By Paul Findley
In the greatest service of his long public life, former President Jimmy Carter warns of the grave consequences of America’s phenomenal subservience to Israel. In his latest book and recent lectures, he focuses on how Israel’s cruel occupation, made possible by massive and unconditional U.S. support, has subjected the Palestinian people to terrible suffering for forty long years. Beyond that grave human tragedy, candid observers must cite U.S. complicity in Israeli lawlessness as the major factor that prompted the horror of 9/11 and lured America into launching three costly, wrong-headed, and failing wars, Afghanistan, Iraq and the War on Terror. The linkage is easily identified.
America’s support of Israel’s brutality was the main motivation for 9/11. It was the ultimate expression of Arab fury over America’s double standard that routinely ignores Israeli violations of Arab human rights. Nine-eleven would not have happened if any U.S. president in the last forty years had refused to finance Israel’s humiliation and destruction of Palestine. Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst now a consultant to CBS News, recently told a congressional committee that “our unqualified support of Israel” was the main reason for 9/11. Marine General Anthony Zinni, President George W. Bush’s first special envoy to the Middle East, has stated that the United States invaded Iraq for Israel and oil. Osama bin Laden repeatedly said it was payback for U.S. support of Israel’s brutal treatment of Palestinians and other Arabs and for U.S. complicity in 1982 when Israeli forces used U.S.-donated munitions to massacre over 18,000 innocent Arabs in Lebanon.
The U.S. acts of war in Afghanistan and the War on Terror were President Bush’s retaliation for 9/11. Israel – and only Israel – urged the United States to invade Iraq. Israel’s lobby in Washington pushed hard and prevailed. To our foreign critics, these wars focus on killing people outraged by our pro-Israel bias. Our government has done nothing to redress the grievances of Israel’s victims.
Despite this grim record, U.S. subservience to the wishes of Israel’s leaders does not change. Unconditional aid to Israel keeps flowing, as does Israel’s savage treatment of Palestinians and other Arabs. Moreover, the Bush administration is fully and openly pledged to do whatever is necessary – even acts of war- to halt Iran’s nuclear program even if its projects are lawfully limited to peaceful purposes. Israel is the only nation urging the United States to attack Iran. The lobby is pushing hard again. If the U.S. assaults Iran it will be on Israel’s behalf.
Congress, like the rest of America, is totally devoid of debate on the amazing role of this small nation in critical U.S. policy. Members are fulsome in public praise of the Jewish state, but no politician mentions the illegal behavior of Israel or the staggering burden it imposes on our country. How did Israel gain this influence?
It all started 40 years ago. On June 8, 1967, the U.S. commander-in-chief, President Lyndon B. Johnson, turned his back on the crew of a U.S. navy ship, the USS Liberty, despite the fact that the ship was under deadly assault by Israel’s air and sea forces. The Israelis were engaged in an ugly scheme to lure America into their war against Arab states. They tried to destroy the Liberty and its entire crew, then pin the blame on the Arabs. This, they reasoned, would outrage the American people and immediately lead the United States to join Israel’s battle against Arabs.
The scheme almost worked. It failed because, despite the carefully-planned multi-pronged assault, the Liberty crew managed to broadcast an SOS over a makeshift antenna. When the appeal reached U.S. aircraft carriers nearby, the commanders immediately launched fighter planes to defend the ship. Informed of the launch, President Johnson ordered the rescue planes to turn back immediately.
For the first time in history, forces of the U.S. Navy were denied the right to defend a Navy ship under attack. Johnson said, “I don’t care if the ship sinks, I am not going to embarrass an ally.” Those were his exact words, heard by Navy personnel listening to radio relays. The ally Johnson refused to embarrass was Israel. To him, saving Israel from embarrassment was more important than saving the lives of the Liberty crew.
The day yielded infamy, deceit, lies and cover-up at the highest level. When the SOS reached the top military commanders in Israel, they immediately canceled the assault, claiming it was a case of mistaken identity. At the White House, Johnson accepted Israel’s claim, even though he knew it was a lie. Then Johnson magnified the day’s infamy by ordering a cover-up of the truth. Liberty survivors were sworn to secrecy. Even those in hospital beds and badly wounded were threatened with court martial if they told anyone what actually happened. The cover-up has been continued by every administration since Johnson’s.
