Media Analysis

Israel lobby ‘killed’ rational U.S. policy, and turned Israel to the right — Lustick

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Ian Lustick has an important book out, “Paradigm Lost,” calling for policymakers to give up the “false belief” in the two-state solution and acknowledge the struggle for equal rights in a one-state reality. He spoke at the Middle East Institute last December and I caught up with the videos during isolation this week. (Part 1 and Part 2).

Lustick, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, was an “avid and early supporter” of the two state solution, for nearly 50 years, but in the last decade, he accepted that he and other two-state advocates were being “played for a sucker” by the messianic Israeli right as it swallowed the West Bank and Jerusalem, territories no Israeli government will ever withdraw from.

The Israeli right has dominated Israeli politics and defied the peace process for three reasons, Lustick said: it was able to convince Israelis of the partial effectiveness of the “Iron Wall” idea of crushing Palestinian resistance; it exploited a “Holocaustia” culture promoting mistrust of non-Jews; and it used the American Israel lobby to destroy its rivals.

The lobby gained a political power that George Washington warned of in his farewell address: a “passionate attachment” to a foreign country to which there would be no countervailing domestic influence in Washington. A grotesque power, Lustick said:

“That fact about the Israel lobby has allowed it to grow grotesquely in influence so it holds a veto and has held a veto over decades, over American foreign policy when it might get effective.”

The “superabundant power of the lobby” arose to protect Israel from criticism from Washington, but the unintended consequence was that it “radically shift[ed] Israeli democracy to the right,” Lustick said. The lobby helped to “destroy” the careers of moderate Israeli politicians who might have come to power if the United States had played a “realistic,” “national interest” role and told Israel to stop the settlements.

“What impact did the unquestioned and unprecedented flood of aid and political support from the United States that was due to the lobby vetoing wiser more rational and realistic or more national interest-oriented policy– what effect did that have in Israel? What it did was systematically disadvantaged positions, arguments and programs of people like Yossi Sarid, Yossi Beilin and Shulamit Aloni, Yigal Allon, or even Moshe Dayan in his time, and systematically supported those who were willing to indulge in messianic expansionist dreams… That’s how you got Begin and Shamir and Netanyahu…. their ability to say we can have the whole land and American support — the lobby made that possible thereby undercutting the left and subsidizing the right.”

Lustick said that he had himself advised Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush to take a strong stand on settlements so as to drive a wedge inside Israeli politics and build a constituency for a two-state solution. Bush’s opposition to loan guarantees in 1991 actually did lead to the Oslo process, he said.

But in 2009, Rahm Emanuel gave the same advice to Barack Obama– oppose settlements and you will build that party in Israel– and the stance was an utter failure, and Obama backed away from it. “The difference is that when Rahm Emanuel gave that advice to Obama, not only was the lobby much stronger, but there was no shadow government [inside Israel], no government capable of winning an election on that issue.” So Netanyahu could just play America, as he did throughout the Obama administration till the end.

So Netanyahu has used liberal Zionists to proclaim that a two-state solution is possible when it is a delusion, Lustick said; and he urged policymakers to stop proclaiming:

“Entertaining that possibility is actually playing a sucker’s game into what the right wants, which is a constant feeling of that carrot, that maybe we get two states, and meanwhile you send the whole thing into decades and decades and decades of apartheid.”

But a call for equal rights in one state is not possible in U.S. politics because politicians will get “killed” by the lobby. So politicans perpetuate the delusion. Even Bernie Sanders hides behind the two-state solution.

What I want in Israel Palestine is something that Jews and Arabs can live with and that honors the principles of democracy, equality and non-exclusive rights to self determination for all peoples. That’s not a position that any of the candidates have taken, even Bernie Sanders, who are still hiding within the idea of a two state solution because they can get away with that politically and that’s all that matters at that level of American politics. Because they know they’re not actually going to get anything in the Middle East and if they did none of their constituents would care. But what does matter is are they going to get killed domestically politically– that’s always– so right now the two state solution is nothing but a safe harbor, something you can attach yourself to to look respectable– and safe from the Israel lobby.

