The Israel lobby is just icing on the imperial cake

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Readers of this site know that co-editor Weiss is religious about the Israel lobby as the driver of American policy in the Middle East. David Green is an Illinois activist who disagrees. His response to Weiss’s latest claim re the lobby:

As a leftist critic of U.S. foreign policy, I subscribe to the long-term historical analyses of people like William Appleman Williams, Gabriel Kolko, Walter LaFeber, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky. These policies, since at least 1898 and especially since WWII, have been driven by the imperative to incorporate as much of the world and its resources as possible into a system that is to the benefit of broad corporate interests. Clearly, the rise of a military-industrial complex, with its own interests, has accompanied this process.

In this context, there are several general things to say about the Israel Lobby. 

First, the Lobby clearly hasn’t challenged or undermined these central economic interests, whatever the internal conflicts among those interests; that is, the control of oil proceeds apace, with Israel’s support as a “cop on the best” in the Middle East.

Second, the Lobby (a lot of privileged people) itself represents aspects of various economic interests–in both the U.S. and Israel, especially in relation to the military-industrial complex in both countries. 

Third, the Lobby’s propaganda and influence in the media does the same thing that all mainstream propaganda does–obscures the nature of those economic interests, substituting instead moralistic rhetoric and evoking fear of the “other.” The fundamental nature of our resources wars cannot be acknowledged. While the Lobby has taught the mainstream media a thing or two about obfuscation and mendacity (I guess), they haven’t exactly invented any new techniques. All of the cultural superiority and moralizing that now goes along with Jews, the Holocaust, Israel, and the Islamic world is in no way of a different order than propaganda from Walter Lippmann’s “manufacture of consent” against the Hun (WWI) to the present. 

More specifically, I am responding to Nir Rosen’s assertions at a public appearance, assertions that are based on his journalistic experience. I have the greatest respect for Rosen’s work, but I have no way to evaluate his conclusion that he is “under less condemnation” for criticizing the American occupation (Iraq, Afghanistan) than Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and that Rosen’s editors are more accepting of the former. These are vague generalizations based on personal experience, and even if they were copiously documented, I don’t see how they would lead to any conclusion regarding the relationship between the Israel Lobby and those editors or media outlets, especially in relation to the mainstream media.

Regarding the mainstream media, it would never for a minute have occurred to me to even try to detect anything more than trivial or anecdotal differences among the dehumanization of Arabs in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Palestine, given the varied circumstances of occupation, war, and colonization. Further, I would have no idea how to relate any such alleged media differences to the influence of the Lobby, other than to state the obvious point that the Lobby focuses more intensely on Israel/Palestine.

Let’s not forget that the millions of Iraqis that have been killed or died “un-natural” deaths as a result of U.S. policies over the past 20-30 years dwarfs the number of Palestinians killed (even since 1947), however brutal and intensified Israel’s control of the Palestinian people. That’s because Iraq is where the oil is, and a lot more people also happen to be there. Lies are lies, whether they involve genocides, expulsions, occupations, or wars. I don’t see any aspect of the mainstream media, regardless of the influence of the Lobby, telling the substantive, non-trivial truth about any of this. It simply can’t, by its very nature, even think of attempting this, and the Lobby–for all its creativity–is just icing on the cake; not to dismiss the icing, especially for Jews themselves, especially liberal Jews, who in their own ironic way, from Martin Peretz to Eric Alterman, need to hear more clever and sanctimonious lies in order to keep the faith (forget about Peretz for a while, and see Alterman’s depredations in this week’s The Nation). 

It is further claimed that we are willing to deal with Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban, and not with the Palestinians. But on the one hand, we have to deal with the Iraqi insurgents/Taliban, because dealing with the puppets wasn’t/isn’t working in our “interests.” But the point is to recruit better puppets. We have “only permanent interests, not permanent allies.” On the other hand, we do in fact also deal with the Palestinian puppets, until they get uppity. It’s not at all clear that it is in our “interests” to have a just settlement in Israel and Palestine (as opposed to ramming a Bantustan down their throats). Until then, the American/Israeli divide-and-conquer strategy is not an accident, and indeed is not exactly a new tactic in the annals of colonialism.

