December 5, 2014

The Mouse That Swallowed the Elephant: How Israel Governs America.


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There is an old joke about two Israeli politicians debating whether or not to make Israel the 51st American state.

After much debate, one of them finally throws up his hands, “Why have only two Senators when we now have 100?” Israel does not control American foreign policy, but its influence can be astonishing.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is the second most powerful lobby in the U.S., according to an old and oft cited study by Fortune. [1] Newt Gingrich has called it, “the most effective general interest group over the entire planet.” [2]

Other top ranked lobbies, like the AARP and the NRA, exercise near complete hegemony over their own policy domains. But AIPAC is just one of several major organizations making up the Israel lobby, which also includes, among others, the Anti-Defamation League and Christians United for Israel. Together they exercise extraordinary influence over American Middle East policy.

Back in 2002, Israel’s former Prime Minister, Benyamin Netanyahu, went before Congress and asserted, “There is no question whatsoever that Saddam is seeking…and is advancing toward the development of, nuclear weapons—no question whatsoever.” [3]

Videos of this testimony show a certitude not present among Bush administration officials at the time. He explained Iraq is a very large country and that the program could not be eradicated without a full-on invasion. America has long been reliant on Israeli intelligence in the Middle East, so his confidence mattered.

That confidence was at the time echoed by then Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, who has often been blamed along with Douglas Feith for orchestrating the Iraq War. It is telling that both men, at different times in their careers, were investigated for passing state secrets to Israel. [4] While both men were eventually acquitted, the incidents highlight the perception that they enjoyed an unusually close relationship to this foreign state.

While Israel may not have been responsible for the invasion of Iraq, it is hard to imagine it would have taken place without the influence of Israel’s closest American supporters.

It is much the same with the 9-11 attack. Bin Laden gave a few reasons in his videotapes for launching strikes against the World Trade Towers. But he repeatedly mentioned the Israeli occupation. [5] Americans may see Israel as a home to the Jews, which was established following the Holocaust. But to Muslims of the Middle East, Israel often appears as a sort of modern crusade launched by colonial powers, like Britain and America. The colonization of Palestinian Territories in what might be the longest standing military occupation of the last century only cements this perception.

Israel somehow manages to break all of the international rules by which states are expected to play. [6] In the recent attack on Gaza, Israel bombed seven schools [7] and hospitals [8], many of which were occupied by refugees. Israel routinely demolishes homes [9], shuts off the water to whole neighborhoods, cuts down olive groves [10], and sprays down neighborhoods with noxious liquids [11] all in the name of collective punishment. According to UNICEF, Israel even arrests and beats children in the night in an effort to turn them into collaborators. [12]

While American Presidents condemn such actions in virtually every other corner of the globe, Israel gets away with barely a word of criticism. Far from criticizing Israel, America regularly defends it from censure in the U.N. Security Council. The U.S. has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions concerning Israel since 1982 [13]. This is more than all other vetoes combined. Political capital that might have been better spent pressing for a climate deal or working to prevent nuclear proliferation was thus wasted on defending what to rest of the world can often look like America’s little alcoholic brother.

American support for Israel is not just passive. Since WWII, Israel has received $140 billion in aid, as measured in 2004 dollars. And it currently receives about $3 billion a year [14]. This is more aid than has been received in this period by all other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa combined [15], according to economist Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and often considered the foremost economist pressing for increases in aid.

While America regularly sacrifices for Israel, Israel does virtually nothing return. America could not even launch invasions into Iraq from Israel, in spite of the role its supporters played in starting the war. For if they had the coalition might have shattered. In fact, anything Israel does to support the U.S. further sullies the American image abroad. And since the U.S. routinely defends Israel when it breaks international laws and norms, Israel not only weakens American soft power but international law itself.

All of this raises the question of what exactly America gets in return and whether it is worth the price. As European powers re-examine their own relationship to Israel, perhaps it is time America does the same. Please share this widely to keep the pressure on.


1. Fortune Magazine. 

2. The Asia Times. 

3. “Netanyahu was wrong about Iraq having nuclear weapons.” Youtube.

4. Paul Wolfowitz, Wikipedia.Douglas J. Feith, Wikipedia.

5. Motives for the September 11 attacks, Wikipedia.

6. Russell Tribunal on Palestine. 

7. 2014 Israel Gaza conflict, Wikipedia.

8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Israel–Gaza_conflict#Medical_facilities_and_personnel

9. http://www.cartercenter.org/news/features/p/democracy/palestinian-home-demolitions.html

10. International Symposium on Groundwater Sustainability (ISGWAS).

11. http://electronicintifada.net/blogs/patrick-strickland/israel-sprays-skunk-water-palestinian-homes

12. http://www.cbsnews.com/news/un-report-accuses-israeli-forces-of-using-palestinian-children-as-human-shields-abusing-children-in-custody/

13. John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt. The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. London Review of Books Website.

14. ibid

15. Jeffrey Sachs. The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities of Our Times. Penguin Books. 2006.


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Author:  Theo Horesh

Editor: Travis May

Image: Wikimedia Commons 

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