my critique of the leftwing critique of Israel lobby theory

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David Green, who has been a friend to this site, takes on my belief in the Israel lobby in this post at Palestine Chronicle. His is the standard leftist critique of the lobby theory, saying that there is nothing to praise in the so-called American interest, and the U.S. is motivated by imperial/material concerns and not by ethnicity. Here’s the heart of his objection:

American politicians and pundits are loyal to themselves, their wealth and status, their class of people, and the neoliberal world order so long as it benefits them—which it has, to say the least…

It’s a beautiful Saturday and I want to go skiing, but a few words. Green is, like Chomsky, whom he quotes a lot, a materialist; he sees wealth as a great motivation for states and political actors. So do I. The error, though, is that they dismiss religious ideology as a political motivator; and in doing so Green shows himself to be shallow and mechanistic. He reminds me of all the commentators who said that the religious right were voting against their economic self-interest in supporting Bush in 2004. Right. People have other motivations than strict material self-interest. AIPAC is filled with rich people who can’t wait to give away their money. They are motivated by ethnocentrism, and Zionism. The Iraq war was a giant disaster materially, forseeably. It was motivated by various ideologies, including Zionism among the neocons.

The trouble with Green’s analysis is that it overlooks or treats as trivial such facts as:

–Ann Lewis, Democratic Jewish powerbroker, saying in ’08 that the role of the US gov’t is to support what the people of Israel want; she is expressing a religious fervor; 

–The US government helps create a government in Iraq that includes former terrorist groups but specifically excludes Hamas from any government-making negotiations in Israel (why the double standard?)

–Barack Obama runs for president as an anti-Iraq-war candidate and gets past Hillary on that basis, but even as he does so calls for Jerusalem to remain undivided and can’t say a word against Israel’s Iraq, Gaza (why the double standard?)

–Sheldon Adelson gives $300,000 to the Republican Party in 2000 not because of any material interest but because he doesn’t want Jerusalem divided, as the Camp David negotiations suggested it might be, and days after the last tranche of that money is delivered, Douglas Feith, a nobody cipher who helped set up the One Jerusalem lobby out of desire to maintain a greater Israel, is hired to a high position in the Pentagon in the upcoming Bush administration.

–Obama’s own national security adviser, Gen’l Jones, going to J Street and saying that the Israel/Palestine conflict is the one issue that it is in the best interest of the US to resolve to guarantee greater security for its citizens; and lo, J Street is smeared in Israel; and Obama makes no progress on this stated objective…

It goes on and on. This is an important conversation; because the old materialist left needs to integrate an understanding of the power of religious thinking into its analysis. Yes I know religion is the opiate of the masses. It turns out that religious feeling and ethnocentric feeling too pervades human life, even in the elites.

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