Pavlov had nothing on the Israel lobby — consider Senator Elizabeth Warren

Israel/Palestine
on 22 Comments

Last week the Senate passed Resolution 65, mandating a new round of sanctions against Iran and promising to support Israel if it should choose to launch a unilateral war.  The bill contradicted explicit US policy in a number of areas:  it imposed secondary penalties on US allies; it lowered  the bar for military action to Israel’s preferred language of “nuclear capability” rather than acquisition of a nuclear weapon; and it interferes with the attempt to reach a diplomatic resolution to the nuclear impasse at a delicate time.  No wonder Secretary of State John Kerry implored Congress not to pass the bill when he testified before the Senate Foreign relations committee last month.  

Nevertheless, the Senate bill came to a vote on May 22, and the result – in a roll call vote – was 99-0 in favor of the bill.

In the last Congress, another Iran Sanctions measure – an amendment attached to the 2012 Defense Appropriation Bill — was also opposed by the Obama administration. The provision, probably illegal under WTO rules, mandated secondary penalties against foreign banks which did business with Iran’s oil sector (US banks were already banned from doing so).  Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner wrote a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee “to express the Administration’s strong opposition to this amendment because, in its current form, it threatens to undermine the effective, carefully phased, and sustainable approach we have taken to build strong international pressure against Iran.”  Two State Department officials of the Administration testified against the amendment; Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry also opposed the measure.

However, when the amendment’s sponsors insisted on a roll call vote, it passed 100-0.  Even Senator Kerry voted for the measure he had earlier opposed.

To understand how this can happen, it is useful to look at the Israel Lobby’s legislative MO — as well as the larger dynamic around Israel advocacy within the US Congress, in our political system and in the press.

AIPAC, of course, is the premier Israel Lobby organization.  Every year at its annual Conference the group assembles a huge turnout of moneyed and grassroots lobbyists.  Scores of members of Congress from both parties and political aspirants of all stripes jockey to express their loyalty to the Lobby.  It is at these conferences that AIPAC’s major legislative priorities for the year are unveiled.  This always includes renewed (and increased) military aid for Israel and for the last ten years or so various measures to oppose, sanction and preferably make war on to overthrow the Islamic Republic of Iran — Israel’s last remaining serious military opponent in the Middle East.

Here is the way it works. 

–In the days before the yearly AIPAC conference in early March, reliable members of Congress from both parties – preferably non-Jews – are prevailed upon to submit AIPAC-drafted bills with a substantial number of initial bi-partisan sponsors.  This year the highlighted legislation included House Res. 850, The Nuclear Iran Prevention Act of 2013, introduced on February 28 by California Democrat Rep. Edward Royce and 31 co-sponsors (16 Democrats and 15 Republicans); and Senate Res. 65, Strongly Supporting the Full Implementation of United States and International Sanctions On Iran, also introduced on February 28 by the every dependable Senator Lindsey Graham [R-SC] and 22 initial co-sponsors (13 Democrats and 9 Republicans).  Another bill, apparently a late entry from the March 2-4 Conference itself, did not follow the preferred pattern.  House Res. 938, The United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 was introduced hurriedly on March 4 by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-FL27] with only two Democratic co-sponsors.  These three bills embodied AIPAC’s 2013 declared legislative priorities: “Prevent Iranian Nuclear Weapons Capability”; “Strengthen U.S.-Israel Strategic Cooperation”; “Support Security Assistance for Israel”.

— Then, before leaving Washington, the Conference attendees launch themselves on Capitol Hill to recruit more co-sponsors for the AIPAC bills.  Initially, this is mostly pushing on an open door, as many legislators are eager to join the bandwagon;  some were simply not asked earlier in the interest of bi-partisan balance; some were not quick enough to get listed when the initial bills were introduced.  Within a few weeks of the AIPAC Conference Senate Res. 65 had an additional 55 co-sponsors, House Res. 850 added more than 250 sponsors; and House Res. 983 more than 150.

