By Keith Preston
Any discussion of the relationship between Zionism and the “power elite” in Western countries must inevitably begin with a qualification of meanings, as these terms have been used in ways as to imply multiple definitions. For purposes of this discussion, the term “Zionism” is meant to describe an outlook that prioritizes the defense and promotion of the state of Israel as a bastion of Jewish nationalism, and which more broadly and implicitly favors a Jewish ethno-nationalism that spans the spectrum of the Jewish diaspora. The term “power elite” is being utilized in the manner suggested by the sociologist C. Wright Mills, who coined the term in order to describe those holding the dominant positions in the dominant institutions in society, such as government, business, industry, finance, military, education, religion, and the mass media. The central question involved in the analysis of this relationship is the matter of to what degree political decisions are shaped by the influence of Zionist sympathies. The evidence indicates that Zionists exercise considerable influence over the process of political decision-making in many Western countries, and particularly in the United States.
Mearsheimer, Walt and the Israel Lobby
In 2006, John Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, a professor of international relations at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, issued a paper titled “The Israel Lobby,” which defined the Israel lobby as “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.” The authors published a book under the title “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” the following year and provoked a storm of controversy in the process, including predictable accusations of anti-Semitism and claims that the authors were promoting age-old fantasies about a “Jewish conspiracy” of the kind reminiscent of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
However, the authors specifically stated that “the boundaries of the Israel lobby cannot be identified precisely,” that “not every American with a favorable attitude to Israel is part of the lobby,” that not all American Jews were a part of or sympathetic to the Israel lobby, that the lobby also included non-Jews such as the Christian Zionists, and overlapped extensively with the neoconservatives, whose ranks include both Jews and non-Jews. Mearsheimer and Walt did insist that the U.S. Israel lobby “has a core consisting of organizations whose declared purpose is to encourage the U.S. government and the American public to provide material aid to Israel and to support its government’s policies, as well as influential individuals for whom these goals are also a top priority.”
James Petras and the Power of Israel in the United States
Another important work analyzing Israel’s influence over American foreign policy was also published in 2006. A book titled “The Power of Israel in the United States,” was issued by James Petras, a professor of sociology at Binghampton University. While Mearsheimer and Walt regard themselves as foreign policy “realists,” and are within the mainstream of American foreign policy scholarship, Petras is a scholar of the radical Left and a long time critic of U.S. imperialism. Petras argued extensively that the Israel lobby has embedded itself in virtually the entire range of U.S. institutions, including government, business, academia, the media, and organized religion (particularly the zealously pro-Israel Christian Zionist contingent among American evangelical fundamentalist Protestants).
Petras noted that as of the early 2000s, sixty percent of the fundraising for the Democratic Party originated from Jewish-organized or funded Political Action Committees, and that thirty-five percent of Republican fundraising likewise originated from Jewish sources. Petras further argued that no other lobbying network in U.S. politics exercises comparable influence, not even major industrial or business interests such as the pharmaceutical industry, the oil industry, or agribusiness firms. The reason that pro-Israel interests have been able to obtain such power has to do with the concentration of American Jews within the ranks of the elite. While Jews are only slightly more than two percent of the U.S. population, between one quarter and one third of the wealthiest families and individuals are Jewish, including Jewish billionaires with extraordinary amounts of power and influence.
J.J. Goldberg and Jewish Power in the United States
In 1996, the liberal Jewish author J.J. Goldberg, presently the editor-at-large of The Forward, published “Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment.” In this work, Goldberg enthusiastically celebrated the potency of Jewish influence in the United States. In the introduction to his book, Goldberg candidly described the role of Jewish power in American politics:
As for concrete evidence of the Jewish community’s clout, it is not hard to find. There is, to begin with, the $3 billion foreign-aid package sent each year to Israel. Fully one fifth of America’s foreign aid has gone to a nation of barely 5 million souls, one tenth of 1 percent of the world’s population. Analysts commonly credited this imbalance to the power of the Jewish lobby.
Coupled with financial aid is the familiar fact of Washington’s staunch support for Israel in the diplomatic arena, at what sometimes seemed like great cost to America’s own interests. And there have been threats to those in Washington who opposed Israeli policy: the senators and representatives sent down to defeat, like Charles Percy and Paul Findley, for defying the Jewish lobby.
But American Jewish power does not begin and end with Israel. Even more dramatic than foreign aid, perhaps, was the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Passed by Congress in 1974, it made U.S.-Soviet trade relations conditional on the Soviets’ treatment of their Jewish minority. The amendment remained on the books even after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, effectively giving the Jewish community a veto over America’s commercial links with Moscow.
