I little more than two years ago I wrote an article for antiwar.com that was entitled “Why I dislike Israel.” The editors were a bit nervous about running it but eventually allowed it to appear after I agreed to some minor deletions. It turned out to be by far the most successful piece I ever did for that website in terms of readership and it attracted 166 comments. My critique was basically that the contrived special relationship with Israel is very bad for the United States on a number of levels. I argued that Washington should treat Israel like any other country, based on actual American national interests. I continue to hold those views, now more than ever as the Israeli government sinks into something approximating madness and drags Washington along with it, and I have often thought that it would be interesting to revisit my discontent with Israel in light of recent developments.
There are good historic reasons to dislike Israel. In the so-called Lavon Affair in 1952 the Israelis were prepared to blow up a U.S. Information Center in Alexandria and blame it on the Egyptians. In the 1960s Israelis stole enriched uranium from a lab in Pennsylvania to build atom bombs. They also obtained nuclear triggers through a spying operation run by Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan that included current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In 1967, the Israelis attacked and nearly sank the American vessel USS Liberty in international waters, killing 34 crewmen. President Lyndon Johnson subsequently blocked an investigation into what had occurred, a cover-up that has persisted to this day. In 1987, Jonathan Pollard, the most damaging spy in the history of the United States, was convicted of carrying out espionage for Israel. He is up for parole next year. And Israel gets away with literally and directly killing individual American citizens in the cases of Rachel Corrie in 2003 and Furkan Dogan of the Mavi Marmara in 2010.
I noted two years ago that the few mainstream critics of Israel tend to apologize in advance by explaining that they have a lot of Jewish friends and actually like Israelis before engaging in what is usually a very mild critique. That milquetoast approach has, fortunately, shifted considerably in the past two years largely due to the steady march of Israeli politics to the hard right coupled with the horrific Israeli attacks on Gaza, which together killed more than 3,000 civilians, including many women and children, and featured deliberate bombings of schools and hospitals. Israel’s development into what is transparently a racist apartheid style state has also come at great cost to the United States, which has looked and acted increasingly ridiculous as a result of the contortions necessary to continue to serve as Tel Aviv’s indispensable patron and protector.
Unlike two years ago, there are now a lot of mainstream critics of Israel and they are pulling no punches, leaving the phony narrative of Israel as the beleaguered little democracy in a sea of nasty enemies in tatters. Many of the most effective critics are themselves Jewish, having finally decided that enough is enough. I defy anyone to read the first few chapters of Max Blumenthal’s splendid Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel and come away with any remaining illusions about Israeli society and politics intact. And then there are John Judis’s book Genesis: Truman, American Jews and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict, Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism and the Mondoweiss website run by Phil Weiss.
There are two basic complaints I have about Israel and its powerful lobby in the United States. The first is the more important, that the relationship with Israel does actual damage to the U.S. government, its national interests and to the American people. One notable example of Israel’s direct interference with the U.S. political process was evident two years ago when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear his preference for GOP candidate Mitt Romney over incumbent Barack Obama. This was manifested in ads that ran in crucial swing state Florida, where there are many retired Jews. Obama, clearly fearing to offend the Lobby, did not even object at blatant interference from a foreign leader when the ads appeared.
But lacking a presidential election this time around, the vetting of candidates was less focused, though individual congressmen and other elected officials were systematically scrutinized for their views on the Middle East. Fact sheets were distributed to legislators explaining away the attack on Gaza. Candidates perceived as being particularly friendly to Israel continue to receive large donations in support of their campaigns.
In the upcoming year, pro-Israel groups will begin taking all new congressmen on sponsored tours to Israel where they will be presented with what might charitably described as a bowdlerized version of what is taking place in the Holy Land. Congress responds to the largesse by voting resolution after resolution virtually guaranteeing that Washington will go to war on behalf of Israel even if Tel Aviv initiates the fighting. So in the past two years Israel Lobby activity directed at electing and controlling a malleable congress and increasingly even officials at state and local levels continues, but it did not rise to the intensity level seen at the end of 2012 during the presidential race. Unfortunately, it will likely become a lot worse in 2016. Two Jewish mega-billionaires Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban have been openly discussing funding presidential candidates based solely on how strongly they favor Israel.
