How the Lobby Enables Israeli Policy: Views of an Israeli in America
by Miko PeledModerator Delinda Hanley: I’m Delinda Hanley, news editor and executive director of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, co-founded 33 years ago by Ambassador Andrew Killgore (please stand up) and my father, Richard Curtiss. Our previous panelists talked about the Israel Lobby’s effect on political discourse in the United States. This panel will grapple with the question: “Is the Lobby Good for Israel?”
Miko Peled is an Israeli writer and activist living in the U.S. He was born and raised in Jerusalem. Driven by a personal family tragedy to explore Palestine, its people and their narrative, he has written a book about his journey called The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. The book describes Peled’s family history since his grandparents immigrated to Palestine in the early 20th century. Miko’s maternal grandfather was a signer of the Israeli Declaration of Independence; His father, Matti, was a general in the Israeli army. Check out Miko’s blog, Tear Down the Wall, at <mikopeled.com>.
Miko Peled: Thank you very much. Thank you all for being here. It’s a real honor to speak here and to be on this excellent panel along with Gideon [Levy] and Huwaida [Arraf]. I see that Congressman Paul Findley joined us, and it’s nice to see you, Congressman, once again. Let’s give him a hand. Many friends and other activists and people who are really crucial to the issue of Palestine, and of course the Washington Report, which has been vital in providing information in real time about this issue.
The question that was posed to me was “Is the Lobby Good for Israel?”
I would answer this with an unequivocal "yes." Those of you who have read their book [The Israel Lobby], Mearsheimer and Walt argue that, ”No lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.”
They continue to say, “AIPAC's success is due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it…AIPAC makes sure that its friends get strong financial support from the myriad pro-Israel PACs. Those seen as hostile to Israel, on the other hand, can be sure that AIPAC will direct campaign contributions to their opponents....The bottom line is that AIPAC, which is a de facto agent of a foreign government, has a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress. Open debate about U.S. policy towards Israel does not occur there, even though that policy has important consequences for the entire world.”
One could end the discussion probably here, with the above statements, on its own, but I think this important issue deserves a lengthier discussion.
AIPAC and the state of Israel, which benefits from AIPAC’s work, owes much of its success to its predecessors—a group of Zionist diplomats who began as early as the turn of the last century, and by the 1920s were traveling extensively around the world, lobbying for the Zionist project and for the funding and implementation of the project—basically the project being the colonization of Palestine by European Jews. Without the huge efforts and diplomatic talent of these people—who included Chaim Weizmann, Moshe Sharett, my own grandfather, Avraham Katznelson, later on Abba Eban and Golda Meir, to name but a few—without these people and their work, Zionism could not have enjoyed the success it had in the years leading to the Zionist occupation of Palestine and the establishment of the state of Israel.
The lobbying by the early Zionist diplomats—all of whom were well-spoken, highly educated, completely secular, they were all white Europeans and looked nothing like traditional “Jews” that the world was accustomed to seeing—paved the way to AIPAC and its tentacles here in the U.S. and in other countries in the West, where Zionists needed support.
In order to appreciate AIPAC’s enormous contribution to Israel, I think we need to do two things: We need understand what the organization is ultimately selling, and understand its strategy.
The key to Israel’s legitimacy is the Zionist narrative, and AIPAC is selling the narrative in order to maintain the legitimacy. The Zionist narrative in this country is not only accepted, it is treated with religious fervor. It is seen as biblical and indisputable. One does not need to convince Americans that Israel is always right and that the Zionist narrative is true, because they receive this with their mother’s milk, quite literally.
What is this narrative? It is a mythical story that turned the history of Palestine from 1947 until the present time on its head. The brutal ethnic cleansing of Palestine, the establishment of a racist apartheid state which offers exclusive rights to Jewish people in Palestine, was sold here as a story of heroism and revival. Thanks to AIPAC, the horrific brutal destruction of Palestine—from 1947 to the present day—is virtually unknown in this country.
That is in itself an impressive accomplishment, without which Israel could not have survived. And there is no better proof of that success than the reaction here in the U.S. to the 51-day massacre of innocents in Gaza that took place in the summer of 2014. More than 2,000 people were murdered in cold blood in Gaza on prime time, yet we may safely say that there was a consensus in this country that this massacre was not only acceptable and justifiable, but also necessary as a means of self-defense. To achieve this is nothing short of magic, and AIPAC was able to pull this through.
When Israel, through AIPAC and the countless organizations that work with it and through it, talks about a threat to Israeli security, they mean a threat to the narrative. Since the early 1950s Israel has been claiming that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip pose a threat to its security, indeed to its very existence. The Israeli army has been attacking in Gaza and exacting a heavy toll on civilians in Gaza for nearly seven decades. Yet, surprisingly, there has never been a tank, a fighter jet, or a regular military remotely capable of threatening the state of Israel. Why, then, do we hear so much about a security threat, when now as in the past the Gaza Strip is made up of mostly poor refugees? It is the narrative. The existence of over one million refugees in Gaza, the majority of whom are under 18 years of age, is a threat to the narrative, and therefore a threat to the legitimacy of the state of Israel. And therein lies the threat to Israeli existence.
AIPAC has been able to successfully sell the myth of the existential threat to the American public. We constantly hear about the threats to Israeli existence, though clearly there has never been one. The threat of Gaza, the threat of Palestinians everywhere, the threat of Iraq, the threat of Iran and the threat of SJP, as we heard earlier, were all fabricated in order to allow Israel to maintain its brutal hold on Palestine and its people and to receive foreign aid—though clearly, as a developed state, it does not need it, and should not qualify for it.
