By Aijaz Zaka Syed
Pundits aren’t still done debating Netanyahu’s little circus in the Congress last week. Which isn’t surprising. Even though we have all been familiar with the long tradition of US politicians forever dancing to Israel’s tunes and eating out of its lobby’s hand, Bibi’s endless adulation in the Congress was nonetheless hard to digest.
And it’s not just us, distant observers in the Middle East and sympathizers of the oppressed lot of Palestinians who are outraged by the US lawmakers repeatedly throwing themselves at Israeli premier’s feet. Many a US commentator who still retains some semblance of conscience has been troubled by the craven sycophancy of their politicians. The lawmakers cheered even when the ‘guest’ standing there in the highest representative body in the land continually derided their president and rubbed his nose in.
Just as Obama was being mobbed like a rock star and welcomed like an emperor in Europe – Britain hosted a rare special session of parliament in the Westminster Hall for the "grandson of a Kenyan cook in the British Army," as Obama chose to remind his audience — Netanyahu demolished the President’s “audacity of hope” and push for Mideast peace. Yet the lawmakers, including Vice President Joe Biden, clapped and clapped. It was a virtual love fest. Not much different from the bloody antics of Roman gladiators with the mob lustily lapping up every minute of the action. There were 29 standing ovations and 41 ‘applause pauses’ during the 50-minute speech.
As Israeli commentator Uri Avnery put it, Netanyahu’s speech could be summed up in one word: NO. No to peace. No giving up or sharing of Jerusalem. No right of return for Palestinian refugees. No peace talks as long as Fatah and Hamas are at peace with each other. More important, a resounding ‘no’ to Obama’s call for the Palestinian state on the land that Israel captured after the 1967 war. Yet they cheered on Bibi even as he heaped abuse on Palestinians, Arabs and even Islam peddling lie after brazen lie with a straight face.
The whole show was utterly nauseating and disgusting, making people around the world wonder for a zillionth time why the world’s most powerful democracy turns putty in the hands of a tiny rogue state.
And there are growing signs that Netanyahu’s charade, especially his humiliation of their President didn’t go down well with many thinking Americans and commentators either, who are beginning to demand where the loyalties of their lawmakers lie–with the US constitution or with a foreign regime.
More and more Americans, especially the younger lot, appalled by the perpetual victimization of the Palestinians, are increasingly uncomfortable with the blind US support to Israel. They couldn’t have liked the abject obeisance of their representatives before His Majesty the King of Israel.
Many in the US establishment are beginning to question the logic of America throwing its weight behind Israel and its oppression, at the cost of its own security and relations with the Muslim world. Even Jewish Americans are increasingly uncomfortable with the belligerence of Israeli leadership. According to a new poll this week, 57 percent of Israelis feel Israel should accept Obama’s call for Palestinian state and not alienate the US. This is a ray of hope. But we have a long way to go before the brave voices of peace activists and conscience keepers of cyberspace turn into a proper chorus in the land of the free.
Even if Obama is sincere in his commitment to peace—and I believe he is–he is utterly helpless before the awesome, brute power of the Israeli lobby. This is why he had to rush to the AIPAC meet a day after Netanyahu snubbed him at the White House to eat his own words and reassure the almighty Lobby on the ‘ironclad’ nature of the US-Israel equation. He wasn’t alone.
As The Economist reports, 67 senators and 286 members of the House of Representatives joined 10,000 delegates at the AIPAC dinner, a powerful testament to the clout of the lobby. And it’s not just the Jewish votes, Jewish money and support of the largely Jewish influence US media that politicians covet. They are mortally afraid of the Israeli lobby’s far-reaching power and its propensity to punish slightest slight or defiance–real or imagined. No politician can defy the fiat of the lobby and live to tell the tale.
So even though what Obama said on Palestine was nothing new and only reflected the official US position and even that of successive Israeli leaders from Begin to Olmert, as President Jimmy Carter, the author of the Arab-Israel peace treaty points out, he may end up paying for his “audacity” in the reelection battle next year. Unfortunately Obama, like so many of his predecessors, is trapped in an iron cage, as Professor John J. Mearsheimer, author of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, argues.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Jewish donors of the Democratic Party have already warned Obama’s campaign that they could expect little support from them if there’s no change in Obama’s “stand on Israel.” It’s hardly a secret that the Israeli lobby is a major contributor of funds to both Republicans and Democrats, and more so in the Democrats’ case as the Jewish voters have traditionally voted for the Democrats. No wonder every politician on both sides of the isle is sucking up to the J Street.
Which begs the question: Why can’t the Arabs have their own lobby in the US to protect their interests and force the US establishment to pay attention to their genuine grievances? Almost every country and every major company has its lobby group or public relations consultancy to look after its interests in the US. So instead of constantly wailing over Israeli stranglehold over US politics, why can’t Arabs do something on this front when their vital interests are at take? Lobby culture is part of US politics and plays a crucial role in influencing the choices of decision makers.
Instead of spending their precious resources — and time and energy – on pointless pursuits like camel racing and horse racing and buying the expensive, useless junk like fighter jets and tanks, the Arabs would do well to divert some of those funds to present their side of the story. I am not suggesting buying the conscience and support of politicians, as the Israeli lobby has done all these years to perpetuate the tyranny of a ruthless, racist regime. Truth and justice are on the side of Palestinians and Arabs and the whole world knows it. It’s high time the notoriously uninformed and gullible Americans realized it.
– Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published commentator. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.