Saturday, November 13, 2010

Ilan Pappé: Neo-Zionists Recapture the history of 1948


An abridgment of Ilan Pappé’s 2009 article, “The Vicissitudes of the 1948 Historiography [i] of Israel,” in the Journal of Palestine Studies  is available on the DESIP website at:


Pappé’s article describes the two-fold transition from the original Zionist myths to the New Historians, only to culminate in the relatively quick re-emergence of the neo-Zionists. Pappé observes that the neo-Zionists view the catastrophe of the Palestinians as an essential element making possible the State of Israel.


Selections from the abridgment follow.


Ilan Pappé

“The Vicissitudes of the 1948 Historiography of Israel”


History is more than a simple sequencing of events. It’s a way of extracting a plot out of collected facts. Current political realities inevitably influence the agendas of historians--especially when the subject involves a disputed land and when the narrative is seen as playing a crucial, even existential, role in that land’s ongoing struggle and self-image.


In view of the political demands, it should not be surprising that the case of Palestine and particularly the narrative of the 1948 war has undergone two major transitions in less than two decades. First from the classical Zionist narrative of a heroic Jewish struggle for survival that ended in the voluntary flight of the Palestinians, to the ‘New History’ narrative of the 1980s. This new narrative fundamentally challenged the earlier version, but around the year 2000, it gave way to what I will call the “neo-Zionist” narrative that re-embraced the spirit, if not the details, of the original Zionist version. This two-fold transition encompassed the movement from adherence to the national consensus, to recognition by certain elites of its many contradictions and fabrications [the post-Zionist phase], to the current phase of a rejection of the post-Zionist questioning of the national consensus.


The time that elapsed between the challenge posed by the New Historians/post-Zionists and their disappearance was short, less than two decades. The reason for this brevity is doubtless because the 1948 war is not only a story closely linked to current politics but is also a foundational myth.


Foundational myths provide the narrative that justifies the existence of the state, and as long as they remain relevant to the existing social order, they retain their force. Since the social order had not essentially changed since 1948, society quickly reverted to its long held beliefs. And because the history of the 1948 war is linked to the future direction of the country, conclusions about it remain extremely relevant to the political scene.


The new neo-Zionist historiography didn’t exactly repeat itself. …The difference from the neo-Zionist version lay in the response or interpretation of the facts. What the New Historians saw as human and civil rights abuses or even atrocities and war crimes are treated in the new research as normal and sometimes even commendable behavior by the Israeli military. First and foremost was the categorical rejection of the New Historian view that the dispossession of the Palestinians was an Israeli crime. The neo-Zionists attacked them on moral grounds for dangerously undermining the legitimacy of the state. Succinctly articulating this approach is a quote from an article in the journal Techelet: “No nation would be able to keep its vitality if its historical narrative were to be presented in public as morally defunct.”


Testimony of a Palestinian POW from the 1948 war.


We were loaded into waiting trucks…Under guard we were driven to Um Khalid…and from there to forced labor. We had to cut and carry stones all day. Our daily food was only one potato in the morning and half a dried fish at night. They beat anyone who disobeyed orders. After 15 days they moved 150 men to another camp. I was one of them. It was a shock for me to leave my two brothers behind. As we left the others, we were lined up and ordered to strip naked. To us this was most degrading. We refused. Shots were fired at us. Our names were read: we had to respond ‘Sir’ or else. We were moved to a new camp in Ijlil village. There we were put immediately to forced labor, which consisted of moving stones from Arab demolished houses. We remained without food for two days, then they gave us a dry piece of bread.


Read more:



[i] Wikipedia defines historiography as the study of the history and methodology of the discipline of history.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Walid Khalidi: Reconquering Palestine

A summary or précis of Walid Khalidi ‘s article “The Hebrew Reconquista of Palestine” in the Autumn 2009 issue of the Journal of Palestine Studies has been posted on the DESIP website at:

Professor Khalidi’s article, about twice as long as the précis, addresses some of the myths regarding the transformation of the former Palestine into the State of Israel.

Here are a few selections from the summary.

Since the issue [of who should inherit Palestine was divine right], questions of who fired the first shot, and who did or did not accept partition are mere diversions and irrelevancies.

The genius of the Zionist narrative is its ability to depict the Palestinians’ resistance to this plan to dispossess them as Palestinian aggression, and the Zionist drive to impose this revolutionary status quo on the Palestinians by force of arms as Jewish self-defense.

Aggression and offensive action were built into the very concept of the UN partition resolution. The area of the proposed Jewish state was 15 million dunams (1 dunam = 1,000 sq meters) while Jewish land ownership in 1948 totaled 1.7 million dunams. The UN was effectively saying to the Yishuv: go seize those additional 13.3 million dunams that you don’t own from those who do.

The outcome of the [1948] regular war was already sealed in favor of Israel by the time it began. The “existential threat” supposedly posed by the Arab armies, like the ostensible equity and moral viability of the UN partition resolution, is a myth. Ben Gurion was without doubt the most capable political leader operating in the Middle East in the 40s and 50s. He had his priorities right. Unlike the leaders of the Irgun and Stern gang who fought the British, Ben Gurion understood that the real enemy was the Palestinians and Arabs. (Although one could argue that it came down to a question of shared responsibility: Stern and Irgun would fight the British-–with discreet help from Ben Gurion–-and so Ben Gurion could devote the bulk of his energies to uprooting the natives.)

Perhaps the mother of all ironies is that Ben-Gurion spent 1916 researching the history of Palestine in—of all places—the New York Public Library. One of the conclusions of his research was that the Palestinian peasantry were the real descendents of the ancient Hebrews.

Read more:

Monday, September 13, 2010

Don Peretz, 1958: Abandoned Arab Property Critical to early days of Israeli State

"'Abandoned' Property"  insert from "Original Sin" by Zachary Lockman. in Middle East Report, May-June 1988,  Review Essay.

from Don Peretz, Israel and the Palestine Arabs (Washington, D.C.: Middle East Institute, 1958), p. 143

"Abandoned property [belonging to Arabs who had become refugees] was one of the greatest contributions toward making Israel a viable state. ... Of the 370 new Jewish settlements established between 1948 and the beginning of 1953, 350 were on absentee property.  In 1954, more than one third of Israel’s Jewish population lived on absentee property and nearly a third of the new immigrants (250,000 people) settled in urban areas abandoned by Arabs.  They left whole cities like Jaffa, Acre, Lydda, Ramleh, Baysan, Majdal; 388 towns and villages and large parts of 94 other cities and towns, containing nearly a quarter of all the buildings in Israel.  Ten thousand shops, businesses and stores were left in Jewish hands. ... In 1951-52, former Arab [citrus] groves produced one-and-a-quarter million boxes of fruit, of which 400,000 were exported.  Arab fruit sent abroad provided nearly 10 per cent of the country's foreign currency earnings from exports in 1951.  In 1949 the olive produce from abandoned Arab groves was Israel's third largest export, ranking after citrus and diamonds.  The relative economic importance of Arab property was largest from 1948 until 1953, during the period of the greatest immigration and need.  After that, as the immigrants became more productive, national dependence upon abandoned Arab property declined relatively."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Justin Raimondo: Obama vs the Lobby

May 14, 2008
Obama vs. The Lobby

No matter how much he grovels, it's never enough

by Justin Raimondo

Poor Obama. No matter how much he tries to placate the Israel lobby, they just won't take yes for an answer. The Lobby has been after him for months, trying to dig up "evidence" that someone with the middle name of "Hussein" is necessarily an enemy of Israel. The best they could come up with so far were the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's jeremiads, which didn't have much of an effect at the polls, as the North Carolina and Indiana primary results – and subsequent national polls – attest.

Yet Obama still keeps trying to appease the Lobby. He's purged staff members who so much as looked cross-eyed at the Israelis, such as one poor adviser who meekly suggested that talking to Hamas might not be such a bad idea. He was out faster than you can say Mearsheimer and Walt.

Speaking of which: the Obama-oids have gone out of their way to distance themselves – i.e., "reject and denounce" – those two hate-criminals, even though, as Philip Weiss trenchantly avers, a book by Obama's point man on the Middle East says pretty much the same thing. In response to all this, Scott McConnell, editor of The American Conservative, dryly remarked: "At this point one wonders whether the people who deny the dramatic influence of the Israel lobby on American politics feel a little bit silly."

Obama's latest ritualized act of kowtowing takes place in the pages of the online edition of The Atlantic. In an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg – a male Judy Miller who retailed Ahmed Chalabi's tall tales of Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" and other fables while still managing to keep his job and his reputation – Obama jumps through all kinds of hoops with admirable dexterity, while ultimately avoiding abject humiliation and even showing signs of resistance.

Goldberg is relentless from the get-go, demanding to know: Does Zionism "have justice on its side?" Obama goes into a soliloquy about his "Jewish-American camp counselor" whose tales of life in Israel he found "powerful and compelling." Obama, the wanderer, has instinctive sympathy for a people who want only to "return home." All very affecting and authentic, but it's not enough for David Frum, who kvetches:

"Now, how long do you think it takes Obama to deliver a 'yes' or 'no' to that question? I count five long paragraphs – interrupted by two follow-up questions – before we get to 'yes.' That's a long time. And when the answer is delivered, it is immediately followed by a disclaimer."

No explanations, no dilly-dallying, no loitering in the middle ground – Commissar Frum wants answers, "straight" answers, and he wants them now! So what is this supposed "disclaimer"? It's when Obama says:

"That does not mean that I would agree with every action of the state of Israel, because it's a government and it has politicians, and as a politician myself I am deeply mindful that we are imperfect creatures and don't always act with justice uppermost on our minds."

How dare he refuse to give a moral blank check to whomever is elected prime minister of Israel?! Frum takes the Ann Lewis line, which is, as she put it at a forum on Israel: "The role of the president of the United States is to support the decisions that are made by the people of Israel."

According to the strictures set down by the Frum-Lewis Doctrine, we are obligated to carry out whatever edicts the Israeli government issues – and if Obama doesn't buy that, well, then, he's obviously a Farrakhan-loving secret Muslim.

Goldberg isn't satisfied, either. He presses the issue:

"Go to the kishke question, the gut question: the idea that if Jews know that you love them, then you can say whatever you want about Israel, but if we don't know you – Jim Baker, Zbigniew Brzezinski – then everything is suspect. There seems to be in some quarters, in Florida and other places, a sense that you don't feel Jewish worry the way a senator from New York would feel it."

Unconditional support isn't enough: the Lobby demands love. At the end of his interrogation, Obama is expected, like Winston Smith, to love Big Brother.

Obama's smooth "I find that really interesting" is devastating, in its way: what equanimity! He segues into a personal account, talks about his trip to Israel, lists all the admirable qualities of the pioneers who have built a modern democracy in a "hardscrabble land," among them a strong sense of morality and a long tradition of open discussion and disputation: "What I also love about Israel is the fact that people argue about these issues, and that they're asking themselves moral questions."

Here Obama hits back, if ever so subtly. The poor guy was no doubt annoyed at being hectored by this tiresome fanatic, so who can blame him for making reference to the well-known fact that discussion in the U.S., when it comes to Israel, is far less open than it is in Israel itself? (Although that is changing.)

