The Jewish lobby in the United States is very influential
Stabroek News
April 12, 2002

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Dear Editor,

The most troubling criticism of America's Middle East policy is that it is driven not by national interest but by a domestic lobby, the Jewish lobby. This criticism is an article of faith in the Arab world. It has been widespread in European chancellories for years. Now a respectable American pundit, Michael Lind, has tried to detail the case in a respectable magazine Prospect. Does the argument hold water? Without question, the Jewish lobby is enormously influential in the United States. The American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is a legend among lobbyists, a phenomenon when it comes to lining up senators, orchestrating public opinion and arranging junkets to Israel for impressionable politicians. The Jews are not alone in lobbying for their ethnic interests: everybody does it. Not are they alone in occasionally allowing ethnic loyalties to trump the national interest. But the Jewish lobby is nevertheless unusual in several respects.

It allows Jews to exercise an influence out of all proportion to their percentage of the population. It is unusually focused on foreign affairs - and particuarly on providing Israel with the military might which it needs to survive. It also has an enormous number of allies in the media and politics. A striking proportion of America' leading pundits are Jewish. Three of the most prominent foreign-policy hawks in the current administration Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, are Jewish; so is the most prominent hawk among the Capital Hill Democrats, Joe Lieberman.

America is also far more pro-Israel than Europe - Israel receives more of America's foreign aid budget than any other country - $3 billion a year, two thirds of it in military grants. This has allowed Israel to turn itself into a muscle-bound colossus.

In 1967, Israel's defence spending was less than half the combined defence expenditure of Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Syria. Today it is 30 times higher than the combined defence spending of those states.

But does the Jewish lobby, well connected as it may be, really explain America's support for Israel. The lobby may do its bit, but it would be powerless if America did not have such strong cultural affinities with Israel. America has a marked tendency to see foreign policy in moralistic terms as a battle of good against evil, western values against barbarism.

Europeans may see the Middle East as a matter of managing rival interests (and assuaging cultural guilt). Americans tend to see it as a matter of defending an island of freedom and democracy from a ravening crowd of klepotocrats and tyrants - and since September 11, in terms of allies and enemies in America's war against global terrorism.

Many Evangelical Christians are also passionately pro-Israel. Some of the strongest support for Israel comes from Bible-belt states, such as Alabama and Mississippi, that have few kosher restaurants.

Evangelical preachers such as Pat Robertson pull off the extraordinary feat of being both anti-semitic and passionately pro-Israel.

All American residents have happily crushed the Jewish lobby whenever they think the national interest demands it. Ronald Reagan, a pro-Israel president, sold AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia over strong objections from (AIPAC). He was so influenced by the Israeli invasion of Lebanon that he put a picture of a Palestinian child on his desk

In 1991 George Bush senior brushed aside AIPAC objections when America threatened to withdraw loan guarantees if Israel continued to expand its settlements in the occupied territories. Successive American administrations have declared Jewish settlements in the territories illegal and counterproductive. AIPAC, like all ethnic pressure groups, is good at getting its way on things that presidents don't really care about. But when it tries to butt its head against issues of national interest it ends up with a headache.

The current administration is a particularly odd candidate for the role of cat's paw in the Jewish lobby. Jews are the only group of rich white people who habitually vote Democratic and many of the Jewish commentators who are credited with such influence over American policy would rather dress up in a Klu Klux Klan outfit than endorse the current president.

The Jewish lobby has a particularly testy relationship with the British dynasty. Jewish organisations regarded George Bush senior as the most anti-Israel president in recent years - a man who saw the Middle East in terms of oil supplies rather than Israel's destiny.

The current president is certainly more sympathetic to Israel than his father. During a trip to Israel a few years ago he was shocked to learn that Israel had once been only nine miles wide. "In Texas some of our driveways are longer than that". But sympathy does not reduce him to being a puppet of a domestic lobby.

Is Mr Bush giving into the Israeli lobby when he urges Israel to deal with Mr Arafat, or when he argues that the Palestinians have legitimate grievances?

And in the midst of a war on terror is America acting against its national interest when it stands behind a country that is trying to tear up terrorist networks - and that in a daring strike back in 1981, destroyed Saddam Hussein's earlier efforts to build an atom bomb?

Yours faithfully,

Umar Saied