Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Blind Spot in Criticism of U.S. Policy toward Israel

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

The Blind Spot in Criticism of U.S. Policy toward Israel

Article excerpt

Critics of U.S. policy toward Israel agree that Israel's aid requests and policies of conquest have no meaningful opposition in the U.S. They are divided, however, on why this is so.

There are three schools of thought. One is that of racist anti-Jewish groups. They believe that Jews manipulate policy for selfish and evil purposes, and are successful because of their fanaticism, group loyalty, and deception. I mention this only because it exists and not because it deserves any credibility. It is thankfully rather marginal, but bears vigilance because of its potential for danger, with which the world is all too familiar.

Of greater interest are the two other schools. The first, which I call the "Weak Lobby" school, is represented by Noam Chomsky, Stephen Zunes and others, who say that the Israel lobby is well-organized and influential, but not the main reason for U.S. support for Israel. They contend that the real motivation is U.S. geopolitical interests, and that the lobby is limited to either enhancing legislation motivated by such interests, or generating uncontroversial and even symbolic shows of support. They hold that the U.S. supports Israel because it functions as an agent that serves U.S. interests.

This is hotly contested by the last school of thought, which I call the "Strong Lobby" school, exemplified by Paul Findley, the late Edward Said, Ed Herman, Uri Avnery, Tanya Reinhart, Jeffrey Blankfort, Alison Weir and others-including this magazine and its founders, Ambassador Andrew I. Killgore and Richard H. Curtiss. They argue that Israel has done nothing for the U.S. that has not been primarily for its own interests and that no Israeli soldier has died for U.S. interests. Instead, they credit a powerful Israel lobby that few dare challenge.

There is, however, a sense in which both schools are right. If lobbying is defined as arm-twisting, intimidation and rewards, the Weak School is right. National interest will always trump special interests in critical circumstances. But what is national interest and who determines it?

Few are so naïve as to think that American government serves most interests of most Americans most of the time. Special interests receive special attention and help define national interest. Any serious lobby must sit at the table of national interest (although the Strong Lobby school argues that efforts to curtail Israeli settlements in the name of U.S. national interest were thwarted in the Ford, Carter and G.H.W. Bush administrations).

Of course, there are always disagreements about what constitutes national interest. This creates an opportunity for serious lobbyists to cultivate the opinions that serve their purposes. I believe that the Weak Lobby school overlooks or underestimates this dimension. Elected or appointed officials may be advocates for U.S. interests, as they define them, but how did they and their point of view come to prevail?

The Weak Lobby school seems to accept that Israel is an asset, without reference to how national interests are determined. If we agree, for example, that we need a strong and dependent ally in the Middle East, that view is logical, although the Strong Lobby school would debate the extent to which Israel is a reliable ally.

There is, however, a well-known (and possibly apocryphal) quote attributed to Father John Sheehan, S. …

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