by James Abourezk
December 11, 2006
I can tell you from personal experience that the support Israel has in
the Congress is based completely on political fear -- fear of defeat by
anyone who does not do what Israel wants done. I can also tell you that
very few members of Congress -- at least when I served there -- have any
affection for Israel or for its Lobby. What they have is contempt, but
it is silenced by fear of being found out exactly how they feel. I've
heard too many cloakroom conversations in which members of the Senate
will voice their bitter feelings about how they're pushed around by the
Lobby to think otherwise. In private one hears the dislike of Israel and
the tactics of the Lobby, but not one of them is willing to risk the
Lobby's animosity by making their feelings public.
Thus, I see no desire on the part of Members of Congress to further any
U.S. imperial dreams by using Israel as their pit bull. The only
exceptions to that rule are the feelings of Jewish members, whom, I
believe, are sincere in their efforts to keep U.S. money flowing to
Israel. But that minority does not a U.S. imperial policy make.
Secondly, the Lobby is quite clear in its efforts to suppress any
congressional dissent from the policy of complete support for Israel
which might hurt annual appropriations. Even one voice is attacked, as I
was, on grounds that if Congress is completely silent on the issue, the
press will have no one to quote, which effectively silences the press as
well. Any journalists or editors who step out of line are quickly
brought under control by well organized economic pressure against the
newspaper caught sinning.
I once made a trip through the Middle East, taking with me a reporter
friend who wrote for Knight-Ridder newspapers. He was writing honestly
about what he saw with respect to the Palestinians and other countries
bordering on Israel. The St. Paul Pioneer press executives received
threats from several of their large advertisers that their advertising
would be terminated if they continued publishing the journalist's
articles. It's a lesson quickly learned by those who controlled the paper.
With respect to the positions of several administrations on the question
of Israel, there are two things that bring them into line: One is
pressure from members of Congress who bring that pressure resulting in
the demands of AIPAC, and the other is the desire on the part of the
President and his advisers to keep their respective political parties
from crumbling under that pressure. I do not recall a single instance
where any administration saw the need for Israel's military power to
advance U.S. Imperial interests. In fact, as we saw in the Gulf War,
Israel's involvement was detrimental to what Bush, Sr. wanted to
accomplish in that war. The U.S. had to suppress any Israeli assistance
so that the coalition would not be destroyed by their involvement.
So far as the argument that we need to use Israel as a base for U.S.
operations, I'm not aware of any U.S. bases there of any kind. The U.S.
has enough military bases, and fleets, in the area to be able to handle
any kind of military needs without using Israel. In fact I can't think
of an instance where the U.S. would want to involve Israel militarily
for fear of upsetting the current allies the U.S. has, i.e., Saudi
Arabia and the Emirates. The public in those countries would not allow
the monarchies to continue their alliance with the U.S. should Israel
I suppose one could argue that Bush's encouragement of Israel in the
Lebanon war this summer was the result of some imperial urge, but it was
merely an extension of the U.S. policy of helping Israel because of the
Lobby's continual pressure. In fact, I heard not one voice of opposition
to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon this summer (except Chuck Hagel).
Lebanon always has been a "throw away" country so far as the congress is
concerned, that is, what happens there has no effect on U.S. interests.
There is no Lebanon Lobby. The same was true in 1982, when the Congress
fell completely silent over the invasion that year.
I think in the heart of hearts of both members of congress and of the
administrations they would prefer not to have Israel fouling things up
for U.S. foreign policy, which is to keep oil flowing to the Western
world to prevent an economic depression. But what our policy makers do
is to juggle the Lobby's pressure on them to support Israel with keeping
the oil countries from cutting off oil to the western nations. So far
they've been able to do that. With the exception of King Feisal and his
oil embargo, there hasn't been a Saudi leader able to stand up to U.S.
So I believe that divestment, and especially cutting off U.S. aid to
Israel would immediately result in Israel's giving up the West Bank and
leaving the Gaza to the Palestinians. Such pressure would work, I think,
because the Israeli public would be able to determine what is causing
their misery and would demand that an immediate peace agreement be made
with the Palestinians. It would work because of the democracy there,
unlike sanctions against a dictatorship where the public could do little
about changing their leaders' minds. One need only look at the
objectives of the Israeli Lobby to determine how to best change their
minds. The Lobby's principal objectives are to keep money flowing from
the U.S. treasury to Israel, requiring a docile congress and a compliant
administration. As Willie Sutton once said, "That's where the money is."
*/James Abourezk was a U.S. Senator, the first Arab-American to serve in
the Senate, from South Dakota from 1973 to 1979. He is the vice chairman
of the Council for the National Interest./*