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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.

Will Seaman:

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.
Jewsih-American support for Israel 17.May.2002 06:45

Mike stepbystepfarm@shaysnet.com

This is perhaps the result of "polarization" of the issue. By and large the American Jewish population is not particularly happy with they perceive as Israeli excesses. But, if the choices are restricted to just two, if the debate in America is polarized to either you support the Israelis or you support the Palestinians the American Jews will support Israel. That's simply how a "tribe" works.

And their influence is huge because within the American political tradition of "bargaining" between interest groups, what you have to consider is not just numbers but how concentrated are their desires (as a group they want little else) and whether they would "trade support" with almost any other group in exchange.

Instead of attempting to "polarize", the American progressive community should be trying to make this debate about solutions to the conflict which would the American Jews would find acceptable (and therefore which they would not oppose).

Please understand something, this is NOT about a propoganda battle to win American "opinion" because "opinion" doesn't control American politicians, only issues felt very strongly, issues for which one would be willing to sacrifice other issues in exchange. Issues so important to you that you will make your decision whether to vote for or against a candidate based upon this one issue alone, and how he or she stands on other issues won't affect that decision. Issues that you care about not only for today but tommorrow, next month, next year, next election and the one after that.

If the American progressive community instead wishes to change US support for Israel WITHOUT regard for what the American Jews would consider acceptable, be very clear about one thing. It might be possible, but the price of success would be the sacrifice of most other progressive issues. You have to understand how this would play out in American politics. As your success was increasing, interest group after interest group would approach the American Jews in effect saying "our price for continued support for Israel is this thing that WE want" -- you drop opposition to drilling the Arctic Wildlife Preserve or you drop opposion to "right to work" laws, or you drop your oppostition to tax breaks for our particular industry -- whatever, and if that's the price they will pay it. So before starting the polarization game, better consider carefully if "justice for the Palestinians" is worth the price. It is precisely because I do care about these other progressive issues that I hope we can come up with a better solution than direct conflict.

hello 20.May.2002 20:23

my name

Palestine never existed in history. Prove me wrong
by Uri • Monday May 20, 2002 at 05:36 AM

Great article below

The History and Meaning of "Palestine" and "Palestinians"

Presented by: A Time To Speak "There is no such thing as a Palestinian Arab nation. Palestine is a name the Romans gave to Eretz Yisrael with the express purpose of infuriating the Jews. Why should we use the spiteful name meant to humiliate us?
The British chose to call the land they mandated Palestine, and the Arabs picked it up as their nation's supposed ancient name, though they couldn't even pronounce it correctly and turned it into Falastin a fictional entity." —Golda Meir quoted by Sarah Honig, Jerusalem Post, 25 November 1995

Palestine has never existed as an autonomous entity. There is no language known as Palestinian. There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There has never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians. Palestinians are Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians (another recent invention), Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, etc.
Keep in mind that the Arabs control 99.9 percent of the Middle East lands. Israel represents one-tenth of one percent of the landmass. But that's too much for the Arabs. They want it all. And that is ultimately what the fighting in Israel is about today. No matter how many land concessions the Israelis make, it will never be enough. — from "Myths of the Middle East", Joseph Farah, Arab-American editor and journalist, WorldNetDaily, 11 October 2000

From the end of the Jewish state in antiquity to the beginning of British rule, the area now designated by the name Palestine was not a country and had no frontiers, only administrative boundaries. — Professor Bernard Lewis, Commentary Magazine, January 1975
Talk and writing about Israel and the Middle East feature the nouns "Palestine" and Palestinian", and the phrases "Palestinian territory" and even "Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory". All too often, these terms are used with regard to their historical or geographical meaning, so that the usage creates illusions rather than clarifies reality.

What Does "Palestine" Mean?

It has never been the name of a nation or state. It is a geographical term, used to designate the region at those times in history when there is no nation or state there.

The Philistines were not Arabs, they were not Semites. They had no connection with Arabia or Arabs.

The word itself derives from "Peleshet", a name that appears frequently in the Bible and has come into English as "Philistine". The name began to be used in the Thirteenth Century BCE, for a wave of migrant "Sea Peoples" who came from the area of the Aegean Sea and the Greek Islands and settled on the southern coast of the land of Canaan. There they established five independent city-states (including Gaza) on a narrow strip of land known as Philistia. The Greeks and Romans called it "Palastina".

The Philistines were not Arabs, they were not Semites. They had no connection, ethnic, linguistic or historical with Arabia or Arabs. The name "Falastin" that Arabs today use for "Palestine" is not an Arabic name. It is the Arab pronunciation of the Greco-Roman "Palastina" derived from the Peleshet.

How Did the Land of Israel Become "Palestine"?

In the First Century CE, the Romans crushed the independent kingdom of Judea. After the failed rebellion of Bar Kokhba in the Second Century CE, the Roman Emperor Hadrian determined to wipe out the identity of Israel-Judah-Judea. Therefore, he took the name Palastina and imposed it on all the Land of Israel. At the same time, he changed the name of Jerusalem to Aelia Capitolina.