The myth of Israel as a democracy has no factual basis, yet it, too, has become an indisputable fact. Israel has from the very beginning defined itself as a racist apartheid state that prefers Jews. No attempt has been made to hide this fact, and for almost seven decades Israeli lawmakers have made it their business to develop the state for the Jewish population at the expense of the Palestinian population, be they citizens, residents or simply people living without any legal definition at all. Palestinians have been pushed out of every aspect of the life of the state from the very beginning, not to mention the fact that they were pushed out of the country and not allowed to return. The web of laws that govern the lives of Palestinians, whether they live in Jaffa, Haifa, Jerusalem, the Naqab desert, Ramallah, Jenin or Khan Younis, is too complicated to even attempt to understand, yet regardless of where in Palestine Palestinians reside, they are governed by the state of Israel under laws that are vastly different than the ones that govern the lives of Jewish Israelis.
And still, we hear that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.
Israeli occupation of the West Bank, which took place in June of 1967, is sold as though it was the result of an inevitable war, a response to an existential threat at the end of which Israelis prevailed, and the “territories” are the “spoils of war.” But in fact, the conquest of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip was the final stage of the occupation of Palestine, and all were planned far in advance. The war of 1967 concluded the occupation of Palestine and the creation of a single state over all of Palestine, with exclusive rights for Jewish people. What is Jewish about this, as Alice Rothchild asked earlier, I don’t know. Most Jewish people do not live and have never lived there, and today, the majority of those who live there are not Jewish, and Israel certainly does not espouse any Jewish values. Yet, we hear that Israel is the Jewish State.
None of this could have been achieved without a strong and influential lobby.
AIPAC is engaged in “Convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.” As I mentioned earlier, there is no need to convince Americans that Israel is right because, as I said earlier, they receive it with their mother’s milk. So much so, that in cases where the interests of the two countries collide, the demand is always for the U.S. to adjust its policy so as to align with Israeli interests, and not the other way around. And we saw an example of this recently about a month ago, with Netanyahu’s very successful campaign stop here at the Capitol and with the Iran issue.
One has to wonder: how is it that a false history is kept alive in the face of clear evidence to it's being untrue?
You can imagine my surprise when I looked at my son’s high school history book—my boys went to school in San Diego—AP history book, and found that the entire chapter regarding the ancient Hebrews is taken from the Old Testament. My first reaction was to make sure I was looking at an actual history book. My second reaction was to check the beginning of the book and see if they were also teaching creationism—because they may as well have been. In a country where there is a serious debate over whether creationism should be taught in school or evolution, the Zionist narrative, which claims its roots in biblical stories of the ancient Hebrews, is taught as history, although little to no historical proof exists to substantiate it.
This sort of influence can only be achieved through years and years of hard work—an effort to instill the narrative as a value and not just as an historical episode. This can only be done, again, by a lobby that knows how to influence a society.
Along this vein, AIPAC and the other Zionist groups, all of whom are in the business of selling the Zionist narrative, engage in community development and service activities that root them well in communities across the country. Validation and acceptance of the Zionist narrative are an integral part of almost all of these efforts, as well as the delegitimization of any Palestinian claims to a legitimate narrative which contradicts the Zionist story. The Zionist narrative is a value that goes hand in hand with democracy, freedom and tolerance, while the Palestinian narrative is associated with lies, hatred, violence and bigotry.
Today we see serious cracks in the wall that AIPAC was able to build around the issue of Palestine. It has been severely weakened due to the diligence and tremendous work being done, like we heard earlier, on campuses by Students for Justice in Palestine. For the first time we see a change in the conversation on Palestine, and the level of the debate on the issue has been elevated, again thanks to SJP.
So it would seem that the big bad lobby, AIPAC, has finally met its match with Students for Justice in Palestine on campuses.
Still, we see tolerance workshops and initiatives to weed out racism and anti-Semitism, and this was done recently at UCLA, where one of my sons is a junior. These take place in schools and universities all across the U.S. Within these seemingly benign and positive initiatives, the Zionist narrative and the delegitimization of Palestinians are pursued with vigilance.
The persecution of Palestinians in the U.S., which is a crucial element in the survival of the Zionist narrative and the legitimacy of Israel, is also the work of a well-oiled lobby. I think nothing demonstrates this better than the closure, prosecution, trial and convictions of the Holy Land Foundation and the five men who operated it. This could not have been achieved without tremendous behind-the-scenes work and years of preparation. It was one of the clearest cases of injustice in the history of the American judicial system, and it has the Israeli Lobby fingerprints all over it. The Holy Land Foundation did not engage in terrorist activities, nor did they fund or support terrorism in any way. This was made absolutely clear in their trials. Yet five men were convicted and are currently serving prison sentences of 20 to 65 years in maximum-security jails.
Why was this necessary? Because a respected, successful and honest Muslim Palestinian charity is a threat to the narrative and to the legitimacy of the state of Israel. So the Holy Land Foundation, its operators, its major contributors, and an entire community had to be taken down, and though it took almost two decades and two trials, this mission was accomplished.
AIPAC’s success is due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it.
It starts, in fact, at a much lower level. Members of small and seemingly insignificant city councils, as well as large ones, are invited to junkets to see Israel. Connections to AIPAC are developed very early in a politician's career, so that every aspiring politician in the U.S. understands that supporting Israel—even if means turning a blind eye to terrible crimes, even if it means giving Netanyahu, who stands at the head of a racist, brutal regime and who oversaw the cold-blooded murder of thousands of civilians in Gaza just a few months ago—again, even if it means receiving him with a standing ovation, it is necessary for success in American politics.
Maintaining Israeli legitimacy and keeping the narrative alive is the key. It is the most important strategic objective for Israel, and therefore it is so for AIPAC. We can clearly say that AIPAC is and always has been not only good, but crucial to the existence of the state of Israel.
Thank you very much.