He pulls back, though, and resorts to the some-of-my-best-friends argument, another way of groveling. Yet Goldberg is clearly pissed off, because he pops him with the Ahmed Yousef question. Poor Obama: another Rev. Wright-like tar baby, albeit this time an Arabic version, one that the Lobby hopes will stick. Obama, however, isn't having it:

"My position on Hamas is indistinguishable from the position of Hillary Clinton or John McCain. I said they are a terrorist organization and I've repeatedly condemned them. I've repeatedly said, and I mean what I say: since they are a terrorist organization, we should not be dealing with them until they recognize Israel, renounce terrorism, and abide by previous agreements."

Goldberg has got him. The man who would talk to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez, and Raúl Castro won't deal with the elected government of Palestine. Why single them out for special disfavor? After all, the Cuban commies, for one example, have imprisoned and killed their internal critics, as have the Iranians. Chavez is no angel, either. Why a different standard for the Palestinians? He's acknowledged their suffering; why won't he recognize their legitimacy?

Much of Obama's appeal is personal, rather than ideological. He's just the kind of president one can imagine pulling off a series of diplomatic triumphs based on the sheer power of his personality alone. The Obama campaign knows this, of course, and that's partly why the candidate continually emphasizes the value of diplomacy, of talking to our alleged adversaries, and giving America options other than war. It's pretty humiliating for him to have to drop this tack because it so rankles the Lobby.

What's more, you can bet John McCain will point to this contradiction during the coming debates. If I were McCain, I'd ask: Well, Barack, if you're going to talk to Ahmadinejad, then why not have a cup of coffee with Ahmed Yousef?

Goldberg, clearly enjoying himself, digs the knife in deeper and inquires if Obama was "flummoxed" upon receiving the Ahmed Yousef seal of approval.

Obama – flummoxed? Surely he jests.

It's time for Obama to play his trump card, and he does so by citing his support for Israel's 2006 invasion of Lebanon, in which factories, hospitals, and Christian churches were bombed and thousands of Lebanese civilians were killed, in retaliation for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of three more. That, at least, was the ostensible rationale for a sustained assault on Lebanon's physical and socio-economic infrastructure, although military action to take out Hezbollah was planned long before that incident.

In any case, Goldberg keeps throwing him some pretty hard fastballs: what about the settlements? And you'll note how Goldberg phrases the question, asking whether President Obama "will denounce the settlements publicly." "Denounce" is a pretty strong word: I doubt that's what Obama would do. The point is that what the Lobby fears most is public criticism by an American chief executive, or, really, by any American official. The settlements, answers Obama, are not helpful, and he doesn't deny that he'll say this in public. He won't take a vow of silence.

Goldberg comes back with an echo of a persistent suspicion, oft voiced in Likudnik circles: "Do you think that Israel is a drag on America's reputation overseas?"

Clearly exasperated at this point, Obama cuts to the core of the issue by inserting a heretical concept – that an American president ought to be upholding American interests:

"No, no, no. But what I think is that this constant wound, that this constant sore, does infect all of our foreign policy. The lack of a resolution to this problem provides an excuse for anti-American militant jihadists to engage in inexcusable actions, and so we have a national-security interest in solving this, and I also believe that Israel has a security interest in solving this because I believe that the status quo is unsustainable. I am absolutely convinced of that, and some of the tensions that might arise between me and some of the more hawkish elements in the Jewish community in the United States might stem from the fact that I'm not going to blindly adhere to whatever the most hawkish position is just because that's the safest ground politically."

Obama is here engaging the Lobby, challenging its claim to set the terms of the debate – and refusing to grovel. Good for him. The very idea that American and Israeli interests are in any way separable – and even, at times, in opposition to each other – is the Lobby's worst nightmare. For that would mean the end of our policy of unconditional public support – although, in private, recriminations abound.

Obama really goes on the offensive toward the end of the Goldberg interview, especially when he avers:

"My job in being a friend to Israel is partly to hold up a mirror and tell the truth and say if Israel is building settlements without any regard to the effects that this has on the peace process, then we're going to be stuck in the same status quo that we've been stuck in for decades now, and that won't lift that existential dread that David Grossman described in your article."

Of course Obama has read Goldberg's article, and the mirror metaphor is really devastating, yet more evidence of the candidate's underrated ability to lash out – but with a rapier, not a broadsword.

Existential dread – that's what Obama evokes in the Lobby. They've had it easy during the Bush II era, with the American Netanyahu ensconced in the White House. Settlements? Go right ahead. The Wall of Separation? Higher, please. Assassinations timed to derail the "peace process"? Fire away! Those days will be over if Obama makes it to the Oval Office, and the Lobby knows it.

The great problem for Obama is that no matter what he does or says, the Lobby will fight him every inch of the way, and the smears will get more outrageous. The "he's-a-secret-Muslim" meme is just the beginning. The guilt-by-association strategy is by no means exhausted. How many penny-ante anti-Semites who spent two minutes with him shaking his hand, and would enjoy the publicity of being the focus of media attention, can be dug up between now and November?

We'll soon find out.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

H.Clark: Truman and Israel: The power of the Lobby

June 3, 2006

A pdf of this article with footnotes can be found on Clark's website.
How It All Began

Truman and Israel


The Truman Administration's policy on Palestine challenges at its start the "strategic asset" view of the US-Israel relationship, and reinforces the "Israel lobby" view, as argued in the recent article by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Truman's support for the creation of a Jewish state was due entirely to the US Jewish community, without whose influence Zionist achievements in Palestine would have been for nought. Long before any strategic argument was made, indeed, while a Jewish state was considered a strategic liability, long before Israel's fundamentalist Christian supporters of today were on the map, the nascent Israel lobby deployed its manifold resources with consummate skill and ruthlessness.

Rabbi Abba Silver, a Cleveland Zionist with Republican contacts, and Zionist official Emmanuel Neumann, initiated "Democratic and Republican competition for the Jewish vote." In 1944 they "wrung support from the conventions of both parties for the Taft-Wagner [Senate] resolution" supporting abrogation of the Palestine immigration limits in the 1939 British white paper, and the establishment of Palestine as a Jewish commonwealth. Ensuring the traditional loyalty of Jewish voters was a paramount concern of Democratic politicians, up to the president himself, in the New York mayoral election of 1945, the 1946 congressional elections, and the 1948 presidential election.

Gentile opinion was also courted in non-electoral ways, through the American Palestine Committee of notables, constituted in 1941 by Emmanuel Neumann of the American Zionist Emergency Committee. By 1946 it included "sixty-eight senators, two hundred congressmen and several state governors" with "seventy-five local chapters." It became "'the preeminent symbol of pro-Zionist sentiment among the non-Jewish American public.'" It was entirely a Zionist front.

Zionist control was discreet but tight. The Committee's correspondence was drafted in the AZEC headquarters and sent to [chairman New York Senator Robert] Wagner for his signature. Mail addressed to Wagner as head of the American Palestine Committee, even if it came from the White House or the State Department, was opened and kept in Zionist headquarters; Wagner received a copy. The AZEC placed ads in the press under the committee's name without bothering to consult or advise it in advance, until one of its members meekly requested advance notice.

Dewey Stone, a Zionist businessman, had financed Truman's vice-presidential campaign in 1944, and businessman Abraham Feinberg, with jewelry magnate Edmund Kauffman, led fundraising for the otherwise penniless 1948 presidential campaign. "If not for my friend Abe, I couldn't have made the [whistle-stop train] trip and I wouldn't have been elected," Truman stated. "Feinberg's activities began a process that made the Jews into 'the most conspicuous fundraisers and contributors to the Democratic Party.'"

Key White House advisors ensured the domination of Zionist viewpoints in the highest circles of the Truman Administration. Jewish aides David Niles, administrative assistant to Truman, and Max Lowenthal, special assistant on Palestine to Clark Clifford, himself "Truman's key advisor on Palestine at the White House," were especially crucial. Niles was one of two presidential aides retained from the Roosevelt Administration, the other being Samuel Rosenman. Niles was Truman's chief political liaison with the Jewish community. Lowenthal was the Harvard-trained former counsel to the Senate Interstate Commerce Committee on which Truman had served, who specialized in drafting Zionist memoranda. In 1952 Truman stated in a letter to Lowenthal, "I don't know who has done more for Israel than you have." Clifford, an ambitious Missouri lawyer, like so many non-Jewish Democrats saw the manifest political advantages of Zionism; Truman's 1948 victory launched Clifford's career as consummate Washington insider. The "White House through its busy and assorted 'aides' never wanted for advice on the Palestine question. All together the quantity of well-argued advice coming in through various unofficial channels was enormous and would provide an efficient counter to that coming from the president's official foreign policy-making body, the State Department."

This formidable apparatus was deployed at every twist and turn on the sinous path of events that culminated in Israel's creation. In 1945 the Zionist lobby linked concern for the Jewish displaced persons languishing in European camps to the Palestine question, and pressured Truman to endorse a Jewish Agency proposal for the British to admit 100,000 Jewish immigrants to Palestine. In April, 1946, a joint Anglo-American commission, with US Zionist members, duly endorsed the immigration proposal, among others, and talks about a comprehensive political settlement continued, resulting in the Morrison-Grady plan for a federal state with autonomy for Arab and Jewish provinces. Truman thought this then and later "the best of all solutions proposed for Palestine." The plan fell short of Zionist aspirations toward partition, and under intense pressure, with the fall elections looming, Truman reluctantly declined to endorse it.

The Jewish Agency Executive, the governing body of the Zionist settlement in Palestine, proposed partition in early August. On October 4, 1946, the eve of Yom Kippur, Truman delivered his famous statement noting the Morrison-Grady plan, and the Jewish Agency partition proposal, calling the latter a solution which "would command the support of public opinion in the United States." Despite Truman's further observations that "the gap between the proposals" could be bridged, and that the US government could support such a compromise, the statement was intepreted as support for partition and a Jewish state, as Niles predicted to the author, the Jewish Agency representative in Washington, whose original draft had been modified by the State Department.

The Yom Kippur statement marked a watershed in the political and diplomatic struggle for the Jewish state. The British saw in the statement a demonstration of Jewish political power and gave up their quest for an Anglo-American consensus on Palestine. [British Foreign Secretary] Bevin began issuing threats that the British would evacuate Palestine, and in February 1947 they did indeed refer the question with no recommendation to the United Nations.

The United Nations Special Commission on Palestine was formed after the British announcement. Truman, "undoubtedly embarrassed by accusationsthat he had exploited the Palestine question for domestic political gain" with his Yom Kippur statement, thereafter remained silent. Before the UNSCOP decision, Truman still retained hope for the 1946 Morrison-Grady plan. When on August 31, 1947, UNSCOP announced its majority decision recommending partition, the administration came under overwhelming pressure to endorse it.

The State Department, like the War Department and most of the government, and elite opinion generally, viewed good relations with the Arab states and people as the basis of US interests in the region's oil, in trade and investment, military basing rights, and excluding the rising bogey of Soviet influence. But the Zionist machine was at full throttle, Democratic politicians from Congress to the Cabinet protested vehemently to Truman about the political consequences, and a statement endorsing partition was made at the UN on October 11. Truman did fear that if partition became a US plan, it would require US military forces to implement. Neither the US nor the USSR, which endorsed partiton two days after the US, lobbied for votes among member states, and on Wednesday, November 26, the General Assembly approved the final draft partition resolution by one vote less than the required two-thirds majority. The partition forces postponed the final vote, and over the Thanksgiving holiday the president, his aides and US diplomats went to work. That Saturday, November 29, partition passed by 33 to 13, with ten abstentions. Truman took personal credit for changing several votes.

