July 25, 2006
The politically prodigious and financially unprecedented support which Israel has received from the United States since the early 1960s can be attributed to two factors. On the one hand, Israeli policies serve American interests, not only in the Middle East but all over the world. Whenever the United States finds it inconvenient to get directly involved in something particularly unsavory, for example in supporting a regime or an organization whose reputation is particularly opprobrious, Israel comes in handy to do the job on the U.S. behalf. On the other hand, however, Israel wields tremendous influence within the United States, in my view, regardless of whether Israeli policies match U.S. interests or not. Although to some extent this fact can be attributed to the support Israel receives from many strains of Christian fundamentalism, there is no doubt in my mind that its primary reason is the role performed by the organized Jewish community in the United States in backing Israel and its policies unconditionally. (Israel Shahak, "Relations between Israel and Organized American Jews," Middle East Policy Journal, Volume II, Number 3, 1993)
There is no question that the American-Israeli relationship is special and unique, not for the reasons its advocates raise, but for its anomalous nature. The now well-known article by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt on "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" amazingly covers ground—in clear, direct, empirical, disciplined, at times simplistic or repetitive, style—which few dared to tread. They not only breach a taboo that intimidates many, but also open to serious question the sacred pillars of the lobby’s argument that Israel is an unequalled strategic ally and asset and, because of its Jewish and democratic character and the past suffering of the Jewish people, a morally exceptional state. Though their article is dismissed by many on the left as misguided and ideologically wrong-headed at best and by conservative and Jewish critics as anti-Semitic, one cannot merely ignore the directly observable reality and evidence that American support for Israel is unlike any other bilateral relationship even while Israel’s behavior is far from exemplary. How to explain this phenomenon?
In attempting to comprehend the American-Israeli relationship and the limitless generosity and support extended to Israel, leftists and progressives emphasize the paradigm of empire in which the motivating impulse for American behavior is global economic domination, or the control of resources and strategic geography whose purpose is to maintain American pre-eminence in the international division of labor between industrial and underdeveloped societies. Thus, the master here is the United States, whose interests are strategically served by Israel, a conclusion that is in agreement with the Israel lobby. Focus on a lobby therefore becomes irrelevant, an illusory pursuit, even worse, the pursuit of racists (again, a convergence of views with those critics who’ve attacked Mearsheimer and Walt as anti-Semites), whereas critical understanding is derived from inclusive paradigms. For those leftists who accept the basic conclusions, though not the methodology or ideological premises, of Mearsheimer and Walt, the lobby does not serve a moral and general good, but the interests of (those undefined) elites, of which the Israel lobby is a part.
American foreign policy in the Middle East is therefore dictated by corporate interests and elites, in this case the oil industry, a la "Syriana," with strategic access to and alliance with the state, for whom Israel serves as a multifaceted strategic ally (possible base, exporter of arms to odious regimes that America does not wish to publicize, technological cooperation, arms development, intelligence sharing), including as a blunting instrument against populist or nationalist movements and regimes that would challenge corporate oil interests’ monopoly over control of their resources.
This paradigm leaves little to critical interpretation based on nationalism and cultural identity. Great states such as the US are motivated by impulses that go beyond strategic economic or corporate interests or Marxist conceptions of class conflict. Their perceptions and actions are also shaped by their national-cultural limitations and values, their ideological Weltanschauung, in this case a messianic liberal-democratic, capitalist worldview, and the compulsion to apply power to get their way and remain at the top of the international hierarchy of states, shaping the international system and institutions to suit their perceived needs and interests. How states behave toward each other is shaped as much by cultural and ethnic foundations as it is by domestically and internationally located economic interests. Also, even great states without military or economic equal are limited in their unfettered use of power and understand that political flexibility in regional or local conflicts necessitates resolving these short of satisfying the full desires of their local allies, in this case Israel. They require stability to manage their perceived interests; the essential condition for stability in the Israel-Palestine case means Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 lines and the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.