Jewish power is felt, too, in a wide variety of domestic spheres: immigration and refugee policy, civil rights and affirmative action, abortion rights, church-state separation issues, and much more. Local Jewish communities from New York to Los Angeles have become major players on their own turf, helping to make the rules and call the shots on matters from health care to zoning.
Yes, by the end of the twentieth century, American Jewry has come to be viewed around the globe as a serious player in the great game of politics, able to influence events, to define and achieve important goals, to reward its friends and punish its enemies.
To be sure, plenty of political interest groups representing all kinds of opinions on issues also play important roles in American politics, and this certainly includes Jewish-oriented ones. There is nothing inherently wrong with this as it is simply a manifestation of the way a modern, pluralistic, liberal democracy works. However, the relevant question involves the degree to which Jewish power and influence translates into American institutional policies being guided by organized Zionist objectives.
The Mass Media
The question of Jewish ownership and influence in the mass media is a controversial one, and the alleged Jewish control of the media is a point that is consistently promoted by genuine anti-Semites, ranging from neo-Nazis to Islamic fundamentalists to a range of conspiracy theorists. It is certainly true that Jewish presence in the media is greatly disproportional to the actual number of Jews among the wider public, and this long has been the case. For example, in 1988 author Neal Gabler published “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” which documented the role of Jewish movie producers and film moguls, many of whom were Eastern European immigrants, in shaping the American film industry. Regarding claims that “Jews control the media,” the Jewish left-wing scholar and pro-Palestinian activist Jeffrey Blankfort argues:
As to Jews owning the media (as opposed to “the Jews),” being a myth…that “myth” has legs…(T)he owners of the Washington Post, Newsweek, the New York Times, Boston Globe, NY Daily News, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and a number of others happen to be Jewish as are the owners of CBS, ABC, and all of the major Hollywood studios. They don’t all have the same politics but they do share the same religious background. As for (Rupert)Murdoch (owner of FOX and the Wall Street Journal), he considers himself to be an honorary Jew, having received numerous awards as a friend to Israel by major Jewish organizations and he has openly stated his unqualified support for Israeli government policy many times and his Wall Street Journal certainly reflects that.
Likewise, a Jewish journalist and blogger, Philip Weiss, observes:
Do Jews dominate the media? This is something I know about personally. I’ve worked in print journalism for more than 30 years. I’ve worked for many magazines and newspapers, and for a time my whole social circle was editors and writers in New York… My sample is surely skewed by the fact that I’m Jewish and have always felt great comfort with other Jews. But in my experience, Jews have made up the majority of the important positions in the publications I worked for, a majority of the writers I’ve known at these places, and the majority of the owners who have paid me. Yes, my own sample may be skewed, but I think it shows that Jews make up a significant proportion of power positions in media, half, if not more.
The real issue is, Does it matter? Most of my life I felt it didn’t…Now I think it does matter, for two reasons. Elitist establishment culture, and Israel. As to elitism, I worry when any affluent group has power and little sense of what the common man is experiencing…The values of my cohort sometimes seem narrow: globalism, prosperity, professionalism. In Israel the values are a lot broader. None of my cohort has served in the military, myself included. A lot of our fathers did; but I bet none of our kids do. Military service is for losers–or for Israelis.
So we are way overrepresented in the chattering classes, and way underrepresented in the battering classes. Not a great recipe for leadership, especially in wartime.
Then there’s Israel. Support for Israel is an element of Jewish religious practice and more important, part of the Jewish cultural experience. Even if you’re a secular Jewish professional who prides himself on his objectivity, there is a ton of cultural pressure on you to support Israel or at least not to betray Israel. We are talking about a religion, after all, and the pressures faced by Jews who are critical of Israel are not that different from what Muslim women who want greater freedom undergo psychically or by evangelical Christians who want to support gay rights. It is worth noting that great Jewish heretics on the Israel question suffer anger or even ostracism inside their own families…Conversations about Israel even inside the liberal Jewish community are emotionally loaded, and result in people not speaking to one another. I lost this blog at a mainstream publication because the editor was Jewish and conservative on Israel and so was the new owner, and the publisher had worked for AIPAC. And all of them would likely call themselves liberal Democrats.
