In 2007, Farrar, Straus and Giroux released The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. The book escalated a firestorm of controversy that had been started by their publication of a related article in the London Review of Books the year before.
I have not read Mearsheimer and Walt’s writings. I don’t intend to. I do not know whether their claims are reasonable or not.
Whatever the merits of Mearsheimer and Walt’s claims, two things are clear:
- “Pro-Israel” lobbying groups play a huge role in influencing US involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict and any other issue that relates to Israel.
- The activity of “pro-Israel” lobbying groups affects American democracy.
In this post, I will investigate just some of the information related to only two lobbying groups: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Christians United for Israel (CUFI). While this may only be the tip of the iceberg, it is more than enough.
The August 2011 junket
On August 10, 2011, Al Kamen of the Washington Post wrote
A record 81 House members, about a fifth of the chamber, are spending a week in Israel this month, courtesy of a foundation set up by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby.
It’s apparently the largest number of lawmakers in the 20 years or so that these trips have been undertaken… A group of 26 Democrats — the senior member is House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) — is already there.
And 55 Republican members … will take week-long jaunts to the Holy Land. About 47 of them are freshmen — that’s half of the new Republicans and, according to the Jerusalem Post, it will be the first trip to the country for many of them. And probably ditto for many of their spouses and staffers.
The timing of this trip, of course, was significant, coming as it did one month before Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO submitted an application for UN membership for Palestine to the United Nations Security Council. The political nature of the August junket cannot be in doubt. To quote Kamen further,
There will be breakfast speakers, dinner speakers, Q&A’s with U.S. Embassy folks and Israeli media. There will be appearances by government leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu … and President Shimon Peres, as well as by opposition leaders. The schedule is packed from morning to late at night.
That this junket achieved its goal cannot be doubted. Nor is it unclear what this goal is. Majority Leader Cantor and Minority Whip Hoyer co-wrote the editorial “Stand up against Palestinians’ UN statehood bid: It’s dangerous to Israel”, that appeared in the New York Daily News exactly one day before the PLO submitted the Palestinian statehood recognition bid. To quote from this editorial:
Having just returned from a visit to the Mideast, we are deeply concerned that the Palestinians’ misguided pursuit of unilateral resolutions over negotiated agreements is moving the Arab-Israeli peace process in the wrong direction. A resolution to this conflict will be achieved only through direct negotiations…
Of course, Cantor and Hoyer did not mention who paid for the “visit to the Mideast” from which they had “just returned”. Nor did they state whose point of view they were expressing when they labeled UN resolutions “unilateral” — an evident fallacy since, by definition, the UN is a multilateral forum. But they did not need to. The answers are publicly available.
In their editorial, Cantor and Hoyer even resorted to threatening Palestinians, e.g., accusing Abbas of having “put at risk not only the Palestinian Authority’s relationship with the U.S., but the aspirations of his own people.”
Cantor and Hoyer (who rarely agree about anything else) also saw to it that more official threats were issued as well. Even before leaving on the August junket, they ushered through the House of Representatives a resolution calling for punitive measures on the Palestinian Authority if the PLO were to go through with its statehood submission bid (see http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/u-s-house-passes-resolution-threatening-to-suspend-aid-to-palestinians-1.372112).
That the measures demanded in House Resolution 268 are foolish is shown by the fact that even members of the Government of Israel objected to them (see, e.g., http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44544035/ns/world_news-mideast_n_africa/t/israel-calls-continuing-aid-palestinians/#.TwqhjCM3nGE). Their foolishness is also shown by the fact that Congressional officials actually backed down from these threats, in part because many Israeli officials did not support them (e.g., see http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/u-s-renews-financial-aid-to-palestinians-after-un-statehood-row-1.394237).
That HR 268 passed by a vote of 407-6 in the US Congress reveals exactly how capable the US is of being an “honest broker” in the “negotiations” to which it demands that Palestinians return. It also reveals how much influence AIPAC has in Congressional affairs. But this would be clear even without consideration of the August junket, as the next section shows.
Anti-Palestinian lobbying efforts
The example just mentioned is not the first time that AIPAC has influenced Congress to pass punitive anti-Palestinian measures…even when some Israeli officials questioned the wisdom of them. For example, in 2006, Ori Nir wrote that
Israeli interests in the West Bank and Gaza could be hurt by a bill being pressed by the pro-Israel lobby that would restrict American assistance to the Palestinians, several Israeli officials and representatives of international aid organizations told the Forward.
…[P]ro-Israel activists are backing a bill — the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 — that bans all non-humanitarian American assistance to the Palestinian Authority and prohibits official American contacts with the P.A. unless Hamas recognizes Israel and renounces terrorism. Thousands of lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee flooded Capitol Hill Tuesday, holding almost 500 meetings with legislators and their staff, in which they urged members of Congress to endorse the bill.
