The past ten days have seen what could be the start of an historic turning point away from endless war in the Middle East. Public opinion in the United States, in harmony with the majority of people in the world, has clearly rejected U.S. military intervention in Syria.
But for this turn away from war to be complete and lasting, greater awareness is needed of the forces that have been pushing the United States into these wars, and will surely continue to do so until they are clearly and openly rejected.
An American friend who knows Washington well recently told us that “everybody” there knows that, as far as the drive to war with Syria is concerned, it is Israel that directs U.S. policy. Why then, we replied, don’t opponents of war say it out loud, since, if the American public knew that, support for the war would collapse? Of course, we knew the answer to that question. They are afraid to say all they know, because if you blame the pro-Israel lobby, you are branded an anti-Semite in the media and your career is destroyed.
One who had that experience is James Abourezk, former Senator from South Dakota, who has testified: “I can tell you from personal experience that, at least in the Congress, the support Israel has in that body is based completely on political fear – fear of defeat by anyone who does not do what Israel wants done. I can also tell you that very few members of Congress–at least when I served there – have any affection for Israel or for its lobby. What they have is contempt, but it is silenced by fear of being found out exactly how they feel. I’ve heard too many cloakroom conversations in which members of the Senate will voice their bitter feelings about how they’re pushed around by the lobby to think otherwise. In private one hears the dislike of Israel and the tactics of the lobby, but not one of them is willing to risk the lobby’s animosity by making their feelings public.” Abourezk added : “The only exceptions to that rule are the feelings of Jewish members, who, I believe, are sincere in their efforts to keep U.S. money flowing to Israel. But that minority does not a U.S. imperial policy make.”
Since we do not have to run for Congress, we feel free to take a close look at that highly delicate question. First, we’ll review the evidence for the crucial role of the pro-Israel lobby, then we’ll discuss some objections.
For evidence, it should be enough to quote some recent headlines from the American and Israeli press.
First, according to the Times of Israel (not exactly an anti-Zionist rag): “Israel intelligence seen as central to U.S. case against Syria.” (Perhaps the fact that it is “central” also explains why it is so dubious.)
Then, in Haaretz: “AIPAC to deploy hundreds of lobbyists to push for Syria action”. Or, in U.S. News and World Report: “Pro-Israel lobby Seeks to Turn Tide on Syria Debate in Congress”. According to Bloomberg: “Adelson New Obama Ally as Jewish Groups Back Syria Strike”. The worst enemies of Obama become his allies, provided he does what “Jewish groups” want. Even rabbis enter the dance: according to the Times of Israel, “U.S. rabbis urge Congress to back Obama on Syria”.
The New York Times explained some of the logic behind the pressure: “Administration officials said the influential pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC was already at work pressing for military action against the government of Mr. Assad, fearing that if Syria escapes American retribution for its use of chemical weapons, Iran might be emboldened in the future to attack Israel. … One administration official, who, like others, declined to be identified discussing White House strategy, called AIPAC ‘the 800-pound gorilla in the room,’ and said its allies in Congress had to be saying, ‘If the White House is not capable of enforcing this red line’ against the catastrophic use of chemical weapons, ‘we’re in trouble’.”
Even more interesting, this part of the story was deleted by the New York Times, according to M.J. Rosenberg, which is consistent with the fact that the lobby prefers to act discreetly.
Now, to the objections:
There are indeed forces other than the Israel lobby pushing for war. It is true that some neighboring countries like Saudi Arabia or Turkey also want to destroy Syria, for their own reasons. But they have nowhere near the political influence on the United States of the Israel lobby. If Saudi princes use their money to try to corrupt a few U.S. politicians, that can easily be denounced as interference by a foreign power in the internal affairs of the United States. But no similar charge can be raised against Israeli influence because of the golden gag rule: any mention of such influence can be immediately denounced as a typical anti-Semitic slur against a nonexistent “Jewish power”. Referring to the perfectly obvious, public activities of the Israel lobby may even be likened to peddling a “conspiracy theory”.
But many of our friends insist that every war is driven by economic interests. Isn’t this latest war to be waged because big bad capitalists want to exploit Syrian gas, or use Syrian territory for a gas pipeline, or open up the Syrian economy to foreign investments?
There is a widespread tendency, shared by much of the left, especially among people who think of themselves as Marxists (Marx himself was far more nuanced on this issue), to think that wars must be due to cynically rational calculations by capitalists. If this were so, these wars “for oil” might be seen as “in the national interest”. But this view sees “capitalism” as a unified actor issuing orders to obedient politicians on the basis of careful calculations. As Bertrand Russell put it, this putative rationality ignores “the ocean of human folly upon which the fragile barque of human reason insecurely floats”. Wars have been waged for all kinds of non-economic reasons, such as religion or revenge, or simply to display power.
People who think that capitalists want wars to make profits should spend time observing the board of directors of any big corporation: capitalists need stability, not chaos, and the recent wars only bring more chaos. American capitalists are making fortunes in China and Vietnam now that there is peace between the U.S. and those countries, which was not possible during hostilities. As for the argument that they need wars to loot resources, one may observe that the U.S. is buying oil from Iraq now, and so does China, but China did not have to ruin itself in a costly war. Like Iraq, Iran or Syria are perfectly willing to sell their resources, and it is the political embargoes imposed by the U.S. that prevent such trade. As for the “war for oil” thesis in the case of Libya, the Guardian recently reported that “Libya is facing its most critical moment since the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi with armed groups blockading oil fields and terminals, choking output to a 10th of normal levels and threatening economic disaster.”As for Iraq, Stephen Sniegoski has shown, in The Transparent Cabal, The Neoconsevative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel, that the war was only due to the neoconservatives and that the oil companies had no desire whatsoever to go to war. Indeed, there is no evidence of an “oil lobby” sending its agents to urge Members of Congress to vote for war, as AIPAC is doing.
