April 2, 2006

The Israel Lobby and Democratic Public Discourse

by Rodrigue Tremblay

 

"Perhaps the most obvious political effect of controlled news is the advantage it gives powerful people in getting their issues on the political agenda and defining those issues in ways likely to influence their resolution."

W. Lance Bennett

 

A taboo but critically important subject is how pro-Israel lobbyists influence U.S. foreign policy, and whether it is in America's long term interests to let its foreign policy be designed along such narrow lines.

 

A seminal contribution to this debate is the recently published study by two international affairs specialists from Harvard University and the University of Chicago. In an 83-page-12,800-word article published in the March 10 '06 issue of The London Review of Books, and titled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer analyzed how, through lies, disinformation and corruption, a vast network of Neocon journalists, think tanks, lobbyists, and largely Jewish officials within the Bush-Cheney administration have seized the foreign policy debate and manipulated America into invading Iraq in an unjust war. Such a development has important consequences not only for America, but also for the entire world and for the international legal system.

 

The Harvard-Chicago study attempts to provide answers to questions which have been raised by a host of distinguished American figures over the years. Indeed, what did former conservative congressman Paul Findley (R-Illinois) mean when he said that pro-Israeli groups are able to suppress free debate, compromise national secrets, and shape American foreign policy? —What did former senator Ernest " Fritz" Hollings (D-SC) mean when he said that "You can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here"? —What did Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana) mean when he said that Congress is "not even-handed" when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "for political reasons," and that "Israeli leaders understand our system very, very well [and] because they understand our system they can exploit it"? —What did Congressman James Moran (D-VA) mean when he said that "If it were not for the strong support of the Jewish community for this war with Iraq, we wouldn't be doing this"? — What did former Bush Sr. national security adviser Brent Scowcroft mean when he said that " [Ariel] Sharon has Bush (Jr.) wrapped around his little finger." What did former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff Larry Wilkerson mean when he said that “A lot of these guys [the Neocons] ... I looked at as card-carrying members of the Likud party, as I did with Feith. You wouldn’t open their wallet and find a card, but I often wondered if their primary allegiance was to their own country or to Israel. That was the thing that troubled me, because there was so much that they said and did that looked like it was more reflective of Israel’s interest than our own.”

And, finally, what did New York columnist Thomas Friedman mean when he said that "It's the war the neoconservatives marketed. Those people had an idea to sell when September 11 came, and they sold it. Oh boy, did they sell it. So this is not a war that the masses demanded. This is a war of an elite"?

 

Normally, the Lobby's standard tactic when confronted with an annoying book, study or declaration consists in ignoring it or giving it the silent treatment in the many media it controls. In this case, because of the notability and credentials of the authors and their schools, and the fact that its conclusions were so damaging to the all-powerful Israel Lobby, there was no question of letting the Harvard-Chicago study become the starting point for an open and sensible national debate on the subject. Rather, feeling threatened like a tracked animal, the Lobby reacted viciously and came out firing with all its cannons. No study revealing how AIPAC and its cohorts of organizations corrupt the entire American foreign policy process could be left standing. It had to be denounced and disparaged at all costs.

 

The pro-Israel lobby itself cannot do anything wrong. Even Neocon lobbyist Jack Abramoff said he used influence-peddling and corruption of American public officials in order to please God, just as others wage war in order to please God: "I felt that the resources coming into my hands were the consequence of God putting them there" ( New York Times Magazine). The Lobby is to the United States what the Party used to be to the old Soviet Union: it crushes any dissent. The Lobby does not want or feel any need to debate and justify itself. Period. —End of discussion. If you disagree with them and decry their influence, you're a "Nazi" or an "anti-Semite" —end of the conversation.

 

This is too easy. It is not the end of the discussion. It's only the beginning. In a democracy, when a political system is being sold to the highest bidders, this has to be explained to the electorate. Specifically, it has to be explained how such political influence peddling translates into elements of the U.S. foreign policy.

 

No one disputes that the Jewish lobby is an influential force in US politics and that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) is one of the most powerful organizations in Washington. The facts are all there in the open for everyone to see: it is well known that AIPAC and its web of political organizations keep a close watch on every U.S. senator and representative, with the ones on the 'right side' being supported and rewarded, and those on the 'wrong side' being denounced and punished.

