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Paul Findley: "Silence of the Poodles"

Silence of the Poodles by Paul Findley
Words spoken years ago by George W. Ball, a distinguished diplomat,
author and champion of human rights, have vivid, new currency: “When
Israel’s interests are being considered, Members of Congress act like
trained poodles. They jump dutifully through hoops held by Israel’s
lobby.” In the same interview, Ball said, “The lobby’s most powerful
instrument of intimidation is the reckless charge of anti-Semitism.”
Sadly, his words ring true today, verified by my own experiences and
those of many of my colleagues in the U.S. legislature.
Ball could have added that, except for exuberant praise of Israel, the
poodles remain mute as they jump through the hoops lest they lapse into
free speech and say something that will spoil their chances for reelection.
The fear of being charged with anti-Semitism outranks all other worries
that bedevil politicians, and the lobby has marketed it so efficiently
that a wall of silence shields the American people from awareness of the
lobby’s activities and U.S. complicity in Israel’s longstanding abuse of
international law and Arab human rights, violations that the rest of the
world follows with dismay and anger. Fear of the anti-Semitism stain is
intensified these days, because the lobby has succeeded in redefining
anti-Semitism to include any criticism of Israeli behavior, an inferred
threat that prompts all major media to ignore or sanitize reports of
Israeli violations.

My authority for making these statements comes from having been a close
student of the lobby for over 30 years, the first 22 as a Member of
Congress. The lobby leaders chose me as their number one target because
I met unashamedly with PLO leader Yasser Arafat and later demanded the
suspension of U.S. aid to Israel for its unlawful use of U.S.-donated
military supplies. In 1982, when the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee [AIPAC], the main center of Israeli lobbying in Washington,
claimed credit for keeping me from election to a 12th term in the House
of Representatives, I became the lobby’s prize trophy. Two years later,
Senator Charles Percy, who was also guilty of failing to toe AIPAC line,
joined me on the trophy shelf. Our fate has tended to focus the minds of
other Members of Congress, discouraging them from the temptation to
speak out about Israel’s misbehavior.
Israel’s U.S. lobby is peerless among the hundreds of lobbies in our
nation’s capital for one main reason: it alone is armed with the
ultimate persuader, an ample supply of indictments for anti-Semitism The
supply promotes automatic cooperation when legislation on behalf of
Israel moves forward. It is the modern-day Sword of Damocles, a fearsome
instrument that hangs over almost every head in our government. Until
recently, it seemed to cow all of the nation’s prestigious scholars,
except for a few hardy ones like Professor Noam Chomsky of the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Juan Cole of the University of
Last month, in a rare burst of academic candor, two other distinguished
professors, John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen
M. Walt of Harvard’s Kennedy School, broke the silence with the
publication of their 81-page, heavily footnoted study titled, “The
Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”
In the study, they conclude that the flagrant, longstanding pro-Israel
bias in U.S. Middle East policy has enabled Israel to tilt U.S. policy
in ways that benefit Israel to the disadvantage of U.S. national
interests, luring America even into costly wars and a rising tide of ill
fame worldwide. They pin much of the blame on the influence of Israel’s
U.S. lobby. One of their most significant conclusions: “The U.S. has a
terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with
Mearsheimer and Walt quickly discovered why most of their academic
colleagues behave much like the political poodles on Capitol Hill. Their
study instantly became controversial, the subject of a vigorous U.S.
discussion over Israel’s role in U.S. foreign policy for the first time
since the Jewish state came into being in 1948. First published in the
respected London Review of Books because no U.S. periodical was brave
enough to give it a public audience, the study provoked such strong
trans-Atlantic shock waves, thanks mainly to the Internet, that the
wielders of the modern Sword of Damocles have gone public with a barrage
of full-throated epithets, charging Mearsheimer and Walt with “ignorant
propaganda, academic garbage, anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist drivel.” The
Harvard Crimson quoted Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz as labeling the
authors “liars” and “bigots.” Two other academics, in a letter to the
London Review of Books, wrote ominously: “Accusations of powerful Jews
behind the scenes are part of the most dangerous traditions of modern
anti-Semitism.” They overlooked the fact that the lobby also includes
powerful Christians.
In a New York Daily News, less strident critic Harvard Professor David
Gergen rebuked the authors by declaring that “over the course of four
tours in the White House I never once saw a decision in the Oval Office
to tilt U.S. foreign policy in favor of Israel at the expense of
America’s interest.” An experienced politician himself, Gergen must know
that such tilts would never be recorded for anyone to see, even in the
privacy of the Oval Office. In the column, Gergen mistakenly credited
President Reagan with stopping Israel’s 1982 bloody assault on Lebanon.
To the contrary, Israeli Prime Minister Begin was defiant, conveying his
refusal in these words: “Nobody, nobody is going to bring Israel to her
knees. You must have forgotten that the Jews kneel but to God.” [Source:
George W. Ball: Error and Betrayal in Lebanon, p 45].
No matter what lies ahead, Mearsheimer and Walt have already well served
the public. Their initiative has broken through a dangerous wall of
silence. Thanks to publicity arising from their study, many thousands of
U.S. citizens are aware for the first time that a domestic lobby on
behalf of Israel exerts a significant role in forming U.S. Middle East
policy, even on decisions of war. They are also now aware that religious
communities—minority elements of both Christianity and Judaism--are the
main pillars of the lobby.
This knowledge may bestir enough public curiosity for a civilized and
edifying public debate to ensue. It is difficult to conceive of a topic
more urgently worthy of public examination.
Paul Findley was an Illinois Representative in Congress, 1961-83. He is
the author of the bestseller, They Dare to Speak Out: People and
Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby. He and Mrs. Findley reside in
Jacksonville, Illinois. E-mail:

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