Lustick expressed shame about using the “red threat of demography” argument to get Israel to give up the territories– i.e., the threat of a Palestinian majority. This is an argument that even Elizabeth Warren used recently; and Lustick said it’s racist, his own mother would not approve; but he did it anyway.

Progessives like me used the demographic argument for decades to try to address Israelis who were afraid of Arabs, who despised them, who feared them. “So why are you supporting settlements, so why are you supporting Begin and Shamir and the attempt to keep the territories. You don’t want to live with Arabs, do you? You want Arabs involved in the country? Don’t you want a Jewish state?” That’s people like me talking– we were using the demographic argument for what we thought were progressive purposes. And it was a deal with the devil. It didn’t work. OK– it didn’t work. And all of us probably felt, many of us felt, this is not a very nice thing to be doing, my mother would not approve. But we did it.

That racism goes to the heart of Zionism. “It really was for Zionism the heart of the argument, it always was, and it never goes away– this fear of demography. Guess what, folks, there are more Arabs than Jews west of the Jordan.”

And the consequences of making that argument is you are counseling Jews who should be in political alliances with Palestinians that they could never do so. “You are undercutting the very mechanism that in the future could democratize the country and bring about the kind of country you want.”

Jews need to understand that with a one-state reality there will be no Jewish state. The Jewish democracy hoax is over.

“Here’s the hard truth for many Israeli Jews. No it’s not going to be a Jewish state… What that meant for most Israelis is a state that operates in order to help one section of society against the other, to help Jews as opposed to Arabs, and to do so with the capability to front itself as a democracy. That’s what “Israel is both a Jewish and a democratic state” means. That will not be possible. If you try to look within that, where a state dominates Arabs at their expense for the sake of Jews, you are going to subsidize the domination of the country by the clericalist right. That’s what it really means. So the demographic argument that used to be progressive is actually very regressive.

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I don’t know that I can completely get my head around words like “progressive” or “regressive” where the demographic argument is concerned. All I know is that I’m sorry that I probably won’t be around in 50 or 60 years when the size of the Arab majority finally becomes so overwhelming that the racist Zionist dream is finally crushed. Until then, racist Israeli Zionists and racist American Zionists will continue supporting an Israel that does… Read more »

Excellent article!! It expresses the obvious truth, i.e., the only workable and I believe, inevitable outcome, is one state for both peoples!! It is the only option that can give Palestinians and Jews, especially youth, a secure future free of violence.

@catalan: “If a single state is indeed inevitable then why do you bother proclaiming it daily? Is one state inevitable like death, taxes, and human greed?” I don’t have the link right now, but Benny Morris, the Israeli historian who thinks the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians didn’t go far enough, commented that this is the 21st century and sooner or later the world won’t tolerate one people ruling another. But I’d be happy to… Read more »

More re: “Israel, a light unto nations [not!!]. “Bio-Terror: Zombie Israeli Squatters with Covid-19 break Quarantine, assault Palestinians at close Quarters” Informed Comment, April 17/2020, by Juan Cole. “On Wednesday, a band of 20 Israeli squatters diagnosed with Covid-19, who had been placed in quarantine in their squatter-settlement on Palestinian land in the West Bank’s Ghor Valley, ghoulishly broke out and attacked a nearby Palestinian hamlet. They are members of the violent ‘Hilltop Youth’… Read more »

Lusticks arguments indicate that the Israel lobby gave Israel the freedom to turn to the right, not that the lobby turned Israel to the right. E.g. “The lobby helped to “destroy” the careers of moderate Israeli politicians who might have come to power if the United States had played a “realistic,” “national interest” role and told Israel to stop the settlements.” Or: “That fact about the Israel lobby has allowed it to grow grotesquely in… Read more »