And how does one explain that many of the most determined opponents of war are found on the right of the political spectrum? Do the Tea Party, Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan, Justin Raimundo and antiwar.com, Paul Craig Roberts, among others, fail to see the wonderful profits to be made by capitalists in a devastated Syria?
The fact is that in the post-colonial period, wherever profits can be made through war, they can be made much more reliably in peaceful conditions, and most capitalists seem to have understood that. There is no need to conquer countries in order to purchase their resources, invest in their economies or sell them our products. Most countries are in fact eager for legitimate trade.
On the other hand, it can be argued that the huge military-industrial complex (MIC) benefits from wars. Doesn’t the MIC need wars to maintain the lifeblood of military appropriations? Here the matter is complex. The MIC benefits above all from various hyped-up threats of war, most notably the Soviet threat during the Cold War, which kept the credits and contracts flowing through the Pentagon. But long, botched wars such as in Afghanistan or Iraq tend to give war a bad name, are economically ruinous and lead to questioning the need for the huge U.S. military. The MIC doesn’t need another one in Syria. Many military officers are openly hostile to mounting at attack against Syria.
The interests that profit directly from recent U.S. wars – and not from mere “threats” – are very few. They are above all the giant construction firms, Bechtel, Halliburton and their subsidiaries, which, through their connections with officials such as Dick Cheney, win contracts to build U.S. military bases abroad and sometimes to rebuild infrastructure destroyed by the U.S. Air Force. This amounts to a recycling of American taxpayers’ money, which in no way “profits” the United States, or American capitalism in general; besides, those construction firms are not big compared to major U.S. corporations. These profiteers could never pose as a “justification” for wars, but are the mere vultures feeding off conflicts.
The basic responsibility for war of the U.S. military-industrial complex is simply that it is there. And as Madeleine Albright famously said, “what is the use of having that splendid military if we don’t use it?” In fact, ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union (and indeed arguably ever since the end of World War II), there is no obviously good reason to use it, and it might well be dismantled and resources redirected toward modernizing U.S. infrastructure and other useful and profitable activities. However, an intellectual industry called “think tanks” has developed in Washington devoted to justifying the perpetuation of the MIC. It specializes in identifying potential “threats”. Over the years, these think tanks have increasingly come under the influence of billionaire benefactors of Israel such as Haim Saban (founder of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution). Since there are in reality virtually no serious threats to the United States calling for such colossal military strength, alleged “threats to U.S. interests” in the Middle East are invented by adopting supposed threats to Israel as threats to the United States. Example number one: Iran.
People on the left are not wrong in supposing that Washington would want to defend “American geo-strategic interests”. Those certainly exist, and are a proper object of controversy. But the crucial question here is whether support for Israeli policy aims in the Middle East is among them. Indeed, there is a sector of the U.S. foreign policy establishment that promotes an aggressive global foreign policy that amounts to a sort of world conquest, with U.S. military bases and military exercises surrounding Russia and China, as if in preparation for some final showdown. But the fact is that the most active advocates of this aggressive policy are the pro-Israel neoconservatives of the Project for the New American Century that pushed the Bush II presidency into war against Iraq, and now, as the Foreign Policy Initiative, are pushing Obama toward war against Syria. Their general line is that U.S. and Israeli interests are identical, and that U.S. world domination is good, or even necessary, for Israel. Such close identification with Israel has caused the United States to be intensely hated throughout the Muslim world, which is not good for the United States in the long run.
Perhaps because genuine, material or economic U.S. interests in going to war are so hard to find, the emphasis has shifted in the past decade to alleged “moral” concerns, such as “the responsibility to protect”, packaged with a catchy brand name, “R2P”. Today, the strongest advocates of going to war are the various humanitarian imperialists or liberal interventionists, who argue on the basis of R2P, or “justice for victims”, or alleged “genocide prevention”.
There is a large overlap between humanitarian interventionism and support for Israel. In France, Bernard Kouchner, who first invented and promoted the concept of the “right to intervene”, stated in a recent interview that “Israel is like no other country. It is the result of the terrifying massacre of the Holocaust.” It is therefore “our duty” to protect it. Bernard-Henry Lévy prodded the French government to start the war against Libya, making no secret that he considered he was acting as a Jew for the interests of Israel; he is now the foremost and fiercest advocate of bombing Syria. In both France and the United States, advocates of “humanitarian” intervention justify bombing Syria by referring to the Holocaust in the past and to a hypothetical, and totally unsubstantiated, intention by Iran to risk national suicide by attacking Israel in the future.
In the United States, these concerns of the Israel lobby are given ideological and institutional expression by such influential advisors as Samantha Power, Madeleine Albright and the two Abramowitz’s (Morton the father and Michael the son, in charge of “genocide prevention efforts” at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum). The argument is used repeatedly that because “we” did not intervene quickly enough against Auschwitz, we have an obligation to intervene militarily to prevent other possible slaughters.
On September 6, the Cleveland Jewish News published a letter from “leading rabbis” urging Congress to support President Obama’s plans to strike Syria. “We write you as descendants of Holocaust survivors and refugees, whose ancestors were gassed to death in concentration camps,” the letter said. By authorizing bombing raids, the rabbis said, “Congress has the capacity to save thousands of lives”…
Without such dramatization, obscuring the reality of each new crisis with images of the Holocaust, the whole notion that the best way to promote human rights and protect populations is to wage unilateral wars, destroy what is left of the international legal order and spread chaos would be seen for the absurdity it is. Only the fervor of the champions of Israel enables such emotional arguments to swamp reasonable discussion.
