Have you ever wondered why the United States jumps through many hoops to accommodate the brutal whims of Israel? Why the world’s only ‘superpower’ becomes servile to the Israel’s diktats? Why a country like the US which champions democracy and human rights across the world is not willing to listen to the cries of the innocent Palestinians? Actually, it is because of the ‘special’ US-Israel relationship that is acknowledged universally as the ‘unswayable force’ of politics in the Middle East. It is the theme that is ritually adhered to by every US president and Israeli prime minister.
Almost all US presidents and Israeli prime ministers have held that “the bond between Israel and the United States is rooted in more than our shared national interests; it’s rooted in the shared values and shared stories of our people.” Commitment to this ‘article of faith’ is a litmus test for anyone aspiring to have a strong say in American politics. Minor deviations can and do have major political consequences. For instance, President Bush senior asserted US foreign policy towards Israeli settlements by conditioning $10 billion worth of loan guarantees on a total cessation of settlement construction. Consequently, he paid a massive political price for standing up to Israel as he was not re-elected for a second term.
Over the years this near-sacred doctrine has cultivated a fawning political culture characterised by “an arms race between Democrats and Republicans over who can be more pro-Israel than the other.” With the Israeli elections due in March, followed shortly thereafter by the US primaries, this feature of American politics will be a key factor.
A glimpse of the increasingly sycophantic political marriage between Washington and Tel Aviv came recently with the invitation extended to Benjamin Netanyahu by the US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner to address the US Congress only weeks before Israel’s elections. It will be Netanyahu’s third opportunity to sermonise in Congress; he received 29 standing ovations on the previous occasion, which is more than any US president, let alone foreign leader, has ever been given. To put this into a historical context, Winston Churchill only addressed Congress three times and Netanyahu, described by his fawning supporters as the Churchill of our time, will now equal that record.
The visit, cooked up without the knowledge of President Obama, is seen as “a breach of normal diplomatic protocol”. Obama’s refusal to meet with Netanyahu is due to the imminent Israeli election campaign and “is not a rebuff” by the president, insisted the White House. Snubbing an Israeli prime minister would be politically toxic for Obama if not for the fact that he is in his second term in office.
Some have voiced concerns that Israel is becoming a political football in a struggle between Republicans and Democrats because Israel is increasingly enlisted for an internal American debate to add weight to the Republican position on foreign policy. In this case, Iran’s nuclear programme is the focus and Bibi’s contribution will leave Obama —thus the Democrats — bruised politically.
The incident is fascinating on many levels, not least the fact that the head of the world’s superpower, the President of the United States of America, can be challenged in such a juvenile manner as though it was all quite usual to do so. Such a brazenly treacherous step would have been punished ceremoniously if it wasn’t for the fact that Obama is now isolated because of his strained relationship with Netanyahu whose joining the naked power play for the Republican Party signals a growing Republican-Israeli symbiosis.
Increasingly we are seeing the melding of narrow rejectionist forces on both sides. It’s a graphic example of the axis developing between powerful pro-Israel political donors and the more politically-muscular conservative Republicans and evangelical Christians, who are generally more pro-Israel than the American Jewish community itself.
The rise of a small but influential power bloc in a powerful democracy is worrying. It is significant because of the colossal sums of money being pumped into the election race by its members, reflecting the growth of “pro-Israelism” in American politics. We have already seen an exponential growth in the amount of money spent in US elections; an analysis of the figures suggests that this is down to the influence of this narrow alliance.
The greatest contributions are invariably from conservative members of the pro-Israel elites, people like Sheldon Adelson, the biggest donor, whose colossal $92 million went to the Republican Party for the 2012 election.
Of the $13 billion spent on the 2012 US presidential election, around $6.6 billion went into lobbying — double to what it was in 2000. This increase followed the lifting of the campaign spending cap by the US Supreme Court. The striking down of a key pillar of the federal campaign finance law allowed donors to give money to as many political candidates, parties and committees as they wish.
The opening of the campaign cash floodgates in the US has all but drowned the opportunity for the voice of the vast majority of the electorate to be heard. They can’t even dream about spending such large sums of money to exert political influence. It all looks ominous for US democracy; just 0.26 per cent of the population accounted for 68 per cent of all political donations in 2012. This trend is believed to have transformed the US government into an oligarchy.
The greatest contributions are invariably from conservative members of the pro-Israel elites, people like Sheldon Adelson, the biggest donor, whose colossal $92 million went to the Republican Party for the 2012 election. The billionaire casino tycoon, in contrast to the vast majority of Liberal Jews in America, believes that the Palestinians are a made up nation which exists solely to destroy Israel.
Adelson, who has also called for dropping nuclear bombs on Iran, is a very close friend of Netanyahu. He is slowly buying up Israeli media. In an effort to exert political muscle, he also launched his own free newspaper in Israel, which is seen widely as reflecting the position of Israeli rejectionists favoured by the Israeli prime minister.
Despite the fact that Israel, unlike the US, has more stringent campaign funding rules, with limitations on election expenditure and conditions regarding eligibility, conservative Americans have found imaginative ways to influence Israeli politics. It is clearly not a lack of desire or financial ability that has been the obstacle for a growing conservative element in the US Jewish community to buy influence in Israeli politics as it does in the US.
Despite the strict rules, an axis of conservative US oligarchs and rejectionist Israeli politicians has gained foothold. More than 90 per cent of the recent campaign contributions for Netanyahu were sent from three American families, including the Falics. Among other things, Simon Falic, the head of this family, chairs the Friends of the Israel Defence Forces, a New York-based organisation that raises funds for the Israeli army. His wife, Jana, is co-president of the Women’s International Zionist Organisation, Israel’s largest non-governmental service-provider. The three Falic brothers and 12 of their family members have made 682 political donations to politicians including right-wing Republicans like Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Eric Cantor and Charles Schumer.
There is a gradual increase in private donations which are corrupting politics with the added dimension of a globalisation of campaign funds. This factor has increased in importance with conservative Americans bankrolling political parties and personalities that are divisive in the US and Israel. Most democracies have a clear principle that foreign governments, political parties, corporations and individuals should not influence elections, directly or indirectly. Yet, the globalisation of corporate structures as well as transnational interests makes it virtually impossible to prevent foreign nationals from having such pernicious influence.
The unsettling aspect of such unprecedented “pro Israelism” within US politics is not simply having Israel used as a political football between Republicans and Democrats. It is, in fact, an accelerated drive to cement Israel’s status as the sacred cow in American politics. The “pro-Israelism” agenda affects US foreign policy and is being pushed by a growing minority whose views on Israel and Palestine are at odds with most American Jews, let alone Palestinians.
The fact that pro-Israel activists hold the purse strings to electoral success has turned foreign policy regarding Israel into a doctrinal issue. This has made support for Israel the barometer for measuring the suitability of political hopefuls across the US.
Already there are signs that more and more Democrats are anxious about the consequences of Obama’s snub of Netanyahu — for that is what it is viewed as, regardless of White House denials – with one commenting that all Democrats have to be for Israel and “he — Obama — can’t split his own constituency by bringing up this madness, which touches so directly on the national interest and the Israel lobby.”
As the sole remaining superpower, the exercise of American political and military might should be of concern to us all. A turn towards oligarchy and the fusion of tiny power blocs with extreme, partisan views on the question of Palestine, is bad news. Obama is reviled as anti-Israel (although his record shows otherwise) and Democrats are feeling greater pressure to prove their pro-Israel credentials to the extent that whoever is chosen as their candidate for the 2016 presidential election will, almost certainly, have to outdo the Republicans in their pro-Israel fervour.
Courtesy: Middle East Monitor