The realist/neo-realist explanation, as exemplified by Mearsheimer and Walt, is located in a different paradigm, that of liberalism, as is realism’s competing explanation of international relations, idealism/neo-idealism. In their case, their worldview is predicated on national, ethnic, and cultural divisions and the primacy of the nation-state, as opposed to the leftist worldview, based as it is on economic and class systems of analysis, the state reflecting the class privileges and power of the dominant economic elite. Though states’ behavior is constrained by the international structure, they see history as a competition between groups and nations, religious and national identity and the modern nation-state as the culmination and expression of nationalism. They apply categories of national identity, balance of power, national interest, and deterrence to apprehend and manage reality. Thus, to these conservative international politics theorists, the lobby becomes inimical to that amorphous yet all-inclusive national interest.
A supporting explanation of the American-Israeli relationship is that provided by the foreign service officers and specialists at the State Department, whose understanding and perception of international relations are based on an idealized version of American culture and values, who tend to be fair and balanced on Israel-Palestine, and who are disturbed by the partiality America accords Israel. Their main explanation is based on the power and influence of the Israel lobby. As was the case with the Foreign Office careerists during the British state’s mandate over Palestine, these people are usually and unfairly attacked as anti-Semitic "Arabists" by elected leaders and politicians susceptible to the influences of narrow interests and lobbies.
While the foreign-service officers better understand the complex sources of local dispute, the international relations "realists" pay little attention to local movements, histories, and sources of conflict and social change. Both, however, agree on a nationalist or patriotic understanding of US foreign policy. The normative assumption is that the US does not act out of intentionally malevolent purposes.
Without question, the US, since WWII, has tirelessly acted on the side of the status quo throughout the Third World, and has allied itself with and supported repressive regimes to extend its political and economic presence and influence. The same dynamics have applied to the Middle East. But Israel-Palestine is a special case precisely because, one, of the uniqueness of Western concern for Jewish well being in the post-Holocaust period and, two, the organization of Jewish lobbying efforts concentrated in the United States. This effort is necessarily characterized by US-Israeli strategic convergence, especially antipathy toward and weakening of populist nationalism, either secularist or religious in nature. But it is also characterized by divergence, even episodic tension, with US strategies, that is, the US need to settle the Palestine issue within the context of international law and frameworks that would both secure Israel and its role and satisfy and stabilize the Palestinians, a core cause of Middle East instability.
Even when we accept, therefore, the US drive for political and economic hegemony as an organizing principle to explain US foreign policy, we can also accept that the Israel lobby is a reality that affects the content and direction of US policy in the Middle East. The leftist or progressive thesis (ironically, just like the pro-Israel lobby contention), is overdrawn: US foreign policy interests are not completely, not even fundamentally synonymous with Israeli interests, and US policy in the Middle East, specifically in Palestine, can change seriously and dramatically if the Israel lobby were willing to unify its considerable resources and influence, particularly over Congress, to change this policy’s direction. (Some on the left, domestically minded liberal intellectuals and activists in the mold of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, continue to think of Middle East policy in terms of old establishment WASP elites, Christian fundamentalists, Saudi royals, and oil corporations and tend to be fuzzy on the realities and complexities of US-Middle East relations.)
One can either dismiss the lobby’s political clout, and even its existence, as a right wing or anti-Semitic fantasy or assume that it is inconsequential as a method of apprehending reality, in contrast to higher-level causes and explanations of US foreign policy. The latter is true but only renders focus on the lobby immaterial if the paradigm is rooted in inflexible corporate interests and economic analysis. Individuals and collectivities are animated by their identities and group cohesion, despite the reality of social and political fault lines in groups and societies, and one need not always look for underlying material self-interest behind people’s behavior. A motivated and well-organized lobby like this one can have a serious effect on a liberal system that is especially open to groups with the requisite resources. The liberal notion of a pluralist system in which interest groups vie for power and access to public resources, thereby resulting in a public policy reflective of the broader public good is faulty. Groups have differential means and resources. A liberal-capitalist system such as this one accords differential access and influence to those with the economic wealth and means. Therefore, in terms of allocation of resources and distribution of wealth, what the system reflects is not the general public’s interest but those of well-organized and powerful commercial, business, and occupational groups and elites, particularly the corporate elites. But the system is also responsive to well-organized and financed groups whose agendas are social and cultural and who have a broad popular base.