But one may reasonably ask what are the interests of Israel itself in inciting the United States to fight in Syria? Israelis seem to have frightened themselves into believing that the very existence of another power in the region, namely Iran, amounts to an existential threat. But the mere fact that a policy is pursued does not mean that it is necessarily in the interests of those who pursue it. That is again ignoring the “ocean of human folly”. Napoleon and Hitler had no interest or desire in bringing Russian troops to Paris or Berlin, but their policies led to precisely that. The emperors of Germany, Austria and Russia had no interest in launching the First World War, since, in the end, they all lost their thrones as a result of the war. But launch it they did. The future is unpredictable, and that is why it is difficult to deduce intentions from consequences. Israel’s hostile policy toward its neighbors can reasonably be seen as self-defeating in the long run.
Oddly enough, some observers deny the obvious, arguing that Bashar al Assad has allowed Israel to occupy Syrian territory on the Golan Heights and has kept the border quiet (without explaining what else he could have done, given the relationship of forces) and concluding that Israel has no interest in toppling him. But what matters is that Assad is allied with Hezbollah and with Iran. Israel hates Hezbollah for its successful resistance to Israeli occupation of Lebanon, and sees Iran as the only potential challenge to Israeli military supremacy in the region.
Even so, it is not certain that Israel’s war aim would be to overthrow Assad. A clue to Israel’s strategy is provided by a September 5 article in the New York Times: “Israeli officials have consistently made the case that enforcing Mr. Obama’s narrow ‘red line’ on Syria is essential to halting the nuclear ambitions of Israel’s archenemy, Iran. More quietly, Israelis have increasingly argued that the best outcome for Syria’s two-and-a-half-year-old civil war, at least for the moment, is no outcome. For Jerusalem, the status quo, horrific as it may be from a humanitarian perspective, seems preferable to either a victory by Mr. Assad’s government and his Iranian backers or a strengthening of rebel groups, increasingly dominated by Sunni jihadis.”
“This is a playoff situation in which you need both teams to lose, but at least you don’t want one to win — we’ll settle for a tie,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York. “Let them both bleed, hemorrhage to death: that’s the strategic thinking here. As long as this lingers, there’s no real threat from Syria.”
So, the real goal of the limited strikes (and the reason why they ought to be limited) would be to send a message to Iran, about its nonexistent nuclear arms program and, in Syria, let both sides “bleed to death”. How nice! Waging a war based on the flimsiest of evidence only to prolong a bloody conflict may not be a very moral endeavor for all those who claim to act out of passion for “our values” and for deep concern over the “suffering of the Syrian people”.
In its zeal to serve what it considers Israel’s interests, AIPAC and its affiliates practice deception concerning the issues at stake. The lobby misrepresents the interests of the United States, and even ignores the long term interests of the Jewish people whom it often claims to represent. It is pure folly for a minority, however powerful and respected, to try to impose an unpopular war on the majority. Since Israel often claims to represent the Jewish people as a whole, if the majority of Americans are forced to pay an unacceptable price for “defending Israel”, sooner or later voices will be raised blaming “the Jews”. Indeed, this can be seen by a brief look at what already gets written, anonymously of course, on social media, ranging from various conspiracy theories to outright Jew-bashing.
We, who are totally opposed to the notion of collective guilt, wish to avoid such an outcome. Far from being anti-Semitic, we deplore all forms of “identity politics” that ignore the diversity within every human group. We simply want to be able to say “no” openly to the pro-Israel lobby without being subjected to moral intimidation. This has nothing to do with Jewish religion or identity or culture: it is entirely political. We claim our right to refuse to be drawn into somebody else’s war. We believe that these endless wars are not “good for the Jews” – or for anyone else. We want to contribute to efforts at mutual understanding, diplomacy, compromise and disarmament. In short, to strengthen “the fragile barque of human reason” adrift on the ocean of human folly. Otherwise, that folly may drown us all.
For now, the threat of war has been avoided, or at least “postponed”. Let us not forget that Iraq and Libya also gave up their weapons of mass destruction, only to be attacked later. Syria is likely to abandon its chemical weapons, but without any guarantee that the rebels, much less Israel, won’t retain such weapons. The popular mobilization against the war, probably the first one in history to stop a war before it starts, has been intense but may be short-lived. Those whose war plans have been interrupted can be expected to come up with new maneuvers to regain the initiative. These past days have given a glimpse of what can be accomplished when people wake up and say no to war. This must be an inspiration for continued efforts to make diplomacy prevail over bullying, and mutual disarmament over endless war. If people really want peace, it can be possible.
DIANA JOHNSTONE is author of Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions. She lives in Paris and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
 For a discussion of the “evidence,” see, for example, Gareth Porter: How Intelligence Was to Support an Attack on Syria, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/18559-how-intelligence-was-twisted-to-support-an-attack-on-syria.
James Abourezk represented South Dakota in Congress from 1971 to 1979. CNI asked Senator Abourezk about his experiences with the Israel Lobby. In his first response he told of an Israeli plot to assassinate him. In this column he discusses threats to his family, Alan Dershowitz, and Israeli lobbyists embedded in the U.S. State Department:
When I was Chairman of the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), we had two bombing incidents. I had no idea who was responsible, but I had a guess. Someone unknown placed a bomb in the doorway of ADC’s Boston headquarters. The staff there called the Boston police, who came and were in the process of disarming the pipe bomb that they found there. If I recall correctly, the police had put the bomb in a metal barrel, and it exploded in the face of one of the police officers, seriously injuring him. We all felt terrible about the policeman being injured and we tried as best we could to console his family. The whole incident was covered by a Boston TV station, and I assume they still have the footage of the explosion on file.
