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When I was in college back in the 1960s a Jewish friend and I got into a discussion after Israel’s overwhelming victory in the June 1967 “Six day war.” I observed that many of the Jewish students who were exulting over kicking the crap out of the Arabs were at the same time leaders of the anti-war movement on campus, which opposed the Vietnam War. Admittedly media coverage of Vietnam was already becoming negative and the press descriptions of what had gone on in the Middle East falsely represented a beleaguered Israeli David by sheer grit and valor defeating an overwhelming Arab Goliath, so it was possible to distinguish in practical terms between the two conflicts. One was defense and the other was American imperialism, or so it could be construed by those who chose to see it that way.
As I knew that I was soon to be drafted I tried to rationalize within my own mind Vietnam, convincing myself that it was a war to stop the spread of communism, which at the time appeared to represent an existential threat directed against the United States. But I was still bothered by folks who claimed to oppose Vietnam on principle cheering on another war apparently based on their own ethnic affinity. My friend responded to my concerns by acknowledging the emotional tug represented by Israel but adding that the United States would always be much more important to him. It didn’t really answer the question but it came from a friend and it was good enough.
Well, that was then and this is now. Since the 1960s what Norman Finkelstein has described as the “Holocaust industry” has burgeoned, much of it used as an excuse to exonerate Israeli bad behavior. The Israel Lobby has also grown enormously in support of only one objective, which is binding Israel to the United States in such a fashion as to make Americans the enablers and uncritical supporters of Tel Aviv’s foreign and security policies.
Many American Jews, to their credit, have become weary of the tie that binds to Israel as they recognize that it is bad for both parties involved and enables an endless occupation of Arab land that is both cruel and immoral while fostering internal developments in Israel that might reasonably be described as fascistic. Other Jews have, however, gone in another direction, making the immunizing of Israel from any and all criticism while demonizing her enemies their life’s goal. In that they have largely succeeded, with Benjamin Netanyahu an honored guest of the U.S. Congress, a wannabe presidential candidate incorrectly describing Israel as a “most cherished ally,” and two Jewish billionaires openly lining up to be principal supporters of the upcoming Republican and Democratic presidential candidates as measured by their support of Israel.
Indeed, many supporters of Israel do not seem at all ashamed of openly putting Israel ahead of the United States, which is where I have a problem because, apart from enabling the skewing of America’s foreign policy, it raises the issue of where one has basic loyalty. Loyalty to a nation might well be passé in this day and age but it can have significant consequences when groups that are powerful promote detrimental policies that impact on everyone.
All of which brings me to the Super Bowl. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft is a passionate supporter of Israel and all its works, to include its increasingly right wing governments over the past decades. He has visited the country more than 50 times. When his team won the Lombardi trophy in 2005 he personally carried it to Israel and presented it to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. To be sure Kraft appears to be a decent, well liked man who has funded institutes that foster better Christian-Jewish relations, but his bottom line always appears to be Israel.
Kraft’s recently deceased wife Myra once told the Jerusalem Post that if one of her sons wanted to join the Israeli Army “I would go with him. I always wanted to live here. As for joining the army, over Vietnam, I would have had an issue, because I didn’t believe in it. The same goes for the war in Iraq. I don’t know why we’re there. I would hate to have one of my sons fighting there. Iran’s the problem, not Iraq. But, as far as fighting for Israel is concerned, there is no problem.” For Myra Kraft even if one were serving to maintain an illegal occupation, Israel was always the “good war” while America’s wars were debatable. For what it’s worth, none of her four sons has ever been in anyone’s uniform. Nor has their father.
The Kraft family passion for the Israel Defense Forces extends to Robert’s recent writing of a personal letter to the family of Israeli-American soldier Max Steinberg. Steinberg was killed during Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza, in which 2,310 Palestinians, 500 of whom were children, died compared to 71 Israelis, 66 of whom were soldiers.
Kraft wrote “It is with a heavy heart that I write to you after having learned about your dear son and distinguished member of the Israel Defense Forces, Max. Although I didn’t have the privilege of knowing your son Max personally, I have taken the liberty of reaching out to you since I noticed him wearing a New England Patriots cap in one of the broadcasted photos. He represents the consummate patriot and I am forever grateful for the sacrifices he made to keep our beloved Israel safe. His dedication and loyalty to Israel have not gone unnoticed and I am sure he has left behind a legacy of which you and your family can be proud.”
