In the last few days three stories have broken that make the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel appear more insidious and threatening than ever.
First was the report that Edward Snowden had flown the coop in some measure because of the special relationship between the countries, the fact that “the N.S.A. was routinely passing along the private communications of Americans to a large and very secretive Israeli military organization.” Some of this private data was apparently used to blackmail Palestinians to collaborate with Israel; though Scott Horton suggested when he was interviewing reporter James Bamford that Israel could also use the information against American politicians. We can only guess.
Second was the disclosure that the son of David Brooks, the neoconservative New York Times columnist who pushed the Iraq war, is serving in the Israeli army; and in an interview with the Jewish Journal, Brooks speaks of himself as an Israeli: “every Israeli parent understands this is what the circumstances require.” As I reported, Brooks is now the third writer at the NYT to have a son in the Israeli army.
Third is Glenn Greenwald’s revelation about a neoconservative U.S. lobbying firm “composed of former high-ranking Treasury officials from both parties… working hand in hand with neocon journalists to publicly trash a new enemy of Israel,” Qatar. “This is the bizarre neocon/Israel/Gulf-dictator coalition now driving not only U.S. policy but, increasingly, U.S. discourse as well.” Greenwald uses the word neoconservative, not Zionist, but this is a story about Zionist ideology: it would appear that three principals of the lobbying firm who worked at Treasury are Jewish Zionists, and two of them formerly worked with Steve Emerson, the Muslim-bashing Zionist.
What these stories all say is that American and Israeli political cultures are commingled in a way that Walt and Mearsheimer only scratched the surface of when they wrote their book on the Israel lobby seven years ago. For some officials, there is a thorough confusion of national interests. The boundary between the U.S. and Israel has been erased by our own officials– the same erasure that allowed Israel to restock its ammunition from American suppliers during the Gaza massacre without the approval of the White House.
In the Brooks case, we have one of the most thoughtful columnists in the U.S., who styles himself a Burkean conservative, but who has made such a thorough migration to Israeli consciousness that he speaks of himself as an Israeli parent. This is precisely the self-definition asked of Jews everywhere by Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
David Brooks is actually interested in the question of how to lead a meaningful life. He really owes it to his readers to explain why he has made this personal migration, and what it says about Jewish life in America and the dual loyalty charge against Zionism that his son is fighting for a foreign country and not in the wars that Brooks has prescribed for his own country.
The larger crisis these stories suggest is that we have reached a pass where some segment of the American power structure truly cannot distinguish between our country’s concerns and Israel’s, and as a result is incapable of sorting out Israel’s war with its neighbors from U.S. interests. Our politicians routinely go over there on the Israel lobby’s dime and come back praising murderers. A bloc at Treasury merged the two countries’ pathways, surely with a religious nationalist understanding, just as a bloc of neocon ideologues that had served Netanyahu showed up at the Pentagon to push the Iraq war. Just as Stuart Levey, who extolled the “Zionist dream,” pursued Israel’s enemies at Treasury under Bush and was reappointed by Obama.Burke and Lincoln would hate the special relationship. Lately I’ve been reading David Bromwich’s book of essays, Moral Imagination. Bromwich is a Yale scholar of Lincoln and Burke and he quotes two passages from those writers that are about the corruption brought about in a society when people become too familiar with a debased foreign institution.
Lincoln spoke of the way that slavery ruins good people, in a speech at Kalamazoo, August 27, 1856:
We will suppose that there are ten men who go into Kansas to settle. Nine of these are opposed to slavery. One has ten slaves. The slaveholder is a good man in other respects; he is a good neighbor and being a wealthy man, he is enabled to do the others many neighborly kindnesses. They like the man, though they don’t like the system by which he holds his fellow-men in bondage. And here let me say, that in intellectual and physical structure, our Southern brethren do not differ from us. They are, like us, subject to passions, and it is only their odious institution of slavery, that makes the breach between us. These ten men of whom I was speaking, live together three or four years; they intermarry; their family ties are strengthened. And who wonders that in time, the people learn to look upon slavery with complacency? This is the way in which slavery is planted, and gains so firm a foothold.
The same is true of the U.S. relationship with Israel, an occupier and persecutor (which enslaves another people). When your schools are filled with Israel Studies Departments, when your progressive mayor and governor are kissing the behinds of Israelis, when an Israeli university and an American one are building a new campus together in NYC, when your leading newspaper has three of its reporters’ sons fighting for that country, when a leading senator is bellowing at a leading capitalist to support Israel — the U.S. learns to look upon Palestinian slavery with complacency.
The second passage is even more to the point. In the 1780s it was understood that the government of India was corrupt due to the operations of the British East India Company. A member of Parliament, Burke first opposed interfering in the company’s business as an “intrusion on a corporate charter,” but changed his mind and took the “radical step” of seeking to place the company under government control because it was corrupting England, Bromwich writes.
Burke gave a famous speech on the matter in 1783 in which he lamented the many ways that England was socially welcoming men who were persecuting people in India:
Arrived in England, the destroyers of the nobility and gentry of a whole kingdom will find the best company in this nation, at a board of elegance and hospitality. Here the manufacturer and husbandman will bless the just and punctual hand that in India has torn the cloth from the loom, or wrested the scanty portion of rice and salt from the peasant of Bengal, or wrung from him the very opium in which he forgot his oppressions and his oppressor. They marry into your families; they enter into your senate; they ease your estates by loans; they raise their value by demand; they cherish and protect your relations which lie heavy on your patronage; and there is scarcely a house in the kingdom that does not feel some concern and interest, that makes all reform of our eastern government appear officious and disgusting; and, on the whole, a most discouraging attempt. In such an attempt you hurt those who are able to return kindness, or to resent injury. If you succeed, you save those who cannot so much as give you thanks. All these things show the difficulty of the work we have on hand; but they show its necessity too. Our Indian government is in its best state a grievance. It is necessary that the corrective should be uncommonly vigorous; and the work of men, sanguine, warm, and even impassioned in the cause. But it is an arduous thing to plead against abuses of a power which originates from your own country, and affects those whom we are used to consider as strangers.
Israeli government is at best a “grievance” for Palestinians. But Israel has thoroughly penetrated the American public sphere; and all attempts at reform seem disgusting, because they would involve hurting those we know and helping the strangers over there.
These passages both leave me dispirited. We’ve come further than the non-slave-owners of Kansas or the hosts of the Indian despots in England. Those of us in Palestinian solidarity know that it’s an arduous thing to plead against abuses of power originating from our own country. But what choice do we have?