Lobbying for Likud from the USA. An explosive book enlightens. – Politics

Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing religious coalition government has announced that it will undertake far-reaching political changes in Israel. Tens of thousands demonstrate at the weekend against the planned judicial reform. Many political observers are currently looking to Jerusalem with concern. Also the Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians may face further escalation. A new book – previously only available in English – can perhaps serve as a guide here.

Eric Alterman, Distinguished Professor of English and Journalism at the City University of New York and well-known political journalist, has devoted his analysis to the evolution of American Jewry’s relationship to Zionism, Israel and the Middle East conflict. In this relationship there is a strong tendency to identify with Israel – initially mainly because of the Holocaust – but there are also fluctuations and breaks. Alterman consistently proves that American Jews nonetheless exert considerable influence on US Middle East policy. It starts with the “Jewish vote”, which is concentrated on the big cities when the turnout is well above average and can therefore decide tight races. Jimmy Carter and George HW Bush, until Trump the only post-war presidents who were not re-elected, had demanded far-reaching concessions on the settlement question for a two-state solution; a significant drop in Jewish votes was one reason for their defeat.

Some US presidents have complained

The power of discourse in the media is particularly noticeable, to which – as Alterman amply documents – a liberally employed and often defamatory anti-Semitism accusation heard, and financial resources of American Jews. This applies above all to the congressional elections in the USA, in which the candidates are dependent on large financial resources. Funds from large Jewish organizations are not always the deciding factor here, but they are from time to time. The Republican Party, which has replaced the Democrats as Israel’s mainstay in the Middle East conflict, is also benefiting. Alterman repeatedly cites American presidents who lament the influence of the Israel lobby in Congress, which restricts their freedom of action because they constantly advocate Israeli resistance to compromise.

Alterman does not fundamentally oppose the term “Jewish lobby”, but explains in detail why he falls short. So it’s not just wealthy Jewish businessmen or well-funded Jewish organizations that want to keep the US unconditionally on Israel’s side. At least as important is the Christian right, numerically much stronger and now a key constituency of the Republicans. For the vast majority of evangelicals, the Jews are entitled to all of Palestine because God gave it to them and because they have to play the placeholder there until the “Last Judgment”. Another part of the pro-Israel lobby are neoconservative intellectuals, by no means all Jews. Responsibility for the Iraq war rests with George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. (Here Alterman differs from the well-known Mearsheimer/Walt study from 2007 about “The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy“, with whom he otherwise agrees in many respects and which he defends against the massive allegations of anti-Semitism.) But the neoconservatives, who were also represented in the government and in think tanks, steered the discussion in this direction and in some cases even drew up plans to which not only Saddam Hussein but also the governments of Syria, Tunisia, Iran and Gaza were to be violently eliminated.

Yitzchak Rabin complained about one-sided influence

Not even the term “Israel lobby” gets to the heart of the matter; actually it should be called “Pro-Likud-Lobby”. Alterman recalls that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once complained directly to the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) that it always only supports the positions of the Israeli right-wing parties, i.e. above all the Likud, and is thus blundering in his work. As for the US itself, the spectrum of politically organized Jews as a whole ranges from the far right to the far left. And there are liberal groups, such as J Street, who remain firmly committed to a two-state solution; but they cannot compete with right-wing organizations. AIPAC has provided many political and financial sponsorships to Trump supporters in recent congressional elections. In that the powerful Jewish pro-Israel groups don’t even care about the American Judaism represent, which is much more moderate on Middle East issues, Alterman sees a major problem for democracy in the United States. And divisions in this population are growing, with repercussions extending into the Democratic Party. More critical voices are also establishing themselves in the media.

The Political Book: Eric Alterman: We are not one.  A history of America's fight over Israel.  Basic Books, New York 2022. 512 pages, $35.

Eric Alterman: We are not one. A history of America’s fight over Israel. Basic Books, New York 2022. 512 pages, $35.

(Photo: Basic Books)

Alterman mentions Peter Beinart with his small but fine magazine as a particularly interesting author Jewish Currents. Beinart has evolved from a staunch Zionist into a harsh critic of the Jewish leadership in the US and has long advocated a binational state throughout former Palestine. Israel’s importance has diminished significantly for younger Jews in the United States, and many are even turning away from Israel altogether. A surprising number of Jewish students support the BDS movement at the universities. Israel, including its youth, is leaning more and more to the right, but Jewish America remains mostly progressive liberal.

Alterman’s critical but fair 500-page account, which has dealt with the topic for 40 years, differs pleasantly from the gross one-sidedness and polemics in many American debates about Israel and the Middle East conflict, which there are also beginnings in Germany are. The fact that the USA bears a high degree of joint responsibility for the occupation and Israel’s offensive settlement policy emerges compellingly from Alterman’s analyses. Despite many statements to the contrary, Washington ultimately accepts everything and supports Israel massively, economically and militarily, without conditions.

Gert Krell is Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main.

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