The Zionists had been waging war against the British to drive them out of Palestine, and after the UN partition vote, civil war broke out with the Palestinian Arabs, who rejected partition. In February the State Department prepared plans for a UN trusteeship, with White House knowledge and approval. On March 18, a UN commission to monitor events in Palestine, which had predicted further chaos and bloodshed after the British withdrawal on May 14, reported its failure to arrange any agreement between Jews and Arabs. The following day the US ambassador to the UN announced the trusteeship proposal, which brought a political firestorm down on Truman, and on March 25, at a press conference he explained that trusteeship was only a means of eventually implementing the UN resolution for partition. The Arabs rejected it, as did the Zionists.

Yet Truman's political fortunes continued to plummet; the Democratic Party revolted against his presidential candidacy. As Zionist forces achieved partition (and more) in battle, pressure built for recognition of the Jewish state, expected to be proclaimed on the final day of British withdrawal, May 14. The State Department was opposed; Secretary Marshall feared Jewish military successes would be temporary, that the Zionists would partition Palestine with King Abdullah of Transjordan without reaching a settlement with the Palestinian Arabs (which did happen), and that recognition would prejudice efforts to arrange a truce under UN auspices after May 14. Zionist pressure was ferocious; the White House "aides" were very busy; Clifford essentially commissioned the request for recognition from the Jewish Agency representative in Washington, which was duly delivered to the White House, and at 6:11 PM on May 14 Truman announced de facto recognition of the State of Israel, flummoxing the US delegation at the UN, and US allies. Marshall stated that, during a May 17 discussion, Truman "treated it somewhat as a joke as I had done but I think we both thought privately it was a hell of a mess," and felt that the US "had hit its all-time low before the U.N."

US diplomacy in the ensuing Arab-Israeli war was conducted along similar lines. For all his accommodation of Zionism, Truman received only 75% of the Jewish vote, compared to Roosevelt's typical 90%. Truman lost New York, Dewey's home state, where there was also a large vote for Wallace. Truman did narrowly win Ohio, Illinois and California, helped by Jewish voters. After describing this tour de force of domestic power politics, Michael Cohen, whose work is mainly quoted here, argues that Israel's military prowess changed the views of the British and US diplomatic and military establishments. "[T]he White House and State Department, if only ephemerally, came to a consensus on Israel's vital importance to the West as a 'strategic asset."' The qualification "ephemerally" acknowledges the Eisenhower presidency, during which Israel was largely not regarded as a strategic asset.

Cohen attributes Truman's susceptibility to Zionist influence to a "unique set of circumstances that converged to determine the fate of Palestine," including Jewish friends, White House advisors, key Jewish Democratic Party fundraisers, and Zionist military prowess, which "should not be expected ever to repeat themselves." The circumstances were not at all unique, but have been practically a recipe for quasi-sovereign Jewish influence on foreign policy in Democratic administrations. By institutionalization throughout the political culture, this influence extends to Republican administrations as well; Eisenhower was an exception. Such influence is not sinister or conspiratorial, but the overt working of US-style capitalist democracy, albeit on behalf of racism, war and genocide, and with a paralyzing effect, in this case, on the liberal circles which usually oppose such matters.

The chauvinism of US organized Jewry is a distinctive feature of US society and history, comparable in importance to classic US singularities like slavery, and the absence of a socialist left, and their crippling legacies. Jewish influence in the Democratic Party, and its impact on foreign policy, notably on the inability of Democrats to mount a critique of the Iraq war and Middle East policy, is comparable to the influence of the Dixiecrats, the segregationist Southern Democrats, on civil rights, labor law and other issues. The moral antipode to organized Jewish power is not an orthodoxy which misattributes Jewish influence to "strategic interest," but anti-Zionism. Left internationalism, in which Jews were prominent, and classical Reform Judaism, once the dominant Jewish creed, emphatically rejected Zionism as a reactionary ideology, rejected modern Jewish nationality, and affirmed the Jewish place as a minority in liberal or revolutionary society. Anti-Zionism need not mean, immediately, a secular democratic state in Palestine, but the moral and intellectual framework which rejects Zionist claims on Jewish identity and gentile conscience, and asserts liberal and revolutionary values against radical nationalism.

Harry Clark grew up in the Illinois congressional district represented for twenty-two years by Paul Findley, a centrist Republican. Findley's support for the Palestinians aroused the ire of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, which eventually drove him from office. Studying Zionism is an avocation.

A pdf of this article with footnotes can be found on Clark's website.

© 2006 by Harry Clark

Sunday, May 28, 2006

*Kathleen and Bill Christison: The Rise of the Israel Lobby

Many thanks to Kathy and Bill Christison (K&B) for this brilliant article and for focusing on Chomsky’s and Finkelstein’s extraordinary (or not) defense of the Lobby.

As Harry Clark and surely others have pointed out, K&B show that the Chomsky supported (if not inspired) idea of Israel as a U.S. strategic asset is bogus; that Israel has from the beginning been a dreadful millstone working against the national, regional and international interest – on a scale it is impossible to quantify or exaggerate.

Standing on their shoulders and on those of Mearshimer/Walt, Blankfort, Sniegoski and others we can perhaps begin a little to advance the discussion and start to tease out where the Israeli interest ends and the U.S. interest begins.

As K&B properly note, the two U.S. presidents not in conformity with the wishes of the Lobby are Carter and the elder Bush – not to mention Eisenhower in an earlier era. The other administrations either worked actively against the U.S. interest (Reagan and Bush II) or effectively did so by acceding to Israeli demands. (As an example, note that according to Seymour Hersh, JFK had no choice but to accede to Israel’s ongoing program of developing nuclear weapons.)

The point is that each administration is more or less different, but that they can be roughly divided into the two classes above: either they are ruled by radical neocon, permanent war ideology or not. (The neocons are the pro-Israeli descendents of the same extremist ideology as General MacArthur’s who wanted war against China and Russia, just as the neocons do today).

In the Reagan administration, chief neocon Sec of State Alexander Haig was in charge until the Israeli war in Lebanon spun out of control and wiser heads prevailed, and he was cashiered. Today in the Bush administration, Cheney and Rumsfeld are firmly in control and there is no adult supervision in sight, surely not from the Democrats. So who is going to save the world? It’s not as if we can’t see what is happening to the Afghanis, the Iraqis and if they have their way, soon the Iranians.

Coming back to the main idea that should be obvious, but is apparently controversial, that different presidents enact different policies, I wonder how many readers would agree that if we still had democracy in this country and Gore won, we would not be in Iraq today.

Thus from the perspective that there are differences between one president and another, between one administration and another, we can suggest that Bush’s war against Iraq served both the extremist right in Israel and also their U.S. counterparts --Bush, Rove, Cheney and Rumsfeld. The latter’s agenda of permanent war while it was enabled by the lobby, can be distinguished from Israel’s more limited goals for regional dominance. Perhaps it is when the extremist right gains power as in Reagan and Bush II that Israel becomes a true strategic asset, enabling destabilization, chaos and war. --Ronald


Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair
May 16-31, 2006 VOL. 13, NO. 10
Ten, even five years ago, a fierce public debate over the nature and activities of the Israeli lobby would have been impossible. It was as verboten as the use of the word Empire to describe the global reach of the United States. Through its disdain for the usual proprieties decorously observed by Republican and Democratic administrations in the past, the Bush administration has hauled many realities of our political economy center stage. Open up the New York Times or the Washington Post these days and there may well be another opinion column about the Lobby.

CounterPunch has hosted some of the most vigorous polemics on the Lobby. In May we asked two of our most valued contributors, Kathy and Bill Christison, to offer their evaluation of the debate on the Lobby’s role and power. As our readers know, Bill and Kathy both had significant careers as CIA analysts. Bill was a National Intelligence Officer. In the aftermath of the September, 2001, attacks we published here his trenchant and influential essay on “the war on terror”. Kathy has written powerfully both here and on our website on the topic of Palestine. Specifically on the Lobby they contributed an unsparing essay on the topic of “dual loyalty” which can be found in our CounterPunch collection, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.

In mid May they sent us their measured assessment, rich in historical detail. We are delighted to print it here in its entirety, which means our subscribers get the bonus of an 8-page issue. Which is the tail? Which is the dog? asked Uri Avnery here, a few issues back, apropos the respective roles of the Israel Lobby and the US government in the exercise of US policy in the Middle East. Here’s an answer that will be tough to challenge. A.C./J.S.C.

The Rise of the Israel Lobby:
A Measure of Its Power

By Kathleen and Bill Christison

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the University of Chicago and Harvard political scientists who published in March of this year a lengthy, well documented study on the pro-Israel lobby and its influence on U.S. Middle East policy, have already accomplished what they intended. They have successfully called attention to the often pernicious influence of the lobby on policymaking. But, unfortunately, the study has aroused more criticism than debate – not only the kind of criticism one would anticipate from the usual suspects among the very lobby groups Mearsheimer and Walt described, but also from a group on the left that might have been expected to support the study’s conclusions.

The criticism has been partly silly, often malicious, and almost entirely off-point. The silly, insubstantial criticisms – such as former presidential adviser David Gergen’s earnest comment that through four administrations he never observed an Oval Office decision that tilted policy in favor of Israel at the expense of U.S. interests – can easily be dismissed as nonsensical . Most of the extensive malicious criticism, coming largely from the hard core of Israeli supporters who make up the very lobby under discussion and led by a hysterical Alan Dershowitz, has been so specious and sophomoric, that it too could be dismissed were it not for precisely the pervasive atmosphere of reflexive support for Israel and silenced debate that Mearsheimer and Walt describe.

Most disturbing and harder to dismiss is the criticism of the study from the left, coming chiefly from Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein, and abetted less cogently by Stephen Zunes of Foreign Policy in Focus and Joseph Massad of Columbia University. These critics on the left argue from a assumption that U.S. foreign policy has been monolithic since World War II, a coherent progression of decision-making directed unerringly at the advancement of U.S. imperial interests. All U.S. actions, these critics contend, are part of a clearly laid-out strategy that has rarely deviated no matter what the party in power. They believe that Israel has served throughout as a loyal agent of the U.S., carrying out the U.S. design faithfully and serving as a base from which the U.S. projects its power around the Middle East. Zunes says it most clearly, affirming that Israel “still is very much the junior partner in the relationship.” These critics do not dispute the existence of a lobby, but they minimize its importance, claiming that rather than leading the U.S. into policies and foreign adventures that stand against true U.S. national interests, as Mearsheimer and Walt assert, the U.S. is actually the controlling power in the relationship with Israel and carries out a consistent policy, using Israel as its agent where possible.

Finkelstein summarized the critics’ position in a recent CounterPunch article (“The Israel Lobby,” May 1, emphasizing that the issue is not whether U.S. interests or those of the lobby take precedence but rather that there has been such coincidence of U.S. and Israeli interests over the decades that for the most part basic U.S. Middle East policy has not been affected by the lobby. Chomsky maintains that Israel does the U.S. bidding in the Middle East in pursuit of imperial goals that Washington would pursue even without Israel and that it has always pursued in areas outside the Middle East without benefit of any lobby. Those goals have always included advancement of U.S. corporate-military interests and political domination through the suppression of radical nationalisms and the maintenance of stability in resource-rich countries, particularly oil producers, everywhere. In the Middle East, this was accomplished primarily through Israel’s 1967 defeat of Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser and his radical Arab nationalism, which had threatened U.S. access to the region’s oil resources. Both Chomsky and Finkelstein trace the strong U.S.-Israeli tie to the June 1967 war, which they believe established the close alliance and marked the point at which the U.S. began to regard Israel as a strategic asset and a stable base from which U.S. power could be projected throughout the Middle East.

