I am reluctant to write two weeks in a row about Israel’s malignant influence over the United States but as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is meeting in Washington for its annual Summit beginning next Sunday some commentary would seem desirable. AIPAC’s website claims that its “…mission is to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of Israel and the United States. Our staff and citizen activists educate decision makers about the bonds that unite the United States and Israel and how it is in America’s best interest to help ensure that Israel is safe, strong and secure.”
That is, of course, a self-serving bit of nonsense. U.S. national security would be best enhanced by telling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a hike and never come back. AIPAC is a political pressure group, not an educational foundation, which is purely a pretext exploited to secure it tax exemption. It uses every means, fair and foul, to influence and even intimidate the U.S. government and media to maintain the fiction that Israel is somehow America’s “best friend” and “closest ally” even though it is neither. Its objective is to maintain the flow of U.S. dollars from the U.S. Treasury while keeping the firewall of political protection in place to insulate Israeli politicians from the consequences of their own actions.
This year AIPAC, which has an annual budget of $70 million and more than 200 employees, is expecting 16,000 supporters and two thirds of Congress. It will be featuring a keynote speech by Hillary Clinton, which should be fascinating. As Hillary and her husband Bill already constitute a fully owned subsidiary of the Israel Lobby and New York financial services interests, which often amount to the same thing, her attendance might be regarded as de rigueur. And she has already pledged to invite Netanyahu to the White House during her first month in office while also promising to move the Israeli relationship to a “new level,” a concept that is both difficult to imagine and positively frightening in terms of what it might portend. Will she move the entire U.S. government to Jerusalem? Or only the Treasury Department?
Donald Trump will also be speaking at AIPAC, for the first time. Trump has rattled Israel’s friends in the U.S. by calling for an even handed role by Washington in Middle East peace negotiations and through his insistence that he does not need the money from Jewish mega-donors to run his campaign and “can’t be bought.” But he has also said “First of all, there’s nobody…that’s more pro-Israel than I am. OK. There’s nobody. I am pro-Israel. I was the Grand Marshall, not so long ago, of the Israeli Day Parade down 5th avenue. I’ve made massive contributions to Israel. I have a lot of — I have tremendous love for Israel. I happen to have a son-in-law and a daughter that are Jewish, OK? And two grandchildren that are Jewish.” So one should assume that he will talk fulsomely about his love of Israel but at the same time it has to be hoped that he will assert his independence when it comes to policy affecting the United States.
Netanyahu also regularly appears at AIPAC. Last year he used the platform provided to harangue the American public and the inside the beltway chattering class about the dangers posed by Iran while also exploiting the opportunity to do some serious fundraising in New York. The visits also frequently provide an opportunity to meet with and scold the President of the United States or to address Congress on how the U.S. should conduct its foreign policy. It is a given in Washington that Netanyahu will show up in the nation’s capital personally to kick some butt at least twice a year but it is also understood that Bibi will not fail to dish out some harsh criticism the rest of the time by way of the media, his own patented form of international extortion.
Nothing illustrates the unbridgeable abyss between the media/talking head vision of Israel promoted by the Israel Lobby and folks like Hillary and the real thing more than the recent embarrassments and indignities being delivered by the Netanyahu government, which AIPAC really represents. Benjamin Netanyahu is, to everyone’s surprise, not coming to AIPAC this year but will instead address the conference by video link. The visit was planned but canceled at the last moment and, per Netanyahu, the fault is that of the president of the United States who had reportedly said that he would not be available for a meeting due to the upcoming trip to Cuba.
The Obama Administration was genuinely puzzled, partly due to the fact that it first learned of the cancellation through a newspaper story rather than from the Israeli Embassy or Foreign Ministry. It was also astonished by the explanation given as it had indeed set up a presidential meeting at Netanyahu’s request in spite of a very tight schedule. The White House did not complain openly about the deliberate snub, but it was clear to everyone involved that Netanyahu was yet again sending a message to the Administration regarding who was in charge.
Netanyahu benefits from the fact that his tendency to ridicule critics makes many in the media reluctant to challenge his behavior, but when it became embarrassingly clear that he had been fibbing about why he was not coming to Washington he immediately resorted to Plan B, stating that he did not want to interfere in the presidential primaries currently underway. No one believed that argument either as Netanyahu has not hesitated to interfere in American politics in the past, notably when he made clear that he would prefer a Republican president in 2012 and appeared in ads in Florida endorsing Mitt Romney.
The White House meanwhile resorted to its own Plan B when confronted by a truculent Netanyahu. It first groveled a bit about how much it loves Israel and then expressed hope that Vice President Joe Biden, who was in the air on his way to Tel Aviv, would be able to calm the situation. Indeed, the original objective of the Biden trip turned out to be the real reason for the contretemps with Netanyahu. Netanyahu was miffed because the United States has hesitated to provide him with a no-strings-attached long term agreement to give Israel at least $5 billion dollars per year in military assistance, up from the current $3 billion.
To be fair to Netanyahu, the demand for more “assistance” was no secret. The Israelis had made it clear since they failed to stop the Iran nuclear deal that they would feel a whole lot better if Washington were to give them a lot more money. And it would have to be guaranteed cash, tied to a security package that would run for at least ten years.
Biden had been sent to help negotiate an agreement over the assistance, which had been stalled due in part to Israeli expectations that they might do better with a GOP Administration or Hillary if they wait a few months. Obama’s insistence that any deal would require the Israeli government to forego lobbying directly to congress for more cash also was a stumbling block. The President of the United States has thereby found himself in a situation engineered by Netanyahu in which he has to beg Israel to take more money with the only condition being that it not make trouble with the nation’s legislature. In return for the largesse, Israel would not be committed to do anything that would directly benefit the United States.
In the event, Biden’s role as a negotiating intermediary was unsuccessful and he wound up looking foolish so he too has decided to speak at AIPAC where he will undoubtedly say many unctuous things that no one will believe.
There are several things that can be done to address the wildly asymmetrical situation with Benjamin Netanyahu and AIPAC. First, it must be recognized that the United States and Israel are actually two separate countries with very little in the way of common interests. The notion that they have many mutual concerns is largely a myth. AIPAC, the principal purveyor of the myth, is an agent of Israel and should be compelled to register with the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, which would require it to maintain transparency in terms of who funds it. It should also be stripped of its tax exemption as it is demonstrably not an educational foundation. Taking those two steps would enable the American public to understand just exactly what AIPAC represents.
Second, President Obama should cut off aid to Israel completely since it is uninterested in there being any quid pro quo for the billions that it receives. If Obama wants to be gracious, he can consider renewing the subsidy if and when Israel rolls back its illegal settlements in Jerusalem and on the Palestinian West Bank. If Israel is not interested in peace and not willing to reverse policies that many believe constitute war crimes then it will not receive any support of any kind from the United States.
The annual reappearance of AIPAC in Washington should remind everyone that there are those among us who regard any allegiance to the common interests that should bind together all Americans as secondary at best. In the case of Israel, billions in taxpayer money should not be regarded as a convenient mechanism to bribe a foreign state to behave. It is past time to cut the ties that bind to despicable rogues like Benjamin Netanyahu and to make clear to Americans politicians that dual loyalty to a state that has been nothing but trouble for the past twenty years will no longer be considered acceptable.