Any discussion of the relationship between Zionism and the “power elite” in Western countries must begin with a qualification of meanings, as these terms have been used in ways that imply multiple definitions. For the purposes of this discussion, the term “Zionism” is meant to describe an outlook that prioritizes the defense and promotion of the state of Israel as a bastion of Jewish nationalism, and which more broadly and implicitly favors a Jewish ethno-nationalism that spans the spectrum of the Jewish diaspora. The term “power elite” is being used in the manner suggested by the sociologist C. Wright Mills, who coined the term in order to describe those holding the dominant positions in the dominant institutions in society, such as government, business, industry, finance, military, education, religion, and the mass media. The central question involved in the analysis of this relationship is the matter of to what degree political decisions are shaped by the influence of Zionist sympathies. The evidence indicates that Zionists exercise considerable influence over the process of political decision-making in many Western countries, and particularly in the United States.
"[T]he U.S.-Israel relationship is the epitome of the kind of 'entangling relationships' motivated by 'passionate attachments' which were warned against by America’s first President."
Mearsheimer, Walt, and the Israel Lobby
In 2006, John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, published a paper titled “The Israel Lobby,” which defined the Israel lobby as “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” The following year the authors published an important book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. It provoked a storm of controversy, including predictable accusations of anti-Semitism and claims that the authors were promoting age-old fantasies about a “Jewish conspiracy” of the kind reminiscent of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
And yet, the scholars specifically stated that “the boundaries of the Israel lobby cannot be identified precisely,” that “not every American with a favorable attitude to Israel is part of the lobby,” that not all American Jews were a part of or sympathetic to the Israel lobby, that the lobby also included non-Jews such as the Christian Zionists, and overlapped extensively with the neoconservatives, whose ranks include both Jews and non-Jews. The Israel lobby, Mearsheimer and Walt did insist, “has a core consisting of organizations whose declared purpose is to encourage the U.S. government and the American public to provide material aid to Israel and to support its government’s policies, as well as influential individuals for whom these goals are also a top priority.”
James Petras and the Power of Israel in the United States
The Power of Israel in the United States, another important work analyzing Israel’s influence over American foreign policy, was also published in 2006, by James Petras, a professor of sociology at Binghamton University. While Mearsheimer and Walt regard themselves as foreign policy “realists,” and are within the mainstream of American foreign policy scholarship, Petras is a scholar of the radical left and a longtime critic of U.S. imperialism. Petras argued extensively that the Israel lobby has embedded itself in virtually the entire range of U.S. institutions, including government, business, academia, the media, and organized religion (particularly the zealously pro-Israel Christian Zionist contingent among American evangelical fundamentalist Protestants).
By the early 2000s, Petras noted, sixty percent of the fundraising for the Democratic Party had originated from Jewish-organized or funded Political Action Committees, while thirty-five percent of Republican fundraising likewise originated from Jewish sources. No other lobbying network in U.S. politics, Petras further argued, exercises comparable influence, not even major industrial or business interests such as the pharmaceutical industry, the oil industry, or agribusiness firms. The reason that pro-Israel interests have been able to obtain such power has to do with the concentration of American Jews within the ranks of the elite. While Jews are only slightly more than two percent of the U.S. population, between one quarter and one third of the wealthiest families and individuals are Jewish, including Jewish billionaires with extraordinary amounts of power and influence. The Jerusalem Post, in a 2016 article, stated that fifty percent of all donations to the Democratic Party, and twenty-five percent of all donations to the Republican Party, come from Jewish sources.
J.J. Goldberg and Jewish Power in the United States
In 1996, the liberal Jewish author J.J. Goldberg, currently the editor-at-large of The Forward, published Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment. In this work, Goldberg enthusiastically celebrated the potency of Jewish influence in the United States. In the book’s introduction, Goldberg candidly described the role of Jewish power in American politics:
As for concrete evidence of the Jewish community's clout, it is not hard to find. There is, to begin with, the $3 billion foreign-aid package sent each year to Israel. Fully one fifth of America's foreign aid has gone to a nation of barely 5 million souls, one tenth of 1 percent of the world's population. Analysts commonly credited this imbalance to the power of the Jewish lobby.