 

Many of these politically-oriented organizations, including the American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), are  part of the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations, which regroups 52 national Jewish organizations. One of its recent chairmen was media baron Mortimer Zuckerman, the owner of the NY Daily News and US News and World Report, and whose job it was to lobby the President of the United States. Zuckerman is a frequent guest on the TV public affairs program "The McLaughlin Group".

 

So the Lobby's attack machine thought it to be its duty to disparage the authors of the study, with smear, slander and "ad hominem" defaming attacks. It immediatly launched a "preemptive" hate campaign directed at professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, using the entire panoply of negative epithets in their arsenal, with the obvious objective of harassing and intimidating the two authors, and to send a lesson to anyone in academia who would dare to imitate them.

 

Like the fishes that produce an opaque liquid to confuse their adversaries when pursued, the pro-Israel Lobby has many attack tools at its disposal.

 

First, the pro-Israel lobbyists tried the old trick of "guilt by association".

 

They began by insinuating that professors Mearsheimer and Walt published a study whose conclusions did not differ that much from other messages previously issued by Islamist scholars or by far right American individuals, such as David Duke and Rev. Louis Farrakhan. The fact that the two authors had probably never met anyone among the individuals in question and did not share their views did not matter. The purpose was to put everybody in the same basket in order to undermine the authors' credibility. The two authors were even accused by a zealot of promoting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the old czarist forgery that asserted, in 1903, a Jewish plan for world domination.

 

Then they relied on intimidation and launched the over-used "anti-Semite" epithet.

 

It used to be that "anti-Semitism" referred to racial hatred, racial exclusion, threats of racial expulsion or even racial extermination. —Not anymore. The mere fact of analyzing or criticizing a public policy remotely involving Jewish policy makers, which is perfectly legitimate and is the sign of a mature democracy, opens one up to an accusation of anti-Semitism. Intellectual totalitarianism would seem to prevail in the U.S., whenever and wherever a public policy involves somewhat the state of Israel or Jewish policy makers, or both. You may live in a democracy, but you cannot question any Jewish-led public agenda, as could be the case, for example, with a globalistic and militaristic U.S. foreign policy. —This is the supreme tactic of intimidation, used to silence critics and analysts and coerce them to self-censor.

 

Then, the Lobby used a a third level of weapons of mass intellectual destruction: character assassination. To destroy the study and prevent a public debate on its merits, its propaganda machine did not hesitate to slander and defame the two authors, pretending the study was not of a high intellectual caliber. Some Jewish professors from professional schools, such as well-known defense lawyer and pro-Israel advocate Alan Dershowitz, came out publicly to chastize the authors' sources, deemed not to be reliable enough. A front organization acting as a propaganda machine for the Lobby, called the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) did not want to be left out and proclaimed that "virtually every word and argument (in the study) is, or ought to be, in serious dispute.” The substantial content and the conclusions did not seem to be worth discussing for these critics. Only the assumed research methods were relevant in their views.

 

But the final salvo came from the money class who supplies funds to universities such as Harvard and Chicago, and does not hesitate to pull the strings when asked. The Lobby enlisted lawyer Robert Belfer, a former Enron director, and other "pro-Israel donors and so-called philanthropists" to give a hand at pressuring the two universities involved. For one, it seems Mr. Belfer, in 1997, contributed $7.5 million to Harvard's Kennedy School. Probably imbued with the need to protect academic freedom, lawyer Bob Belfer is reported to have called Harvard (presumably departing Harvard president Laurence Summers) expressing his deep concerns about the study and asking that professor Stephen Walt not use his professorship title in publicity related to his study. If this is not censorship, what is censorship?

 

There you have it. —How a powerful political machine works to suppress debate, research and publications that are inimical to its agenda. Short of murder, all means seem to be justified to deprecate and undermine the credibility of the researchers and their work.

 

This time, however, the Lobby may have gone too far.

 

With its outrageous overkill tactics, it has only succeeded in discrediting itself all over the world. Its strong-armed tactics designed to slander and intimidate two respected scholars is backfiring. It has served only to illustrate and demonstrate the fascist-like tactics and methods that the Lobby ruthlessly employs to silence its critics. In fact, this episode may mark a turning point in the unchallenged stronghold that the Israel Lobby exercises over public information and public policy in the United States. Too many eyes and too many ears have been opened by this revealing incident.

 

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Posted by Rodrigue Tremblay, April 2, 2006, at 5:00 pm

 

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