–The effort continues to line up more cosponsors with the aim of securing an irresistible momentum for the bills.  Many legislators simply take more time to pin down; others (few) might have been reluctant holdouts persuaded not to find themselves isolated against the AIPAC juggernaut.  An AIPAC staffer once famously bragged that “in twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on a napkin”. It took a little longer this time, but Senate Res. 65 already had 91 co-sponsors before it came up for a vote. House Res. 850, still pending, now has 351 co-sponsors; H. Res. 983 has 271.

–Not all AIPAC-initiated legislation follows this pattern.  Other bills or amendments come up during the year and are pushed as opportunities or needs present themselves.  Some of these bills – and the frequent “Congressional Letters” of support for Israel — have little practical impact on policy but are part of AIPAC’s disciplining of US legislators.  I call it “puppy training.” Most members of Congress become reflexively obedient to AIPAC’s legislative agenda.  The 29 standing ovations for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he addressed Congress in 2011 are a good illustration of the outcome.  Pavlov had nothing on the Israel Lobby.

It might be tempting to conclude – as AIPAC and its allies contend – that Congress acts in response to overwhelming public support for Israel.  However, it is important to observe that votes on the Lobby’s bills are rarely much publicized in the US – as opposed to Israeli –mainstream media.  Of course, the pro-Israel political machine, the Rightwing and Zionist blogosphere do pay close attention, ever-ready to punish legislative misbehavior. Most of the public remains, by design, completely unaware of these political maneuverings.  Not long ago, House Republican Whip Eric Cantor proposed voting separately on military aid to Israel so as to insulate it from potential cuts to Pentagon spending, but he was quickly persuaded to drop the idea.  The Lobby prefers to have the $3 billion plus in annual aid to Israel discretely hidden within the vast Defense Appropriation Bill.

So the power of AIPAC derives not fundamentally from Israel’s vast popularity. Although opinion polls do regularly confirm the public supports Israel at a much higher level than the Palestinians (no surprise), substantial pluralities still prefer that the US stay neutral in the conflict.  I have seen no polling about support for the billions in military aid to Israel each year.  It is hard to imagine that the majority response would be anything but negative in the light of cuts to funding for other popular government programs. Not surprisingly the Lobby prefers “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on the question of yearly billions for Israel.

The apparent dominance of the Israel Lobby in Congress stems from what I would call “asymmetric politics”.  AIPAC represents the power of a well-funded and single-issue political machine.  It is quick to punish recalcitrant legislators – or to reward good behavior with dollars and campaign support from the many PACS and rich donors who take its direction.

On the other side, the advocates for Palestinian rights are scattered, poorly funded and little threat to incumbent legislators. The Arab and Muslim communities cannot match the Israel Lobby’s Jewish financial base or its mobilized grassroots numbers. Many of their communities are relatively new in the US, insecure and targeted by the well-funded complex of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim mobilization since 9/11.  The great mass of the public are simply not involved and not paying much attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict or much aware of pro-Israel political power in Congress.

Seen in this light, members of Congress – ever averse to risk, as are all elected officials – are behaving rationally when they defer to the Israel Lobby.  They pay little or no price for playing ball with AIPAC and risk a backlash with no apparent reward if they don’t.

As for the broader anti-war and progressive movements, even when they have adopted good positions on Palestinian rights or opposing the Lobby-supported drive for war with Iran, these issues usually turn out to be “expendable” in comparison to other agendas.  

Two recent examples will illustrate this dynamic. 

This Spring, a well-established national peace organization, with a significant branch in Massachusetts, decided to endorse Democratic Rep. Ed Markey prior to the special primary election for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat.   Markey is on the right side of most issues progressive hold dear, but he was also an initial supporter of the Iraq War.  And he has become a very reliable backer of Israel-Lobby legislative priorities, where in Massachusetts he is something of an outlier on these issues. He was among only three Mass delegation co-sponsors of H. Res. 850 and among only two of H. Res. 983.  He is also a dependable signer of whatever letter AIPAC is collecting signatures for, such as the one supporting the assault on Gaza a few years ago.

