Walter L. Hixson: What’s So Important About the Jewish Lobby

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

WALTER L. HIXSON

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May 2022, pp. 6-9

2022 May Conference Issue

Dale Sprusansky: Walter L. Hixson is a contributing editor at the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and a retired professor of history. He has written books on many topics, including settler colonialism, American history, and more recently on the Israel lobby. 

It’s been a pleasure having Walter join our staff. We encountered him as a speaker a couple of years ago at this conference. We loved him so much that we brought him on board. We know his students probably miss him, but he has students here today and we’re very eager to learn from him. So with that, Walter, it’s a pleasure to have you, as always. 

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Walter L. Hixson: Thank you, Dale. Good morning, everyone. So what motivates the Washington Report and the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep) to sponsor this annual conference? What brings all these great speakers and attendees to the National Press Club? Why are people tuning in today or watching in future weeks and months across the globe? Why do we care so much about the politics of the Middle East? What’s so important about the Israel lobby? 

Those of us who are engaged in serious study of Israel and the lobby know the answers to these questions. There are obvious answers and they are bolstered by clear and demonstrable facts—indeed, by a wealth of irrefutable evidence. The truth is that the lopsided U.S. support for Zionism has fueled a long history of ethnic cleansing, indiscriminate violence (both within and beyond Israel’s U.N.-recognized borders), an illegal occupation, a proliferation of illegal settlements, relentless police state repression, the emergence of a full-blown apartheid state, Israeli militarization (from introducing nuclear weapons into the Middle East to worldwide arms trafficking) and, finally, determined efforts to repress free speech and smear critics of Israel’s egregious policies. 

While, sadly, the United States does send military and financial assistance to other reactionary regimes, including some in the Middle East, no state receives remotely the level of financial and political support as the Zionist state. Israel, a tiny and highly developed country of some nine million people, has received $146 billion in U.S. military assistance since 1948. This amount of non-inflation-adjusted dollars exceeds that provided to any other country, and even to whole continents. 

The American funding, which today is doled out, no questions asked, at a $3.8 billion annual clip, is provided through an early dispersal arrangement that enables Israel to collect the interest on the money–an arrangement that no other country in the world enjoys. The figures of $3.8 and $146 billion represent, however, only the formal public allocations. By various other means, private contributions as well as deep state and dark money coffers, Israel receives untold billions of additional American dollars. Make no mistake: This American financial largesse, combined with unstinting political support, enables Israeli apartheid and the violent repression of the Palestinian people. 

Americans must be confronted with the fact that their dollars are funding horrific human rights violations and war crimes in the Middle East. How can the United States, supposedly a bastion of freedom and democracy, provide so much unquestioned support year after year, decade upon decade, to a militarized police state that routinely violates international law, demeans and marginalizes its own Palestinian population, and regularly dispossesses, incarcerates and kills Palestinian people–men, women and children—in the illegally occupied territories? 

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The answer to that question brings us to the focal point of this conference, the Israel lobby. In Architects of Repression, my comprehensive history of Israel and the lobby, I analyzed the evolution of the lobby in the context of Israeli national identity. Israel, much like the United States, is a congenitally aggressive settler colonial state. Both nations forged their national identities in a context of massive and unrelenting campaigns of ethnic cleansing of their respective indigenous populations. 

But the world changed dramatically from the era of 19th century American Manifest Destiny to the aftermath of World War II. In December 1948, in response to the virulent racism and anti-Semitism of the defeated Nazis, the United Nations ushered in a new era as it promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Ironically, the declaration coincided with the Nakba, the massive Zionist cleansing operation in which more than 750,000 indigenous Palestinians were driven from their homes. 

Israel thus inaugurated its violent removal policies at the very moment that the global community renounced racialized violence and embraced universal human rights. In the new era, Israel thus had to deny and cover up its indiscriminate violence and removal policies and blame them on the indigenous people who sought to defend or return to their homelands. The Zionists in both Israel and in the United States realized early on that propaganda and disinformation were essential to deflect attention from Israeli aggression and the assault on human rights in Palestine. The burgeoning Israel lobby, as one of its founders put it, would provide “the armor Israel cannot not live without.” 