But Israeli engagement with Washington power brokers does not end with elections. There is also the little matter of more than $3 billion dollars going from the American taxpayer to Tel Aviv every year on top of more than $233 billion given in total, all in spite of the fact that Israel has a booming economy and an average income level similar to Western Europe.
Washington’s unlimited support for Israel also inspires terrorists to kill Americans. Osama bin Laden described it as a major issue motivating him and his supporters to attack the United States. The partisan U.S. role makes all of Israel’s enemies de facto America’s enemies. Pressure to manipulate Washington’s policy towards Iran has been incessant both directly from Tel Aviv and from the Israel Firsters deeply ensconced in the media and think tank punditry. Israel and its friends want Washington to go to war with Iran and have sought to force the White House to take “red line” positions that would trigger an automatic military response. That an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program has not already been achieved is largely attributable to the actions of the Lobby and runs directly contrary to the interests and desires of Washington and Tehran, both of which should be cooperating to meet the threat of ISIS. Lessening regional tensions would also benefit Israel itself if its leadership were not so immersed in crying wolf over its neighbor while expecting the world to fail to notice its own nuclear arsenal.
And the spying and theft of U.S. technology continues unabated. Israel has long been the most active “friendly nation” when it comes to stealing American secrets, and when its spies are caught, they are either sent home or, if they are U.S. citzens, rarely prosecuted. A little reported recent case in California revealed a new Israeli spying operation at CalTech’s government funded Jet Propulsion Lab. A successful attempt to steal and send to Israel U.S. high technology was characteristically ignored by both the university and Justice Department, leading to punishment of the whistleblower rather than the Israeli scientist involved
Finally there is the worldwide perception of the United States as being firmly in Israel’s pocket, a wag the dog phenomenon that has done grave damage to the integrity and reputation of the U.S. Washington blocks any United Nations resolution that Israel objects to, damaging its own interests and making it complicit in a growing list of war crimes. Further, the United States links itself to an Israeli government identifiable as a rogue regime by most international standards, engaging as it does in torture, arbitrary imprisonment, and continued occupation of territories seized by its military. America’s own torture program was in fact modeled on Israeli practices.
Tel Aviv has also played a key role in encouraging Washington’s own foreign policy blunders, to include the Iraq invasion and a global war on terror widely perceived to be directed against the entire Muslim world. The U.S. also continues to humiliate itself by going through the charade of Middle East peace talks that have demonstrated the hypocrisy of a White House that will never pressure Tel Aviv in any substantive way while demanding instant surrender by the Palestinian leadership.
The second broad complaint that one might have about Israel is its behavior distinct from its ability to manipulate Washington. Some might regard what Israel does as the heart of the problem, which in a sense it is, but if one is concerned about American interests how Tel Aviv behaves when it is not directly doing damage to Washington is certainly a secondary concern. Israeli politicians are notably among the world’s most corrupt but they only damage their own people and if Tel Aviv chooses to do certain things to “defend” itself from its neighbors so be it. But Israel has to grow up and take responsibility for its own actions without an American deus ex machina to fix things, write checks and bail it out politically every time it screws up.
And there is also the moral dimension. Israel has increasingly been transformed into a militarist theocracy that is substantially racist in its orientation. If Washington is truly concerned about human rights, which may or may not be the case, it should articulate a position on perceived abuses no matter where they occur. In a similar situation, the United States actively opposed South Africa’s apartheid government, which helped make Pretoria vulnerable to international pressure and eventually led to majority rule.
The United States government is hardly a paragon of model behavior and in truth has become more like Israel than vice versa, but I like what Israel does even less and it is time to stake out very clearly what should occur to break the tie that binds. No more money, no more political support, no more acceptance of the wholesale suborning of congress, no more tolerance of spying, and no more having to listen to demands for red lines to go to war. The United States government was created to serve the American people, not a powerful foreign interest. My fervent New Year’s wish is for the monstrous Bibi Netanyahu or whoever succeeds him in office to just leave us alone in 2015. Israel will have to stand on its own two feet for a change while Washington will not have to be constantly looking over its collective shoulder concerned about “Israeli interests.” It would be a divorce that would be beneficial for everyone involved.