Some members of the peace organization argued in favor of no endorsement for Markey – at least in the primary – because of his poor record on Iran and Palestine, but they were outvoted.  The majority argued that an endorsement and fundraising for Markey would give them “access” to promote better positions on these issues after the election.  A cynic may wonder whether Markey, or any other progressive legislator would take this seriously.  A long-serving national board member of the group resigned in protest.

Then there is Massachusetts’ celebrity Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Many of her progressive supporters were uneasy over the boiler-plate pro-Israel language on her campaign web site, however there was little doubt that she was a genuine populist on other issues and would bring a rare progressive voice to the halls of Congress.  This, in large measure, she has done. 

However, when push came to shove, Sen. Warren was persuaded to add her name as a sponsor to Senate Res. 65 – late to be sure (not until May 7) – and she joined in the unanimous vote in favor of the bill.  Now Warren, formerly a faculty member of Harvard Law School, undoubtedly knows the score on the Israel and Iran issues.  It is hard to imagine she hasn’t had certain conversations in the Faculty Club about Palestine, heard about the many events at her school on issues of Human Rights and International Law in the Middle East or understood the role of the Israel Lobby in war-promotion and military spending. 

No doubt Warren rationalized her vote pragmatically.  Why risk becoming an isolated Senate freshman and losing her political credibility?  Why not submit to what was required in order to give her space to battle on other political issues she cared about?  For Senator Warren – as for so many Congressional progressives and Liberals — her seat is worth the price of a vote for AIPAC.  And it is highly unlikely that she risks losing much electoral support for doing so.

This is the way asymmetric politics works for the Israel Lobby.  It is the dynamic that puts our country in opposition to most of the world with respect to International Law and peace in the Middle East.  And it may yet succeed in getting us into a war with Iran.

Jeff Klein is a retired local union president, peace and justice activist, Palestinian rights supporter. This post first appeared on Klein’s new website, At a slight angle to the universe.

About Jeff Klein

Jeff Klein, is a retired local union president, a long-time Palestine solidarity activist and a board member of Mass Peace Action. He has a blog: http://atmyangle.blogspot.com/

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22 Responses

  1. just
    June 1, 2013, 4:51 pm

    Ok– deport every single one in Congress to Israel. I am sick of their complicity and enabling of a foreign country. I can’t see them ever putting the US or the wishes of the people first. How is it that Mr. Kerry said that we have ca. 2000 troops in Syria, and we, the people, knew nothing of it??? Why did he only lament that the balance of power would negatively affect dear Israel, and not us?

    They don’t give a rat’s ass about Americans or our standing in a dangerous world.

    They care only for their own survival in the ‘halls of power’.

    • James Canning
      June 2, 2013, 7:09 pm

      @Just – – There is more to it that you suggest. Substantial wealth often is directed to those who help Israel lobby to subvert the national security of the American people.

  2. a blah chick
    June 1, 2013, 5:43 pm

    ” … members of Congress – ever averse to risk…are behaving rationally when they defer to the Israel Lobby. They pay little or no price for playing ball with AIPAC and risk a backlash with no apparent reward if they don’t.”

    That’s it right there.

    I would say that that is the reason for Ms. Keyes deciding to do her concert. It’s the course of least resistance. Do otherwise and you will have the wrath of the Zionist lobby on your back.

    • James Canning
      June 2, 2013, 7:08 pm

      @a blah chick – – And the reason for this very dangerous state of affairs, is simply the complicity of American news media.

  3. dbroncos
    June 1, 2013, 6:38 pm

    “And it may yet succeed in getting us into a war with Iran.”