Joseph Massad (“Blaming the Israel Lobby,” CounterPunch, March 25/26) argues along similar lines, describing developments in the Middle East and around the world that he believes the U.S. engineered for its own benefit and would have carried out even without Israel’s assistance. His point, like Chomsky’s, is that the U.S. has a long history of overthrowing regimes in Central America, in Chile, in Indonesia, in Africa, where the Israel lobby was not involved and where Israel at most assisted the U.S. but did not benefit directly itself. He goes farther than Chomsky by claim­ing that with respect to the Middle East Israel has been such an essential tool that its very usefulness is what accounts for the strength of the lobby. “It is in fact the very centrality of Israel to U.S. strategy in the Middle East,” Massad contends with a kind of backward logic, “that accounts, in part, for the strength of the pro-Israel lobby and not the other way around.” (One wonders why, if this were the case, there would be any need for a lobby at all. What would be a lobby’s function if the U.S. already regarded Israel as central to its strategy?)

The principal problem with these arguments from the left is that they assume a continuity in U.S. strategy and policymaking over the decades that has never in fact existed. The notion that there is any defined strategy that links Eisenhower’s policy to Johnson’s to Reagan’s to Clinton’s gives far more credit than is deserved to the extremely ad hoc, hit-or-miss nature of all U.S. foreign policy. Obviously, some level of imperial interest has dictated policy in every administration since World War II and, obviously, the need to guarantee access to vital natural resources around the world, such as oil in the Middle East and elsewhere, has played a critical role in determining policy. But beyond these evident, and not particularly significant, truths, it can accurately be said, at least with regard to the Middle East, that it has been a rare administration that has itself ever had a coherent, clearly defined, and consistent foreign policy and that, except for a broadly defined anti-communism during the Cold War, no administration’s strategy has ever carried over in detail to succeeding administrations.

The ad hoc nature of virtually every administration’s policy planning process cannot be overemphasized. Aside from the strong but amorphous political need felt in both major U.S. parties and nurtured by the Israel lobby that “supporting Israel” was vital to each party’s own future, the inconsistent, even short-term randomness in the detailed Middle East policymaking of successive administrations has been remarkable. This lack of clear strategic thinking at the very top levels of several new administrations before they entered office enhanced the power of individuals and groups that did have clear goals and plans already in hand – such as, for instance, the pro-Israeli Dennis Ross in both the first Bush and the Clinton administrations, and the strongly pro-Israeli neo-cons in the current Bush administration.

The critics on the left argue that because the U.S. has a history of opposing and frequently undermining or actually overthrowing radical nationalist governments throughout the world without any involvement by Israel, any instance in which Israel acts against radical nationalism in the Arab world is, therefore, proof that Israel is doing the United States’ work for it . The critics generally believe, for instance, that Israel’s political destruction of Egypt’s Nasser in 1967 was done for the U.S. Most if not all believe that Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon was undertaken at U.S.behest, to destroy the PLO.

This kind of argumentation depends too much on a presumption of policy coherence. Lyndon Johnson most certainly did abhor Nasser and was not sorry to see him and his pan-Arab ambitions defeated, but there is absolutely no evidence that the Johnson administration ever seriously planned to unseat Nasser, formulated any other action plan against Egypt, or pushed Israel in any way to attack. Johnson did apparently give a green light to Israel’s attack plans after they had been formulated, but this is quite different from initiating the plans. Already mired in Vietnam, Johnson was very much concerned not to be drawn into a war initiated by Israel and was criticized by some Israeli supporters for not acting forcefully enough on Israel’s behalf. In any case, Israel needed no prompting for its pre-emptive attack, which had long been in the works.

Indeed, far from Israel functioning as the junior partner carrying out a U.S. plan, it is clear that the weight of pressure in 1967 was on the U.S. to go along with Israel’s designs and that this pressure came from Israel and its agents in the U.S. The lobby in this instance – as broadly defined by Mearsheimer and Walt: “the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to shape U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction” – was in fact a part of Johnson’s intimate circle of friends and advisers.

These included the number-two man at the Israeli embassy, a close personal friend; the strongly pro-Israeli Rostow brothers, Walt and Eugene, who were part of the national security bureaucracy in the administration; Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas; U.N. Ambassador Arthur Goldberg; and numerous others who all spent time with Johnson at the LBJ Ranch in Texas and had the personal access and the leisure time in an informal setting to talk with Johnson about their concern for Israel and to influence him heavily in favor of Israel. This circle had already begun to work on Johnson long before Israel’s pre-emptive attack in 1967, so they were nicely placed to persuade Johnson to go along with it despite Johnson’s fears of provoking the Soviet Union and becoming involved in a military conflict the U.S. was not prepared for.

In other words, Israel was beyond question the senior partner in this particular policy initiative; Israel made the decision to go to war, would have gone to war with or without the U.S. green light, and used its lobbyists in the U.S. to steer Johnson administration policy in a pro-Israeli direction. Israel’s attack on the U.S. naval vessel, the USS Liberty, in the midst of the war – an attack conducted in broad daylight that killed 34 American sailors – was not the act of a junior partner. Nor was the U.S. cover-up of this atrocity the act of a government that dictated the moves in this relationship.

The evidence is equally clear that Israel was the prime mover in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and led the U.S. into that morass, rather than the other way around. Although Massad refers to the U.S. as Israel’s master, in this instance as in many others including 1967, Israel has clearly been its own master. Chomsky argues in support of his case that Reagan ordered Israel to call off the invasion in August, two months after it was launched. This is true, but in fact Israel did not pay any attention; the invasion continued, and the U.S. got farther and farther embroiled.

When, as occurred in Lebanon, the U.S. has blundered into misguided adventures to support Israel or to rescue Israel or to further Israel’s interests, it is a clear denial of reality to say that Israel and its lobby have no significant influence on U.S. Middle East policy. Even were there not an abundance of other examples, Lebanon alone, with its long-term implications, proves the truth of the Mearsheimer-Walt conclusion that the U.S. “has set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of another state” and that “the overall thrust of U.S. policy in the region is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby.’”

As a general proposition, the left critics’ argumentation is much too limiting. While there is no question that modern history is replete, as they argue, with examples of the U.S. acting in corporate interests – overthrowing nationalist governments perceived to be threatening U.S. business and economic interests, as in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Chile in 1973, and elsewhere – this frequent convergence of corporate with government interests does not mean that the U.S. never acts in other than corporate interests. The fact of a strong government-corporate alliance does not in any way preclude situations – even in the Middle East, where oil is obviously a vital corporate resource – in which the U.S. acts primarily to benefit Israel rather than serve any corporate or economic purpose. Because it has a deep emotional aspect and involves political, economic, and military ties unlike those with any other nation, the U.S. relationship with Israel is unique, and there is nothing in the history of U.S. foreign policy, nothing in the government’s entanglement with the military-industrial complex, to prevent the lobby from exerting heavy influence on policy. Israel and its lobbyists make their own “corporation” that, like the oil industry (or Chiquita Banana or Anaconda Copper in other areas), is clearly a major factor driving U.S. foreign policy.

There is no denying the intricate interweaving of the U.S. military-industrial complex with Israeli military-industrial interests. Chomsky acknowledges that there is “plenty of conformity” between the lobby’s position and the U.S. government-corporate linkage and that the two are very difficult to disentangle. But, although he tends to emphasize that the U.S. is always the senior partner and suggests that the Israeli side does little more than support whatever the U.S. arms, energy, and financial industries define as U.S. national interests, in actual fact the entanglement is much more one between equals than the raw strengths of the two parties would suggest. “Conformity” hardly captures the magnitude of the relationship. Particularly in the defense arena, Israel and its lobby and the U.S. arms industry work hand in glove to advance their combined, very compatible interests. The relatively few very powerful and wealthy families that dominate the Israeli arms industry are just as interested in pressing for aggressively militaristic U.S. and Israeli foreign policies as are the CEOs of U.S. arms corporations and, as globalization has progressed, so have the ties of joint ownership and close financial and technological cooperation among the arms corporations of the two nations grown ever closer. In every way, the two nations’ military industries work together very easily and very quietly, to a common end. The relationship is symbiotic, and the lobby cooperates intimately to keep it alive; lobbyists can go to many in the U.S. Congress and tell them quite credibly that if aid to Israel is cut off, thousands of arms-industry jobs in their own districts will be lost. That’s power. The lobby is not simply passively supporting whatever the U.S. military-industrial complex wants. It is actively twisting arms – very successfully – in both Congress and the administration to perpetuate acceptance of a definition of U.S. “national interests” that many Americans believe is wrong, as does Chomsky himself.

Clearly, the advantages in the relationship go in both directions: Israel serves U.S. corporate interests by using, and often helping develop, the arms that U.S. manufacturers produce, and the U.S. serves Israeli interests by providing a constant stream of high-tech equipment that maintains Israel’s vast military superiority in the region.

But simply because the U.S. benefits from this relationship, it cannot be said that the U.S. is Israel’s master, or that Israel always does the U.S. bidding, or that the lobby, which helps keep this arms alliance alive, has no significant power. It’s in the nature of a symbiosis that both sides benefit, and the lobby has played a huge role in maintaining the interdependence.

The left’s arguments also tend to be much too conspiratorial. Finkelstein, for instance, describes a supposed strategy in which the U.S. perpetually undermines Israeli-Arab reconciliation because it does not want an Israel at peace with its neighbors, since Israel would then loosen its dependence on the U.S. and become a less reliable proxy. “What use,” he asks, “would a Paul Wolfowitz have of an Israel living peacefully with its Arab neighbors and less willing to do the U.S. bidding?”

Not only does this give the U.S. far more credit than it has ever deserved for long-term strategic scheming and the ability to carry out such a conspiracy, but it begs a very important question that neither Finkelstein nor the other left critics, in their dogged effort to mold all developments to their thesis, never examine: just what U.S.’s bidding is Israel doing nowadays?

Although the leftist critics speak of Israel as a base from which U.S. power is projected throughout the Middle East, they do not clearly explain how this works. Any strategic value Israel had for the U.S. diminished drastically with the collapse of the Soviet Union. They may believe that Israel keeps Saudi Arabia’s oil resources safe from Arab nationalists or Muslim fundamentalists or Russia, but this is highly questionable.

Israel clearly did us no good in Lebanon, but rather the U.S. did Israel’s bidding and fumbled badly, so this cannot be how the U.S. uses Israeli to project its power. In Palestine, Finkelstein himself acknowledges that the U.S. gains nothing from the occupation and Israeli settlements, so this can’t be where Israel is doing the U.S.’s bidding. (With this acknowledgement, Finkelstein, perhaps unconsciously, seriously undermines his case against the importance of the lobby, unless he somehow believes the occupation is only of incidental significance, in which case he undermines the thesis of much of his own body of writing.)

Owning the Policymakers
In the clamor over the Mearsheimer-Walt study, critics on both the left and the right have tended to ignore the slow evolutionary history of U.S. Middle East policymaking and of the U.S. relationship with Israel. The ties to Israel and earlier to Zionism go back more than a century, predating the formation of a lobby, and they have remained firm even at periods when the lobby has waned. But it is also true that the lobby has sustained and formalized a relationship that otherwise rests on emotions and moral commitment. Because the bond with Israel has been a steadily evolving continuum, dating back to well before Israel’s formal establishment, it is important to emphasize that there is no single point at which it is possible to say, this is when Israel won the affections of America, or this is when Israel came to be regarded as a strategic asset, or this is when the lobby became an integral part of U.S. policymaking.

