How to Tame Lobbies Like AIPAC
by Paul Findley
Moderator Janet McMahon: Many Americans first learned about the Israel lobby when they read our next speaker’s groundbreaking book, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, first published in 1985. It subsequently was translated into Arabic, German, Urdu, Malaysian and Indonesian, so one can truthfully say that the word has spread!
Paul Findley served the 20th District of Illinois as its Republican representative from 1961 to 1983. He became involved in Middle East issues after helping a constituent who was imprisoned in South Yemen. As he heard complaints about U.S. bias in the region, and began to learn the reason behind that bias, he became a target of the Israel lobby in this country.
Paul Findley lost his election in 1982 after his congressional district was redrawn—another tactic used to eliminate critics of Israel. Since then, he has continued speaking out: writing numerous books, speaking to audiences around the world, and co-founding the Council for the National Interest.
It is indeed an honor to introduce Congressman Paul Findley.
Paul Findley: Ladies and gentlemen, I’m very pleased to have this opportunity, a special treat to hear the others on the panel. And I’d like to recommend first of all that, Nick [Rahall], you reconsider and run for election again, and I’ll either support you or oppose you, whichever will help you the more.
I congratulate the people who founded the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and those who have survived and have initiated what I hope will become an annual conference like this.
I’m delighted to be here. I appreciate the cooperation of my son Craig. I couldn’t travel without him, so he took off three days to enable us, me, to be here. And I appreciate the contribution to public understanding of the Arab world that I believe was the main motivation of Dick Curtiss and Andy Killgore in starting the American Educational Trust and the magazine, the bi-monthly, that is sponsoring this event. They have served their country well, and I thank the initiative represented here in this room is a good one that I hope will be repeated in the years to come.
In recent months, the U.S. government has displayed on international television for all to see the shameful subservience to Israel and its lobby. That’s what brings me here tonight.
Turn your thoughts back to last [summer]. The thundering assault on Gaza, that tiny open-air prison, where people have to struggle just to live from one day to the other. The toll of death: 2,200. The total injured: 11,000 more. Shattered schools, hospitals, almost everything that made up the struggling economy of Gaza was shattered in just a few hours. World leaders thundered their opposition, all except one leader, and that was Mr. Obama. A reporter finally accosted him and said, “What do you say about the Gaza war?” I was watching television that night, and I was struck by the grim countenance of President Obama. All he said was, the Israelis have the right of self-defense. Period. Nothing else. It seemed to me that that was all he was permitted to say by a higher authority. And no reporter pressed him for elaboration. To me that’s sad, that the reporters of the major media in this country are just as overwhelmed and paralyzed by the Israel lobby as our government seems to be most of the time.
A month ago, as Nick said, an amazing event took place on Capitol Hill. And I know that Nick Rahall feels as I do and Jim Moran feels the same way, that there is something sacred in the House of Representatives chamber. It’s one of the cherished heirlooms of our republic. The symbol, if there is one single outstanding pre-eminent symbol of liberty and free speech, is the House chamber. And it was a sad moment for me when I realized that the lobby for Israel has sufficient power to gain control of the House chamber and to put on what is nothing more than a campaign speech for the benefit of Netanyahu 10 days before his bid for a fourth term. Our government cooperated in that desecration of that heirloom of our great republic, the House chamber.
And as a background for this choreographed performance, 90 percent of the Senate and 90 percent of the House showed up to take part as a part of the cheering section. It was a rude and crude moment for our country. The massive worldwide television audience that day received shocking evidence of AIPAC’s towering political clout over our government. I can’t see it any other way. It was done in precise defiance of the U.S. president, done in defiance of the presidency itself. It makes me wonder what overcame the Republicans in the House of Representatives to bypass tradition and decorum.
But it’s a pity also that our president had not sent a word notifying Netanyahu that he would not be welcome in America until after election day. It didn’t happen. You know, do any of you remember the Canadian episode that involved Charles de Gaulle, the president of France, and Quebec? The French province in Canada was all stirred up about the possibility of secession of Quebec, and Charles de Gaulle, a man I admire intensely, made a big mistake. He decided to rally the troops, and he was on a boat going up the St. Lawrence River to Quebec to take part in the celebration. A lesser person, the prime minister of Canada, said, “Mr. Charles de Gaulle, turn back, this is not the right time for the president of France to make an appearance.” What a marvel that was, because Charles de Gaulle immediately turned around. He didn’t get on Quebec’s soil, he got on the Lawrence, turned around, went back. As he should, and as Mr. [Lester] Pearson directed him to do.