But Israeli officials told the Forward that it could be a serious mistake to pass the bill before a Palestinian government has been formed and before the March 28 Israeli elections… In addition, Israeli officials said, the bill may place the onus of providing for the wellbeing of the Palestinian population on Israel, the occupying power in the territories. The bill could also result in the cancellation of several internationally funded aid programs in which Israel has a vital interest, in fields such as public health, water and sewage…
Rather than openly oppose the efforts of their allies in Washington, however, Israeli officials are operating under the assumption that the Bush administration, along with some lawmakers, will work to scale back some of the proposed restrictions…The bill, introduced in the House of Representatives last month and in the Senate on Tuesday, sets tougher benchmarks for engaging with a Hamas-led Palestinian government than the ones set by Israel’s transitional government.
…Another condition for engaging with a Hamas-led government is that the Palestinian government recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, a demand never posed by Israel or the international community to the Palestine Liberation Organization, Egypt or Jordan when they signed peace agreements with Israel.
The bill is not the only area where Aipac seems to be taking a harder line than Israel on future relations with the Palestinians…
A version of the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act passed the House by a vote of 361-37 on May 23, 2006. The Senate passed a slightly different version by “unanimous voice vote” on June 23. The House passed this version on December 7, and it was signed into law on December 21. Draconian measures concerning the PLO and PA, as well as the innovative requirement that the PA recognize Israel as a “Jewish state”, remained in the final text (see http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=s109-2370).
The non-profit organization Americans for Peace Now maintains an invaluable database tracking Congressional legistation on the Middle East. Searching for “AIPAC” in this database (see https://peacenow.org:61003/MT/mt-search.cgi?search=legislative+roundup+aipac&IncludeBlogs=5&limit=20) reveals the influence that AIPAC has had on Congressional legislation concerning the Middle East over the years. To list just two fairly recent examples:
- In July 2009, AIPAC’s top Take Action item was the Bayh-Risch letter, which “conspicuously ignores Israel’s continued refusal to stop settlement activity and its recent decision to ‘up the ante’ by approving a highly controversial settlement project in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem – a project that has been on hold for more than 20 years”, even though President Obama was that moment seeking to influence Israel not to move the “highly controversial settlement project” forward (http://peacenow.org/entries/wp266).
- In May 2009, large numbers of both Houses of Congress were coaxed by AIPAC into signing a “Peace Principles” document with wording similar to that used in AIPAC’s own documents (http://peacenow.org/entries/archive6236#more). According to APN, this document specifically stated that “while the United States should be sensitive to the needs of both parties to negotiations, it should not adopt a posture of ‘evenhandedness’ between its ally, Israel, and other parties.” (http://peacenow.org/entries/archive6186, my emphasis)
Christians United for Israel
On Tuesday night, July 19, in Washington D.C., the State of Israel’s ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, gave the keynote at the annual CUFI summit. He was sandwiched between performances by CUFI’s “Founder and National Chairman” John Hagee and “Radio and Television Personality” Glenn Beck. (http://www.cufi.org/site/PageServer?pagename=2011Summit_Schedule) Earlier in the day, before Hagee had threatend that “God will turn his back to the United States of America” because of President Obama’s policies towards Israel and Beck had “worked the audience into a frenzy”, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the Christian Zionist conference via satellite”. (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/christian-zionists-unite-in-d-c-to-express-support-for-israel-1.374161)
The Government of Israel’s support of CUFI’s spokespersons is not just limited to speaking at their conferences. The Knesset actually hosted Beck in July (http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=228827). The next month, Beck and Hagee were welcomed back to Israel by Netanyahu, Likud Minister Danny Danon, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and other political leaders, to stage the Rally to Restore Courage (see, e.g., http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/glenn-beck-don-t-come-back-1.380534 and http://972mag.com/glenn-beck%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%9Crestoring-courage%E2%80%9D-ends-with-a-whimper/21431/.) The meager attendance at this Rally demonstrated conclusively that Beck and Hagee have far fewer fans in Israel than they do in the U.S.
This, by itself, says good things about the Israeli public, as Hagee and Beck are far-right extremists whose contributions to American political discourse over the years have been so notoriously bigoted as to require no documentation. However, that members of the current Government of Israel see fit to ally themselves with such figures is still scary. It shows how far out of the mainstream some members of Israel’s current government would be if they tried to pursue their nationalist agenda in any healthy democracy.
Unfortunately, the Government of Israel’s willingness to provide legitimacy for extremist spokespersons like Beck and Hagee reveals something else: the extent to which it is willing to erode American political discourse in order to get what it wants from US voters and lawmakers. It is difficult to see how Americans who do not themselves belong to the Christian right or the “Israel lobby” (i.e., the vast majority) can be anything but offended by the willingness of members and representatives of Israel’s Government to provide a forum in which demagogues like Beck and Hagee can make themselves heard.