    Yes indeed, and Obama has put his credibility on the line by saying, “Iran will not be allowed to develop…” Up to now, however, I do give him a little credit for his “give sanctions a chance” stall tactics. I think he’s tired of being a war President and he also understands that most Americans are war weary and they don’t want to get into another one with Iran. I hope these factors will encourage him to do all he can to avert another war for Israel’s benefit, though I can’t point to any courageous stand he’s taken on any issue wrt the natonal interest of the US.

  4. CloakAndDagger
    June 1, 2013, 9:56 pm

    We are governed by venal traitors who do us much harm. The usual response to the accusation of this treachery is that if they did not support the lobby, they would be ousted from office by the lobby funding their challengers. I don’t buy this argument as there are other alternatives to brazen defiance.

    At the very least, they owe us notification of the bills being considered, as well as a brief dissertation of the pros and cons of such bills in layman language. This is not different from the sample ballots that are sent out around each election, which also contain proposed measures and include statements for and against the measures.

    By publishing these bills and highlighting the two opposing views, they could enable the citizenry to be involved in the government as the founders intended.

    • radkelt
      June 2, 2013, 11:26 pm

      C&D,
      “We are governed by venal traitors who do us much harm. The usual response to the accusation of this treachery is that if they did not support the lobby, they would be ousted from office by the lobby funding their challengers. I don’t buy this argument as there are other alternatives to brazen defiance”

      Please elaborate.. what effective alternatives do you espouse?

      • CloakAndDagger
        June 3, 2013, 12:21 pm

        @ radkelt

        Read my second and last paragraph.

  5. seafoid
    June 2, 2013, 4:52 am

    99-0
    The best shills money can buy

    All empires go through the corrupt stage.
    They understand this in Tehran.

    It’s no wonder they back Assad to the hilt.

    And did anyone in the Beltway notice that the US’s unipolar moment has passed? Apparently not.

    • James Canning
      June 2, 2013, 7:06 pm

      @Seafoid – – Some Iranian leaders do in fact comprehend the degree to which the US Congress is controlled by the Israel lobby, in matters concerning Israel.

  6. Cliff
    June 2, 2013, 5:50 am

    On the other side, the advocates for Palestinian rights are scattered, poorly funded and little threat to incumbent legislators. The Arab and Muslim communities cannot match the Israel Lobby’s Jewish financial base or its mobilized grassroots numbers. Many of their communities are relatively new in the US, insecure and targeted by the well-funded complex of anti-Arab, anti-Muslim mobilization since 9/11. The great mass of the public are simply not involved and not paying much attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict or much aware of pro-Israel political power in Congress.

    This is a very good summary of Arab-Americans/Muslim-Americans. Or at least it ‘feels’ that way.

    I don’t understand why they aren’t more vocal but I think the Arab world is much more fragmented. The solidarity/unity of the Jewish community is unique (given the history of persecution).

    • seafoid
      June 2, 2013, 10:45 am

      “The solidarity/unity of the Jewish community is unique (given the history of persecution).”

      I bet it’s more nuanced than that. The current path is potentially suicidal . There is probably more money involved in adhering to the memes. Maybe the Zionist hierarchy prefers certain personality types. There are huge issues around information availability and PR. The other trouble with Zionism is that it takes up too many evenings. Did the Shoah mean that whatever happened next would have to look like a cult? Probably not.

  7. quirx
    June 2, 2013, 9:39 am

    AIPAC, of course, is the premier Israel Lobby organization. Every year at its annual Conference the group assembles a huge turnout of moneyed and grassroots lobbyists. Scores of members of Congress from both parties and political aspirants of all stripes jockey to express their loyalty to the Lobby.

    I would only take issue with this one statement and believe it should be instead –

    Scores of members of Congress from both parties and political aspirants of all stripes jockey to express their loyalty to the Lobby a foreign government.

    As far as I know, that would seem to be treason.