Coupled with financial aid is the familiar fact of Washington's staunch support for Israel in the diplomatic arena, at what sometimes seemed like great cost to America's own interests. And there have been threats to those in Washington who opposed Israeli policy: the senators and representatives sent down to defeat, like Charles Percy and Paul Findley, for defying the Jewish lobby.
But American Jewish power does not begin and end with Israel. Even more dramatic than foreign aid, perhaps, was the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Passed by Congress in 1974, it made U.S.-Soviet trade relations conditional on the Soviets' treatment of their Jewish minority. The amendment remained on the books even after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, effectively giving the Jewish community a veto over America's commercial links with Moscow.
Jewish power is felt, too, in a wide variety of domestic spheres: immigration and refugee policy, civil rights and affirmative action, abortion rights, church-state separation issues, and much more. Local Jewish communities from New York to Los Angeles have become major players on their own turf, helping to make the rules and call the shots on matters from health care to zoning.
Yes, by the end of the twentieth century, American Jewry has come to be viewed around the globe as a serious player in the great game of politics, able to influence events, to define and achieve important goals, to reward its friends and punish its enemies.
To be sure, plenty of political interest groups representing all kinds of opinions on issues also play important roles in American politics, and this certainly includes Jewish-oriented ones. There is nothing inherently wrong with this; it is simply a manifestation of the way a modern, pluralistic, liberal democracy works. The relevant question, however, is the degree to which Jewish power and influence translates into American institutional policies being guided by organized Zionist objectives.
The Mass Media
The question of Jewish ownership and influence in the mass media is a controversial one, and the alleged Jewish control of the media is a point that is consistently promoted by genuine anti-Semites, ranging from neo-Nazis to Islamic fundamentalists to a range of conspiracy theorists. Certainly, Jewish presence in the media is greatly disproportional to the actual number of Jews among the wider public, and this long has been the case. In 1988, for example, author Neal Gabler published An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood. The book documented the role of Jewish movie producers and film moguls, many of whom were Eastern European immigrants, in shaping the American film industry. Regarding claims that “Jews control the media,” the Jewish left-wing scholar and pro-Palestinian activist Jeffrey Blankfort argues:
As to Jews owning the media (as opposed to "the Jews)" being a myth…that "myth" has legs...[T]he owners of the Washington Post, Newsweek, the New York Times, Boston Globe, NY Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and a number of others happen to be Jewish, as are the owners of CBS, ABC, and all of the major Hollywood studios. They don’t all have the same politics but they do share the same religious background. As for Rupert Murdoch (owner of Fox and the Wall Street Journal), he considers himself to be an honorary Jew, having received numerous awards as a friend to Israel by major Jewish organizations and he has openly stated his unqualified support for Israeli government policy many times and his Wall Street Journal certainly reflects that.
Likewise, a Jewish journalist and blogger, Philip Weiss, observes:
Do Jews dominate the media? This is something I know about personally. I’ve worked in print journalism for more than 30 years. I’ve worked for many magazines and newspapers, and for a time my whole social circle was editors and writers in New York... My sample is surely skewed by the fact that I’m Jewish and have always felt great comfort with other Jews. But in my experience, Jews have made up the majority of the important positions in the publications I worked for, a majority of the writers I’ve known at these places, and the majority of the owners who have paid me. Yes, my own sample may be skewed, but I think it shows that Jews make up a significant proportion of power positions in media, half, if not more.
The real issue is, Does it matter? Most of my life I felt it didn’t…Now I think it does matter, for two reasons. Elitist establishment culture, and Israel. As to elitism, I worry when any affluent group has power and little sense of what the common man is experiencing…The values of my cohort sometimes seem narrow: globalism, prosperity, professionalism. In Israel the values are a lot broader. None of my cohort has served in the military, myself included. A lot of our fathers did; but I bet none of our kids do. Military service is for losers–or for Israelis.