At around the same time, someone unknown firebombed the ADC headquarters in Washington, D.C. I was out of town at the time, but no one was hurt, and I was able to get back in time to accompany the arson expert with the D.C. police department, who showed us exactly where the bomb was thrown and how the fire had spread from that point.
Because we were all gripped with fear of what might be next, I decided to tighten up the security on my home, if nothing more than to calm down my family. I had bought a Rottweiler dog sometime earlier both for protection of my family and of our home. I learned that Rottweilers would automatically attack anyone who came near our home, unless we had introduced the dog to the person visiting. I had a security expert—someone who had once worked as a Secret Service agent in the White House—make recommendations to insure that we would be a difficult target for someone who would wish us harm. We followed his advice and made the house a bit more invulnerable. He also told us that it would be impossible to make any home 100 per cent safe, but we could make it so a potential bomber would be discouraged enough to give up trying.
I also hired a 24 hour guard for the house. The first night the guard, a young man wearing a blue blazer and armed with a weapon situated himself inside, near the front door. At one point during the night, he ran upstairs to our bedrooms and shouted that there was something making noises outside. I suggested that, since he had the gun, that he should check it out, but he wanted me to go with him. So I dressed, took the Rottweiler with me on a leash and the guard and I did a search around the house. Finding nothing we went back in. The guard spent the rest of the night immediately outside my bedroom door, I suspect more frightened that I was, and the next day, I fired the security service.
After the bombing of the ADC headquarters in Washington, I was still extremely nervous about what might happen, but I put on my brave face and held a press conference, announcing to the world that “we would not be intimidated” by these kinds of terrorists, and that we were going to work harder than ever to bring justice to the Palestinians and others in the Middle East who were victims of Israel’s aggression. But I honestly had a hard time staying calm and preventing myself from running out of the room to find a safe place to hide.
What Has Been Your Experience with Alan Dershowitz?
I remember Alan Dershowitz, not as a Harvard Law Professor, but as the person who wrote an op-ed column in one of our national newspapers in which he said that Palestinians need not worry about justice in the Occupied Territories, as the Israeli Supreme Court would always make certain that they were fairly treated. I’ve been reading Mondoweiss online, which has a daily list of Palestinians whose homes are leveled by U.S.-made bulldozers, of land outright stolen by Israeli settlers for the use of the settlers, most of whom come from the United States to live in the West Bank. I know that Dershowitz’s words about the Israeli Supreme Court are a great comfort to those Palestinians in the West Bank who have been killed, maimed, and their property stolen.
A few short years ago when I was in Damascus, I did an interview on Al Manar Television, which is Hizbollah’s channel in Lebanon. During the interview I mentioned that Alan Dershowitz was a “snake.”
There is a pro-Israeli group here in the U.S. which calls itself “MEMRI” which tapes television shows broadcast in the Middle East. They had taped my interview, which I suppose is where Alan Dershowitz heard about my description of him. He thereupon wrote a column in the Jerusalem Post in which he called me an “anti-Semite.” That slur is the favorite of Pro-Israeli Lobbyists and it works a lot of the time, often succeeding in silencing critics of Israel or of its policies.
Later, when I was invited to speak to the ADC gathering in Washington honoring Helen Thomas, who was herself the target of the same smear, I spoke about Dershowitz’s attempt to silence me by calling me an anti-Semite. I told the audience at that dinner that anti-semitism means that the person charged disliked Jews as Jews. I further said that I do not dislike Jews, but I only disliked Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman, the head of the B’nai B’rith, and that my dislike of them had nothing to do with anti-semitism, but with how they operated.
My speech that night was later published on the Counterpunch site, which prompted the ever vigilant Dershowitz, after he had read the speech, to vehemently deny that he had labeled me an anti-semite. The co-editor of Counterpunch, Alex Cockburn, somehow located the old Jerusalem Post column written by Dershowitz, and there it was, plain as day, with him very cleverly saying about me that, when it comes to anti-semitism, “if the shoe fits, wear it.”
Here is the relevant portion of Alexander Cockburn’s column, quoting Dershowitz:
“In his [CounterPunch] article entitled ‘Honoring Helen Thomas’ dated November 22, 2010, James Abourezk makes the following statement:
‘I once called Alan Dershowitz a snake on Al Manar television. Al Manar is Hezbollah’s news channel in Lebanon. When he found out what I had said, he wrote a column in the Jerusalem Post, calling me an anti-Semite.’
[That] is a lie. Here is a link to my article to which he refers. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-dershowitz/a-real-snake_b_65194.html?view=print) I challenge him to find the term ‘anti-Semite’ in the article. I also challenge your readers to read the article and judge Abourezk’s credibility. Now I will characterize Abourezk: He is a liar.”
Cockburn went on:
“I duly clicked on the Huffington Post link thoughtfully provided by prof. Dershowitz and indeed, there is no use of the term ‘anti-Semite’ in the column by the noted Harvard law professor, published on September 21, 2007. But since the prof. is a notoriously slippery fellow, I put a couple of sentences from that same column into the google search engine, pressed button A and, hey presto, up came the same Sep 21, 2007 Dershowitz column, printed that same day on the site of the United Jewish Foundation. And lo! there was a final paragraph, omitted from the Huffpost version. Here it is.
‘Well maybe former Senator Abourezk isn’t so different from the late Senator Bilbo after all. He uses the word ‘Zionist’ in precisely the same bigoted way Bilbo used ‘kike.’ [Huffington Post version ends here.]
