I am just back from the National Summit to Re-Assess the U.S.-Israel Special Relationship and will file reports of compelling remarks from speakers in days to come.
But I want to convey the importance of the conference here. The crowds were impressive. There were close to 300 people inside the National Press Club to hear a wide range of speakers denounce the role of the Israel lobby in our politics.
The speakers were largely from a US national-interest point of view. Many of them were conservative. When I say wide range, it did not include Palestinians– though a couple spoke from the floor.
But a concern for Palestinian human rights ran through many speakers’ remarks. Cynthia McKinney said she was standing up for “dignity and human liberty.” Steve Walt repeatedly cited the “moral” weakness of the Israel lobby’s argument for a state that privileges one group over another. Justin Raimondo spoke of the power of reading They Were Human Too, a book on Palestinian refugees published by the conservative publisher Regnery in the 50s (a point I have made myself). These pictures could be from Gaza today, Raimondo said.
And Lt. Col., retired, Karen Kwiatkowski told a gripping story about going to work in the Pentagon in a room that was the birthplace of the Office of Special Plans, the secret neoconservative unit that stovepiped bad intelligence on Iraq to the Bush administration to push the war. Early on, a colleague gave her a warning, “If you have anything nice to say about Palestinians, don’t say it here.”
Kwiatkowski identified herself as a libertarian-leaning Republican, very typical of the military. Yet when I met her next to a table filled with leftwing books about Palestinian human rights, she said that many in the Pentagon were actually concerned with Palestinian freedom. A point that was underlined by Paul Pillar and Mark Perry.
Perry related that when David Petraeus went into small towns in Iraq and saw pictures of the Al Aqsa mosque on people’s walls, he thought, “This Israel Palestine thing is really a big deal here,” and Petraeus later brought that news to Washington. Ray McGovern, the charismatic leftwing former CIA analyst, said that the battle of Fallujah was brought on by Iraqis enraged by Israel’s murder of Sheikh Yassin in Gaza.
“That’s what happens when people identify the United States with the kind of assassination raids that Israel is doing.”
While author Gareth Porter said that bad Israeli intelligence continues to form a part of the Obama administration’s dossier on Iran.
The conference had its share of lunacy. A Holocaust denier spoke up from the audience. I didn’t go for the description of Ketziot prison, where Jeffrey Goldberg served when he was an Israeli soldier, as a “concentration camp.” I didn’t like the attack on Phyllis Bennis and Noam Chomsky (much as I differ with Chomsky on the importance of religion in policy-making), and the analysis of Louis Brandeis’s secret society of Zionists was a little too Skull-and-Bones, with dripping candles, for my taste.
But Grant Smith and Alison Weir did a fabulous job of organizing the conference, and you could glimpse the formation of an important American community that has largely been silenced on the issue. That includes the old Arabist crowd, anti-Zionist Jews who are concerned about dual loyalty (wait till I get Allan Brownfeld’s talk up), veterans, and libertarians (kindred to Republican Thomas Massie, the only Congressperson to stand up to the Israel lobby on 400-1 legislation last week). Does anyone really think that we can build a freedom coalition without these folks? Certainly we won’t unpack the special relationship with Israel without reexamining the human cost to the United States. That includes the attack on the USS Liberty (another excellent speech by Ernie Gallo), the 9/11 attacks, the murder of Robert Kennedy. In my remarks I referred to the death of former Navy Secretary James V. Forrestal in 1949. How much of his breakdown was a result of opposition to Zionism, and Zionists’ ferocious opposition to him? There is great journalism to be done on these subjects; as indicated by the interest in John Judis’s Truman book that attacks the lobby.
The national-interest crowd was traditionally silenced by the anti-Semitism charge. Scott McConnell showed how anti-Semitism charges were used to marginalize writers Joseph Sobran and Pat Buchanan when they took strong stands against Israel. Steve Walt said that the overuse of the charge by the lobby had helped undermine its power to blacklist speakers and arguments.
So we’re entering a new phase in the history of the lobby, in which conservative critics feel more emboldened to speak, and feel a national necessity in doing so. The conference solidifies that moment. Expect vicious attacks in days to come.