So we are way overrepresented in the chattering classes, and way underrepresented in the battering classes. Not a great recipe for leadership, especially in wartime.
Then there’s Israel. Support for Israel is an element of Jewish religious practice and more important, part of the Jewish cultural experience. Even if you’re a secular Jewish professional who prides himself on his objectivity, there is a ton of cultural pressure on you to support Israel or at least not to betray Israel. We are talking about a religion, after all, and the pressures faced by Jews who are critical of Israel are not that different from what Muslim women who want greater freedom undergo psychically or by evangelical Christians who want to support gay rights. It is worth noting that great Jewish heretics on the Israel question suffer anger or even ostracism inside their own families…Conversations about Israel even inside the liberal Jewish community are emotionally loaded, and result in people not speaking to one another. I lost this blog at a mainstream publication because the editor was Jewish and conservative on Israel and so was the new owner, and the publisher had worked for AIPAC. And all of them would likely call themselves liberal Democrats.
The result is that Americans are not getting the full story re Israel/Palestine…
Weiss observes, moreover, that even sectors of the Israeli press have been far more forthcoming in reporting on atrocities committed by the Israeli regime in the occupied territories than the American press with its disproportional Zionist influence:
Why does the American press behave differently from the Israeli press? I think the answer is guilt. The Jewish cohort of which I am a part has largely accepted the duty…of supporting Israel. This duty is rarely interrogated, and yet consciously or not we all know that American public opinion/leadership is critical to Israel’s political invulnerability; and we think that if we take their fingers out of the dike, who knows what will happen. That is a ton of responsibility. This responsibility is not executed with special care. Generally, my cohort hasn’t been to Israel, hasn’t seen the West Bank. But they do feel kinship with Israeli Jews, and—above all—have guilt feelings about the Holocaust, or the American Jewish silence about it during the event, the Jewish passivity; and they are determined not to be passive during Israel’s never ending existential crises. And thus they misunderstand Israel and fail to serve their readers.
Clearly, the American mass media claims within its ranks many Jewish Israeli partisans—and no doubt plenty of Gentile collaborators—who provide journalistic cover for Israel.
The Growth of Zionist Power in the United States
Zionist power in the United States has grown considerably, indeed almost exponentially, in recent decades. While the U.S., along with England, was instrumental in the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, Zionist interests did not dominate U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East during subsequent years. During the crisis over the Suez Canal in 1956, for example, the Eisenhower administration sided with the Arab nations against not only Israel, but also France and England. However, the subsequent Kennedy administration began moving the United States toward a stronger relationship with Israel. The real turning point began with the Six Day War in 1967, because it had the effect of galvanizing the pro-Zionist elements of the American Jewish community, so that the Israel lobby began exercising tremendous influence over U.S. policy in the region.
Hence the U.S. failed to retaliate when Israel sank the American naval vessel the USS Liberty during the Six Day War. The ship, Israel claimed, had been mistaken for an Egyptian vessel. Formal investigations by both the United States and Israel affirmed this conclusion, but it has long been disputed by other researchers and by American sailors who survived the attack. A controversial and unproven alternative theory has been advanced, namely, that Israel deliberately sunk the Liberty, hoping to blame the Egyptians and lure the United States into the war on the side of Israel. The U.S.-Israel relationship was strengthened once again when America sided with Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, a decision which resulted in a costly petroleum embargo being imposed on the U.S. by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.
It has been argued that the heightened relations between the U.S. and Israel that developed during the 1960s and 1970s had less to do with Zionist influence in domestic U.S. politics than with the wider geopolitics of the Cold War. Israel’s successes in the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War revealed the nation to be a formidable regional military power in the Middle East, as opposed to the lackluster performances of the Arab states. The U.S. came to regard Israel as an effective and reliable military ally in the region, in contrast to the efforts by the Soviet Union to cultivate various Arab nations as client states; just as the U.S. came to regard Wahhabi/Salafist/Qubtist theocratic elements originating from the Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia, as a counter to secular nationalist and Marxist tendencies in the Middle East. Still, it is also clear that Zionist sympathies continued to gain traction within the ranks of U.S. policymakers during the same period.