Jewish Americans obviously differ in many aspects, including their attitudes towards Israel and peace, as suggested below. However, their leaders and elites are ideologically and emotionally mobilized for what is essentially a nationalist cause, the cause of Israel. The intense singularity with which this cause is pursued, in the context of a system in which this ethnic group has remarkably succeeded in all segments of American life and enterprise, including broader cultural and ideological factors and alliances, has made the lobby the most formidable "interest group" in contemporary America.
American Jewish groups do not "control" American foreign policy in the Middle East, but have succeeded in determining that those policies heavily favor Israel and, with their neo-conservative allies in the current administration, integrating US and Israeli policy and strategic goals.
Political Zionism in today’s Israel is unhappy with the growing "Arab" demographic "threat" within historic Palestine (which may now contain slightly more Arabs than Jews), yet is unwilling to give up the occupied territories. Its choices to the Palestinians: apartheid or departure, both of which can only be enforced and sustained with brutality and violence. The two-state solution is no longer a viable alternative, certainly not in its present reality, nor is a unified democratic state. A secular democratic state in whatever form is unlikely in the foreseeable future without war and widespread regional destruction. Either that, however, or a radical dismantling of the occupation "matrix." In the context of current realities, and moral judgment aside, legitimate and constructive Israeli interests in the Middle East include:
a) maintaining a majoritarian Jewish state with real equality and rights for non-Jewish citizens,
b) relinquishing the occupation, negotiating withdrawal and the establishment of a politically and economically viable Palestinian state in pre-1967 lines,
c) obtaining US and international security guarantees, participating in regional security arrangements, nuclear non-proliferation, and eventual elimination of nuclear arsenals,
d) mutually, with the Palestinians but also involving Arab states in which exist Palestinian refugees, resolving—based on creative conceptual and practical reworking of compensation, restitution, and repatriation, including permanent resettlement—the Palestinian refugee question based on the legally recognized right of return without undermining Israeli sovereignty or viability,
e) agreeing, through regional discussions, on the equitable, fair and legal use of water resources, and
f) gradually achieving full diplomatic and economic relations with the Arab world.
However, the historical record, supported by a growing body of research, suggests a bleak picture. Israel has been strategically driven by territorial expansion in all of historic Palestine; military supremacy and nuclear-chemical-biological monopoly; obstruction of international law and UN frameworks and principles; construction of obstacles in the way of normalization of relations between the Middle East (or Islam) and the US; prevention of a deterrent challenge to Israel’s military hegemony in the area by radical, moderate, or conservative states, Arab or non-Arab; fragmentation of Arab states and societies into competing sectarian and ethno-linguistic groups; and, since the end of the Cold War, active exasperation of the threat of radical Islamists and terrorists, who have now replaced Communism as the mortal, everlasting enemy of Israel and therefore America. The underlying ideological momentum for these policies is Zionism’s vision of an exclusivist ethno-nationalist Jewish state in all of historic Palestine.
These are at odds with American interests. One can argue over what constitutes legitimate American interests, given the reality of unrelenting US hostility to genuinely independent and representative movements, parties, and governments and its support of autocratic states in the area. However, these differences and tensions between the US and countries like, say, Syria and Iran, are exaggerated, distorted, and remain unresolved largely because of Israeli behavior and the effective work of the Israel lobby that has ensured complete US accommodation of virtually everything Israel does and wants.