Very quickly Zionists realized that they could capitalize on the horrors of the Nazi genocide to manipulate public opinion and to sway the United States Congress. Congress responded immediately by funding increasing numbers of Jewish refugees to flock to the new Israel and to displace Palestinians. By taking immediate command of the Congress–a command that has never been relinquished–Israel and the U.S. lobby went over the heads of the executive branch–the president and the Department of State. Both on the scene and in Washington, DC, American professional diplomats well understood that U.S. policy was unbalanced and incompatible with promoting political stability in the Near East. 

The lobby overcame their opposition by manipulating both major political parties and beating back opposition from the executive branch whenever it materialized. Even a popular president with impeccable national security credentials, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, quickly learned that the president of the United States was no match for the Israel lobby. The lobby rang up victory after victory, establishing the United States as an uncritical and unstinting supporter of Israel at the expense of Palestinians–thereby ensuring that political instability, repression, warfare and blowback on the American homeland would prevail in the modern Middle East. 

In the ensuing years, the Israel lobby expanded across the nation from its base in New York and Washington, DC. Funded primarily by a handful of wealthy and predominantly Orthodox Jews, the lobby stepped up its propaganda and disinformation activities. These included letter-writing campaigns targeting the Congress, as well as the signature lobby practice of providing or withholding campaign funds to political candidates. Local Jewish federations linked hands with the centralized lobby directed by AIPAC and its predecessor organizations, as well as the Congress of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, all in close coordination with the State of Israel. 

By the 1980s, after Israel’s aggression had been responsible for three major wars, a blatantly illegitimate occupation of Arab territories and an indiscriminate assault on Lebanon, the lobby accelerated its propaganda efforts. Incredibly favorable new tax cuts further enriched key supporters, who poured money into the lobby while targeting and defeating the few who dared to criticize the Zionist state. Any critical reporting in the mainstream media was promptly subjected to orchestrated attack, which succeeded in exercising the desired chilling effect. 

New think tanks, like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, ostensibly staffed by academic experts, were and remain today little more than fronts for the Israel lobby. Members and candidates for Congress learned to bow to the lobby and to give Israel everything that it wanted at the expense of Palestinians, as well as of fundamental human rights–yet to the benefit of their own political careers. 

Perhaps the best example is Mitch McConnell, who in 1984 narrowly defeated the Democratic incumbent senator in Kentucky. After the election, McConnell went directly to AIPAC and asked what he could do to receive the lobby’s backing in future campaigns. AIPAC insiders assured McConnell that the lobby was bipartisan and would reward its supporters regardless of party affiliation. McConnell went on to become one of the most formidable power brokers in the history of the U.S. Senate. He has been rewarded for his unstinting support of Israel by becoming the all-time leading recipient of lobby funding in American political history. 

While exercising control over the Congress, the lobby also promoted what Prof. Norman Finkelstein dubbed “the Holocaust Industry” to exploit historic Jewish victimization and to obscure that of Palestinians. In recognizing that the United States is the homeland of Christian Zionism, the lobby systematically cultivated evangelical support, even from those who prophesied the Jews would be exterminated after the second coming. The lobby, you see, has no shame. 

As the Israel lobby metastasized, expanding its perennial campaigns of propaganda and disinformation, it assiduously promoted the image of Israel as a besieged innocent. Under this narrative, the modern and progressive little Jewish state merely strove to live and let live, only to be continually rebuffed by the fanatical and terroristic Arabs who thirsted to drive Israel into the sea. 