The left critics of the lobby study mark the Johnson administration as the beginning of the U.S.-Israeli alliance, but almost every administration before Johnson’s, going back to Woodrow Wilson, ratcheted up the relationship in some significant way and could justifiably claim to have been the progenitor of the bond. Significantly, in almost all cases, policymakers acted as they did because of the influence of pro-Zionist or pro-Israeli lobbyists: Wilson would not have supported the Zionist enterprise to the extent he did had it not been for the influence of Zionist colleagues like Louis Brandeis; nor would Roosevelt; Truman would probably not have been as supportive of establishing a Jewish state without the heavy influence of his very pro-Zionist advisers.

After the Johnson administration as well, the relationship has continued to grow in remarkable leaps. The Nixon-Kissinger regime could claim that they were the administration that cemented the alliance by exponentially increasing military aid – from an annual average of under $50 million in military credits to Israel in the late 1960s to an average of almost $400 million and, in the year following the 1973 war, to $2.2 billion. It is not for nothing that Israelis have informally dubbed almost every president since Johnson – with the notable exceptions of Jimmy Carter and the senior George Bush – as “the most pro-Israeli president ever”; each one has achieved some landmark in the effort to please Israel.

The U.S.-Israeli bond has always had its grounding more in soft emotions than in the hard realities of geopolitical strategy. Scholars have always described the tie in almost spiritual terms never applied to ties with other nations. A Palestinian-French scholar has described the United States’ pro-Israeli tilt as a “predisposition,” a natural inclination that precedes any consideration of interest or of cost. Israel, he said, takes part in the very “being” of American society and therefore participates in its integrity and its defense.

This is not simply the biased perspective of a Palestinian. Other scholars of varying political inclinations have described a similar spiritual and cultural identity: the U.S. identifies with Israel’s “national style”; Israel is essential to the “ideological prospering” of the U.S.; each country has “grafted” the heritage of the other onto itself. This applies even to the worst aspects of each nation’s heritage. Consciously or unconsciously, many Israelis even today see the U.S. conquest of the American Indians as something “good,” something to emulate and, which is worse, many Americans even today are happy to accept the “compliment” inherent in Israel’s effort to copy us.

This is no ordinary state-to-state relationship, and the lobby does not function like any ordinary lobby. It is not a great exaggeration to say that the lobby could not thrive without a very willing host – that is, a series of U.S. policymaking establishments that have always been locked in to a mindset singularly focused on Israel and its interests – and, at the same time, that U.S. policy in the Middle East would not possibly have remained so singularly focused on and so tilted toward Israel were it not for the lobby. One thing is certain: with the possible exceptions of the Carter and the first Bush administrations, the relationship has grown noticeably closer and more solid with each administration, in almost exact correlation with the growth in size and budget and political clout of the pro-Israel lobby.

All critics of the lobby study have failed to note a critical point during the Reagan administration, surrounding the debacle in Lebanon, when it can reasonably be said that policymaking tipped over from a situation in which the U.S. was more often the controlling agent in the relationship to one in which Israel and its advocates in the U.S. have increasingly determined the course and the pace of developments. The organized lobby, meaning AIPAC and the several formal Jewish American organizations, truly came into its own during the Reagan years with a massive expansion of memberships, budgets, propaganda activities, and contacts within Congress and government, and it has been consolidating power and influence for the last quarter century, so that today the broadly defined lobby, including all those who work for Israel, has become an integral part of U.S. society and U.S. policymaking.

The situation during the Reagan administration demonstrates very clearly the closeness of the bond. The events of these years illustrate how an already very Israel-centered mindset in the U.S., which had been developing for decades, was transformed into a concrete, institutionalized relationship with Israel via the offices of Israeli supporters and agents in the U.S.

The seminal event in the growth of AIPAC and the organized lobby was the battle over the administration’s proposed sale of AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia in 1981, Reagan’s first year in office. Paradoxically, although AIPAC lost this battle in a head-on struggle with Reagan and the administration, and the sale to the Saudis went forward, AIPAC and the lobby ultimately won the war for influence. Reagan was determined that the sale go through; he regarded the deal as an important part of an ill-conceived attempt to build an Arab-Israeli consensus in the Middle East to oppose the Soviet Union and, perhaps even more important, saw the battle in Congress as a test of his own prestige. By winning the battle, he demonstrated that any administration, at least up to that point, could exert enough pressure to push an issue opposed by Israel through Congress, but the struggle also demonstrated how exhausting and politically costly such a battle can be, and no one around Reagan was willing to go to the mat in this way again. In a real sense, despite AIPAC’s loss, the fight showed just how much the lobby limited policymaker freedom, even more than 20 years ago, in any transaction that concerned Israel.

The AWACS imbroglio galvanized AIPAC into action, at precisely the time the administration was subsiding in exhaus­tion, and under an aggressive and energetic leader, former congressional aide Thomas Dine, AIPAC quadrupled its budget, increased its grassroots support immensely, and vastly expanded its propaganda effort. This last and perhaps most significant accomplishment was achieved when Dine established an analytical unit inside AIPAC that published in-depth analyses and posi­tion papers for congressmen and policymakers. Dine believed that anyone who could provide policymakers with books and papers focusing on Israel’s strategic value to the U.S. would effectively “own” the policymakers.

With the rising power and influence of the lobby, and following the U.S. debacle in Lebanon – which began with Israel’s 1982 invasion and ended for the U.S. with the withdrawal of its Marine contingent in early 1984, after the Marines had become involved in fighting to protect Israel’s invasion force and 241 U.S. military had been killed in a truck bombing – the Reagan administration effectively handed over the policy initiative in the Middle East to Israel and its American advocates.

Israel and its agents began, with amazing effrontery, to complain that the U.S. failure to clean up in Lebanon was interfering with Israel’s own designs there – from which arrogance Reagan and company concluded, in an astounding twist of logic, that the only way to restore stability was through closer alliance with Israel. As a result, in the fall of 1983 Reagan sent a delegation to ask the Israelis for closer strategic ties, and shortly thereafter forged a formal strategic alliance with Israel with the signing of a “memorandum of understanding on strategic cooperation.” In 1987, the U.S. designated Israel a “major non-NATO ally,” thus giving it access to military technology not available otherwise. The notion of demanding concessions from Israel in return for this favored status – such as, for instance, some restraint in its settlement-construction in the West Bank – was specifically rejected. The U.S. simply very deliberately and abjectly retreated into policy inaction, leaving Israel with a free hand to proceed as it wished wherever it wished in the Middle East and particularly in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Even Israel, by all accounts, was surprised by this demonstration of the United States’ inability to see beyond Israel’s interests. Prime Minister Menachem Begin had attempted from early in the Carter administration to push the notion that Israel was a strategic Cold War asset to the U.S. but, because Israel did not in fact perform a significant strategic role for the U.S. and was in many ways more a liability than an asset, Carter never paid serious attention to the Israeli overtures. Begin feared that the United States’ moral and emotional commitment to Israel might ultimately not be enough to sustain the relationship through possible hard times, and so he attempted to put Israel forward as a strategically indispensable ally and a good investment for U.S. security, a move that would es­sentially reverse the two nations’ roles, altering the relationship from one of Israeli indebtedness to the U.S. to one in which the United States was in Israel’s debt for its vital strategic role.

Carter was having none of this, but the notion of strategic cooperation germinated in Israel and among its U.S. supporters until the moment became ripe during the Reagan administration. By the end of the Lebanon mess, the notion that the U.S. needed Israel’s friendship had so taken hold among the Reaganites that, as one former national security aide observed in a stunning upending of logic, they began to view closer strategic ties as a necessary means of “restor[ing] Israeli confidence in American reliability.” Secretary of State George Shultz wrote in his memoirs years later of the U.S. need “to lift the albatross of Lebanon from Israel’s neck.” Recall, as Shultz must not have been able to do, that the debt here was rightly Israel’s: Israel put the albatross around its own neck, and the U.S. stumbled into Lebanon after Israel, not the other way around.

AIPAC and the neo-conservatives who rose to prominence during the Reagan years played a major role in building the strategic alliance. AIPAC in particular became in every sense of the word a partner of the U.S. in forging Middle East policy from the mid-1980s on. Thomas Dine’s vision of “owning” policymakers by providing them with position papers geared to Israel’s interests went into full swing. In 1984, AIPAC spun off a think tank, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, that remains one of the pre-eminent think tanks in Washington and that has sent its analysts into policymaking jobs in several administrations. Dennis Ross, the senior Middle East policymaker in the administrations of George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, came from the Washington Institute and returned there after leaving the government. Martin Indyk, the Institute’s first director, entered a top policymaking position in the Clinton administration from there.

Today, John Hannah, who has served on Vice President Cheney’s national security staff since 2001 and succeeded Lewis Libby last year as Cheney’s leading national security adviser, comes from the Institute. AIPAC also continues to do its own analyses in addition to the Washington Institute’s. A recent Washington Post profile of Steven Rosen, the former senior AIPAC foreign policy analyst who is about to stand trial with a colleague for receiving and passing on classified information to Israel, noted that two decades ago Rosen began a practice of lobbying the executive branch, rather than simply concentrating on Congress, as a way, in the words of the Post article, “to alter American foreign policy” by “influencing government from the inside.” Over the years, he “had a hand in writing several policies favored by Israel.”

In the Reagan years, AIPAC’s position papers were particularly welcomed by an administration already more or less convinced of Israel’s strategic value and obsessed with impeding Soviet advances. Policymakers began negotiating with AIPAC before presenting legislation in order to help assure passage, and Congress consulted the lobby on pending legislation. Congress eagerly embraced almost every legislative initiative proposed by the lobby and came to rely on AIPAC for information on all issues related to the Middle East. The close cooperation between the administration and AIPAC soon began to stifle discourse inside the bureaucracy. Middle East experts in the State Department and other agencies were almost completely cut out of decision-making, and officials throughout government became increasingly unwilling to propose policies or put forth analysis likely to arouse opposition from AIPAC or Congress. One unnamed official complained that “a lot of real analysis is not even getting off people’s desks for fear of what the lobby will do”; he was speaking to a New York Times correspondent, but otherwise his complaints fell on deaf ears.

This kind of pervasive influence, a chill on discourse inside as well as outside policymaking councils, does not require the sort of clear-cut, concrete pro-Israeli decisions in the Oval Office that David Gergen naively thought he should have witnessed if the lobby had any real influence. This kind of influence, which uses friendly persuasion, along with just enough direct pressure, on a broad range of policymakers, legislators, media commentators, and grassroots activists to make an impression across the spectrum, cannot be defined in terms of narrow, concrete policy commands, but becomes an unchanging, unchallengeable mindset, a sentimental environment that restricts debate, restricts thinking, and determines actions and policies as surely as any command from on high. When Israel’s advocates, its lobbyists, in the U.S. become an integral part of the policymaking apparatus, as they have particularly since the Reagan years – and as they clearly have been during the current Bush administration – there is no way to separate the lobby’s interests from U.S. policies. Moreover, because Israel’s strategic goals in the region are more clearly defined and more urgent than those of the United States, Israel’s interests most often dominate.

