Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Why self-interest explains the gentle US approach to Israel

What is the nature of the relationship between the United States and Israel?

One account has it that a Jewish lobby is in effective control of US Middle East policy, buying votes in Congress through campaign donations, making or breaking political careers by spin and smear and deployment of the Jewish vote, the meantime manipulating media coverage.

In part, the notion of a sinister conspiracy is rooted in a raging incomprehension that even the most egregious falsehoods disseminated by Israeli spokespersons to explain and justify atrocities perpetrated on Palestinians and their supporters are treated with a show of respect rather than angry impatience by senior US officials and all of the major American media. Last week was an obvious case in point.

The commando assault on unarmed people on ships flying Turkish, Greek and Irish flags in international waters would have been regarded in any other circumstance as an act of war.

But the Obama administration's resolute refusal to offer criticism came through in the timorous pronouncement that, "the United States deeply regrets the loss of life and injuries sustained and is currently working to understand the circumstances surrounding the tragedy".

Meanwhile, in close harmony with the wimpish performance of the White House, on-message media outlets retailed as news the line of Israeli propagandists that the commandos had been intent on peacefully taking control of the flotilla, but had been forced to respond when savagely attacked by armed fanatics.

Even as stiffly conservative a British outlet as the Financial Times observed that the Israeli authorities had "sought to flood the airwaves with their version of events . . . More importantly, the authorities ensured that their narrative gained early prominence by largely silencing the hundreds of activists who were on board during the attack."

All video and audio tapes and mobile phones on which some of the scenes might have been recorded were seized by the Israelis. The captured prisoners were kept incommunicado.

Meanwhile Israeli footage showing activists ringed with yellow markers attempting with clubs and metal bars to repel the attackers was carried prominently on news channels - not only in the US - as if this were an accurate record of what had happened.

The fact that nine of the activists had been shot dead, some at very close range, and a number critically wounded, while not a single Israeli soldier sustained a serious injury was not presented as evidence that the Israeli version of events was highly implausible.

It is true, too, more generally, that Israel has for decades been by far the largest recipient of US military assistance and that the US routinely either vetoes or uses the threat of veto to dilute UN resolutions critical of Israel, or to ensure that resolutions which have been passed calling for action remain just that: resolutions.

What can explain all this, it is asked, other than the work of a lobby with a capacity both to dictate to the US administration and to control news coverage of its area of interest?

But what explains it, in fact, is something more obvious - US self-interest.

The American president who cemented the US-Israeli relationship was Richard Nixon, elected in November 1968. Any analysis of the period will show that this had nothing to do with Nixon responding to a Jewish lobby or needing Jewish support.

Henry Kissinger recorded that Nixon took it for granted that a majority of US Jews were opposed to his presidency and would never vote for him. But he was as pro- Israeli as any of his successors.

The most comprehensive study of the Jewish lobby, by political scientist Abramo Organski, looked at the attitudes to Israel of congressmen for districts with no Jewish constituency to speak of and who didn't depend on Jewish campaign contributions: they were every bit as supportive of Israel as politicians with some dependency on Jewish support.

Organski titled his study The 36 Billion Dollar Bargain. He was referring to Israel's role in protecting US access to Mid-East oil.

The most reliable - and influential - US supporters of Israel are oil company executives: virtually without exception white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, among whom anti-semitism is not unknown.

Ronald Reagan put it neatly when he said: "With a combat-experienced military, Israel is a force in the Middle East that is a benefit to us. If there were not Israel with that force, we'd have to supply our own, so this isn't just altruism on our part."

It is self-interest, not subservience, which explains the approach to Israel of the US political and business elite, reflected in the mainstream media.

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