Broadly, my list of legitimate US interests, in no particular order, include the following:
a) comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian (and Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-Lebanese), peace based on internationally accepted principles and frameworks, including complete withdrawal to the 1967 lines,
b) regional security in the Persian Gulf in cooperation with Iran in the context of Iran’s regional and global reintegration in exchange for its support of a Palestine settlement and internationally verified guarantees not to pursue a nuclear program,
b) consistent promotion of human rights, civil society and democratic processes, including respect of genuine elections that may bring Islamist parties to power,
c) promoting arms control and limiting the flow of arms into the region through regional conferences,
d) pursuing and sponsoring talks toward regional nuclear non-proliferation and other WMDs,
e) cooperation with and affirmation of the UN’s potentially multifaceted role in the region, especially peacekeeping,
f) fighting terrorism in all its facets, including al-Qaeda’s strategic goal of driving the US from the Middle East, through genuine, multifaceted bilateral cooperation with regional states of all ideological hues,
g) promoting regional trade, economic cooperation, and development
h) withdrawal from Iraq in the context of international (multilateral and UN) cooperation to stabilize and transition the country, and
i) cooperation and aid in solving regional social and economic sources of instability and discontent, including issues of economic inequality and regional distribution of wealth.
Since 1948, Israel has been unable to prevent or alleviate threats to the US since it is a cause of conflict with and antagonist to Arab states; it has contributed to radicalization of the Middle East and, during the Cold War, constituted a decisive factor in driving Arab states to seek aid and security from the Soviet Union; it has perpetuated regional instability and destabilization of moderate, allied regimes of the US; it has impeded the US’s ability to maintain good working relations with Arab states as a prelude to advance the US’s interests in the area; it has been a huge, and endless financial burden on the US through tens, reaching hundreds, of billions of dollars of non-repayable aid; it has destructively invaded and threatened surrounding states, such as Lebanon, at will; it has essentially rejected and sabotaged every American peace plan for the occupied Palestinian territories; and its lobby and their neo-conservative allies have led the US into a costly, destructive invasion of Iraq whose full consequences are yet to unfold.
Israel and its neo-conservative allies in Washington are a detriment to oil companies, who require stability in Israel-Palestine and good relations with all Arab and Muslim states that have oil. The politically and ideologically inspired goal of establishing bases in Iraq and sitting astride Persian Gulf oil fields and pipeline and shipping lanes for Central Asian oil does little to protect American national interest or oil companies; it merely overextends and economically weakens the US. Pro-Israel interests, not transnational oil companies, benefit from the invasion and occupation of Iraq and destabilization and radicalization of the region. Just as the Israel lobby and its allies in and outside of government pushed mightily for the US invasion and destruction of Iraq, they are now employing their considerable resources to instigate a military attack on Iran, even though the transnational oil companies, American and foreign, do not benefit from war and instability. A stable, territorially and nationally unified Iraq is in the US national interest and in the interest of oil companies.
These assertions are counterintuitive to the argument that the US master plan is to control Middle East oil, Iran now being the remaining holdout, and to the fact that the oil corporations, whose interests are amply represented in the Bush administration, reap billions from rapidly rising oil and gas prices. Even the oil companies understand, however, that war and destruction in Iran may drive up prices so prohibitively that they drive down demand and accelerate the search for alternative energy sources; that an American and Western or global recession is not good for business; that the US cannot really "control" Middle East oil, certainly not in the old ways of direct national corporation ownership of oil fields, because, for example, imposed client regimes in Iraq and Iran will not endure; that such regimes will continually face the rebellious opposition of their nationalist and Islamo-nationalist populations, thus creating perpetual instability and conflict and requiring permanent American military presence if not occupation; and that the region will be radicalized further, including the destabilization of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf sheikhdoms. It’s easy to blame the oil corporations, who to be sure represent powerful interests, to confirm one’s ideological viewpoint.
Viewed from this perspective, American interests in the Middle East, certainly in the long term, have been far from successful, contrary to what leftists would argue, and will worsen considerably if Iran is attacked. Again, pro-Israel lobby forces, reflecting Israeli strategy, are eager for sanctions, confrontation, and attack on Iran.