Quite a difference in the reaction of the president, or the prime minister, of Canada, and the president of the United States. And if Obama had ordered Netanyahu not to come until after election day, I’m sure that the masses of the American people would shout with joy. But it didn’t happen. AIPAC even then showed its immense power over our government. That’s the tip of the iceberg. The show on Capitol Hill and the silence of President Obama about the desecration of Gaza.
And yet, I saw on television just the other day, Netanyahu said, “I respect the president of the United States, I respect the presidency of America.” What a lie. What a contemptible lie to come from a head of a government.
The tips of the iceberg give no hint of the suffocating influence of the lobby for Israel across America. It’s as if a blanket, a suffocating blanket, had been spread across the entire nation. It’s not just what happens in Washington, what happens on Capitol Hill, [but] what happens in other places.
I doubt that many people realize the extent of the paralyzing influence that reaches across the nation. Not just in big cities, but in small towns and hamlets. There are people that are willing to spend time to guard the gates, so to speak, for Israel. Everyday, they’re on the alert for anyone who might say something or do something that would show disapproval of Israel. These agents exist by the hundreds and hundreds throughout the country. And, of course, they are concentrated heavily as well in Washington.
I’ll give you just one example. Harold Saunders, a great diplomat that I worked with quite closely over the years, told me that if he wanted to get a letter to the secretary of state, his boss, that dealt with misbehavior by Israel. He said, “I have to sit down, type the letter myself, go to the secretary’s office, and hand it to him personally. If I would put the letter in the usual desk-to-desk transition, up to the top of the State Department building, it would have emerged emasculated so thoroughly that the intention would never appear.” Imagine that. Couldn’t depend on a letter emerging, arriving as intended to the secretary of state. He was very upset when he told me that.
There are hundreds of people in our government who feel that they have a duty to guard Israel against any mischief or any harm. They aren’t paid. They aren’t paid by AIPAC. They’re paid by the taxpayers, but they feel this total obligation to defend Israel—and I, in a sense, admire people like that, but it has resulted in the destruction of free speech about Israel and the U.S. throughout the nation. This is a rare occasion, here tonight, of people openly discussing the misbehavior of the state of Israel, criticizing the lobby for the state of Israel. It’s a remarkable occasion because you would search the city over and you won’t find another like this. And it’s a great credit to the leadership of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs that this meeting is being held.
Now, they act out of fear, they fear that Israel will be hurt. Others act out of fear for different reasons. They fear that they might be accused, even by indirection, of being anti-Semitic. The charge of anti-Semitism is still the most powerful instrument of intimidation that Israel’s lobby has. And it exists among these people that feel duty bound to protect Israel every step of the way.
And if you think back about your home country, your home village in the past, you can be sure that someone in every village, every city, every hamlet, is there to protect the interests of the state of Israel. And it’s a very scary scene, one that is not receiving any attention in our government at all. It’s not fear of bodily harm that causes people to watch what they say about Israel. It’s the fear that they might be considered, a border case at least, of anti-Semitism. And most of the people in this country still believe that that’s the worst stain any person could have on his or her reputation, anti-Semitism.
The lobby is something more than just a suffocating blanket across the country. It’s something more than a lobby that has enough moxie, enough hubris, to get things done on Capitol Hill and in the White House. It is also a large, effective lobby, as Nick mentioned. And it is one of a small group of giant Washington-based lobbies that have had the effect of destroying true representative government in this country. They are the power that makes big decisions on public policy, not the people who are elected from their home districts in the states to serve in Congress. It’s not that group that holds the real power. It’s a group of unelected people who manage big lobbies that have big money to spend in order to control what’s done as public policy.
And, as Nick [Rahall] has pointed out, that’s a great difficulty to overcome, because the Supreme Court has declared that the right of free speech extends even to corporations, and these corporations, like others in these lobbies, need not disclose who they are or what they’re spending their billions on.
I conclude that the only real hope is a constitutional amendment that will authorize the Congress to limit campaign spending. And the key provision of the amendment that I would recommend is one that declares that no contributor can send money into a constituency unless that contributor is himself or herself a domiciled resident of that constituency and is able to swear that he or she has been domiciled in that very constituency for two years. Otherwise, no qualification. I don’t know of anything short of a constitutional amendment that can correct the terrible menace of lobbies based here in this city. They are running the country today and they’re going to run it until we find a way legally to restore true representative government in our society.
Thank you very much.
I thank you so much for that response. I came here tonight hoping that I had one good speech left. I’ll soon be 94 and I guess I’ve come pretty close to that point. Let me close by quoting my hero, another Illinois man who became president. He said, “Fellow citizens, you cannot escape history. The fiery trial through which we’ve passed will light us down to the very latest generation. No insignificance or significance can spare a one of us. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth.”
Thank you very much.