By reducing Palestinians and Arabs to nothing more than a terrorist bomb squad, Israel obscured its own aggression, as well as the racism and terrorism of most of its leaders–
men such as Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon and Binyamin Netanyahu. Demonizing Palestinians also facilitated the long term and successful effort to finesse the mythical peace process. The bottom line in so-called negotiations was always to ensure that there would be no Palestinian state. Ironically, Israel is now confronted with the specter of a one-state solution–an outcome most Zionists desperately fear, yet one that in theory could enable the emergence of a multiethnic democracy. mitchx740

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, on March 6, 2018. (PHOTO BY NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES)

Throughout the so-called peace process, Israelis relentlessly constructed Jewish-only settlements, thereby establishing new facts on the ground while ignoring U.N. condemnation, always with the reassurance that the American special ally would stand by them and, when necessary, exercise its Security Council veto. Today more than 700,000 so-called settlers live within the illegally occupied territories. They can and do destroy Palestinian olive groves, homes and lives at will. 

Throughout this history, Israel carried out indiscriminate warfare against neighboring states, including in recent times a series of massacres in the blockaded Gaza Strip. While Israel bombed, maimed, killed and assassinated at will, the lobby continued to assert its outsized influence over American and Middle East policy. Israel’s supposed value as a key U.S. ally in the Middle East was vastly overrated. Its main accomplishment proved to be encouraging American intervention in a series of disastrous forever wars, while fueling horrendous blowback at home and abroad. Today Israel and the lobby are laying the groundwork for yet another war, this time targeting Iran. 

For the past 60 years, aside from the current hiatus due to COVID, AIPAC has shamelessly trumpeted its political clout through its annual conference here in Washington, DC. In this truly pathetic display, representatives and senators compete for the opportunity to prostrate themselves before the lobby throng in a hall draped with blue-and-white Israeli flags. The annual procession underscores that AIPAC is beyond question the most powerful lobby representing the interest of a foreign government in American history. In fact, it is one of the most powerful lobbies period, on a level with the gun, pharmaceutical and elderly persons’ lobbies. 

Fast on its feet, the Israel lobby continues to evolve. In recent times, faced with the palpable threat of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, the lobby has responded with smears and coordinated attacks on freedom of speech. Not content with taking away the rights of Palestinians, Israel and the lobby want to take them away from Americans as well. Frivolous lawsuits and groundless assertions of anti-Semitism–assertions that cheapen the very real tragedies of Jewish history and distract from actual anti-Semitic acts–have become the order of the day. There is no depth to which the Israel lobby will not sink. Witness the relentless attack on pro-Palestinian students in the ethical cesspool that is Canary Mission. 

These are the reasons why we’re here today: to call attention to the pernicious activities of a lobby that promotes the interest of a foreign country rather than the interest of the American people, much less the moral imperative of support for universal human rights. Many brave Israelis and growing numbers of Americans are determined to oppose apartheid Israel’s ongoing repression, dispossession, violence and incarceration of Palestinians. They insist on a just solution encompassing the dignity and rights of Palestinians. 

Of utmost significance, American Jews are turning in increasing numbers against U.S. support for Israel’s brutal occupation policies. A small number of progressives in Congress, notably Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, endure ugly smears and a steady stream of death threats to maintain their principled opposition. 

Despite irrefutable evidence, some people naively dismiss or deny the power of the Israel lobby. It is as if they think that nothing goes on in that multistoried expanded office building on H Street, its halls filled with an ever-growing propaganda workforce. Do these knee-jerk deniers really believe that nothing comes out of the billions the lobby invests in propaganda, disinformation, lawfare and smear campaigns? 

So we are here today to call attention to this deleterious force in American society and to insist that the death, injury and injustice that it sanctions in Israel and Palestine be acknowledged and redressed. We are here today to do the work that should be carried out on a regular basis by academics, journalists and think tanks–the vast majority of which are too unlearned or, more likely, too timid to analyze and report responsibly on the grave injustices, as well as the dramatic misappropriation of taxpayer dollars. 

We are here because we recognize, in the words of the immortal Martin Luther King, Jr., that “it is not possible to be in favor of justice for some people and not be in favor of justice for all people.” We are here because we oppose racism, violent repression, disinformation and the investment of even one more dollar to bolster an apartheid regime. Ultimately, we are here because we are on the right side of history. Thank you.

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