The litmus test of the symbiotic relationship between the dog and its tail is Palestine’s current reality. US interests require a viable two-state solution that would satisfy (or, cynically, pacify) the Palestinians, dramatically reduce tensions through the normalization of Arab-Israeli relations, and generally work as a stabilizing factor in the Middle East. (Iraq will continue to be a major point of instability until the US withdraws, and even then there will be deleterious, unanticipated consequences for the region.) While President Bush was the first president to pronounce American support for a viable, independent Palestinian state, in the past several years there’s been a dramatic reversal of that position as Israel is constructing an apartheid state and unilaterally annexing occupied territory and setting final borders. The US, through its silence, has effectively supported the wall’s construction even as the International Court of Justice declared it illegal, and has abandoned the Road Map and the Oslo Accords before it. Furthermore, President Bush publicly declared his support of Israel’s annexation of the large settlement "blocs" in and around Jerusalem and of the latter’s position that the Palestinian refugees have no right of return, and, in line with Israel’s demands and actions towards Hamas, vigorously pursues the democratically elected Hamas government’s economic and political strangulation, even as this threatens the physical well being and survival of the occupied Palestinians.
Following Israel’s effective abrogation of agreements signed under US auspices, the US has effectively abandoned international law, international principles for peace, and frameworks for a settlement that the US and the international community worked to construct. The longstanding search for a peace in the Middle East has been demolished. All these positions happen to be what the lobby has advocated in its ceaseless protection and support of Israeli policies. Disagreements and criticisms, while open and self-interested in relation to any other state, are muted and conceded with Israel. This, the constant US retreat on Palestine, has consistently been the litmus test of the lobby’s power.
THE LOBBY, AMERICAN JEWS AND CULTURAL CONTEXTS
The lobby cannot be wholly understood only in reference to organization, access, political alliances, and influence. Its effectiveness has also to be located in broader cultural foundations.
There is no Jewish agenda in America and the West that advances amorphous "Jewish collective interests." Jews worldwide are not a monolith, neither in culture, ethnicity, language, or national affiliation, not in world outlook nor in their attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians, not in their secularism or religiosity. (Jewish intellectuals, theologians, academics, activists, human rights workers, lawyers, and journalists, in America, Israel and elsewhere, have been indispensable in defending and positively affecting world public opinion on Palestinian historical, national, and human rights under Israeli occupation.) The lobby’s effectiveness derives from the ardently devoted work of a small elite, backed by limitless financial resources.
Lobbying on behalf of Israel includes the Jewish organizations and allied non-Jewish, pro-Israel organizations. Christian fundamentalists, about twenty-five million of whom are voters, are part of the Israel lobby, not in a formal membership or organizational sense but in ideological affinity, political alliance, and coordination for specific policy battles regarding Israel. They are strong supporters of Israel and its right wing, hard line parties, including maintaining settlements, because of their literalist interpretation of the bible and, much like their Jewish rank and file counterparts, their reliance on cues from their leaders and local churches. These leaders, Christian Zionists, are the contemporary version of the Gentile Zionists of long ago who featured heavily in the British government and its colonial policies in Palestine.
The Israel or Jewish lobby’s purpose is to exert influence on American foreign policy in the Middle East in support of Israel. The lobby comprises Jewish organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its numerous fronts, or Political Action Committees (to circumvent legal limitations on contributions from a single special interest PAC), and organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (comprising over fifty Jewish organizations), whose real roles are to influence American policy and public opinion, unify and mobilize American Jews in the cause of Israel, and attack and silence legitimate critics of Israel and Zionism. (There are progressive, but marginal, Jewish lobbying groups that have tried to form an alternative voice to the mainstream organizations.) Its power is especially noticeable in the areas of grassroots lobbying and financial contributions for legislative campaigns at the several levels of American government.
The lobby, then, is not a reference to a particular "interest group" but to Jewish organizations whose lobbying is allied with Christian Zionists and neo-conservatives. It is obviously supported by the wealth, education, social and moral influence of the Jewish community stemming largely from the pervasiveness of the Jewish, Zionist-Israel, and Holocaust narratives in America.
Because of the Jewish-evangelical Christian alliance or convergence of goals over Israel (which in some cases is beginning to unravel), some, apparently including Mearsheimer and Walt, assert that the Israel lobby is both Christian and Jewish. The Israel lobby is first and foremost exclusively Jewish (as the late Israel Shahak emphasized in the article quoted above), closed to broadening perspectives, including from progressive Jews, which explains its singularity of purpose over Israel and Zionism, its Jewish-nationalist fervor, its growing support of extremist Israeli governments, and its myopia or apparent inability to see the consequences of Israel’s destructive path.