It proved to be a fateful turning point in Israel’s power over U.S. foreign policy. The Liberty experience convinced Israeli officials that they could get by with literally anything – even the murder of U.S. sailors – in their manipulation of the U.S. government. Financial aid to Israel began to pour like a river, all of it with no stings attached. According to The Christian Science Monitor, this outpouring has now cost U.S. taxpayers over $1.4 trillion. Costs go far beyond money. Thousands of American families are blighted forever, with America’s once high moral standing in shambles. Because of its unqualified support of Israel, Washington is hated worldwide as never before.
The principal source of Israel’s influence is the fear it seems to instill in every sector of our society. The most effective instrument of intimidation employed by its lobby is the reckless accusation of anti-Semitism, often leveled at anyone criticizing any aspect of Israeli behavior. Several organizations, fundamentalist Christian as well as Jewish, lobby for Israel, but the principal one is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). I can personally certify that for many years it has cast a blanket of fear over Capitol Hill and blocked any semblance of unfettered discussion.
I unintentionally contributed to that fear in 1985 when my book, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, was published. It reports in detail the efficiency of Israel’s U.S. lobby, its history and tactics. Most of the text arose from my personal experience as AIPAC’s prime target during my last five years as a Member of Congress. It also details the lobby’s important role in the defeat of Senators Charles Percy and Adlai Stevenson, and U.S. Rep. Paul “Pete” McCloskey. In a rare burst of public candor about its partisan activities, AIPAC claimed credit for defeating re-election bids by myself in 1982 and Senator Percy in 1984.
My book became a bestseller. I hoped it would inspire public officials and other citizens to revolt against the lobby’s influence on U.S. policy, but several of my former colleagues told me it had the opposite effect. One said, “After what AIPAC did to you and Percy, I vote with the lobby every time.”
Israel’s grip on America seems impervious. Two distinguished political scientists, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, strode resolutely into the Middle East minefield a year ago by co-authoring a paper on Israel’s lobby. More recently, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, a book written by former President Carter, revered worldwide for his effective work on international conflict resolution, was published.
These brave statements should have produced a groundswell of public protest demanding America’s liberation from Israel. Although the professors and Carter have pursued the lecture circuit, no tide of outrage has developed. With few exceptions, America’s major editors, producers, commentators, academics and politicians have given these courageous initiatives the silent treatment. Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill simply said, “Carter doesn’t not speak for the Democratic Party.”
Nationwide, the lobby’s influence is pervasive, sustained and deep, a phenomenon unprecedented in U.S. history. Because of that power, the “other” Israel is almost never discussed openly and candidly any place in America, even in private conversation. It is impossible to explain the silence except as a reflection of profound fear.
The situation is highly dangerous. America has already paid a towering price for our subservience to Israel, and great additional burdens seem inevitable. If the United States is involved in acts of war against Iran, anti-American protest will rise to new heights, especially throughout the Islamic world. It will inevitably deepen the widely-held belief among Muslims that America seeks to undermine Islam.
The outlook for reform is grim. Elected officials of both major political parties in Washington seem hopelessly captured by Israel’s agents. So does every serious candidate for the presidency in 2008. A senior U.S. Senator told me recently that Israel cannot expect to experience true security until Palestinians are secure in an independent state of their own, but he spoke off the record and has not made that wise declaration in public.
All U.S. citizens must accept a measure of responsibility for Israel’s grip on America. Those of us who knew what was happening did not protest with sufficient force and clarity. Those who did not know should have taken their responsibility as citizens more seriously. They should have informed themselves.
The scene is likely to improve only if U.S. elected officials are criticized so forthrightly from home that they fear a constituent revolt more than they fear Israel’s lobby. This, of course, will not happen until the countryside benefits from a rigorous and edifying public debate about Israel’s role in our national life.
-Paul Findley, a U.S. Representative from Illinois 1961-83, resides in Jacksonville, Illinois. He is the author of five books, including the Washington Post seven-week bestseller, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, originally published by Lawrence Hill.