Where is the American Freedom Flotilla?

By Sama Adnan

While world leaders condemned Israel’s attack on the Freedom Flotilla and eight European governments summoned their Israeli ambassadors, the response of the Obama administration was painfully muted and embarrassingly awkward, regretting the loss of life without assigning neither blame nor responsibility. Increasingly, the United States’ government looks lost at sea when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, unsuccessfully pressuring Israel on freezing settlements or lifting the Gaza siege, even as it concedes that a swift end to the conflict is in America’s national interests. General Petraeus goes further by coupling troop safety to progress in the Middle East.

However, Israel’s continued defiance in the face of American pressure is even more worrying than American inaction. Given that Israel obtains billions of aid dollars, military technology, and diplomatic cover at the UN from the United States, how can Israel display blatant contempt for American security needs and foreign policy priorities with such impunity. Does the Israeli government have a dirty secret on every American official, blackmailing them into silence?

Of course, this is not the case. But the reality is, unfortunately, not much different. AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the hard-line pro-Israel lobby and its affiliates, has been able to threaten every elected government official with an electoral loss if he or she criticizes Israel. Although AIPAC has been ranked a distant number 40 in the amount of money that it contributes according to OpenSecrets.org, it is thought to be one of the most powerful lobbies in Congress.

The discrepancy stems from the fact that AIPAC is unopposed. A paltry $3 million per election affords the hard-line pro-Israel lobby almost complete control over American foreign policy in as vital a region as the Middle East. In 2007, former President Jimmy Carter wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the reluctance of lawmakers “to criticize any policies of the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts of AIPAC and the absence of any significant contrary voices.” This hijacking of American foreign policy has cost the nation dearly in young lives lost in combat as well as squandered treasure, paralyzing our economy and dampening our competitive potential with rising global powers.

It is fair to ask at this juncture where is the American pro-peace lobby? Where is America’s own Freedom Flotilla? There are today three hundred or more organizations working on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the United States, almost all of which are educational organizations. Only a few are lobbies funding campaigns of members of Congress. With the exception of the newly formed NewPolicy.org, all are self-described pro-Israel. The work done by pro-peace educational organizations is immensely valuable but by ceding the lobbying ground to the hard-line pro-Israel lobbies, the pro-peace camp has hindered its efforts considerably.

There has been a lack of understanding of the determinants of America’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Simply put: Congressional support for Israel plays more to domestic concerns such as desperately needed campaign funds for tight races, rather than American security requisites in the Middle East. Congressional silence about Israel’s excesses guarantees campaign contributions from AIPAC.

The absence of the pro-peace movement from the halls of Congress has done great damage to the cause of peace in the Middle East, to America’s national interests, and to America’s security. Not only has it deprived the American peace movement of Congressional support, the lack of engagement in the American political system as it exists has also relegated the pro-peace movement to the fringes of almost all the policy-making American institutions.

Having forfeited Congress without putting up a fight, the American peace movement also lost the State and Defense Departments, two key administration departments for setting and implementing American foreign policy in the Middle East. This is due to the simple fact that the United States Senate, through confirmation hearings for the president’s appointees, can confirm or deny the job to candidates deemed “unsympathetic” to Israel by AIPAC. This fact was made painfully clear when President Obama’s pick for Chair of the National Intelligence Council, Chas Freeman, was forced to withdraw his nomination for the position upon objections from key hard-line pro-Israel Senate Democrats.

Against this backdrop, it is no wonder that the executive and legislative branches are paralyzed by internal politics, yielding to AIPAC to decide America’s vital interests. Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia stated that a bill requiring the United States “to share all its missile defense technology with Israel… prevailed 400 to 30.” He dubbed it an “AIPAC vote”. Reacting to the complicity of their governments, the European Freedom Flotilla took the initiative to shed light on Israel’s policies in the occupied territories. The American peace movement should emulate their success by setting its Freedom Flotilla a-sail.

– Dr. Sama Adnan is Executive Director of NewPolicy.org, an American lobby for Middle East peace. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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