Touching the third rail
A quarter of a million people marched in Manhattan. 100,000 squeezed into Madison Square Garden, many of them in uniform. More than 100,000 telegrams deluged the White House. All demanded immediate recognition of the about-to-be-born new state of Israel. Most of President Truman’s Cabinet was against it. The most formidable naysayer was then-Secretary of State Gen. George Marshall.
Following World War II, foreign policy professionals wrote scores of position papers that warned an independent Jewish state would trigger a “reject phenomenon” throughout the Middle East. David K. Niles, in charge of Jewish affairs at the White House, was a persuasive advocate of, and organizer for, Israel. The Holocaust of 6 million Jews, the telegrams and the marchers in New York clinched it for Truman, Israel was born at midnight (local time) May 14, 1948. U.S. recognition followed 11 minutes later. A geopolitical honeymoon lasted until 1956 when Israel, France and Britain secretly joined forces, without informing President Eisenhower, to invade Egypt to wrest back control of the Suez Canal nationalized by president Abdel Gamal Nasser, then a budding Soviet protege. The Soviet Union’s Nikita Khrushchev seized the moment to invade Hungary to suppress an anti-communist revolution, and then rattled his rockets at Eisenhower over Suez. Eisenhower, angry and indignant at allied perfidy, and anxious to avoid a wider conflict, told the three conspiring powers to clear out of Egypt pronto.
The special U.S.-Israel relationship encountered another major hiccup during the 1967 Six-Day War when friend and foe alike whistled with admiration when Israel decimated three Arab armies in less than a week. Israeli warplanes repeatedly attacked the USS Liberty, a ship intercepting tactical and strategic communications from both sides, flying the U.S. flag on a clear day, 15 miles off the Sinai coast, killing 34 sailors, wounding 171.
Since then Israeli and U.S. interests have gradually merged, a perception carefully nurtured by AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, arguably Washington’s most powerful lobby, or at least co-equal in influence with the NRA (National Rifle Association) and AARP (American Association of Retired Persons).With some 200 employees and 100,000 wealthy benefactors, AIPAC claims it doesn’t have to register as a foreign agent because all its funding comes from U.S. sources. There are also more than 500,000 Israelis with dual citizenship, a number of them AIPAC contributors.
Over the years, AIPAC has maneuvered to make Israel the third rail of American foreign policy. The handful of members of Congress who have been critical of Israel over the last 40 years have been publicly chastised with a figurative dunce cap, or, worse, lost their seats to AIPAC-backed opponents. Israel is an integral part of America’s body politic.
Yet the recent publication of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” an 83-page paper published on Harvard’s Web site by two prominent academics, ran into a firestorm of vilification from government, academia and the media for documenting what is already well established.
The co-authors are neither neo-Nazi skinheads nor anti-Semites. John J. Mearsheimer is a political science professor and co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago. Stephen M. Walt is academic dean and a chaired professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Both are members of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. Some of their conclusions about the Israel lobby’s goals:
c “No lobby has managed to divert foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.”
c American supporters of Israel promoted the war against Iraq. The senior administration officials who spearheaded the campaign were also in the vanguard of the pro-Israel lobby, e.g. then Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith; Elliott Abrams, Mideast affairs at the White House; David Wurmser, Mideast affairs for Vice President Richard Cheney; Richard Perle, first among neocon equals, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, an influential advisory body of strategic experts.
A similar effort is now under way to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
AIPAC is fighting registering as foreign agents because this would place severe limitations on its congressional activities, particularly in the legislative electoral arena…. American politicians remain acutely sensitive to campaign contributions and other forms of political pressure and major media outlets are likely to remain sympathetic to Israel no matter what it does.
The co-authors recall it was Messrs. Perle, Feith and Wurmser who put their names to a 1996 policy blueprint for Benjamin Netanyahu’s then incoming government in Israel. Titled “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm [Israel],” the three neocons said the rebuilding of Zionism must abandon any thought of trading land for peace with the Palestinians (i.e., repeal the Oslo accords). Next Saddam Hussein must be overthrown and democracy established in Iraq, which would then prove contagious in Israel’s other Arab neighbors.
When NBC’s Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” asked Mr. Perle about his geopolitical laundry list for Israel’s benefit, he replied, “What’s wrong with that?”
For all this to succeed, the neocon strategic thinkers wrote, “Israel would have to win broad American support.” And to ensure this support, they advised the Israeli prime minister to use “language familiar to Americans by tapping into themes of past U.S. administrations during the Cold War, which apply as well to Israel.”
An Israeli columnist in Ha’aretz said Mr. Perle and Mr. Feith had been “walking a fine line” between “their loyalty to American governments” and “Israeli interests.”