Creating people's geographies
As the much anticipated book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy by Walt and Mearsheimer is released this month, the liberal Jewish-spiritual progressive magazine Tikkun has its current issue devoted to the Israel Lobby (including, but not limited to, AIPAC) and its disproportionate and highly unrepresentative influence on US foreign policy, particularly towards the Middle East.
The cover reads: The Israel Lobby: Bad for the U.S., Bad for Israel, Bad for the Jews. With an interview of Democratic Congressman Jim Moran as its centerpiece (interview excerpt follows), the Israel Lobby’s major role in the decision to go to war in Iraq and its position on calling for an attack on Iran is scrutinised.
Congressman Moran speaks sensibly about Iran, and reading his comments here was a breath of fresh air.
Jim Moran’s voicing of the obvious has however all too predictably earned the ire of Lobbyists and some MSM journalists who sing to the Lobby tune (see WaPo here and here—thanks Fanonite). Interviewer Rabbi Lerner defends Moran’s statements as observations with which he himself would agree, supporting his assertions with evidence and personal experience. Lerner writes:
To take an example from these past few months of the Israel Lobby exercising its power, liberals in the House of Representatives in the spring of 2007 sought to include in the defense-funding budget an amendment that would require specific authorization from Congress before the Administration could use the defense budget monies for a military strike at Iran. The amendment failed. Most liberals in the U.S. today oppose preventive wars in general and a military strike against Iran in particular. So who supports such a move? The answer is: the right wing government of Israel and its champion in the U.S., the Israel Lobby.
Don’t be surprised that Jim Moran was pushed from his office as one of the leaders of the Democrats in Congress by AIPAC and other elements of the Israel Lobby. Here is how it happened: Congressman Moran was asked at a constituents’ meeting by a woman identified with the Jewish community why we had gotten into the war in Iraq. Moran responded provocatively “If the Jewish community had organized against it, we wouldn’t be in this war.” It’s the kind of statement I would have made to any religious community, or to any labor movement audience, citing their own failures to act as a critical factor in why we had gotten involved. In the case of the Jewish community there is the added factor that leading people in the Israel Lobby actively supported and still support the war in Iraq and that some of the strong supporters of the Israel Lobby played central roles in the effort to push the Iraq war inside the Bush Administration.
Why the “Liberal” Media is Illiberal on Israel
I’ve had similar experiences with the Israel Lobby and the media. For the first few years of Tikkun’s existence Tikkun’s perspective was covered on many topics in American politics. But once we got on AIPAC’s radar screen, this began to change. I finally got the op-ed editor of The San Francisco Chronicle to tell me the story. He had been approached by the Executive Editor, Dick German and told by German in no uncertain terms to stop publishing op-eds from American Jews critical of Israel, because Israel had “too many enemies.” This is what he told me.
A similar thing happened to me at The New York Times. I was asked by The Times to do a review of a book on Israeli settlers. Without any shame, my editor insisted that I change what I had written so that it would accord with his politics. I was never again given a chance to write a review for The Times. Hundreds of other liberal Jews have had similar experiences trying to write for The Times op-ed or book review—the voices of those of us who are seriously and intensely critical of Israeli policy but still lovers of Israel and proudly committed to Judaism are rarely part of the acceptable discourse.
Here is an excerpt of the Tikkun interview between Rabbi Michael Lerner and Congressman Jim Moran on AIPAC and its role in pushing the United States into war with Iraq and calling for an attack on Iran:
TIKKUN: What do you think the reasoning is for the Democrats who voted against the amendment requiring that the president get authorization from Congress before attacking Iran?
JIM MORAN: Well, AIPAC strongly opposed it. In fact, Rep. Murtha, Rep. Obey, and myself wanted it in the supplemental. We had it in and then the leadership had to take it out because AIPAC was having a conference in Washington, and insisted with the leadership and many of the members with whom they have close alliances.Yesterday [NB. interview conducted in May], AIPAC had an amendment to recommit the whole Armed Services Bill in order to add language requiring America to develop missile defenses jointly with Israel, to share all its missile defense technology with Israel. That passed overwhelmingly. There were only thirty members—that’s less than 10 percent—who voted against sharing all our missile technology with Israel. It received about 400 votes in favor of it. I was one of the thirty.
My feeling was that it wasn’t just the incendiary language that Israel is under immediate attack and we need to protect it from another Holocaust, it was also the idea that the solution to Israel’s security is a militaristic one. I would urge you to read the Congressional record for the debate on the recommital. It put our loyalty to Israel in terms of complete military support. My feeling is that both America and Israel have acted in counterproductive fashion and have undermined their security by focusing exclusively on military capability.
That was a key vote yesterday. It was phrased by many as an “AIPAC vote.” As a result, it prevailed approximately 400 to thirty.
TIKKUN: In your estimation, how does AIPAC get that power?
MORAN: AIPAC is very well organized. The members are willing to be very generous with their personal wealth. But it’s a two edged sword. If you cross AIPAC, AIPAC is unforgiving and will destroy you politically. Their means of communications, their ties to certain newspapers and magazines, and individuals in the media are substantial and intimidating. Every member knows it’s the best-organized national lobbying force. The National Rifle Association comes a close second, but AIPAC can rightfully brag that they’re the most powerful lobbying force in the world today. Certainly they are in the United States. Not in Europe, obviously. Most people that are involved in foreign policy especially look at a broad range of issues and consider a person’s entire voting record. AIPAC considers the voting record only as it applies to Israel.