‘It is true that not all anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic, but just because it is anti-Zionist does not mean it is not also anti-Semitic. If the shoe fits…’ (C2007 FrontPageMagazine.com 09/21/07).
“Anti-Semite”… “anti-Semitic” … A minute difference on which the slippery prof. would no doubt try to hang his hat, but to any impartial observer it’s plain enough that Abourezk’s memory is true. Dershowitz was sliming the former distinguished Senator from South Dakota as an anti-Semite. It’s maybe why Huffington Post dropped the final paragraph as libelous, unless Dershowitz reserved the slime for the version he sent FrontPageMagazine which, the vigilant reader will have noted, was credited as its source by the United Jerusalem Foundation.”
And here is my response to Alex after he found the “anti-semite” article:
Dershowitz is neither a good lawyer nor a good liar. He is trying to slither out of what has become nearly a full time occupation–that of branding any criticism of Israel as coming from someone who hates Jews. That does not work on me, as I’m secure in my anti-racist feelings. I’ve had any number of Zionists who are devoid of any reasonable argument throw the anti-Semitism charge at me. Sorry, but it doesn’t work, and Dershowitz is not clever enough to make the “shoe fit” no matter how hard he tries. Does he think that pointing to an incomplete article reprinted in Huffington Post will do the trick? Obviously he does, which makes his lie even more prominent. That’s a trick that even a first year law student would be smart enough not to try. He’s been caught lying and no amount of his flailing about will make that vanish. I hadn’t realized that it would be that easy getting a job teaching law at Harvard. Had I been, younger and armed with this knowledge I would have applied for the job.
We’ve heard nothing from Dershowitz since that time, but he’s still out there somewhere, apologizing for Israel’s dirty deeds.
Letters of 76 Senators
When Gerald Ford was President and Henry Kissinger was his Secretary of State, the two decided, during U.S. backed peace talks to bring Israel around to U.S. thinking by withholding American aid to Israel. That effort ended quickly when 76 U.S. Senators signed an AIPAC drafted letter to President Ford containing a thinly veiled threat to Mr. Ford if he continued to withhold military aid to Israel. The letter prompted President Ford to give in to the Lobby’s demand and to resume aid to Israel.
What happened leading up to the publication of the letter in the U.S. press is an interesting story. I had dinner with one Senator—who shall go unnamed here—the night before the letter was released to the press. He told me that he had no intention of signing it.
The next day, when the letter appeared in the Washington Post, I asked my friend what had happened.
“Jim, I received phone call after phone call all during the day yesterday, calls from people who had gone beyond just supporting me in my election, but people—lawyers, doctors, professional people and businessmen—who had interrupted their careers to work in my campaign. I couldn’t say no to them, which is why you saw my name on the letter.”
Later, in the Senate cloakroom, a number of us were standing together, talking about the letter. Ted Kennedy spoke first. “I knew that’s what would happen when I was approached to sign the letter, and I don’t like it at all. We should, next time, get together before signing such a letter, and all of us say no at the same time.” What Kennedy was referring to was the Israeli Lobby’s practice of picking off the Senators by going to one Senator, saying, “Senator So- and-so has signed, and you’d better not be the only potential presidential candidate not on the letter.” They would then go to Senator So-and-so and say the same thing. Ultimately, all of the leading Senators—especially those who wanted to run from President—would put their signature on the letter.
Kennedy’s statement was what spurred me to say something, during a mini-debate I had with Hyman Bookbinder before a section of the D.C. Bar Association’s meeting in D.C. We were promoting a book we had written together as a debate on the Middle East—Through Different Eyes—and I mentioned that Senators would cheer on Israel in public but would bad mouth both Israel and the Lobby in private. One lawyer raised his hand and asked, “name just one U.S. Senator who would do that.”
I said, simply, “Ted Kennedy,” hoping he was politically strong enough to resist the Lobby’s counter-attack.
Two or three days later, Ted Kennedy called me and said, “Abourezk, what the hell have you done to me?” I guess Ted had underestimated his own political strength, or at least, did not want any of it diluted in a tiff over the Middle East. And he for sure did not want to spend his time defending himself from the Israeli Lobby.
Getting help from the lobby
I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1948, at age 17, immediately after I graduated from High School. After training in San Diego, I was ordered to Japan to become a member of the occupation. I was stationed on quasi-shore duty in Japan, actually aboard a non-propulsion barracks ship tied up in the heart of Tokyo, on the Sumida River. The ship was essentially the barracks for members of the Admiral’s staff. Early on in my tour there, the Kodokan Judo University in Tokyo sent a few Judo instructors to our ship in order to recruit students for their Judo school. The delegation included the then world champion, Ishikawa-san, and a slightly built man in his eighties, named “never fall Mifune.” We converted a large empty cabin on the ship into a Judo room, with mats on the metal floors to break our falls.
There I learned the essence of the art of Judo—using your opponent’s strength and momentum against him in order to win.
That lesson was very useful in helping me get a Committee assignment I wanted while in the Senate. When North Carolina’s celebrated Senator Sam Ervin retired from the Senate after masterfully chairing the Senate Watergate Committee, I decided to try for his seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Jim Allen, from Alabama, also decided to try for the seat. But he was senior to me so it was obvious to everyone that I had an uphill battle.
With the lessons I learned studying Judo in mind, I caught David Brody, one of the Israeli Lobbyists, in the corridor, telling him that I was trying for the Judiciary Committee seat that Sam Ervin was vacating. I casually mentioned that if I didn’t get on Judiciary, I would then try for Foreign Relations. That, I knew, would get his attention.