The cultural openings and civil rights revolution of the 1960s opened the door for greater participation of traditionally excluded minorities in American institutions. These cultural changes were especially beneficial to Jews, who were already a prosperous, affluent, and educated minority group. While American Jewish intellectuals typically leaned very strongly to the left politically, this began to change during the 1970s as many Zionists began to defect from the New Left over questions involving both Israel and the Cold War. The New Left tended towards pro-Palestinian views, and regarded the Cold War merely as a clash between rival imperialisms. However, many American Zionists regarded American power as a safeguard for Israel, and vociferously opposed the Soviet Union in large part because of Russian anti-Semitism. Jewish intellectuals and defectors from the left—Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz, and others—were instrument in developing the neoconservative movement. Having forged a relationship with the American conservative movement that had begun during the postwar period under the leadership of figures such as William F. Buckley, the largely Jewish neoconservatives began to move away from the Democratic Party towards the Republican Party.
During this same period, the American Christian Zionist movement also began to grow considerably, owing to the resurgence of evangelical Christianity that occurred in the United States during the 1970s. While not all evangelical Christians are Christian Zionists, a significant subset of American evangelicals adhere to a theological tendency known as “dispensationalism,” which believes that the restoration of Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy and is a necessary step towards the eventual Second Coming of Jesus Christ. American evangelical leaders espousing such views became politically influential during the rise of the “religious right” in the late 1970s. By the time of the so-called “Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s, these three forces—the postwar conservative movement, the neoconservatives, and the religious right—had converged with foreign policy hawks and economic conservatives to form the basis of the Republican Party and American conservatism generally. The trend largely continues in the present, although this coalition has experienced some degree of disruption since the emergence of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate and his subsequent election.
Scott McConnell: The Republican Party is the Party of Zionism
During the 1980s and 1990s, tensions occasionally existed between the Zionist partisans and other factions within the American conservative coalition. Although the leadership of right-wing Zionism in the U.S. had shifted towards the Republicans, the majority of rank and file Jews still tended to vote for the Democratic Party, like minority groups in the U.S. generally. During the Republican presidency of George H.W. Bush in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then Secretary of State James Baker III threatened to withhold American loans to Israel in response to Israel’s settlement efforts in the occupied territories. During a private meeting, Baker earned the permanent ire of the Israel lobby when he remarked, “Fuck the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.” Yet the Republican Party has since become devoid of any voices that dare to defy the wishes of the Israel lobby.
The journalist Scott McConnell has identified the process by which the Republicans became the “party of Israel,” and how the party aligned itself with the Likud Party, by far most right-wing faction of domestic Israeli politics. He has cited the work of various researchers who trace the dominance of the Republican Party by Israeli interests to the increased dependence of the Republican Party on wealthy Jewish billionaire donors, emphasized the ongoing importance of Christian Zionist evangelicals as a Republican voting bloc, and of the view of Israel as an important ally against Islamic terrorism during the post-September 11 era, and highlighted the influence of the ardently pro-Israel and quasi-evangelical views of former President George W. Bush. McConnell has also explained the strengthening of Zionist control over the U.S. broadcast media through the establishment of Fox News, the emergence of neoconservative publications such as The Weekly Standard, the neoconservative takeover of the conservative movement’s flagship magazine National Review, the effective ostracism of anti-Israel voices such as Patrick Buchanan from the conservative milieu, and the proliferation and growing influence of Zionist organized or funded think tanks.
The Israel Lobby and the American Political Class
Not to say that the Israel lobby only exercises influence within the Republican Party—nothing could be further from the truth. The Republican Party normally holds to positions that align with the farthest right-wing sectors within Israeli politics. However, the most influential pro-Israel organization in the United States, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), considers itself to be a bipartisan organization and is firmly embedded in both major American political parties. For example, AIPAC holds an annual policy conference that is normally attended by a cross-section of the American political elite. Attendees and speakers at the conference have included Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, former House Majority Leader Harry Reid, and a vast array of current and former Senators and Congressmen. The 2016 AIPAC conference featured as speakers both Presidential candidates from that year’s election, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, along with then-House Speaker Paul Ryan, and then-Vice President and now Presidential candidate Joe Biden. Indeed, AIPAC has boasted of its bipartisan influence, which is indicated by the fact that figures ranging from Vice President Mike Pence to Senator Kamala Harris have spoken at AIPAC gatherings.