The Romans killed many Jews and sold many more in slavery. Some of those who survived still alive and free left the devastated country, but there was never a complete abandonment of the Land. There was never a time when there were not Jews and Jewish communities, though the size and conditions of those communities fluctuated greatly.

The History of Palestine

Thousands of years before the Romans invented "Palastina" the land had been known as "Canaan". The Canaanites had many tiny city-states, each one at times independent and at times a vassal of an Egyptian or Hittite king. The Canaanites never united into a state.

After the Exodus from Egypt — probably in the Thirteenth Century BCE but perhaps earlier — the Children of Israel settled in the land of Canaan. There they formed first a tribal confederation, and then the Biblical kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and the post-Biblical kingdom of Judea.

Israel-Judah-Judea has the only united, independent, sovereign nation-state that ever existed in "Palestine" west of the Jordan River.

From the beginning of history to this day, Israel-Judah-Judea has the only united, independent, sovereign nation-state that ever existed in "Palestine" west of the Jordan River. (In Biblical times, Ammon, Moab and Edom as well as Israel had land east of the Jordan, but they disappeared in antiquity and no other nation took their place until the British invented Trans-Jordan in the 1920s.)

After the Roman conquest of Judea, "Palastina" became a province of the pagan Roman Empire and then of the Christian Byzantine Empire, and very briefly of the Zoroastrian Persian Empire. In 638 CE, an Arab-Muslim Caliph took Palastina away from the Byzantine Empire and made it part of an Arab-Muslim Empire. The Arabs, who had no name of their own for this region, adopted the Greco-Roman name Palastina, that they pronounced "Falastin".

In that period, much of the mixed population of Palastina converted to Islam and adopted the Arabic language. They were subjects of a distant Caliph who ruled them from his capital, that was first in Damascus and later in Baghdad. They did not become a nation or an independent state, or develop a distinct society or culture.

In 1099, Christian Crusaders from Europe conquered Palestina-Falastin. After 1099, it was never again under Arab rule. The Christian Crusader kingdom was politically independent, but never developed a national identity. It remained a military outpost of Christian Europe, and lasted less than 100 years. Thereafter, Palestine was joined to Syria as a subject Travellers to Palestineprovince first of the Mameluks, ethnically mixed slave-warriors whose center was in Egypt, and then of the Ottoman Turks, whose capital was in Istanbul.

During the First World War, the British took Palestine from the Ottoman Turks. At the end of the war, the Ottoman Empire collapsed and among its subject provinces "Palestine" was assigned to the British, to govern temporarily as a mandate from the League of Nations.

The Jewish National Home

from the Western world left records of what they saw there. The theme throughout their reports is dismal: The land was empty, neglected, abandoned, desolate, fallen into ruins

Nothing there [Jerusalem] to be seen but a little of the old walls which is yet remaining and all the rest is grass, moss and weeds. — English pilgrim in 1590

The country is in a considerable degree empty of inhabitants and therefore its greatest need is of a body of population — British consul in 1857

There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent [valley of Jezreel] — not for 30 miles in either direction. One may ride 10 miles hereabouts and not see 10 human beings.
For the sort of solitude to make one dreary, come to Galilee. Nazareth is for lorn. Jericho lies a moldering ruin. Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and humiliation untenanted by any living creature.

Mark Twain said this, when he visted the land in 1868. A desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds a silent, mournful expanse a desolation. We never saw a human being on the whole route. Hardly a tree or shrub anywhere. Even the olive tree and the cactus, those fast friends of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.

Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes . . . desolate and unlovely. — Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, 1867

Their [the Jews] labors created newer and better conditions and opportunities

The restoration of the "desolate and unlovely" land began in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century with the first Jewish pioneers. Their labors created newer and better conditions and opportunities, which in turn attracted migrants from many parts of the Middle East, both Arabs and others.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917, confirmed by the League of Nations Mandate, commited the British Government to the principle that "His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a Jewish National Home, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object. . . . " It was specified both that this area be open to "close Jewish settlement" and that the rights of all inhabitants already in the country be preserved and protected.

Mandate Palestine originally included all of what is now Jordan, as well as all of what is now Israel, and the territories between them. However, when Great Britain's protιgι Emir Abdullah was forced to leave the ancestral Hashemite domain in Arabia, the British created a realm for him that included all of Manfate Palestine east of the Jordan River. There was no traditional or historic Arab name for this land, so it was called after the river: first Trans-Jordan and later Jordan.

By this political act, that violated the conditions of the Balfour Declaration and the Mandate, the British cut more than 75 percent out of the Jewish National Home. No Jew has ever been permitted to reside in Trans-Jordan/Jordan.

Less than 25 percent then remained of Mandate Palestine, and even in this remnant, the British violated the Balfour and Mandate requirements for a "Jewish National Home" and for "close Jewish settlement". They progressively restricted where Jews could buy land, where they could live, build, farm or work.