Chomsky himself acknowledges that the lobby plays a significant part in shaping the political environment in which support for Israel becomes automatic and unquestioned. Even Chomsky believes that what he calls the intellectual political class is a critical, and perhaps the most influential, component of the lobby because these elites determine the shaping of news and information in the media and academia. On the other hand, he contends that, because the lobby already includes most of this intellectual political class, the thesis of lobby power “loses much of its content”. But, on the contrary, this very fact would seem to prove the point, not undermine it. The fact of the lobby’s pervasiveness, far from rendering it less powerful, magnifies its importance tremendously.

Indeed, this is the crux of the entire debate. It is the very power of the lobby to continue shaping the public mindset, to mold thinking and, perhaps most important, to instill fear of deviation that brings this intellectual political class together in an un­swerving determination to work for Israel. Is there not a heavy impact on Middle East policymaking when, for instance, a lobby has the power to force the electoral defeat of long-serving congressmen, as occurred to Representative Paul Findley in 1982 and Senator Charles Percy in 1984 after both had deviated from political correctness by speaking out in favor of negotiating with the PLO? AIPAC openly crowed about the defeat of both men – both Republicans serving during the Republican Reagan administration, who had been in Congress for 22 and 18 years respectively. Similarly, does not the media’s silence on Israel’s oppressive measures in the occupied territories, as well as the concerted, and openly acknowledged, efforts of virtually every pro-Israeli organization in the U.S. to suppress information and quash debate on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, have an immense impact on policy? Today, even the most outspoken of leftist radio hosts and other commentators, such as Randi Rhodes, Mike Malloy, and now Cindy Sheehan, almost always avoid talking and writing about this issue.

Does not the massive effort by AIPAC, the Washington Institute, and myriad ther similar organizations to spoon-feed policymakers and congressmen selective information and analysis written only from Israel’s perspective have a huge impact on policy? In the end, even Chomsky and Finkelstein acknowledge the power of the lobby in suppressing discussion and debate about Middle East policy. The mobilization of public opinion, Finkelstein writes, “can have a real impact on policy-making – which is why the Lobby invests so much energy in suppressing discussion.” It is difficult to read this statement except as a ringing acknowledgement of the massive and very central power of the lobby to control discourse and to control policymaking on the most critical Middle East policy issues.

Interchangeable Interests

The principal problem with the left critics’ analysis is that it is too rigid. There is no question that Israel has served the interests of the U.S. government and the military-industrial complex in many areas of the world by, for instance, aiding some of the rightist regimes of Central America, by skirting arms and trade embargoes against apartheid South Africa and China (until the neo-conservatives turned off the tap to China and, in a rare disagreement with Israel, forced it to halt), and during the Cold War by helping, at least indirectly, to hold down Arab radicalism. There is also no question that, no matter which party has been in power, the U.S. has over the decades advanced an essentially conservative global political and pro-business agenda in areas far afield of the Middle East, without reference to Israel or the lobby. The U.S. unseated Mossadegh in Iran and Arbenz in Guatemala and Allende in Chile, along with many others, for its own corporate and political purposes, as the left critics note, and did not use Israel.

But these facts do not minimize the power the lobby has exerted in countless instances over the course of decades, and particularly in recent years, to lead the U.S. into situations that Israel initiated, that the U.S. did not plan, and that have done harm, both singly and cumulatively, to U.S. interests. One need only ask whether particular policies would have been adopted in the absence of pressure from some influential persons and organizations working on Israel’s behalf in order to see just how often Israel or its advocates in the U.S., rather than the United States or even U.S. corporations, have been the policy initiators. The answers give clear evidence that a lobby, as broadly defined by Mearsheimer and Walt, has played a critical and, as the decades have gone on, increasingly influential role in policymaking.

For instance, would Harry Truman have been as supportive of establishing Israel as a Jewish state if it had not been for heavy pressure from what was then a very loose grouping of strong Zionists with considerable influence in policymaking circles? It can reasonably be argued that he might not in fact have supported Jewish statehood at all, and it is even more likely that his own White House advisers – all strong Zionist proponents themselves – would not have twisted arms at the United Nations to secure the 1947 vote in favor of partitioning Palestine if these lobbyists had not been a part of Truman’s policymaking circle. Truman himself did not initially support the notion of founding a state based on religion, and every national security agency of government, civilian and military, strongly opposed the partition of Palestine out of fear that this would lead to warfare in which the U.S. might have to intervene, would enhance the Soviet position in the Middle East, and would endanger U.S. oil interests in the area. But even in the face of this united opposition from within his own government, Truman found the pressures of the Zionists among his close advisers and among influential friends of the administration and of the Democratic Party too overwhelmingly strong to resist.

Questions like this arise for virtually every presidential administration. Would Jimmy Carter, for instance, have dropped his pursuit of a resolution of the Palestinian problem if the Israel lobby had not exerted intense pressure on him? Carter was the first president to recognize the Palestinian need for some kind of “homeland,” as he termed it, and he made numerous efforts to bring Palestinians into a negotiating process and to stop Israeli settlement-building, but opposition from Israel and pressures from the lobby were so heavy that he was ultimately worn down and defeated.

It is also all but impossible to imagine the U.S. supporting Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian territories without pressure from the lobby. No conceivable U.S. national interest is served – even in the United States’ own myopic view – by its support for Israel’s harshly oppressive policy in the West Bank and Gaza, and furthermore this support is a dangerous liability. As Mearsheimer and Walt note, most foreign elites view the U.S. tolerance of Israeli repression as “morally obtuse and a handicap in the war on terrorism,” and this tolerance is a major cause of terrorism against the U.S. and the West. The impetus for oppressing the Palestinians clearly comes and has always come from Israel, not the United States, and the impetus for supporting Israel and facilitating this oppression has come, very clearly and directly, from the lobby, which goes to great lengths to justify the occupation and to advocate on behalf of Israeli policies.

It is tempting, and not at all out of the realm of possibility, to imagine Bill Clinton having forged a final Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement were it not for the influence of his notably pro-Israeli advisers. By the time Clinton came to office, the lobby had become a part of the policymaking apparatus, in the persons of Israeli advocates Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk, both of whom entered government service from lobby organizations. Both also returned at the end of the Clinton administration to organizations that advocate for Israel: Ross to the Washington Institute and Indyk to the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy, which is financed by and named for a notably pro-Israeli benefactor. The scope of the lobby’s infiltration of government policymaking councils has been unprecedented during the current Bush administration. Some of the left critics dismiss the neo-cons as not having any allegiance to Israel; Finkelstein thinks it is naïve to credit them with any ideological conviction, and Zunes claims they are uninterested in benefiting Israel because they are not religious Jews (as if only religious Jews care about Israel). But it simply ignores reality to deny the neo-cons’ very close ties, both ideological and pragmatic, to Israel’s right wing.

Both Finkelstein and Zunes glaringly fail to mention the strategy paper that several neo-cons wrote in the mid-1990s for an Israeli prime minister, laying out a plan for attacking Iraq these same neo-cons later carried out upon entering the Bush administration. The strategy was designed both to assure Israel’s regional dominance in the Middle East and to enhance U.S. global hegemony. One of these authors, David Wurmser, remains in government as Cheney’s Middle East adviser – one of several lobbyists inside the henhouse. The openly trumpeted plan, crafted by the neo-cons, to “transform” the Middle East by unseating Saddam Hussein, and the notion, also openly touted, that the path to peace in Palestine-Israel ran through Baghdad grew out of the neo-cons’ overriding concern for Israel. Both Finkelstein and Zunes also fail to take note of the long record of advocacy on behalf of Israel that almost all the neo-cons (Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, David Wurmser, Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, and their cheerleaders on the sidelines such as William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Norman Podhoretz, Jeane Kirkpatrick, and numerous right-wing, pro-Israeli think tanks in Washington) have compiled over the years. The fact that these individuals and organizations are all also advocates of U.S. global hegemony does not diminish their allegiance to Israel or their desire to assure Israel’s regional hegemony in alliance with the U.S.

The claimed interchangeability of U.S. and Israeli interests – and the fact that certain individuals for whom a primary ob­jective is to advance Israel’s interests now reside inside the councils of government – proves the truth of Mearsheimer’s andWalt’s principal conclusion that the lobby has been able to convince most Americans, contrary to reality, that there is an essential identity of U.S. and Israeli interests and that the lobby has succeeded for this reason in forging a relationship of unmatched intimacy. The “overall thrust of policy” in the Middle East, they observe quite accurately, is “almost entirely” attributable to the lobby’s activities. The fact that the U.S. occasionally acts without reference to Israel in areas outside the Middle East, and that Israel does occasionally serve U.S. interests rather than the other way around, takes nothing away from the significance of this conclusion.

The tragedy of the present situation is that it has become impossible to separate Israeli from alleged U.S. interests – that is, not what should be real U.S. national interests, but the selfish and self-defined “national interests” of the political-corporate-military complex that dominates the Bush administration, Congress, and both major political parties. The specific groups that now dominate the U.S. government are the globalized arms, energy, and financial industries, and the entire military establishments, of the U.S. and of Israel – groups that have quite literally hijacked the government and stripped it of most vestiges of democracy.

This convergence of manipulated “interests” has a profound effect on U.S. policy choices in the Middle East. When a government is unable to distinguish its own real needs from those of another state, it can no longer be said that it always acts in its own interests or that it does not frequently do grave damage to those interests. Until the system of sovereign nation-states no longer exists – and that day may never come – no nation’s choices should ever be defined according to the demands of another nation. Accepting a convergence of U.S. and Israeli interests means that the U.S. can never act entirely as its own agent, will never examine its policies and actions entirely from the vantage point of its own long-term self interest, and can, therefore, never know why it is devising and implementing a particular policy. The failure to recognize this reality is where the left critics’ belittling of the lobby’s power and their acceptance of U.S. Middle East policy as simply an unchangeable part of a longstanding strategy is particularly dangerous. CP

Kathleen Christison
is the author of Perceptions of Palestine, which analyzes the evolution of U.S. policy on the Palestine issue over the last century and in the process traces the exponential growth since World War I in the influence on policymakers of Israel’s powerful American advocates.

Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence Officer and as Director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis. He is a contributor to Imperial Crusades, CounterPunch’s history of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

They can be reached at


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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Xymphora & Angry Arab: Munich and Spielberg

Blogger Xymphora wrote:
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Munich and Spielberg
The Angry Arab reviews Steven Spielberg's latest bit of Zionist propaganda called 'Munich'. Guess what? He really doesn't like it. An enthusiastic two thumbs down! Of course, any movie on this subject is supposed to remind people of murdering Palestinians, and serve as the usual Israeli distraction from the real issue, which is what provokes the Palestinians to react. The fact that Spielberg apparently depicted the targeted assassination squad as sympathetic characters just adds to the propaganda load. The worst thing about it is that the Zionist PR machine has managed to build this movie up by describing how 'courageous' Spielberg was to make it. Spielberg would have been courageous if he had made a movie about the murder of Rachel Corrie. 'Munich' is more of the same bad faith by North American Jews that makes them morally responsible for the ethnic cleansing being conducted by Israel under the fog of anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab hatred.

By the way, has there ever been a more overrated film director in the history of movies than Spielberg? If you look at the list (scroll down a bit) of movies he's directed, it's the sorriest pile of sappy, maudlin crap you'll ever see. 'Duel' and 'Jaws' are the only projects that aren't embarrassing, and they are hardly in the group of greatest movies of all time. His movies in this decade are a particular travesty. People write about him as if he was in the same league as Renoir or Kurosawa or Hitchcock. Are they on crack?