The principal and considerably less influential rival to AIPAC is J Street, a more moderate organization founded in 2008 and funded by the multi-billionaire George Soros. While AIPAC is supportive of the Likud Party, J Street is oriented towards the centrist Kadima Party. The principal differences between the two groups is that the Likud Party is an overtly Israeli imperialist party that opposes Palestinian sovereignty, favors the continued expansion of Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied territories, and assumes a hawkish stance towards Iran. Kadima is more moderate only in comparison to Likud, having been a strong supporter of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon; and Kadima’s leadership has actually described itself as more right-wing than J Street. The entire American political class exhibits extreme subservience to the Israel lobby, as was illustrated during the summer of 2014 when Israel launched its attack on Gaza. The U.S. Senate voted unanimously in favor of an AIPAC-backed resolution endorsing the attacks, including ostensible “progressives” Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken, “socialist” Bernie Sanders, and “libertarian” Rand Paul.
What is more, the Israel lobby exercises power outside of the United States to a significant degree. An Israel lobby similar to the U.S. Israel lobby exists in the United Kingdom, although it is more loosely organized and not quite as powerful. Israel also exercises much influence in the European Union, since Israel and it are primary trading partners. Canada has even threatened to use its hate speech and hate crimes laws against organizations that advocate a boycott of Israel, even though such boycotting is arguably similar to the international boycott of South Africa that existed during the apartheid era.
The Fate of Critics of Israel
On May 27, 2010, eighty-nine-year-old journalist Helen Thomas, a veteran White House Reporter, was asked for comments on Israel during an impromptu interview. “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” she answered. “Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not Germany, it’s not Poland.” The Israelis, Thomas added, should “go home to Poland or Germany or America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?” Thomas’ remarks were met with a round of termination of employment contracts and revocation of previously bestowed awards. She subsequently resigned from her position with Hearst Newspapers.
Still, the principled Thomas refused to retract her remarks, saying, “I paid a price, but it’s worth it to speak the truth…Congress, the White House, Hollywood, and Wall Street, are owned by Zionists. No question, in my opinion…I just think that people should be enlightened as to who is in charge of the opinion in this country.” Coming to Thomas’ defense, Ralph Nader observed the irony that Thomas would be attacked for such comments, noting that “ultra-right wing radio and cable ranters” promoted “bigotry, stereotypes and falsehoods directed wholesale against Muslims, including a blatant anti-Semitism against Arabs,” while holding a substantial presence in American media. It was socially and politically unacceptable to express bigotry against one group of Semites (Arabs) but not another (Jews).
Not only journalists but also politicians and academics who have dared to expose or challenge the power of the Zionists over U.S. politics have been subjected to professional ruin. Among the American elected officials whose careers were destroyed or undermined by the Israel lobby have been Paul Findley, Jim Trafficant, Cynthia McKinney, Pete McCloskey, James Moran, Charles Pearcy, Earl Hilliard, William Fulbright, Mike Gravel, Roger Jepson, and James Abourezk. DePaul University denied tenure to the distinguished Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors and a leading critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, after a campaign against him was organized by the Zionist attorney Alan Dershowitz.