Although I never saw any evidence of the Lobby’s actions, even though Allen was senior to me, I surprisingly got the most votes from the Senate Steering Committee, which makes Committee assignments. So I later thanked Dave Brody for his help, but he never acknowledged that he had done the job.
It is difficult to describe how deep into the U.S. Government the Israel Lobby is embedded, but occasionally signs of the depth of its penetration become obvious. I can cite two instances where it was more than obvious.
I received a call one day from a career State Department diplomat, someone I had met during a trip I had made to the Middle East. He was my “control officer” when I was in Egypt on that trip, the diplomat whose job it was to stay with me during my stay there.
His call came out of the blue, at least two or three years after having met him in Cairo. He sounded both desperate and frantic, telling me he had to come to my apartment to talk to me about something.
When we met, he was totally different than when I had met him in Cairo, then a very suave professional diplomat. The day he came to my apartment he was both nervous and frantic, telling me that someone had to do something about the Israeli Lobby. They were “everywhere” in the State Department, he said, leaning on anyone who had anything to do with the Middle East. By that, he explained, he had witnessed both Lobby representatives and Israeli officials working over U.S. diplomats in every kind of setting, that is, he saw them doing so in restaurants, in State Department offices, virtually everywhere. All he wanted to do, he said, was to stop it, and he didn’t know how. I had to confess that I didn’t either.
I’m not certain that anyone in Washington, D.C. knows the total amount of money and favors our government gives to Israel, largely due to its Lobby. Aside from the several billions of dollars in aid that goes from our Treasury to Israel, there are a great number of top secret contracts that we sign with the Israeli government that could not stand the light of day should they be disclosed. I do remember that our taxpayers funded the “Arrow” air defense system Israel has now to deter incoming rockets and missiles.
I also knew about Israeli Aircraft Industries having an office at the airport in Wilmington, Delaware, presumably to handle air force contracts between Israel and the U.S. government. Why else would there be such an office in Delaware?
Other avenues for the Lobby to Pursue?
After I left the Senate and began practicing law in Washington, D.C. I was retained by a very wealthy Palestinian who had spent a number of years attending schools in the United States. He received a PhD from Columbia University in New York, and had spent a lot of time making money and investing it in real estate in various parts of America, as well as in Europe. He was married to a Palestinian woman and they had two sons, both of whom were born in New York during his schooling there.
My client was building a satisfying life, traveling in Europe and the United States to tend to his business interests, until, one day, he was surprisingly denied entry into the United States. He was accused of being a member of the PLO. Other than all Palestinians considering themselves belonging to the Palestinian liberation movement, he had never done anything that would brand him as a terrorist. He suspected that someone who was an enemy had deliberately told the U.S. government that he was a PLO member, hoping to cause him problems.
This was during the Reagan Administration, so my first move was to hire a Republican law firm to help lobby for a visa for him. He not only had business interests in the United States, but his two sons were both in college here, so not being allowed to come into the U.S. was a decided handicap.
Aside from the law firm charging great amounts of money for whatever time they spent on his case, the lawyer assigned to his case was ultimately never able to get him cleared to enter the U.S. Finally, the lawyer/lobbyist told my client that he had a Jewish partner in the firm who was well connected in Israel, and would be able, he said, to travel to Israel to plead his case and to obtain Israel’s approval for his entry visa into the United States. He was told that the cost would be extra for the service.
My client looked at him, dumbfounded, and to his credit, said that he would prefer not to enter the U.S. if it came to relying on the Israeli government’s intervention to get him a visa.
JAMES ABOUREZK is a board member of the Council for the National Interest (CNI) and is a contributor to CounterPunch and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Advise & Dissent: Memoirs of South Dakota and the U.S. Senate. His e mail address is: email@example.com
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James Abourezk represented South Dakota in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971 to 1973 and in the U.S. Senate from 1973 to 1979. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including Advise & Dissent: Memoirs of South Dakota and the U.S. Senate. CNI asked Senator Abourezk about his experiences with the Israel Lobby while he served in Congress. In his response he told of an Israeli plot against him that has received perplexingly little coverage in the U.S. press. Below is his description of this and other incidents:
Q: Despite such books as Paul Findley’s They Dare to Speak Out, Edward Tivnan’s The Lobby, and Mearsheimer and Walt’s The Israel Lobby, some people still tend to downplay the power of the Israel Lobby. Can you tell us about some of your experiences with it?
A: I’m an eyewitness to what the Lobby does to Members of Congress, including to me during the time I spent in D.C. I was threatened, marginalized, attacked, lied about, among other matters in an effort to silence my criticism of Israel’s policies and of the Lobby.
At one time Bob Cordier, from the Washington FBI office, called me to tell me that, during the investigation into Alex Odeh’s murder (Alex was one of my staff people) the FBI had uncovered a “plot” on my life. Not a threat, but a plot, but, he said it’s OK now, as the guy who intended to murder me had now gone back to Israel. Alex Odeh’s murder came not long after I had run four full page ads in the Washington Post asking for support against the Israel Lobby. My assumption was that, reading the ads had enraged the plotter, which led him to bomb the ADC office in Orange County, California.
I also assume that the plotter was Robert Manning, a hit man who was later convicted of the murder of the secretary of a Jewish businessman in California. Apparently Manning had been hired by another Jewish businessman who was a competitor. They found the fingerprints both of Manning and of his wife on remnants of the letter bomb that was sent to his target, but opened by his secretary, who died as a result of the explosion.