Contrary to the damaging Zionist mythology and its apparent monopoly on a narrative of Jewish specialness, suffering, innocence, and irredeemable anti-Semitism, Jews are not unified in their "Jewishness," ideology, or attitudes towards Israel, Zionism, and Jewish identity. Nor, objectively and practically, are Jewish interests synonymous with Zionist interests. However, Jewish organizations in the West and in America in particular who are Zionists and ardent supporters of Israel and who reflect the different ideological tendencies within Zionism have, by virtue of their superior financial resources, organization, commitment to Israel, and political alliances been able to create the prevailing illusion that American and Israeli national interests are identical, and have succeeded in preventing open, public debate and discourse on the issue.
The success of the lobby in America has been its perfunctory mobilization of most American Jews for the cause of Israel. Israel has become for these American Jews, and many Jews worldwide, the golden calf it is for Zionism, The Cause of their lives, the vindication and privilege of an increasingly sacralized Holocaust and the cultural or identity glue that tenuously holds together a rapidly assimilating and diluting Diaspora. The affective emotion of "caring for Israel" as part of being Jewish attracts the allegiance of the vast majority of American Jews.
Many Jewish Americans are uninformed about the real and complex issues in Israel-Palestine and swallow whole the delusions and myths about Israel imparted by Zionism. Conveyed to them by the Jewish organizations through synagogues and community centers throughout America, they are the recipients of the received wisdom and talking points, of mobilizing for campaigns and fundraising and pressure for or against political candidates and perceived anti-Zionists or critics of Israel such as university professors. Even so, there is a slight disconnect between Jewish American rank and file, the majority of whom favor a sort of Oslo-like compromise, and their organizations and leaders, who usually support the more extreme tendencies in Israel.
American Jews who are Zionists in the sense of their singular support of Israel and who are in prominent or dominant positions in the media and entertainment industry are eagerly generating images and ideas about Israel and Zionism that shape public opinion and perceptions and reinforce the dominant myths about the American-Israeli relationship to a largely indifferent, disinterested, and uninformed American public. It is not an issue of "Jewish conspiracy" or "Jewish power" but of individuals and organizations acting on their deep-seated biases, motivated by their "love of Israel." Steven Spielberg, a liberal example, declared in interviews over his film "Munich" his love for Israel and his willingness to die for it, and thus constructed essentially mythical images of Israelis, always morally questioning, even though, in his mind, he created a film fair to the Palestinians and even received heat from Jewish organizations for "humanizing the terrorists."
Furthermore, it is clear that the two dominant political parties and the Congress have become institutionally and psychologically habituated in their support for everything Israel wants, that presidents have consistently backed down over conflicts with the lobby, and that perception of an all-powerful "Jewish lobby" has now permeated the minds of American politicians, leaders, businessmen, academics, and journalists. This perception of power cannot be underestimated in causing fear, intimidation, and self-censorship.
Too, it is clear that huge amounts of pandering to the lobby goes on during presidential or congressional campaigns, that both the president, with his close advisers, and members of Congress, with their staff members, are surrounded by pro-Israel individuals, more so in this neo-conservative dominated administration than in previous ones. The lobby and its friends have come to completely dominate Middle East decisions and policymaking throughout the executive branch, superseding the traditional role of the Department of State.
One-sided support for Israel is not uni-dimensional, a result of an all-powerful lobby. One cannot underestimate the Western cultural foundations of support for Israel. This relates not only to common Judeo-Christian (particularly Protestant) roots, but also to the historical tension (along with the cultural diffusion, trade, and peaceful relations) between Islam and Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean littoral, though this is often overdrawn for political reasons. Western culture, rooted in rationalism, scientific inquiry, democracy, and liberalism is, both at the elite and public levels, reflexively uneasy at Middle Eastern or Islamic political and social organization, institutions and values. Israel is a modern, industrial, urban Western society whose developed landscape and customs are easily recognizable in the typical westerner’s cultural psyche, unlike the architectural landscape, underdevelopment, urban overcrowding, peasant destitution, and strange customs, dress, sites and smells of Arab or Muslim societies.
