By Jeremy Salt
Another AIPAC conference has ended in Washington. Another four days of tub-tumping, chest-beating and rapturous standing applause has ended. Another four days of deceit and delusion has ended. Another four days of fervent declarations of love of Israel forever and another four days of threats to destroy its enemies.
It would be hard to single out who won the race to express the greatest love of Israel, whose genuflection short of lying prone on the floor and whose statements represented the greatest violation of international law.
What would take the winner over the line? Was it Vice-President Mike Pence’s ‘we stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, in liberty over tyranny .. we stand with Israel today, tomorrow and we always will.’ Well, Mr. Pence, if any of this were true you would not be at AIPAC today but leading the campaign to take Israel’s leading politicians and army commanders to the International Criminal Court, including those speaking at the same conference as yourself.
Or could it be the pledge by Trump’s ambassador, David Friedman, representing Israel’s illegal occupation and settlement, not American interests? This former bankruptcy lawyer, defending the morally bankrupt policies of the Israeli state, gave a guarantee that the US would protect the ‘free world’ not just for the ‘Benjamins’ or from ‘the Davids from King David to David Ben-Gurion.’ In fact, it would defend everyone except, apparently, the Palestinians.
Yesterday, Mr. Friedman intoned, “I awoke to see the news that Hamas had fired a rocket that flattened a house and injured seven people, including two small children.”
How upsetting this must have been, certainly infinitely more upsetting for Mr. Friedman than the Israeli missile onslaughts on Gaza that have flattened not one house and hurt seven people but have destroyed entire apartment blocks and killed thousands of people, including hundreds of children.
This odious hypocrite was clapped and cheered as moved on to the West Bank (‘Judea and Samaria’), the Golan Heights and the Jordan River valley, all occupied territories according to laws rejected by this law-breaking lawyer.
Israel couldn’t possibly hand them back. Israel needs the height of the Golan Heights and one could imagine what would happen if the West Bank were to be overcome by terrorists instead of remaining in the safe hands of Israeli police, soldiers and Jewish settlers. After all, whose land is this anyway? Thankfully, according to David Friedman, ‘we will continue to work with the Palestinians for peace.’
Anti-semitism was a dominant theme at the conference, following the smearing of Ilhan Omer after her remarks highlighting the role of Israel’s lobbyists in shaping US policy in the Middle East. Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, who said recently that God may have sent Trump to save the Jewish people from Iran – ‘I am confident that the Lord is at work here’ – said anti-zionism and antisemitism were the same.
Referring to Ilhan Omer without naming her, Pence was astonished to think ‘that the party of Harry Truman, which did so much to create the state of Israel, has been co-opted by people who promote rank anti-semitism.’
Well, interesting. Yes, Truman godfathered the UN partition plan by threatening vulnerable delegations with reprisals if they didn’t vote for it. He also rushed to recognize Israel in 1948, but was this because he had love of the Jewish people or his forthcoming election prospects in mind?
Out of sight and hearing, Truman was given to referring to Jews as ‘kikes.’ He had the racism typical of a middle-class white male of his generation. ‘I think one man is as good as another,’ he wrote to his wife Bess in 1911, ‘so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman.’
Writing a diary entry in 1947, when he was being pressured to put pressure on Britain to allow a shipful of refugees into Palestine, he complained that ‘the Jews have no sense of proportion nor do they have any judgment on world affairs.’
Furthermore, ‘the Jews, I find, are very selfish. They care not how many Estonians, Latvians, Finns, Poles, Yugoslavs or Greeks get murdered or mistreated as DPs [displaced persons] as long as the Jews get special treatment. Yet when they have power, physical, financial or political, neither Hitler nor Stalin has anything on them for cruelty or mistreatment of the underdog.’
Truman was not the only president who hid dislike of Jews behind public affection for Israel. John Kennedy’s father was notoriously anti-semitic and Kennedy himself, at the very least, was deeply irritated by the pressure brought to bear on him by Israel’s lobbyists.
‘We know your campaign is in trouble,’ he is reported to have been told during a meeting with 30 Jewish leaders in New York in 1960. ‘We’re willing to pay your bills if you’ll let us have control of your Middle East policy.’
Kennedy was compelled to accept the Zionist Meyer Feldman as Israel’s de facto presidential advocate, regarding him as ‘a necessary evil whose highly visible role in the White House was a political debt that had to be paid,’ according to Seymour Hersh in his book The Samson Option.