TIKKUN: Where is the national interest, then? What happens to those who think that the best interest of the United States is to live in peace with the world? Certainly the American people feel a very strong revulsion towards this war in Iraq. Why doesn’t that translate into policy?
MORAN: You’ve touched on a quandary, and it particularly applies to the Jewish American community. Jewish Americans, as a voting bloc and as an influence on American foreign policy, are overwhelmingly opposed to the war. There is no ethnic group as opposed to the war as much as Jewish Americans. But, AIPAC is the most powerful lobby and has pushed this war from the beginning. I don’t think they represent the mainstream of American Jewish thinking at all, but because they are so well organized, and their members are extraordinarily powerful—most of them are quite wealthy—they have been able to exert power.
The reason I don’t hesitate to speak out about AIPAC’s influence—notwithstanding the fact that I’ll be accused of being anti-Semitic every time I suggest it—is that I don’t think AIPAC represents the mainstream of American Jewish thinking. I think that, in fact, if you were to sit down with Jewish families in the United States, far more would agree with your philosophy of reconciliation, in acting in a manner consistent with Torah, and they believe in tikkun. AIPAC doesn’t believe in tikkun, judging from their policy proposals, but nevertheless, they have the Congress pretty… well [pause] “controlled” may be too strong a word, but their influence is dominant in the Congress—and their attitude is the opposite of Tikkun’s and the NSP’s. They support domination: not healing. They feel that you acquire security through military force, through intimidation, even through occupation, when necessary, and that if you have people who are hostile toward you, it’s OK to kill them, rather than talk with them, negotiate with them, try to understand them, and ultimately try to love them. That’s what Tikkun and the NSP is all about: healing, mending, reconciling, understanding, and love, which is why I think you are on the right path.
And yet the Congress seems to be going in the opposite direction, investing more money in the military than we invest in anything else, to dominate the world through our military, to impose our foreign policy through our military, to deal with all our security threats in a militaristic manner. It is a profound difference, and what you are suggesting through your magazine, and through your philosophy, is wholly at odds with the foreign policy and defense policy that we are implementing. This Administration is more militaristic than the Congress itself. My own personal view is that’s run by the people who don’t have the courage to stand up and be gentle and express the goodness of people. They strut on the world stage, suggesting that nobody can mess with them because they’re all-powerful. Of course, they gain their strength through the use and abuse of soldiers and military families that support them.
TIKKUN: Have you heard anybody in the Democratic Caucus present a scenario trying to convince other members of the caucus about why a strike at Iran would be a rational policy for either country?
MORAN: A strike at Iran is argued as necessary because of Iran’s potential threat to Israel. No one’s suggested that Iran is a potential threat to the United States, any more than Iraq could ever have been a threat to the United States. It’s a threat to our ally, and those in the Likud Party, and AIPAC, who agree pretty consistently with Likud, feel that the best way to eliminate a threat is to destroy it, and they want America to use its military might to eliminate that threat.
TIKKUN: Are there people who say that in the Democratic Caucus? In a meeting where you’re sitting together and saying “How do we vote on a bill to prevent the president from making war with Iran without having authorization from us?”
MORAN: Normally it’s said in somewhat veiled language. If you look at the debate that took place even yesterday, you can see language that pretty much says the same thing in the words of Ileana Ros-Lehtinen or Duncan Hunter or Tom Lantos. Tom Lantos has moderated his views somewhat. Mark Kirk introduced the resolution on Iran.
They make it clear that we should be prepared to enter into military conflict with Iran. There are several debates that took place on the issue yesterday. I’m sure you could get in online at the Congressional Record. May 16th and May 17th. You’ll find the debate, and you’ll find what’s being said is quite striking with regard to America’s need to be prepared for a military confrontation with Iran, notwithstanding that it’s 70 million people, that it used to be an ally, that it was a strong democracy until they elected Mohammed Mossadegh. Mossadegh wanted to nationalize the oil revenue, because most of the profit was being given to the American and British interests instead of the Iranian interests. So the British and the Americans had him executed [incorrect: though members of his government were executed, Mossadegh’s life was ultimately spared and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest] and then imposed the Shah of Iran who imposed a philosophy that we liked. But did so with oppressive tactics. This caused the counter-reaction of the Ayatollah Khomeini coming in 1979 with the Iranian revolution, and that’s put the religious extremists in power.
America’s had a direct role in Iran’s fortunes, and we continue to believe that we can tell Iran what to say and do. I personally take great umbrage at the way Iran treats dissenters today. But that’s a relatively small number of people in sensitive positions in the religious and military factions. The majority of Iranians are very young—I think almost two thirds are under the age of twenty-five years, so it’s a very young population—and most of them want to be liberated from this repressive religious regime and be able to be part of a modern world. It’s a very well educated population, and for the vast majority of America’s existence, Iran has been our ally. The present enmity could be turned around if we could take an approach of negotiation, sound reconciliation, and trying to find areas of agreement, instead of trying to emphasize those areas of disagreement. Obviously, we need to protect Israel, but the more we brandish swords and threaten Iran, ironically, the more of a threat Iran becomes to Israel, because Israel is seen as a surrogate power of the United States. We are inextricably tied since our policies are seen as identical. I think that the attitude we’re taking is entirely wrong; nevertheless, it’s the reality, and we’ve got a long way to go before the Congress would turn around and embrace the kind of approach that you and a few other enlightened people are suggesting.
Related at Reclaiming Space
Walt and Mearsheimer’s pre-book article on The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy
Book’s Home Page