Blogger Angry Arab, aka by As'ad AbuKhalil, writes:
Monday, December 26, 2005
Spielberg on Munich: the humanization of Israeli killers, and the dehumanization of Palestinian civilians. Or the Celebration of the Israeli Killing Machine.

And who is retaliating against whom in the Arab-Israeli conflict? THIS is the question.

It reminds me of a line that George Carlin—yes, that Carlin—used to use in his comedy routine and went roughly like this: “why do “we” call Israeli terrorists commandos, and we call Palestinian commandos terrorists?” That line never got a laugh the two times I saw him use it with a live audience. The thrust of the Spielberg movie is simple, fanfare notwithstanding: Israeli killers are conscientious and humane people, while Palestinians are always--no matter what--killers. But a Spielberg movie about current affairs is like a Thomas Friedman’s column about…Emanuel Kant.

What do you expect. But you know? Did you notice how one lone critical opinion of the movie by one Israeli diplomat, which only mildly criticized the movie, got so much press in the US? It was needed; and it even helped to promote the movie to give a “balanced” cast to the narrative, that it of course does not deserve. This one critical opinion reminded me of O’Reilly; how he every night finds one email from somebody in Montana who tells him that he is too liberal. He needs to that to maintain an image that does not exist, just as Spielberg needs to maintain an image that he does not deserve.

This movie could easily have been a paid Israeli advertisement for its killing machine. In fact, it could be a recruitment movie for Israeli killing squads. I mean that. In fact, it is a celebratory movie of Israeli murder of Palestinians. Israel killing is always moral, and always careful, and always on target.

Today, yet another New York Times reviewer who also thinks that Spielberg was not sympathetic enough to the Israeli killers, even had the audacity to describe Israeli killings at the time as "targeted assassinations" when even Israel had not invented that propaganda term back then. He must have forgotten to remember.

That's all. Where do I begin. I mean yes, I was quite angry watching it; and I got more angry as I watched the Berkeley liberal audience react sympathetically to the movie, rooting for the Israel head killer, as he went about his "civilized" killing. I watched the audience root for an Israeli killing team, and this WAS a true story, and Palestinian victims were real people, with real blood.

The most emotional moment for Spielberg, and presumably for American audiences was when the head killer talked with his baby daughter in New York, that he missed very much. Oh, ya. That was the point at which you were expected to shed a tear or two; the music got particularly sentimental at that point. It had to be.

But where to begin; the movie was based on a book that took the Israeli account as it was delivered. But the book was honest and more accurate at least on one count: in the book by George Jonas titled Vengeance (only Israelis are entitled to vengeance as you know, the more violent the better as far as some US movie audiences are concerned), the killers did not express regret or second-thoughts. None. In the book but not in the movie, the killers, according to Jonas, had "absolutely no qualms about anything they did." How could Spielberg miss that. Well, he just managed. Hell, that was the whole movie, and the whole political project behind it.

Of course, it was not easy for me to watch this movie, I mean not only at the political and intellectual levels, but also at the personal level. I can connect to the story, in its details and personalities. The first victim of the movie was Wa’il Zu`aytir, and I knew his niece; I went to school with Abu Hasan Salamah’s son--he was younger; and I knew the street and building where the three PLO leaders were massacred in Beirut. And let me tell you that NONE of the five people mentioned here had anything to do with Munich--but more on that later. NONE.

But why should this movie, a Spielberg’s movie for potato’s sake, bother with facts, especially if they come in the way of a smooth pro-Israeli narrative? But this movie is intended for mass audiences who know nothing about the facts of the conflict. That is exactly why it will work, and why it will deliver the (propaganda) goods.

Let me start by saying this: this, Munich that is, was not as planned an operation as has often been maintained. This was not planned months in advance, as Abu Iyad maintained in his account with Eric Rouleau (translated into English as My Home, My Land by dear Linda Butler). Abu Iyad for years exaggerated the claims about the “carefully planned” operation, and PLO media at the time lied about how the PLO gunmen threw grenades into the helicopters, so as to make the last shootout more of a fight that it actually was.

Angry Palestinians who were being hit by Israeli fighter jets in their refugee camps demanded heroes and heroism, and the PLO had to give them some, even if they were not legitimate heroes. The German troops were going to take them out, no matter what, and no matter how much they, the Germans in this case, endangered the lives of the hostages, and they presumably had Israeli consent.

The Arab League diplomat talked about this recently when he broke his silence in an interview on Ziyarah Khassah on Al-Jazeera. He should know: he was the negotiator with the Palestinian team in Munich. Yes, I know. It can be argued that the Palestinian attackers risked the lives of the hostages by taking them hostages, even if they did not intend to kill them. That is true. This is like hijacking: the hijackers, any hijackers, are responsible, and should be held responsible for whatever endangerment to the lives and health of victims. That is true. But it is also true that the State of Israel has taken a nation as a hostage, and has been endangering the lives of Palestinians since the inception of the state of Israel. This is why it is all a question of who is retaliating against whom?

One of the many false premises of the movie is that Israel only went on a killing rampage—and only against Palestinian “killers”--after Munich. That Munich was a watershed. Watershed it was not, except in Israeli propaganda brochures. Israel has been going on killing rampages against Palestinians, civilians mostly, since before the creation of the state of Israel.

And how could you even talk about Golda Meir and forget to mention her most memorable quote: that “there is no such thing as the Palestinian people.” Spielberg must have missed that, just as he needed to show her as grandma goodness who was pushed into vengeance by Palestinian cruelty. More humanization. That is why we had to see the head Israeli killer with his child: you need to see him as a human being. Do you know that not a single Palestinian in the movie appeared unarmed? They all were terrorists, and their murder had to be justified, and Spielberg did a great service for the state of Israel in that regard. They should name some stolen Palestinian property in Israel in his honor, I argue. A street, a destroyed Arab village, or a stolen olive tree. Anything. He deserves it.

And let us see what Israel was doing before Munich. Before Munich, NOT AFTER—did you get that, Israel placed a bomb under the car seat of Palestinian writer/artist, Ghassan Kanafani and killed him and killed his niece (14). The niece was not plotting the Munich operation when she was murdered by the Israelis; nor was her uncle. That was BEFORE Munich. Kanafani was best friends with my uncle; they both used to write in Al-Hurriyyah magazine during their days at the Movement of Arab Nationalists.

Israel also—BEFORE Munich—sent a letter bomb to Bassam Abu Sharif (a writer and journalist with the PFLP), and left him with life-long scars and bodily damage, and they also sent a letter bomb to Anis Sayigh, a scholar and researcher, who was not a member of any group. But he was a really diligent researcher, and Israel did not appreciate it--I am assuming.

This is not easy for me; I have shaken the hands--or what was left of their hands--of both of those men, and Abu Sharif never had a military role—I say this although I never liked Abu Sharif or respected him (read my review of his memoir in Journal of Palestine Studies a few years ago). But those were innocent victims of Israeli killing. They never held guns those two, or those three, or four. This story is personal for me, of course. I see them as human beings, and not as armed and vengeful characters that they appear in Spielberg’s movie.

And typical of US movies where Arabs appear, Arabs when they speak Arabic never need subtitles. We need them when people speak in French and German, but Arabic is not important. It is not important to know what cheap natives say; we only need to know what expensive people say: Europeans and Israelis. And do you notice that Hollywood still portrays Israelis as Europeans: they still don’t want to accept that some half of all Israelis come from Asian and African countries. This makes it easier for the White Man to identify with them.

And there is this element that is never mentioned about Palestinian attacks: and this is true of the present and of the past. It is not that some Palestinian leaders recruit or compel Palestinians to attack Israelis. It is the other way round. Palestinians, regular rank-and-file and sometimes civilians, pressure Palestinian leaders and commanders to send them on military or suicidal missions against Israeli targets.

Munich occurred exactly like that. Palestinians in the camps in Lebanon, those who were trained by Fath and by other groups, were lobbying for “action.” Why?, you may ask? Well, not only for the loss of Palestine but also because Israel was KILLING Palestinians. In February of the same year PRIOR to Munich, Israeli jets bombed Palestinian refugee camps, and killed tens of innocent people. This is what is missing in the movie, among many other things. Most Palestinians who are killed by Israelis are unarmed and are killed not by assassins who are conscientious and sensitive—as they are outrageously portrayed in this movie—but by pilots who bomb refugee camps filled with unarmed civilians. Palestinians who are bombed from the air, long before Munich, are elderly and people and children in their beds. These are the victims that you will never see in a Spielberg movie. So Israel was killing Palestinians, and this was the context of pre-Munich.

So a small group decided to do something, but they were not sure what, and this was only 3 months before Munich. And one of the handful of people who knew about this, and this will never make it into the press was Abu Mazin--yes, that Abu Mazen the head of the puppet Palestinian Authority.

But do you notice that US/Israel always forgive the past of those who submit to Israeli dictates? Look at how US and Israel forgave Anwar Sadat for his anti-Semitic Nazi past. Abu Mazin was the money guy, and he dispersed the funds for Abu Dawud, who engineered the operation. And the American public in US media and popular culture is so enamored with the Mossad, that the image of the Mossad does not match its actual reality.

The best evidence is this movie: look at this obsession with Abu Hasan Salamah as the “mastermind” of Munich when he had nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Munich. To be sure, Abu Hasan was a braggart, and had a big mouth, and would take credit for things he did not do, and would distance himself from failed “operations” that he planned, like the Sabena failed hijacking in 1972. That was Abu Hasan: he lived the life of a playboy, and enjoyed a unique indulgent pampering from Abu `Ammar [Arafat] who treated him like a son. Abu `Ammar would never say no to Abu Hasan, on anything. But Abu Hasan had nothing to do with Munich, and this ostensibly all-knowing Mossad, did not know it, and probably still does not know it.

Former CIA director, Stansfield Turner, once said that the Mossad is a mediocre organization, but that it is outstanding in PR--only in PR. Former CIA man in Beirut Robert Baer said this about the Mossad--I am translating this from an interview he gave to Al-Jazeera: “Let me tell you something, what people most err in in the Middle East, and I am responsible for my words to the end, is related to Israeli intelligence. To be sure, they can kill somebody in Paris or Rome or killing the wrong person in Finland or wherever else they did that in [he meant Norway]. To be sure they know Europe and Palestinians, and they know many things about Palestinians, but when it comes to the rest of the Middle East, I have not seen anything from their part that indicated their knowledge of those countries.”

But this can never be maintained in a country that wants to exaggerate the prowess and knowledge of an intelligence agency not only to help feed the Israeli propaganda myth, but to also prepare the American public for more ruthless times and ways. So a very small number of people knew about it, and of course Abu Iyad was one of them. And Abu Iyad is the most important person on the list, and yet his name was NOT on the list, just to show you about how much--or how little-- Israel knew.

Abu Iyad spoke more than he needed not only because he wanted to send a message to the enemy, but also because the wars of factions and "Abu"s within Fath necessitated a game of one-up-manships, and of wild exaggerations at times. And while Black September was a paper name, and did not have a separate organizational existence or structure, several factions used the name for their own ends. Nobody consulted with Abu Iyad about Abu Hasan’s use of the name for the Sabena’s failed hijacking mentioned above.