U.S.-Israel Relations in the Trump Era
The relationship between the United States and Israel has grown increasingly closer during the first three years of the Trump administration. Indeed, it can be argued that the Trump administration is by far the most “pro-Israel” administration the U.S. has ever had. While the administration of President Obama was critical of Israel’s settlement construction efforts in the West Bank, and of its expansionist efforts in East Jerusalem, criticisms of these kinds have been rescinded by the administration of President Trump. And despite all the recent talk on the right about putting “America first” in foreign policy and elsewhere, the yes-men editors of the leading conservative journals—Rich Lowry (National Review), Rusty Reno (First Things), Daniel McCarthy (Modern Age), and the like—are not willing to go against the Zionist grain in the publications they oversee, lest they run afoul of the all-important donor class to whom they answer. It is notable that at last year’s so-called national conservatism conference, put on by the Israeli scholar Yoram Hazony and other gatekeepers, conservative critics of Zionist foreign policy were altogether absent, while longtime Zionist hawk John Bolton was a keynote speaker. Nor was that warmonger the only Zionist speaker among the foreign policy crowd—far from it.
Backed by the Zionist Trump administration, Prime Minister Netanyahu has sought to end all restrictions on expansionism and the construction of new settlements in the West Bank. The United States has announced that it will open its first permanent—yes, permanent—military base in Israel. President Trump has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and subsequently relocated the United States’ embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. To critics, the Trump administration’s decision to relocate the American embassy has undermined the peace process, always already difficult enough. In particular, the decision is regarded as an affront to Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike, both of whom also regard Jerusalem as a holy site. Finally, the Trump administration has recognized the sovereignty of Israel over the Golan Heights, which was captured from Syria during the 1967 war. Now this recognition marks the first time that a government has recognized Israel’s right to posses the Golan Heights, an action that has widely been criticized as a violation of international law.
The ongoing amount of aid that the United States provides to Israel is massive. Israel receives approximately $3 billion per year in military aid from the U.S. Under this agreement, Israel is expected to spend at least three-quarters of this amount on weapons purchases from U.S. weapons manufacturers. The military aid amounts to an indirect subsidy and guaranteed export market for American armaments producers. Nevertheless, certain conflicts exist between the foreign policy objectives of the Trump administration and those of Israel. The most notable of these is the sale of military technology by Israel to China, which the Trump administration regards as the United States’ foremost adversary in Asia. The Trump administration has been increasingly hawkish regarding China, and Israel’s sales of weapons to China have been regarded as a threat to American interests in Asia. The United States has also criticized Israel for maintaining business, commercial, and financial interests in Venezuela, a country on which the United States has imposed sanctions and views as a threat to American interests in South America.
The Trump administration has unveiled what has been called the “Trump-Kushner Peace Plan” (named after Trump’s Jewish son-in-law and rather inept advisor Jared Kushner). The proposed peace plan has been criticized as being too one-sided in favor of Israeli interests while preventing the opportunity for the creation of a Palestinian state. Many critics of the plan have argued that the plan is unlikely to win the support of the Palestinians, who will be unwilling to participate in negotiations. While the plan strongly favors many of Israel’s present positions, the primary benefit of the plan that is being offered to the Palestinians is economic aid for the purpose of promoting economic development. In addition, the plan will allow for Israeli settlements in the West Bank to remain and extend Israeli law to the government of the settlements. The economic aid that will be provided to the Palestinians would come mostly from American allies in the Persian Gulf such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. But it is highly unlikely that the Palestinians will accept the terms of the peace plan.
Trump’s Executive Order on “Anti-Semitism”
On December 11, 2019, President Trump signed an executive order which recommends an interpretation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that includes Jews as a protected group with respect to issues involving discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. Of course, the illegality of institutionalized discrimination on the basis of such characteristics has been a matter of settled law in the United States since the civil rights era, and such laws are supported by a majority of Americans. The stated purpose of the executive order is to combat what has been claimed to be a rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses. Under this interpretation, the Department of Education would be able to withhold funding from academic programs that are found to be engaged in anti-Semitic discrimination. The clear aim of the executive order is to target the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) that has its base of support largely on college campuses. But the definition of anti-Semitism that is used in the executive order is problematic. The definition is the one maintained by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), and which has also been adopted by the State Department. The definition states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.” Fair enough. But the IHRA definition goes on to include the following claims in its definition of anti-Semitism:
—Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust.
—Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
—Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
—Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
—-Using the symbols and images associated with classic anti-Semitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
—-Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
—-Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
To be sure, these kinds of views and activities are frequently shared by bona fide anti-Semites. The problem is that the language of the definition clearly conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism in multiple ways, or at least blurs the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and likewise conflates Jews with Israelis.
Nor is this surprising, for the executive order is part of a wider trend that is intended to silence critics of Israel, and to stifle discourse on the relationship between the United States and that nation, and on the influence of pro-Zionist elements in domestic American politics and over U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. For instance, Jesse Singal of The Intelligencer notes that in recent years “almost 300 members of the House and Senate co-sponsored bills that would have made certain boycotts of Israel a federal felony.” Efforts of this kind have taken place at the state level as well. Glenn Greenwald has reported on a case where a
children’s speech pathologist who has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary-school students in Austin, Texas, has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel or “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on that foreign nation.
Taken in combination, Trump’s executive order, the anti-BDS bills that have been introduced in Congress, and the imposition of a de facto loyalty oath to Israel on state-level public employees, represent an identifiable trend toward the repression of anti-Zionist viewpoints, or criticism of Israel generally. The full force of the state is being weaponized for such purposes, including the withholding of funding for routine government services such as education, professional sanctions and threats of termination of employment, and even criminal law. Such a phenomenon makes for a bizarre anomaly in American law and public administrative practice, where compulsory fealty to a foreign state is being mandated through the use of methods reminiscent of the McCarthy era.
A War with Iran?
There can be no denying that Likud’s primary allies in the United States, the neoconservatives, were the driving force behind the war in Iraq, with its hundreds of thousands of deaths, and millions more maimed, displaced, or subjected to the dystopian tyranny of the Islamic State that has emerged in more recent times. Meanwhile, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a one-time aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, has observed that the Republican Party, “the party of Israel,” as Scott McConnell describes the GOP, is zealous for an eventual war with Iran, a war that will have an even more devastating outcome than the war with Iraq. Furthermore, Zionist partisans in the United States appear to be constructing a false rationale for a war with Iran that is comparable to the false rationale that led to the war with Iraq. Just as it was wrongfully claimed that Iraq was in possession of “weapons of mass destruction,” against the insistence of an actual experts on international disarmament, so it is being claimed that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, in defiance of the consensus of actual scholarly opinion on the question. If the present push for war on the part of the Likud Party and its arguably even more extreme partisans in the United States is successful, a great deal of needless death, destruction, and human suffering will result.
The staunchly pro-Israel positions of the Trump administration have included the abrogation of the nuclear deal with Iran that was pieced together by the Obama administration. The Trump administration has also increased the sanctions that have been imposed on Iran. Iran was one of the seven nations included in the so-called “travel ban” that was issued by the Trump administration early in 2017. A series of events occurred in 2019 which further escalated tensions between the United States and Iran, including conflict regarding oil shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman that the U.S. attributed to Iran, a similar attack on a Saudi oil refinery, Iran’s shooting down an American drone, and the U.S. jamming of an Iranian drone. The Trump administration has also strengthened the relationship with Israel’s allies in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and other Persian Gulf nations for the purpose of countering Iranian influence in the region. For all that, so far the Trump administration has stopped short of direct military confrontation with Iran, a position that likely led to the resignation of former National Security Advisor John Bolton, a long-time ally of the neoconservatives and other hard line Zionist elements in the U.S., who has repeatedly called for “regime change” war against Iran.
A Turning of the Tides?