Nevertheless, the current conflict between the West and Islam, or more accurately, the differences in needs and interests and values, are really political in nature, largely reflecting issues of global inequality, economic interests, invasions, occupation, and oppression, of the clash between imperial interests and their support for local right wing or conservative regimes and authentic nationalist or Islamist parties and movements. These international differences and tensions can and must be managed rationally, though the obstacles to their management are not only economic imperialism and cultural differences—nor just the displacement of Western guilt for the Holocaust onto the Palestinians and Muslims—that lead to wrongful assumptions and distorted perceptions.
They are due, also, to the practical political activities of Israel and the Zionist lobby that, aligned with neo-conservatives, have an interest in elevating the Islamic "threat" to mystical, abstract levels of clash of cultures and civilizations. In the context of such assumptions, based on cultural reductionism, there is thus little that can be done to manage the relationship except through military strength and force and an enduring reliance on a militarily dominant, democratic, Western Israel.
American conservatism is particularly attracted to this cultural worldview. Its nationalist orientation and deep suspicion of broad cultures such as Islam, its emphasis on national security and military power, its impulses of superiority, enlightenment, pioneering spirit, manifest destiny, and exceptionalism coincide with a Zionist Israel animated by similar ideological and cultural foundations and historical claims and at odds with anti-Israeli and anti-American Muslims.
The two, apparently conflictive assertions, that Israel serves American imperial interests and that the Israel lobby "controls" US foreign policy are both partially correct, and therefore not mutually exclusive. There has been an increasing convergence of interest between a more militarized and aggressive US foreign policy navigated by neo-conservatives and supported by Christian fundamentalists and a lobby that has increasingly become more aggressive, uncompromising, and demanding in its support of Israel. US and Israeli policies and strategies have also become blurred and integrated, partially because of the fact that many of the neo-conservatives in government and its ideologues outside it are Jewish Americans who are also exceptionally committed and loyal to Israel as much as they are to America. Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, in an ICAHD website article titled "Israel as an Extension of American Empire," puts it this way:
Many of the founders of neo-conservatism in the 1970s and most of its prominent advocates today are Jewish. This is not an irrelevant fact, nor is it "anti-Semitic" to say so….
Just a glance at some of the most prominent neo-cons…points up a Jewish connection that is hard to understate.
Israel, of course, has long been of prime concern to these pillars of the American Jewish community, who now enjoy the political clout to integrate that issue seamlessly into the neo-con doctrine – and thereby into the very fabric of American foreign policy and military strategy. It is a measure of how Jews have assimilated into American life, how they identify completely with the United States – of which they see Israel as an extension, the "only democracy in the Middle East…"
The two states’ fundamental and long term interests, however, do not coincide, nor is the convergence always neat either in relation to Israel-Palestine or in the larger Middle East, as I have argued. But even with this, and decades before the neo-conservatives ascended to important positions of power, Israel has been able to determine the direction and content of US policy toward Palestine and undermine a constructive, normal (or normalized), relationship with Arab states, including its conservative allies, who are forced into a steady state of tension and fear over loss of their power within a socio-political context of virtually non-existent political legitimacy. This is the constant variable that has managed to distort and complicate the United States’ rational and more intelligent management of its presence in the Middle East and that has, in addition to endogenous socio-economic, political and cultural causes, contributed mightily to radicalization and frustration in the region. Even for an imperial power, it makes no sense to accommodate every need and whim of one state, whose own self-destructive actions in Palestine are often unjust, brutally oppressive, and militaristic, over its larger and far more important regional interests, thereby inducing widespread political anger and frustration at the United States and discontent with the prevailing status quo. Israel and its lobbying friends have managed to subvert and avoid a balanced, rational system of American relations with and support for Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arab states, thereby generating a persistent environment for potential conflict, terrorism, and political upheaval. These chronic, ever worsening conditions are good for no one.
(c) Issa Khalaf (This essay was written on 4/16/06)