it?

    A paradox.

    Similar to the urge to post-Zionism. How does one remove the urge and institutions of persecutions on the Palestinian people?

    By building bridges between those that are still Zionist, but humanist as well as Zionist (the vast majority), NOT by condemning them because they perceive that they are hungry when they are still hungry.

  26. agog
    February 23, 2008, 12:13 pm

    Methinks Jessica, above, is a fabulist with an agenda. She opines:

    "After Pearl Harbor, when other Americans were smashing their Japanese products in the street…"

    Are we really meant to believe that in 1941 American homes were full of Japanese consumer products?

  27. Charles Keating
    February 27, 2008, 6:39 am

    "How does one acquire the land without first wanting and then acting to acquire it? A paradox… NOT by condemning them because they perceive that they are hungry when they are still hungry." -Richard Witty

    How do the Palestinians regain and/or hold the land of their fathers for generations without first wanting and then acting to do so with whatever slim asymetrical means are at their disposal in the face of a super-power supported vast military machine armed with nukes? A practical paradox. NOT by condemning them because they deny the right of anyone to grab their
    homeland and perceive that they are hungry in fact when they remain so.

  28. AmericaFirstforaChange
    September 10, 2012, 7:12 pm

    AIPAC Israel firster Berman boasts of backing from McCain, Lieberman, Graham:

    link to america-hijacked.com

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