Historically, anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist, or pro-Palestinian voices have been completely absent from both the U.S. mainstream media and the political class. Such voices have existed only on the left-wing or right-wing fringes of American media and of politics. A remarkable event occurred in March of 2015, however. The Congressional leadership of the Republican Party invited Israeli Prime Minister and Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, then seeking re-election, which he would achieve, to address the U.S. Congress. The purpose of the invitation was for Netanyahu to denounce President Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, although this was in defiance of ordinary protocols. Nearly sixty members of Obama’s Democratic Party retaliated by boycotting Netanyahu’s address. The key question concerning this occurrence is what this unprecedented defiance of the Israel lobby means for the future of U.S. politics. Given the partisan division that dominates U.S. domestic politics, it is likely that the Congressional boycott of the Netanyahu address was motivated more by partisan maneuvering than by any actual rejection of the essence of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
The division between the two major political parties in the United States is now wider than at any point in the past century, and the same is true of both cultural and socioeconomic divisions. It may be that these divisions are now so great that the Zionist currents among the power elite are increasingly unable to control the political process, thereby creating an opening for anti-Zionist voices to enter mainstream discourse. The willingness of former President Obama to negotiate with Iran and avoid war may represent a growing division between the Zionist elites and important sectors of the wider American ruling class regarding U.S.-Israel relations and perceptions of U.S. interests in the Middle East. Indeed, a sharpening of divisions among the Zionist elite may be developing, as illustrated by the emergence of J Street. It seems that Americans, both Jewish and Gentile, and especially young people, are becoming increasingly unsympathetic to Israel, as evidenced by the rise of the BDS movement contra Israel, and the emergence of groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace. Still, in July of 2019, the House of Representatives passed a resolution “condemning” the BDS movement. Only seventeen members voted against the resolution, with eighteen others voting “present” or abstaining from voting. Clearly, anti-Zionist sentiment continues to be very marginal within the mainstream of U.S. politics.
Of What Actual Value Is Israel to the United States?
Although anti-Israel or anti-Zionist perspectives continue to remain on the fringes of American political discourse, for a variety of reasons it is likely that critical voices of the U.S.-Israel relationship will become more prominent in the future. Among these reasons are demographic change, a growing Muslim population, the entry of farther left voices into the political mainstream, the declining size and resulting declining influence of the evangelical Protestant faith community, and rising skepticism of interventionist military policies.
It is likely that at some point Americans will be confronted with the question of to what degree the United States actually benefits from its “special relationship” with Israel. Many of the perspectives offered by supporters and critics of Israel alike are framed in moralistic terms. Supporters of Israel claim Israel is “the only democracy in the Middle East,” while critics charge that the nation is a gross violator of Palestinian human rights. Some Americans support Israel merely out of ethnic or religious affinity, including both Jews and Christians. Then too, it is often said that the United States has a duty to protect Israel because of the legacy of the Holocaust, or because of the West’s long history of anti-Semitic persecutions. Of course, there are also genuine anti-Semites who are opposed to the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Yet the most vital question, though long kept off the table, has to do with realpolitik: What benefits does Israel provide to the United States that would justify the costs of the relationship? The paleoconservative journalist Tom Piatak has argued cogently that though Israel has benefitted enormously, it has been otherwise for the United States. The U.S.-Israel relationship makes America more vulnerable to terrorism because America is regarded by anti-Israel forces as being complicit in Israeli actions they find objectionable. The U.S.-Israel relationship undermines the relationship between the United States and the producers of petroleum, the only Middle Eastern export product that is of any value to America. Piatak has pointed out that while America has fought many wars since the creation of Israel in 1948, Israel, unlike other allies such as England and Australia, did not provide any troops to support the U.S. war efforts in Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan, or the second Iraq War.
The plain truth is that Israel has hardly been a loyal ally of the United States. Israeli Prime Ministers have bragged about their ability to influence domestic U.S. politics, and even to manipulate major foreign policy decisions made by U.S. Presidents. Israel has conducted espionage operations against the United States (the case of Jonathon Pollard being a prominent example). Again, Israel has provided military technology to China, and even sank an American naval vessel, the USS Liberty, during the Six Day War in 1967. Would any other nation that engaged in such actions be considered an “indispensable ally,” worthy of a “special relationship”? A better argument could be made that Israel is actually a liability to the United States, one that costs American taxpayers billions of dollars annually, while making Americans more susceptible to terrorism, and damaging America’s relationships with oil-producing nations. For the U.S.-Israel relationship is the epitome of the kind of “entangling relationships” motivated by “passionate attachments” which were warned against by America’s first President.
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