The above information is enough to establish the Government of Israel’s ties to the fanatical spokespersons of CUFI. The Government’s ties to AIPAC are well known enough to require no further comment. What is less well known is the third side of the Triangle: AIPAC’s ties to CUFI and its spokespersons. However, these should be well known, as they are a matter of public record. For example, “Pastor Hagee was a keynote speaker at the March 2007 AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC.” (http://peacenow.org/entries/archive3651) As another source says about this event,
Pastor John Hagee, currently the most visible Christian Zionist leader in the US, garnered many rounds of applause for the keynote speech he gave attendees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference last week.
Sarah Posner’s summary of this event is particularly apt: “The Israel lobby gives America’s leading Christian right warmonger a warm welcome.” Posner also reports vigorous AIPAC support for CUFI continuing into 2008:
At this week’s AIPAC conference, one of the best-attended breakout sessions was on Christian Zionists. On the three-person panel was David Brog, executive director of Rev. John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel. When Brog started his talk by mentioning Hagee’s name, the overflow audience stopped him with a standing ovation.
Since 2008, AIPAC has been less public about its relationship with and similarities to CUFI, perhaps because Hagee’s advocacy for Israel was shown to be inseparable from certain scandalous beliefs that he holds:
John Hagee… argued in a late 1990s sermon that the Nazis had operated on God’s behalf to chase the Jews from Europe and shepherd them to Palestine. According to the Reverend, Adolph Hitler was a “hunter,” sent by God, who was tasked with expediting God’s will of having the Jews re-establish a state of Israel…
“Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says — Jeremiah writing — ‘They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,’ meaning there’s no place to hide. And that might be offensive to some people but don’t let your heart be offended. I didn’t write it, Jeremiah wrote it. It was the truth and it is the truth. How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel.”
…[I]n his 2006 book “Jerusalem Countdown”, Hagee proposed the theory that “anti-Semitism, and thus the Holocaust, was the fault of Jews themselves — the result of an age old divine curse incurred by the ancient Hebrews through worshiping idols and passed, down the ages, to all Jews now alive.” He also wrote that “Most readers will be shocked by the clear record of history linking Adolf Hitler and the Roman Catholic Church in a conspiracy to exterminate the Jews.”
Hagee is considered, in many political circles, to be one of the most passionate and strident supporters of Israel. He has spoken at AIPAC conferences… But his views of the country, while possibly shared by others in the evangelical community, can be, at times, startling. Holding to the belief that Armageddon will come to earth following the reestablishment of the Kingdom of Israel, Hagee has advocated an aggressive war against Iran and has opposed any Israeli military withdrawal from the West Bank.
–http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/05/21/mccain-backer-hagee-said_n_102892.html; the rest of the article is worth reading. Hagee’s ignorant, bigoted caricatures of both recent Jewish history and the Catholic Church are stunning.
In spite of AIPAC’s unwillingness to host Hagee at its conferences since more of his beliefs have come to light, it maintains an active relationship with CUFI. For example, in 2011 it sent Jeff Mendelsohn, its National Outreach Director, and Jonathan Kessler, its Leadership Development Director, to hold breakout sessions at CUFI’s annual summit (http://www.cufi.org/site/PageServer?pagename=2011Summit_Schedule).
The existence of the AIPAC-CUFI-Israeli right Triangle, and its attempts to dominate American policy in the Middle East, have been clear to Israel’s leaders since the founding of CUFI itself. As has Hagee’s ignorant fear-mongering. As the Jerusalem Post reported at CUFI’s inception,
“Think of CUFI as a Christian version of AIPAC…,” Hagee told The Jerusalem Post. “We need to be able to respond instantly to Washington with our concerns about Israel. We must join forces to speak as one group and move as one body to [respond to] the crisis Israel will be facing in the near future.” Hagee declined to specify which crisis, noting that Israel faces one “every day the sun comes up.” But at the top of the CUFI agenda is what the pastor calls “the Bible issue,” namely what he considers to be the mistaken policy of trading parts of the biblical Land of Israel for peace… CUFI intends to “interact with the government in Washington” and persuade it “to stop pressuring Israel to give up land for peace. Besides the fact that this does not work, Israel has a Bible mandate for the land. Now that Gaza has been given to Hamas, it has a military foothold a thousand yards from Jerusalem.”
The above constitutes a tiny fraction of the publicly available evidence. But it is enough to conclude that the Triangle composed of the Israeli right, AIPAC, and CUFI is unhealthy and corrosive. Both for any real efforts of reaching a just resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and for American democracy.
By considering how much AIPAC dominates legislation concerning the Middle East in the US Congress, and how much CUFI (with the Government of Israel’s overt assistance) influences members of the American Christian right that are fixated on radical interpretations of Biblical prophecy, we can begin to understand how the events listed at http://peacenow.org/entriehttp://peacenow.org/entries/apns_top_10_wackiest_congressional_actions_on_the_middle_east_of_2011 could ever happen. These events make a mockery of any US claim to be able to maintain objectivity where the well-being of Palestinians is concerned. These events will likely continue to repeat themselves as long as the unhealthy relationships and the corrosive influence of the Triangle on American politics continue to develop unchecked.