Abu Dawud is a key person here. And while his name was mentioned in passing, it was added after the fact in Israeli propaganda accounts. Abu Dawud was arrested in France for another reason in 1977, and he was released because there were no German or Israeli warrants about his involvement in Munich. That shows you. Now, I will not give a blow-by-blow account of Munich. But I personally believe the account of Abu Dawud more than I believe Spielberg, i.e. Israeli propaganda claims, or even German police. (Abu Dawud's account is found in Abu Dawud, Filastin: Mina-l-Quds Ila-Muikh (Beirut: Dar An-Nahar, 1999)).

German police lied quite a bit about the case; they leaked to the press fanciful accounts of Palestinian infiltration of the workforce at the Olympic city, when none of that actually took place. They were too embarrassed to tell the truth. Similarly, the Israelis wanted to back the German account, especially as the violence at Munich was a propaganda bonanza for the Israelis in the West, just as Munich—this is not known in the West—was a propaganda bonanza for Fath in the Middle East, as horrific as the outcome was for all. And in that sense, the Germans, the Israelis, and Abu Iyad (and certainly Abu Hasan) lied about Munich, but not Abu Dawud, in my opinion.

Abu Dawud is one of those 2nd tier PLO leaders who did not get corrupted in the messy Lebanese scene, and who did now allow the Gulf money that corrupted many PLO leaders to affect him. This was a man who was in charge of Beirut during the Lebanese civil war, and yet his name does not appear in any chronicle of the war because he was too low key, and because he never bragged. (Hell, he never talked even when the brutal mukhabarat in Jordan held him from his feet for days, while torturing him. People who saw him in jail at the time did not recognize him. But you know this: your reliable "moderate" friends in Jordan are quite "good" in torture. They are probably the best; they are helping you in that regard as we speak.)

Most Lebanese did not even know his name. But this also explains why he survived, unlike say Abu Hasan Salamah, who married a Lebanese former Miss Universe, who introduced him to Lebanese bourgeois society, and he could not get enough of that life. He developed a routine, and lived in a fancy apartment on Madame Curie Street in Beirut, and the routine he developed (going to the GYM at the same time every day), made him an easy target. Abu Hasan could get all the money he wanted for his own group from `Arafat, and was doing a good job of maintaining not only good relations with the CIA but also with Lebanese right-wing groups. He became good friends with some right-wing militia leaders. Read the novel by David Ignatius, Agents of Innocence: it is about Abu Hasan, although the author does not admit it.

It is interesting that in the movie, the Israeli head killer (who was in the movie Troy), was cast to be most appealing to the audience: a good looking and charismatic figure. But say what you want about Abu Hasan (and many people in Palestinian struggle, like Abu Dawud, did not like him) but he was a good looking and charismatic figure in real life, but not the actor who played him in Spielberg’s movie. But Spielberg did not want the viewer to identify with any Palestinian in the movie: that was contrary to him and to his political goal. He just wanted to identify with the expensive human beings: the Israelis.

The Arabs are worse than they were in Renoir’s painting, the Mosque, as an unidentifiable blob. They were just armed, with no humanity. They were not supposed to evoke emotions, and you were not supposed to see them bleed, and if you did, you had to cheer for their killers. The only ones that you had to feel sorry for: were the Israelis who get killed, including the killers when they kill. The music that played when Israelis die, was different from the music that played when Palestinians died.

And no speaking roles for Palestinians were necessary. Why bother. Give one a line, and you have done your "objective" duty. And the list of prisoners that attackers submitted to German authorities did not have “200 Arab prisoners” on it, as the movie said. It had some 234 Arab and NON-Arab names on them, including Japanese and German prisoners, but that was not in the movie. And the statement that was issued by the attackers gave a name to the “operation”: Bir`im and Ikrit, names of two (predominantly Christian) villages in northern Palestine, the people of which were expelled by Israeli occupation forces in 1948 for “security reasons.”

In 1972, the people of those villages petitioned the courts to return to their villages, and the courts of course turned them down. But if you were to use the name of the “operation” you would have to tell the audience those burdensome details that would have distracted from the celebration of the Israeli killing machine. But this begs the question: why is Munich more famous than the savage bombardment of Palestinian refugee camps back in February prior to Munich? And why did the letter bombs to three Palestinian writers not get any world attention? Why did American liberals and PEN not notice it back then?

Could you imagine what would happen if a Palestinian threw even a rose at an Israeli writer? Could you imagine what would happen among American leftists if a Palestinian were to say even a bad word to Amos Oz for example? That was the stature of Ghassan Kanafani among Palestinians and Arabs.

Now, I will not get into the military/intelligence background of the Israeli hostages as Abu Dawud does in his memoirs because the attackers did not know that information prior to the “operation.” Abu Dawud gives many details about the military backgrounds of some of the hostages, but I do not think that this is appropriate because even Abu Dawud did not know that before hand. I will not get into what actually happened at the site at the airport when the hostages were being transferred by their captors not only because the captors were responsible by virtue of the hostage "operation", but you can raise questions regarding the actual responsibility of the killing of the hostages.

Abu Dawud cites Israeli newspapers from the 1990s in which writers raised questions about German responsibility, and on how the German government never published autopsy reports of the hostages, etc. The Israeli government also did not want to examine the bullets that killed the Israeli hostages. That would have settled the question, of course. Abu Dawud stressed that the attackers were under strict instructions to not shoot at the hostages, and you noticed in the scene, even in the movie, that when they were storming the compound, they clearly struggled with the door and avoided shooting, while that could have shortened the time of entry, and Abu Dawud says that they were under strict instructions to avoid using the grenades. And Abu Dawud raises the possibility that the helicopter may have exploded from a bullet that hit it gas tank, but I don’t know, and I have never relied on Spielberg, or on the silly book on which he based his account, for historical accuracy.

And another thing comes to mind: Palestinians also have managed to assassinate Israeli military and intelligence leaders but that never gets attention because the trend in US media and popular culture is that you should only show Palestinians when they are killing civilians. And it is not true that the Israeli response was confined to the assassination of the 11 Palestinians as was shown in the movie: Israel was also killing other Palestinians. Israeli “response” or initiative we should call it, was more massive and brutal that the operation of the secret team.

Three days after Munich, Israel ordered an air strike which required the use of some 75 Israeli aircrafts (the largest attack since 1967) and the attacks on Palestinian refugee camps in Syria and Lebanon resulted in the killing of more than 200 mostly civilians. And this is not because the Israelis knew that there was a camp north of Sidon that was used for training the Munich attackers. That camp was not even hit (another sign that Israelis had no information about the real culprits of Munich) and other camps with civilians were hit. And then while the assassinations were taking place, Israeli bombing of camps continued uninterruptedly.

And the most glaring omission in the film, which shows you that the Israeli team was not only savage but also ignorant of their targets, was what happened on July 21st 1973, when `Ali Bushiki, a Moroccan waiter resting with his pregnant wife around a swimming pool in Norway, was murdered by that assassination team merely because `Ali resembled what the hit team thought Abu Hasan Salamah looked like. (The Norwegian police tracked and arrested the killers, but they were all released in a secret deal with the Israeli government--is that not nice?) Should that not have made it to the movie? But that would have made them look more brutally clumsy than Spielberg wanted them to look like.

And even Wa’il Zu`yatir, the PLO representative in Rome. He knew nothing about Munich, and was an academic with close ties to socialist circles in Italy. Zu`ytir was shot 14 times. He never held a gun in his life. These Israeli team members were killers who really relished killing, and did not seem susceptible to moral second-thinking as was stressed over and over again in the movie. Zu`ytir was more interested in literature than he was in military affairs, on which he knew nothing. And PLO representative in France Mahmud Hamshari also had nothing to do with Munich; Israeli propaganda later had to contend with that, and claimed after killing him that the attackers passed through France on their way to Munich. In reality, the attackers never stepped on French soil when they went to Germany.

And the movie, it seems really enjoyed covering the 1973 massacre in Beirut. Spielberg I could tell really enjoyed learning and covering that massacre by Israeli terrorist squads. But who were the three PLO personalities killed in that "operation"? And who cares about the details? Kamal `Udwan was the Fath/PLO leader responsible for the West Bank and Gaza. He not only had no responsibilities in Europe, but he opposed “operations” in Europe, and even those by Black September. More than that, `Udwan was one of the most moderate Fath leaders having accepted the two-state solution back in 1970, before any of his colleagues in Fath.

Abu Yusuf An-Najjar was in charge of intelligence in Lebanon—Lebanon, not Europe. While `Udwan had no knowledge of Munich, Abu Yusuf may have heard about it but had no role whatever in it. The third person was a poet: and you know how much Israelis like to murder Palestinian poets, artists, and writers. Kamal Nasir was a poet, and was killed in his bed. The movie did not tell you that by the time the Israeli terrorists finished with their “mission,” some 100 Palestinians and Lebanese were murdered on that day in April 1973.

I also was amused--not really--how Spielberg portrayed the neighborhood where the PLO leaders AND others were killed: it had all the features of Orientalist imagination. It was traditional and the houses were old styles with arches, and the place was protected like a military base. In reality, the PLO leaders lived in a residential building in the most modern and upper class neighborhood of Verdun in Beirut. But why bother with that detail too.

And the Fath representative in Cyprus also had nothing to do with Munich; he was the intelligence envoy of Abu Yusuf An-Najjar. And some people on the list of the Israeli murder team were not only not involved with Black September, but some were not even members of the Fath organization. Basil Al-Kubaysi was a Palestinian scholar who had just completed his PhD in political science; I recently had dinner with Basil’s best friend in college in Canada. Kubaysi was in the PFLP and not in the Fath organization.

The same for Muhammad Budia: he was with Wadi` Haddad, and not with Black September. But then again: I read that Spielberg offered the script to Dennis Ross and to Bill Clinton to verify the “accuracy” of Middle East political and historical references. The two are experts on the Middle East, in case you have not heard. More than that, the movie did not tell you that on September 16th, and 17th, Israel launched a savage invasion of South Lebanon, erasing the refugee camp of Nabatiyyah, and the Lebanese newspapers at the time (I even remember that as a 12 years old) had on the first page that famous picture of a smashed civilian car with seven Lebanese civilians smashed inside when an Israeli tank ran over the car near Jwayya in South Lebanon.

That must have been too messy for Spielberg to cover. Why bother? And the car had stopped at the Israeli checkpoint that was set up at the entrance to the village. Were those civilians in the car also involved in Munich? Later, as the movie ended, it was written on the screen that Abu Hasan Salamah was later “assassinated.” Spielberg forgot to add that he was “assassinated” by a massive car bomb in a crowded street in Beirut, which killed and injured tens of people—oh, and those people also were not involved with Munich.

The reviews of the movie in US media almost expressed frustration that Spielberg did not express enough sympathy for the Israeli killers. Only Michelle Goldberg of Salon to her credit (great review Michelle) pointed out that contrary to that lousy review by Leon Wieseltier in the New Republic “many of those [Israelis] in Munich are, if anything, slightly unbelievable in their constant self-interrogation and closely guarded humanism.”

I was thinking after the movie that public ignorance of the Middle East greatly helps Israeli propaganda; this explains why Zionist organizations express contempt and wrath at Middle East expertise and specialty (as in MESA) because those who get to know and learn about the Middle East overwhelming find it difficult if not impossible to consume the unbelievable dosages of Israeli propaganda delivered via US media and popular and political cultures.

*Three of the Munich Palestinian attackers survived. One died from a heart attack; the remaining two are...somewhere in the Middle East.

posted by As'ad @ 2:32 PM link