After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel was finally able to settle some small part of those lands from which the Jews had been debarred by the British. Successive British governments regularly condemn their settlement as "illegal". In truth, it was the British who had acted illegally in banning Jews from these parts of the Jewish National Home.

Who Is A Palestinian?

During the period of the Mandate, it was the Jewish population that was known as "Palestinians" including those who served in the British Army in World War II.

British policy was to curtail their numbers and progressively limit Jewish immigration. By 1939, the White Paper virtually put an end to admission of Jews to Palestine. This policy was imposed the most stringently at the very time this Home was most desperately needed — after the rise of Nazi power in Europe. Jews who might have developed the empty lands of Palestine and left progeny there, instead died in the gas chambers of Europe or in the seas they were trying to cross to the Promised Land.

At the same time that the British slammed the gates on Jews, they permitted or ignored massive illegal immigration into Western Palestine from Arab countries Jordan, Syria, Egypt, North Africa. In 1939, Winston Churchill noted that "So far from being persecuted, the Arabs have crowded into the country and multiplied . . . ." Exact population statistics may be problematic, but it seems that by 1947 the number of Arabs west of the Jordan River was approximately triple of what it had been in 1900.

The current myth is that these Arabs were long established in Palestine, until the Jews came and "displaced" them. The fact is, that recent Arab immigration into Palestine "displaced" the Jews. That the massive increase in Arab population was very recent is attested by the ruling of the United Nations: That any Arab who had lived in Palestine for two years and then left in 1948 qualifies as a "Palestinian refugees".

Casual use of population statistics for Jews and Arabs in Palestine rarely consider how the proportions came to be. One factor was the British policy of keeping out Jews while bringing in Arabs. Another factor was the violence used to kill or drive out Jews even where they had been long established.

For one example: The Jewish connection with Hebron goes back to Abraham, and there has been an Israelite/Jewish community there since Joshua long before it was King David's first capital. In 1929, Arab rioters with the passive consent of the British — killed or drove out virtually the entire Jewish community.

It is now often proposed as a principle of international law and morality that all places that the British and the Arabs rendered Judenrein must forever remain so.

For another example: In 1948, Trans-Jordan seized much of Judea and Samaria (which they called The West Bank) and East Jerusalem and the Old City. They killed or drove out every Jew.

It is now often proposed as a principle of international law and morality that all places that the British and the Arabs rendered Judenrein must forever remain so. In contrast, Israel eventually allotted 17 percent of Mandate Palestine has a large and growing population of Arab citizens.

From Palestine To Israel

What was to become of "Palestine" after the Mandate? This question was taken up by various British and international commissions and other bodies, culminating with the United Nations in 1947. During the various deliberations, Arab officials, spokesmen and writers expressed their views on "Palestine".

"There is no such country as Palestine. 'Palestine' is a term the Zionists invented. Our country was for centuries part of Syria. 'Palestine' is alien to us. It is the Zionists who introduced it." — Local Arab leader to British Peel Commission, 1937

"There is no such thing as Palestine in history, absolutely not" — Professor Philip Hitti, Arab historian to Anglo-American Committee of Inquiry, 1946

"It is common knowledge that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria." — Ahmed Shukairy, United Nations Security Council, 1956
By 1948, the Arabs had still not yet discovered their ancient nation of Falastin. When they were offered half of Palestine west of the Jordan River for a state, the offer was violently rejected. Six Arab states launched a war of annihilation against the nascent State of Israel. Their purpose was not to establish an independent Falastin. Their aim was to partition western Palestine amongst themselves.

They did not succeed in killing Israel, but Trans-Jordan succeeded in taking Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and East Jerusalem, killing or driving out all the Jews who had lived in those places, and banning Jews of all nations from Jewish holy places. Egypt succeeded in taking the Gaza Strip. These two Arab states held these lands until 1967. Then they launched another war of annihilation against Israel, and in consequence lost the lands they had taken by war in 1948.

During those 19 years, 1948-1967, Jordan and Egypt never offered to surrendar those lands to make up an independent state of Falastin. The "Palestinians" never sought it. Nobody in the world ever suggested it, much less demanded it.

Finally, in 1964, the Palestine Liberation Movement was founded. Ahmed Shukairy, who less than 10 years earlier had denied the existence of Palestine, was its first chairman. Its charter proclaimed its sole purpose to be the destruction of Israel. To that end it helped to precipitate the Arab attack on Israel in 1967.

The outcome of that attack then inspired an alteration in public rhetoric. As propaganda, it sounds better to speak of the liberation of Falastin than of the destruction of Israel. Much of the world, governments and media and public opinion, accept virtually without question of serious analysis the new-sprung myth of an Arab nation of Falastin, whose territory is unlawfully occupied by the Jews.

Since the end of World War I, the Arabs of the Middle East and North Africa have been given independent states in 99.5 percent of the land they claimed. Lord Balfour once expressed his hope that when the Arabs had been given so much, they would "not begrudge" the Jews the "little notch" promised to them.