Truman’s public love of Israel was replaced by Lyndon Johnson’s even greater public love of Israel. He sent the green light signaling that it could attack Egypt and Syria in 1967, he gave it even more money and weapons and he covered up its air and sea attack on the USS Liberty. Not for the last time Israel was even allowed to kill US citizens (34 on board the Liberty) with impunity. Rachel Corrie and Furkan Dogan, unarmed and murdered at close range during the Israeli attack on the Gaza aid ship Mavi Marmara in 2010, are more recent examples.
Johnson, against the policies of his own administration, also conspired with Israel to make sure it could continue developing nuclear weapons unhampered and would not have to sign the NPT (nuclear non-proliferation treaty). He filled the White House with Israeli advocates, much to the irritation of senior officials.
When Richard Nixon came along he gave Israel all the weapons it wanted and continued to conceal Israel’s development of nuclear weapons behind a cloud of ‘we don’t really know’ when he knew perfectly well.
He made endless declarations of friendship while complaining in private, according to taped 1971 conversations later made public, that ‘the Jews are all over the government.’ Washington was full of Jews. They were disloyal and ‘generally speaking, you can’t trust the bastards. They turn on you.’
That was then and this is now. This year leading figures in the ‘party of Harry Truman’ declined to attend the AIPAC conference. Until only a few years this would have been regarded as politically suicidal. The non-attendance of Democrat presidential candidates for 2020, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro and Howard Schultz, is a dangerous sign for AIPAC of how the public mood is changing. Israel is a complete turn-off for an increasing number of Americans, including young American Jews dissociating themselves from Israel and Zionism.
Israel’s lobbyists are now describing the Democrats as the anti-Israel party and accusing it of backsliding on anti-semitism. Such is their gratitude for the decades of support in which Democrats have ensured the passage of bills giving Israel hundreds of billions of dollars in economic and military aid
AIPAC clearly is finding it difficult to adapt to changing circumstances. Rather than accept that the public mood is changing, even among American Jews, it is doubling down and going for the jugular as usual. As an AIPAC booster, Mark Horowitz wrote in the New York Times (‘The Case for AIPAC,’ March 22), the organization is struggling to adjust to ‘political and generational divisions’ in which occupation has become the ‘moral rallying point’ of the Jewish left.
Fabian tactics would seem to be in order but they would require an impossible policy switch, from supporting occupation to opposing it. Thus AIPAC is stuck, or paralyzed as Mark Horowitz wrote, continuing to talk meaninglessly and deceitfully of peace while inviting, for the first time, the ‘foreign envoy’ of the West Bank settler council (Yesha) to take part in its conference.
Netanyahu and his chief political rival, Benny Gantz, pitched their appeal at the conference on who could he nastiest to the Palestinians. One house having being flattened by a missile, Netanyahu noted that in the past 24 hours ‘the IDF destroyed major terrorist installations on a scale not seen since the end of the military operation four years ago [and] I can tell you we are prepared to do a lot more.’
This was tame compared to Gantz, who was the commander of the military assault on Gaza in 2014, in which, according to the UN Human Rights Council, 2251 Palestinians were killed, 1462 of them civilians, including 500 children.
In his address to the AIPAC delegates, Gantz threatened to renew targeted killings. Furthermore, ‘we will never withdraw from the Golan … Jerusalem will always be Israel’s undivided capital and the Jordan Valley will always be our eastern security border.’ This comes on top of Gantz’s election campaign video based on the mantra of ‘only the strong win’ and crowing over the reduction of parts of Gaza to the Stone Age.
This was AIPAC 2019, no different from AIPAC of previous years. The same untruths, delusions, invocations to God and endless declarations of the unbreakable bond between Israel and the US and the same message sent out to the Palestinians and those who support their cause. ‘Only the strong win.’
This is the language and mentality of the colonial settler. The language of brute force. The language of the colonial white settler in east or south Africa in the 1940s. The language of the racist and the bully. The language of the criminal who knows he can break the law and get away with it because the world’s policeman – the exceptional nation – is an accessory to the crime.
The message is reinforced yet again. What we have taken we will keep forever. There will no peace based on the division of land. Peace is what we decide. The cowering native accepts our generous offer (of nothing) or we beat his head in. What else can be concluded from this that what has been taken by force will have to be taken back by force? ‘Only the strong win’ so eventually who is going to be the strongest?
– Jeremy Salt taught at the University of Melbourne, at Bosporus University in Istanbul and Bilkent University in Ankara for many years, specializing in the modern history of the Middle East. Among his recent publications is his 2008 book, The Unmaking of the Middle East. A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (University of California Press). He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.