Why is all this important? It is important because Robert Kraft is a rich, powerful and politically well-connected man. What he says and does and the example he sets matter. Insofar as I could determine he has never written a letter to a fallen American soldier from either Boston or Massachusetts. Like his wife, he perhaps unintentionally sees something special in service to Israel that he does not find in service to the United States. And as for those who might perversely argue as Myra Kraft did that America’s wars are suspect while Israel’s conflicts are righteous self-defense, one might well note that Washington’s disastrous invasion of Iraq was intertwined with Israeli interests while Tel Aviv’s urging yet another war against Iran serves no U.S. national interest at all. Arguing in favor of Israel’s use of its armed forces as somehow more ethical than that of the United States is ridiculous, particularly as Tel Aviv’s military is mostly engaged in supporting an illegal and brutal occupation of Palestinian territory.
The bottom line is that celebrating Israel’s apartheid regime and its wars is bad for both Israel and the United States and it behooves moderate leaders like Robert Kraft to recognize that fact and state it openly.
This type of blinkered Israel-centric thinking leads to other extraordinary behavior, far beyond anything done by Kraft. The controversial impending visit by Benjamin Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress has brought the Lobby out in full force. Israeli former parliamentarian and journalist Yossi Sarid, who writes for Haaretz, notes how Republican Jewish organizations have “launched a campaign of intimidation against those lawmakers who have already announced the intent to skip the joint session.” He observes that “Netanyahu is determined to show the president once and for all who really rules in Washington, who is the landlord both here and there.” He cites Matthew Brooks, head of the Republican Jewish Coalition, who reportedly said “We will commit whatever resources we need to make sure that people are aware of the facts, that given the choice to stand with Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu in opposition to a nuclear Iran, they chose partisan interests and to stand with President Obama.” Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America added “We will, of course, be publicly condemning any Democrats who don’t show up for the speech, unless they have a doctor’s note.”
Sarid concludes somewhat hyperbolically with an observation that no American newspaper would ever dare print: “In these very moments, the protocols are being rewritten. Rich Jews are writing them in their own handwriting. They, in their wealth, are confirming with their own signatures what anti-Semites used to slander them with in days gone by: We, the elders of Zion, pull the strings of Congress, and the congressmen are nothing but marionettes who do our will. If they don’t understand our words, they’ll understand our threats. And if in the past, we ran the show from behind the scenes, now we’re doing it openly, from center stage. And if you forget our donations, the wellspring will run dry.”
Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored demands that he alter the agenda of his visit to make it less confrontational. He recently said that he will be the “representative of the entire Jewish people” when he addresses Congress, an assertion that has made many American Jews very uncomfortable. He will also be speaking at the annual AIPAC summit and will attend a gala reception hosted by the Emergency Committee for Israel, headed by Bill Kristol. Kristol welcomes the visit of Netanyahu because “Obama left a few things out of SOTU. Bibi can help out by filling in some blanks–al Qaeda, radical Islam, Iran’s sponsorship of terror, etc.” In other words, Americans should be grateful for Netanyahu’s telling us how ignorant we all are.
And obsession with defending Israel also can lead to turning a blind eye to the celebration of the cruel deaths of Americans who do not share that infatuation. Debbie Schlussel, a popular talk radio host who describes herself as a “lifelong conservative Republican activist,” does not find the recent killing by ISIS of American aid worker Kayla Mueller a tragedy. Schlussel, who claims to be highly educated, describes Mueller as a “Jew hating, anti-Israel bitch,” and “an anti-Israel piece of crap who worked with HAMAS and helped Palestinians harass Israeli soldiers and block them from doing their job of keeping Islamic terrorists out of Israel.” Another advocate for Israel calls Mueller a “useful idiot” and “terrorist supporter.” That the rabid Schlussel is borderline mainstream in terms of her audience and access is astonishing and the comments on her website suggest, unfortunately, that she is not alone in her vitriolic hatred of anyone even vaguely perceived as being not friendly enough to Israel.
As Allan Brownfeld has argued very persuasively Judaism is a religion and the United States and Israel are both sovereign countries having different interests, which is something that Robert Kraft, Bill Kristol, Matthew Brooks, Debbie Schlussel and Mortimer Klein should just occasionally bear in mind. Ultimately, if you are being honest with yourself you can only be loyal to one country and if you are born, living and working in the United States that should be your default choice. If your religion, tribal solidarity or ethnic affinity makes you defer to the interests of Israel or indeed any other country, by all means move there.
Indeed, American citizens can have affection for as many countries as they choose but loyalty involves the responsibilities of citizenships and doing what is right for one’s own country which makes it quite a different issue. It is not a rhetorical conceit that the oath new American citizens take requires them to abjure any prior allegiances. No one is suggesting that American Jews should not be charitable to and express concern regarding the well-being of their co-religionists worldwide, but that charity and empathy should not extend to promoting the pernicious interests of a foreign government.
Our first President George Washington, whose birthday we celebrate this week, called such ties “passionate attachments” that create “the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists.”To my mind, it would not be possible to describe the lopsided special relationship between Israel and the United States, engineered by a powerful domestic lobby, any better than that.