Manning and his wife were safe from extradition from Israel, due to Israeli policy of not extraditing Jews for any reason, until Peter Jennings on ABC nightly news did a story on how Manning was running free in his West Bank settlement. The news story so embarrassed the U.S. government as well as the Israeli government that he was allowed to be extradited to California, but on the condition that he not be tried for killing Alex Odeh, but only for the Secretary. That condition was tantamount to a confession that he had murdered Alex Odeh. Manning’s wife died of a heart attack in an Israeli jail while awaiting extradition.
James Bamford, now a writer living in Washington, D.C., and who was Peter Jennings’ producer then, has film clips of the news story that he shows at lectures he gives on the subject. He went to the West Bank and filmed a machine gun toting Manning for the news story.
I was under continual attack by the Lobby while I was in politics. Because I kept myself clean during my time of service, someone in the Lobby dug up a story designed to embarrass me by exposing my oldest son to ridicule. He was, at the time, living on an Indian reservation in South Dakota on food stamps. The Lobby got Spencer Rich, who was a political reporter for the Washington Post, to do a story on him. Rich several times called both my wife and me trying to get us to comment, but we refused. So he ran the story, headlined, “Senator’s Son Living on Food Stamps.” That set off a fire storm of criticism against the Post, and against Ben Bradlee, who was then Editor in Chief. Larry Stern, who was one of my friends, and an editor of the Post, complained bitterly to Bradlee. Senators McGovern and Ribicoff both took to the Senate Floor denouncing the article, saying the Post was trying to destroy the food stamp program.
One of the Style section writers, Tom Zito, whom I had never met, called me one day and told me the story about his protest to Bradlee over the story. Bradlee finally said, “Alright, go find some other famous people whose kids are living on food stamps and we’ll run it.” Zito told me that he had found that Bradlee’s daughter was living on Food Stamps out in Oregon, causing Bradlee to kill the story on the spot.
Years later I ran into Spencer Rich in a store in DC. He confessed to me that he still felt bad about doing the story on my son’s food stamp adventure.
“We’re going to get him”
Si Kenen, who was then Executive Director of AIPAC, used to tell anyone who knew me, to tell Abourezk “we’re going get him.” And when I returned from a trip through the Middle East, I spoke about the trip at the Federal Press Club (reserved for women and blacks) and talked about how every Middle East leader I met with said they would be willing to sign a peace treaty with Israel if Israel would go back to the 1967 borders. A young fellow named Wolf Blitzer, who was then writing for AIPAC, rose to ask me several hostile questions before he walked out. The next issue of the AIPAC newsletter headlined that “Abourezk Sells Out to the Arabs.” That was the beginning of the war, as I failed to collapse after that broadside, and worked to make AIPAC regret their unfair attack on me.
I used to take the lead in human rights legislation in the Senate. I once offered an amendment to a bill that would cut off American money for any country violating the human rights of their people. Before anyone would vote, I was asked during debate “whether the amendment would apply to Israel.” When I said “no” I would get that person’s vote.
I also had all kinds of pressure put on me by rabbis who would come to visit me. Once an Iraqi Jew, a woman, came to visit me to tell me how bad it was for Jews in Iraq, I suppose trying to get me to change my mind on the Palestinian issue. She said she was constantly beat up and called a “dirty Jew” when she lived in Iraq. I told her I knew her feeling, because when I grew up in rural South Dakota, other kids would beat me up and call me a “dirty Jew.”
I was invited to speak at Yeshiva University when I was in the Senate. Before the time came for me to travel to New York, I was visited by a Rabbi Miller, who was from Yeshiva, and who advised me that “the students were marching against me and my speech,” and that, “It would calm things down if I would just make a public statement that I was for face to face negotiations between the Palestinaians and the Israelis.”
I told Rabbi Miller that, while I was for such negotiations, I recognized that requested statement was part of Golda Meier’s propaganda initiative, and that I had no interest in being a part of that. He kept coming on strong about the statement, so I finally asked him if it would be better if I cancelled my appearance at Yeshiva. He agreed, and that was the end of that. One of my friends from New York commented that, “They are in favor of face to face negotiations in the Middle East, but not in New York.”
After I left the Senate, Art Meggido, a writer for the Baltimore Jewish newspaper asked me for an interview. When I asked him why I should give him an interview, he told me that the Jewish community would eventually have to deal with me when it came to making peace in the Middle East. So I agreed. When the article came out, he related a story that an unnamed Ted Kennedy staffer told him that I had approached Kennedy and asked for money to go to Iran and free some hostages to help him in his 1980 primary campaign against Jimmy Carter.
The truth of that libel was that Kennedy sent three of his supporters to me to ask if I would go to Iran to free some hostages in his name. One was Jan Kalicke, one was Sen. John Culver and the other was Ted Sorensen. I supported Ted for president, so I agreed. The only thing I asked for was that they buy my ticket to Tehran, which they agreed to do.
When I read Meggido’s article I wrote to him telling him that unless they retracted the lie, I would sue him and the newspaper. They ran the retraction. Because we had agreed that we would not talk on the phone about this, we decided to talk only in person about the trip. No one knew about our deal except Kennedy and his staff, which included Tom Dine, who had been working for AIPAC earlier. It had to be Dine who talked to Meggido with the lie. And during the kerfuffle, I had a hard time getting Kalicke to call Meggido to verify my story, but it all came out in his retraction.
Although I was afraid that either my phone or Kennedy’s phone was being tapped by the Carter people, we avoided speaking about the trip over the phone, except for one occasion when I called Kalicke to talk to him about it. Almost the next day, a Lebanese journalist who covered the State Department told me that he had overheard both Marvin Kalb and the Israeli TV journalist there talking about “Abourezk acting as a messenger for Ted Kennedy over in Iran.”
