The US presidential debates more than ever instruct us that American politics despite their global impact is hardly about world peace, security, or prosperity. That it may not even be about US national interest occurred to us as we watched the presidential contenders line up at the recent annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to pledge their unqualified support for Israel. And that support for Israel is founded less on principles than on the Israel lobby’s clout with contributors to the campaign fund and with voters.
At this point, use of the word Israel rather than Jewish must be noted. The AIPAC also counts on the support of Christians of various denominations in the so-called Bible Belt of America who believe in the Israelites’ being God’s Chosen People. Known for devoting themselves to politics with almost religious fervor, Jews are said to have the highest percentage voter turnout of any ethnic group. Adding the non-Jews makes clear Israel has the support of one of the largest voting groups in America. Jews have also been considered major benefactors of political campaigns.
Alas, this clout of the Israel lobby affects not only the outcome of elections but also the contours of US policies in the Middle East, leading to the now increasingly hopeless state of affairs in the region and beyond.
Previously known as the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs, the AIPAC’s role in the creation of Israel augured the permanency and hellish spiraling of the problem of Palestine. Today, one can only wonder and be disturbed at how a generation of illustrious diplomats at the United Nations General Assembly could recommend a partition plan giving the Zionists a disproportionate 55 percent of Palestine, despite the fact that Jews represented only 30 percent of the total population and owned under 7 percent of the land.
Alison Weir in the Internet gives an incisive and comprehensive account of how the General Assembly came to approve the resolution.
The US policy establishment was almost universally against the partition of Palestine. The State Department strenuously opposed it, considering Zionism as contrary to the fundamental principles and interests of the US. It warned that the setting up of a Jewish State would be contrary to the wishes of a large majority of the local inhabitants with respect to their form of government.
But President Harry Truman ignored everybody’s advice, except that of his political adviser who believed that the Jewish vote and finance contributions were essential to winning the upcoming presidential election and supporting the partition plan would garner that support. It was a very close race. Remember the famous photo of Truman all smiles holding up a newspaper prematurely bannering the victory of his opponent? American presidential candidates seem to remember only that Truman escaped defeat by the skin of his teeth thanks to the Zionists and forget Secretary of State George Marshall’s fury that electoral considerations took precedence over policies based on national interest.
Ms. Weir gives a more detailed account than the memoirs of Filipino diplomats of the period of how the Philippines opposed the partition of Palestine but voted for the UNGA resolution. Before the vote, the Philippine delegate eloquently defended the “primordial rights of a people to determine their political future and to preserve the territorial integrity of their native land.” He went on to say that he could not believe that the General Assembly would sanction a move that would place the world “back on the road to the dangerous principles of racial exclusiveness and to the archaic documents of theocratic governments.” Twenty-four hours later, the Philippines voted in favor of partition. At the command of the Zionists, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, 10 senators, Truman’s political adviser Clark Clifford had threatened the Philippines with non-approval of seven bills pending in the US Congress.
At first, the resolution did not have the required two-thirds of the UNGA to pass and the Zionists had the voting delayed. They went on overdrive getting the White House, members of Congress, private businessmen and investors to woo or threaten countries to change their votes.
Ms. Weir seeks to dispel the widely-held notion that Israel was a creation of the UN. The UNGA resolution was only recommendatory and the Security Council never implemented its recommendations.
The Zionists themselves proclaimed the establishment of the State of Israel effective on the end of the British mandate over Palestine. Israel has not defined its borders, a fact taken by observers as indicative of a desire not to set limits to its expansionism.
A day after the proclamation, the first Israel-Arab war erupted, involving five Arab armies, who claimed they entered the war only after Zionist forces had committed 16 massacres.
Observers and analysts today contend the Zionists anticipated their going to war at this juncture, and Zionist forces actually outnumbered all Arab and Palestinian combatants combined, by a factor of two to one. The end of the war of 1947-49 saw Israel occupying 78 percent of Palestine; three-quarters of a million Palestinians had been made refugees; over 500 towns and villages had been obliterated.
The Israel lobby would carefully nurture the pro-Israel bias of the American government and people, culminating in a strategic partnership between the two countries. It not only supports politicians that pass its test for loyalty to the Israeli cause but also works hard to end the political career of those who show lack of sympathy for the cause.
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman in his Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture even-handledly saw in the subsequent unfolding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict two parties engaged in mutual destruction. “The resort to terrorist acts by the Palestinians, especially suicide bombings in crowded places, has caused them to forfeit much of the international sympathy their cause would otherwise enjoy…The cruelties of Israelis to their Arab captives and neighbors, especially in the ongoing siege of Gaza and repeated attacks on the people of Lebanon, have caused much of the global sympathy that the Holocaust previously conferred on it.”
Freeman seems to view the American determination to protect Israel from the political and legal consequences of any and all of its actions as taking a far greater toll, the incalculable damage it has brought to the authority of international organizations and the integrity of international law. “Repeated American vetoes on behalf of Israel have reduced the United Nations and other intenational fora to impotence on fundamental questions of justice and human dignity.”
Not the least of these costs has been the qualification of the United States as a peace processor. “Given the protracted failure of US diplomacy in the Israel-Palestine arena, the Palestinians and others may be forgiven for believing that it is time to entrust peace-making to other parties who are more objective, less politically constrained, and less emotionally biased.”
One presidential contender was conspicuously absent at the AIPAC meeting: the Democratic challenger Senator Bernie Sanders. The speculations for the reason(s) behind his non-appearance might indicate a fresh wind blowing and coming to US foreign policy in the Middle East. One was that his pro-Palestinian supporters urged him to skip the event, claiming that it promoted racist, militaristic, and anti-democratic policies of the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. The other was that he did not want to antagonize his constituency, the young voters who have been more critical of Israel and sympathetic to the Palestinians. In his speech delivered to coincide with the AIPAC meeting, Sanders struck a bright note in defining peace as also security for every Palestinian, achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being; and ending what amounts to the occupation of Palestinian territory, establishing mutually agreed borders, and pulling back settlements in the West Bank, just as Israel did in Gaza.
If elected President or appointed to a top post, Sen Sanders, the only Jewish candidate, might recall the late President John F. Kennedy’s scheme of political values: his American citizenship first, and his religious affiliation second.