In any event, I don’t see how these differences in geopolitical conflicts, history, strategy, and tactics among these various countries can possibly be attributed to the determining influence of the Israel Lobby. As Chomsky repeatedly says, it’s not that we hate the Palestinians; they’re just not politically important enough to care about; they have “negative rights.” But certainly, the Lobby will keep demonizing Hamas until the pragmatics change, just as they changed with Arafat.

It’s also claimed that Obama ran in opposition to the Iraq war, but couldn’t criticize Israel’s assault in Gaza in 2008-09. I don’t however see Obama as a principled opponent to the Iraq war; it was a political ploy to disarm the antiwar left. All of this should now be obvious, and for Obama it “worked.” Obama is down with the whole USFP program, including Israel. In political and strategic terms, both in relation to capitalism, election, and re-election, he actually truly (that is, calculatedly, greedily, cynically) supports Israel as an occupying, hyper-militarized but subservient ally, which again is vital to U.S. interests in the region. The Lobby hasn’t made him do it.

That’s because Obama is a skilled politician in a capitalist country and leader of the world’s only superpower. The influence of the Lobby could only possibly explain relatively marginal decisions and behavior. The air of American geopolitical control of the region is the air he breathes (read the Audacity of Hope), and that air doesn’t go uncirculated around Israel and Palestine. Nor is it clear where American interests stop and Israeli interests start, especially in relation to our inter-locking military-industrial complexes. 

It is asked “how come liberals in the mainstream can criticize U.S. policy but not Israel?” But they indeed criticize both, but in ways that don’t challenge the assumptions regarding the interests of either, and the relationships of those (elite, corporate) interests to those of “average” (no less impoverished) citizens of those countries. In fact, some op-ed columns critical of Israel (Rashid Khalidi, for example) are more profoundly critical than anything one will see regarding our wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, no less our policies in Latin America (what Lobby prevents support for Chavez?). Such criticism of Israel is of course carefully contextualized to “let off steam” (and support claims to a superficial “balance”) while not challenging the fundamental, implicit context created by the NYT, etc., both in its reporting and on its opinion pages.

As I’ve repeatedly said, to over-estimate and misconstrue the power of the Israel Lobby is a profound analytical mistake that leads to damaging strategic and tactical mistakes by failing to confront the reality that U.S. foreign policy fundamentally supports Israel as part of elite, corporate, and military-industrial economic interests; and thus failing to respond realistically and effectively.

Capitalism is complicated, but it all revolves around profits and violence in support of those profits. The future of the Palestinian people depends greatly on Americans dealing with their own politicians and their own government. This is not to say that the Palestinians should have to wait until we overthrow capitalism (although that would be nice); but it’s important to recognize from which enemies will have to be gained strategic and tactical victories; and only with the help of popular, public support, which has grown dramatically in recent years, and is now being frittered away by emphasis on the power of the Lobby.

However, none of this diminishes the need for aggressively countering the Lobby’s tactics and lies, especially in relation to Jewish institutions, which I’ve been doing on a regular and incessant basis in Urbana-Champaign for the past 12 years. Nor is any of this a general brief against BDS tactics that focus on our own responsibilities, such as those in the land of Caterpillar.

Zionism is indeed an “anachronistic ideology,” and Jewish institutions should be directly challenged in their assumed and subservient support of it. As a formerly affiliated Reform Jew, the inbred arrogance and racism is of course appalling. Nevertheless, I would re-iterate that American support for Israel goes well beyond Jewish institutional support, and that Palestinians and their American supporters, Jewish or otherwise, shouldn’t have to wait for these “anachronistic” (I guess), but at another level crassly self-interested and corrupt institutions, to get their acts together in order to have an effective movement.

The truth is, they never will, except in a radically changed political environment, and those who support the Palestinians have to seriously consider de-emphasizing what are essentially reactive and ineffective tactics based on the fallacy that Jews dictate American policies toward Israel.

David Green ([email protected]) is a 60-year-old Jewish-American who lives in Champaign, IL.

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