There are other stories that I could tell you at the risk of boring you to death, but the Lobby had every Senator, except me, scared shitless.
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By JAMES ABOUREZK | November 22, 2010
These remarks were delivered at a tribute for Helen Thomas, Thursday, November 18, at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington DC D.C., sponsored by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC).
I’m very proud to be asked to speak at a tribute to one of the great journalists in the history of this country – Helen Thomas. I say she is a great journalist because she was never cuddled up in the lap of the President – any president – when she was doing her job. She is someone my old friend, I.F. Stone, would be very proud of if he were still alive.
To say that she made a long succession of Presidents uncomfortable with her sharp questioning would be an understatement. Even Barack Obama, who has been advertised as a tolerant man, had to join in the denunciations of Helen. He, along with the others in the press corps, acted very much like children in a school yard. When one of the children falls down, the rest start kicking.
Helen was not necessarily done in by her statement about Israel. What she said is what I’ve been saying for years – the Zionists should get the hell out of Palestine.
Where they go when they leave there is not my concern, just as it is not the Zionists’ concern where the Palestinians went when they were driven out of Palestine. She was done in because she embarrassed the group of lap dogs who call themselves White House reporters. She has been doing what each and every one of them wishes they had the temerity to do – find out what the government is doing to us on a day by day basis.
She has consistently posed serious questions to each administration in turn – questions that affect the financial and emotional and security health of our country. She refused to go along with the game played by the national press – that is, to be very, very polite to the President during his press conferences so that they may stay in the good graces of the government they are supposed to be reporting on.
I’m especially proud because now ADC has been called anti-semitic by the Director of the Bnai Brith Defamation League, Abe Foxman. You remember Dr Johnson’s saying, that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel? Well, anti-semitism has become the last gasp of the worn-out old Zionists who, instead of trying to make America a better place in which to live, make their living snarling at anyone who might criticize what Israel is doing to the Palestinians and to the Lebanese, and to the Syrians.
I once called Alan Dershowitz a snake on Al Manar television. Al Manar is Hezbollah’s news channel in Lebanon. When he found out what I had said, he wrote a column in the Jerusalem post, calling me an anti-Semite. My response has been – to him and to anyone else – that an anti-Semite is synonymous with disliking Jews, and that I do not dislike Jews, I only dislike Alan Dershowitz, and Abe Foxman, and Bibi Netanyahu.
I also know now that I should have apologized to the snakes.
As for Abe Foxman, he is the head of the B’Nai Brith, whose stated mission is to promote tolerance and to fight against racism. He demonstrated that tolerance when he came out bleating that he was opposed to a mosque being built near the World Trade Center site. And he has made a living equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, which, so far as tolerance goes, promotes only hatred and racism.
The truth is, that Israel has very little to do with Judaism, but it has a lot to do with fascism.
For the Zionist supporters of Israel, it’s OK for Israel to kill on the average of at least one Palestinian a day during its illegal occupation;.
It’s OK for Israel to use the million and a half people in Gaza as living targets in a shooting gallery.
It’s OK to bomb Syria and Lebanon any time such an attack is needed to bolster the military credentials of Israel=s politicians.
It’s OK to invade Lebanon whenever they feel like it. In my memory, Israel’s military has killed at least 30,000 civilians in their Lebanon invasions. But lately, with Hezbollah standing up to them, it=s happening on fewer and fewer occasions, and fewer and fewer Lebanese are being slaughtered by Israel.
It’s OK to destroy the olive groves of Palestinian farmers. It’s OK to move them off their land to make room for Jewish settlements.
It’s OK for Israel to send agents to spy on the United States, and it’s OK for the Obama Administration to dismiss charges against those of Israel’s spies who have been caught red-handed.
It’s OK for Israel to commit an act of criminal piracy on the high seas by boarding a ship full of people and food and medicine on their way to help stem the starvation brought on by Israel’s policy in Gaza, and to outright murder 9 people, including an American citizen out on the high seas. Have you heard much lately about the American boy who was assassinated by the Israeli military on board one of those aid ships? Have you wondered why you haven’t heard anything about it from those great American journalists who so bravely ganged up on Helen Thomas?
It’s OK to do all of those things I’ve listed, but it’s not OK to send money and food to Palestinian refugees to help them survive.
And it’s not OK for Helen Thomas to tell Israel to get the hell out of Palestine.
And it’s not OK for anyone else to say that Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine is wrong and against the law, and that American taxpayers’ money is being used to help Israel commit these crimes against humanity. That kind of criticism brings down calls of “anti-Semitism” from the likes of Foxman and Dershowitz.
As an American citizen, I am deeply worried, among other things, about the direction our government has taken and is taking with respect to its financing of Israel’s crimes. There is no one left in the press corps to ask such questions now that they’ve drummed Helen out of journalism.
Helen’s fatal, and final, sin was, during a discussion of Iran’s nuclear program during a press conference, to ask President Obama if anyone else in the Middle East -beside Iran – has nuclear weapons. Of course, he didn’t answer the question, which probably explains why he joined the chorus of denouncers to drum Helen Thomas out of the White House press room. He simply didn’t want the question coming up again at a future press conference.
But you can easily see the service Helen performed by asking that question. As the Zionists and the Israelis are working very hard to get our country into a war with Iran, there remains almost no voice in the press or in the Congress to call a halt to this madness.
That is why we are all paying tribute to Helen tonight, and I hope, for a long time after this night. We pay tribute to all soldiers who act with bravery, and tonight, we add Helen Thomas to that company. She deserves our thanks, and she deserves the thanks of our nation.
James Abourezk is a former U.S. Senator, who practices law in Sioux Falls. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.