UNITED STATES: Should we blame the 'Israel lobby'?

July 24, 2002

The United States is the most powerful and important backer of the state of Israel. A common explanation for this support is that the "Israel lobby" within the US exercises huge influence over Washington.

There is a powerful network of Zionist organisations — led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — that donate money to pro-Israel candidates and lobbies the US government on behalf of Israel. There is nothing anti-Semitic about pointing this out — especially since pro-Israel organisations are not shy about touting their influence.

Are these organisations and their lobbying efforts the reason why the US supports Israel? The answer is no.

Israel annually receives more than US$3 billion in US aid. Egypt runs second at around US$2 billion. Yet no-one seriously claims that the aid that Egypt receives is the result of an "Egyptian lobby".

About 99% of the nearly US$83 billion that the US has given to Israel came after 1967. While during the first 19 years of Israel's existence, from 1948 to 1967, the US supported Israel, it did not become the central lynchpin of US policy in the Middle East until after it proved its worth by smashing the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian armies during the 1967 war. Ironically, Richard Nixon, an open anti-Semite, was the president who oversaw the initial buildup of US support for Israel.

It's no coincidence that Israel and Egypt are the two top recipients of US aid. Both are important allies in the region where the lion's share of the world's oil is located. Since the end of the Second World War, the US has tied its "national security" to its access to and control of the flow of oil.

That's why the US has given military and economic aid to prop up "friendly" states in the region — not only Israel, but Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf monarchies too.

The US puts Israel at the top of the list because its government and population form the only uniformly pro-US state in the region. In countries like Egypt, pro-Western governments rule over restive populations that hate the US government's support for Israel and the region's oppressive regimes.

The US attempt to reconcile support for Israel with support for conservative Arab regimes sometimes leads to conflicts. After the 1991 Gulf War, for example, the administration of George Bush senior withheld US loan guarantees to strong-arm the Israeli government into participating in the US-sponsored Madrid "peace talks". When one White House political adviser warned against the administration's stand, Secretary of State James Baker is alleged to have said, "Fuck the Jews. They don't vote for [Republican] anyway".

Today, veterans of the Bush senior administration and the early 1990s Israeli government are working hand-in-glove. What has changed? Not the strength of the "Israel lobby" but the policy of the US government.

In the early 1990s, the US, under both Bush senior and Bill Clinton, wanted to push "the peace process" as its plan for "regional stability". Today's Bush administration has abandoned that strategy for now.

The US government — for its own imperial reasons — decides how much leeway Israel has. This leeway defines how successful the "Israel lobby" will be.

As long as Israel remains central to US imperialism in the Middle East, Israel will continue to receive US backing and aid. That's why Israel's ace in the hole in Washington isn't AIPAC — but the Pentagon, the CIA and the capitalist politicians.

[From Socialist Worker, weekly paper of the US International Socialist Organization. Visit <http://www.socialistworker.org>.]

From Green Left Weekly, July 24, 2002.
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