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 3, 2013, 8:27 am

      “As far as I know, that would seem to be treason.”

      Agreed. These puppets should all be tossed in prison.

    • James Canning
      June 3, 2013, 6:52 pm

      @Quirx – – I think their loyalty is to the Israel lobby itself. At least 500 rich donors were in the US Congress for the love-fest for Bibi Netanyahu last year.

  8. James Canning
    June 2, 2013, 7:05 pm

    Great piece. And Aipac continues to undermine the national security of the American people. With steady help from foolish US senators and congressmen.

  9. Denis
    June 3, 2013, 4:55 am

    The vote on HR 95 was 99-0, as Jeff noted. The non-vote was Frank Lautenberg – 89 yo, Jewish Democrat, from NJ. I have not heard why he did not vote. He is not listed as an abstention, but as a no vote. I guess it would be too much, given this post, to hope that any Senator would take a position of conscience on Res 95, much less a NJ Jew. Maybe he was out of town, making aliyah. I hope this comment is not fair and he stayed home to make a point, but I doubt it.

    @Jeff: “On the other side, the advocates for Palestinian rights are scattered, poorly funded and little threat to incumbent legislators.”

    Some things will never change. In the super tight 1948 election when Truman was asked why he was supporting the Jewish state he said, in effect, that he had thousands of Jewish supporters and not a single Arab. IOW money talks, conscience stays mum.

    The thing that will never change is the disease we call “democracy.” It panders to power and to money and always has. Were that not true, there would be no AIPAC or Citizens United. Warren knows exactly what’s going on and she’s as gutless and as morally retarded as the rest.

    • AlGhorear
      June 3, 2013, 11:39 am

      @Denis I guess we have our answer now about why Senator Lautenberg didn’t vote for HR 95. It wasn’t an act of conscience–he was on his death bed. He died this morning, Monday June 3rd . From CBS news:

      “Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., the last World War II veteran serving in the Senate, died due to complications from viral pneumonia at 4:02 a.m. Monday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell, his office announced. He was 89 years old.

      The Democrat had health problems in recent years and had missed several Senate votes in the first months of the year. He had the flu and missed the Senate’s Jan. 1 vote to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff of rising taxes and falling government spending, then missed several votes two months later because of leg pain.

      A chest cold kept him from attending a May 29 tribute in New York honoring him for his contributions to the Jewish community and Israel.”

      Link to Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., dies at age 89

    • Denis
      June 3, 2013, 12:17 pm

      I guess Lautenberg really is making aliyah. My guess is that i-firsters and zionists get reincarnated as Palestinians. Karma, not RIP, IOW.

      As usual, HuffPo screws the semantics: “New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) will fill the vacant Senate seat.”

      I don’t think so, unless he appoints himself. CC couldn’t fit in that seat anyway, but scratch one D vote and add one R in the Senate. Watch him appoint Trump.

    • Walker
      June 3, 2013, 1:03 pm

      Lautenberg was dying. Perhaps under the circumstances he felt free to vote his conscience.

  10. hammersmith46
    June 3, 2013, 7:10 am

    “Many of her progressive supporters were uneasy over the boiler-plate pro-Israel language on her campaign web site, however there was little doubt that she was a genuine populist on other issues….” Please God, make them stop this refrain. Of course she, as so many others, is progressive on a hodgepodge of trival, but vote getting, issues that are going nowhere and mean nothing. When it comes to something real, big and dangerous, she is just another Zionist lackey.

    • Woody Tanaka
      June 3, 2013, 8:33 am

      That’s how they have leveraged themselves into power, using our backward two-party system. They don’t care one whit about this country, so they let their political lackeys take whatever position they want on those issues. So when the average American voter is stuck. Sure, his or her congressperson or senator spends a lifetime fellating the donkey, but when the alternative is the election of the guy who also fellates the donkey but has much worse views on the other issues. So the American people are forced into a no win situation.

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