Why the US Supports Israel - PAG Forum Preview
Will Seaman, a long-time Portland activist, is a member of Jews for Global Justice and Oregon Friends of the Middle East, as well as the Portland Peaceful Response Coalition and the East Timor Action Network. He will be speaking at the Palestine Action Group Forum, this Saturday at 6pm in Portland (Friendly House, 1737 NW 26th). His topic is: Why the US Supports Israel: The Impact of Competing Views for Organizing Against the Occupation.
I asked Will to say a little about his topic for the Palestine Action Group Forum on Saturday. I also asked him how he responds to accusations that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. Following are his responses.
I'll be talking about two theories of why the United States is
supporting Israel in the current conflict. And of course I have to emphasize that whenever I say "supporting Israel" I mean "supporting the most reactionary, brutal, militarist and expansionist elements within Israeli society." For in my view, and I believe in the view of many, many American Jews, when we speak out against the crimes that have and are now being committed by the Israeli military, we are in fact supporting Israel. When we expose the crimes of the IDF, when we speak out against the brutal occupation of Palestinian communities, against the dispossession and discrimination, we are speaking out in support of Israel, but it is in support of an Israel radically different from the Israel of today, and sadly it is an Israel radically different from the one that is supported by many people in the establishment or organized Jewish community here in the United States.
So I want to discuss two proposals for explaining the U.S. support for Israel. The first, which I have heard many, many times in the last several months, is that there is a powerful pro-Israel lobby - sometimes it is called a "Jewish Lobby" - that has had tremendous success in persuading both the public and the government of the U.S. to support Israel. This lobby influences - some say 'controls' - our elected officials, through campaign contributions and other means of influencing elections, and it has prominent representatives or allies in the mainstream media, both reporters and columnists - opinion makers - who regularly produce pro-Israel propaganda. In it's most extreme form, this theory holds that U.S. foreign policy has been "captured" or perhaps even "taken hostage" by the pro-Israel lobby, or by the government of Israel itself.
This view, which I'll just call the "Israeli Lobby Theory", has some substantial plausibility. And indeed I want to make clear that there are elements of truth in this theory. Large segments of the organized Jewish community in this country are actively (or passively) involved in both propagandizing the U.S. public regarding the conflict in Palestine/Israel, provides financial support for candidates that unquestioningly support U.S. military assistance to Israel, and equally important, assist in suppressing dissent and imposing a substantial cost on those who speak out and oppose Israeli crimes. And indeed there are many reporters and pundits who provide a powerful propaganda function in support of the reactionary elements within Israel. Some of these reporters and columnists are Jewish, and some of them are not.
The second theory for why the U.S. supports Israel's militarist aggression and the continued occupation of Palestinian land looks to the principles that drive U.S. foreign policy. This second theory is sometimes called the "Strategic Asset" theory. This theory holds that the reason for U.S. support for Israel lies in the role that Israel plays in U.S. planning and strategy directed towards controlling the resources of the Middle East: oil and the capital generated by that oil.
But it is not only with respect to the petroleum resources of the Middle East that Israel plays a strategic role in U.S. foreign policy, and we can see that if we review Israel's own foreign policy with respect to other parts of the world, perhaps most dramatically in Central American through the 1980s, when Israel provided both weapons and training for some of the most ruthless mass murderers in the hemisphere at a time when the U.S. was blocked from doing so by Congressional bans, for example bans on training and arms to the Guatemalan generals who were then carrying out a brutal genocidal war against the indigenous population.
So it is not only that Israel performs a function for the U.S. in the Middle East, but of course it's most important function is its role in the Middle East. This second theory holds that the reason for U.S. support for Israel lies in the function that Israel performs in the service of U.S. policy aims in the Middle East. Of course this second theory does not imply that there is no pro-Israel lobby, nor does it deny the importance and effectiveness of that lobby, but it does suggest that we are kidding ourselves if we think that this lobby explains why the U.S. behaves as it does in this case.
Finally, I'll be talking a bit about other cases of U.S. support for genocidal governments which I believe provide a much more realistic view of the character of U.S. foreign policy, and further support the strategic asset theory in contrast to the pro-Israel lobby theory.
As to the question of whether it is anti-Semitic to criticize Israel, I am first inclined to say that the suggestion is too ridiculous to deserve an answer. But since this has become such an effective means for suppressing dissent on U.S. support for Israel's worst crimes, let's just touch on one recent event that bears on this question.
Conservative estimates (Associated Press, May 11, 2002) of a peace rally in Tel Aviv this week place the number of Israeli's marching for an end to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza at between 50,000 and 60,000. Can it be anti-Semitic to express our solidarity with those Israelis marching in Tel Aviv? Obviously not. We may of course extend this sentiment to include support for the growing number of refuseniks (Israeli reservists who are refusing to serve in the occupied territories), more and more of whom are being jailed for their courageous act of resistance to the growth of fascism in Israel.
Here in the United States, there is an organized segment of the Jewish Community that has for decades claimed to speak for American Jews, all American Jews. They claim to be supporters of Israel, but in truth they have been supporters of the most retrograde, militarist and expansionist tendencies and elements within Israel, with terrible consequences for all peoples of the region. There is no doubt that this community, the organized, or perhaps we might call it the establishment Jewish community here in the United States, has been extremely effective in lobbying on behalf of their particular vision for the state of Israel. The rise of Ariel Sharon, the Butcher of Beirut (and now the Butcher of Jenin), is one consequence of their blind and unquestioning "support". But they do not in fact represent American Jews. Certainly they do not represent all American Jews.
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