The result is that Americans are not getting the full story re Israel/Palestine…
Weiss further observes that even sectors of the Israeli press have been far more forthcoming in reporting on atrocities committed by the Israeli regime in the occupied territories than the American press with its disproportional Zionist influence:
Why does the American press behave differently from the Israeli press? I think the answer is guilt. The Jewish cohort of which I am a part has largely accepted the duty…of supporting Israel. This duty is rarely interrogated, and yet consciously or not we all know that American public opinion/leadership is critical to Israel’s political invulnerability; and we think that if we take their fingers out of the dike, who knows what will happen. That is a ton of responsibility. This responsibility is not executed with special care. Generally, my cohort hasn’t been to Israel, hasn’t seen the West Bank. But they do feel kinship with Israeli Jews, and–above all–have guilt feelings about the Holocaust, or the American Jewish silence about it during the event, the Jewish passivity; and they are determined not to be passive during Israel’s never ending existential crises. And thus they misunderstand Israel and fail to serve their readers.
Clearly, the American mass media claims within its ranks many Jewish Israeli partisans (and no doubt plenty of Gentile collaborators) who provide journalistic cover for Israel.
The Growth of Zionist Power in the United States
Zionist power in the United States has grown considerably, indeed almost exponentially, in recent decades. While the U.S. along with England was instrumental in the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, Zionist interests did not dominate U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East during subsequent years. For example, during the crisis over the Suez Canal in 1956, the U.S. sided with the Arab nations against not only Israel, but also France and England. However, the turning point began with the Six Day War in 1967 which had the effect of galvanizing the pro-Zionist elements of the American Jewish community, and the Israel lobby began exercising considerable influence over U.S. policy in the region. Remarkably, the U.S. failed to retaliate when Israel sank the American naval vessel the USS Liberty during the same year. Zionist power was demonstrated once again when America sided with Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, and which resulted in a costly petroleum embargo being imposed on the U.S. by the OPEC nations.
Meanwhile, the cultural openings and civil rights revolution of the 1960s opened the door for greater participation of traditionally excluded minorities in American institutions. These cultural changes were especially beneficial to Jews, who were already a prosperous, affluent, and educated minority group. While American Jewish intellectuals typically leaned very strongly to the Left politically, this began to change during the 1970s as many Zionists began to defect from the New Left over questions involving both Israel and the Cold War. The New Left tended towards pro-Palestinian views, and regarded the Cold War merely as a clash between rival imperialisms. However, many American Zionists regarded American power as a safeguard for Israel, and vociferously opposed the Soviet Union in large part because of Russian anti-Semitism. Jewish intellectuals and defectors from the Left such as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz were instrument in developing the neoconservative movement. The neoconservatives began developing a relationship with the American conservative movement that had begun during the postwar period under leadership of such figures as William F. Buckley, and moving away from the Democratic Party towards the Republican Party.
During this same period, the American Christian Zionist movement also began to grow considerably due to the resurgence of evangelical Christianity that occurred in the United States during the 1970s. While not all evangelical Christians are Christian Zionists, a significant subset of American evangelicals adhere to a theological tendency known as “dispensationalism,” which believes that the restoration of Israel is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy and is a necessary step towards the eventual Second Coming of Jesus Christ. American evangelical leaders espousing such views began to become politically influential during the rise of the “religious right” in the late 1970s. By the time of the so-called “Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s, these three forces-the postwar conservative movement, the neoconservatives, and the religious right- had converged with foreign policy hawks and economic conservatives to form the basis of the Republican Party and American conservatism generally, a trend that largely continues in the present.
Scott McConnell: The Republican Party is the Party of Zionism
During the 1980s and 1990s, tensions occasionally existed between the Zionist partisans and other factions within the American conservative coalition. While the leadership of right-wing Zionism in the U.S. had shifted towards the Republicans, the majority of rank and file Jews still tended to vote for the Democratic Party, which is the case with minority groups in the U.S. generally. During the Republican presidency of George H. W. Bush in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then Secretary of State James Baker III threatened to withhold American loans to Israel in response to Israel’s settlement efforts in the occupied territories. During a private meeting, Baker earned the permanent ire of the Israel lobby when he remarked, “Fuck the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.” However, the Republican Party has since become devoid of any voices that dare to defy the wishes of the Israel lobby.
Scott McConnell of The American Conservative identifies the process by which the Republicans became the “party of Israel,” and how the party aligned itself with the most right-wing faction of domestic Israeli politics, the Likud Party. He cites the work of various researchers who trace the dominance of the Republican Party by Israeli interests to the increased dependence of the Republican Party on wealthy Jewish billionaire donors, the ongoing importance of Christian Zionist evangelicals as a Republican voting bloc, the view of Israel as an important ally against Islamic terrorism during the post-September 11 era, and the ardently pro-Israel and quasi-evangelical views of former President George W. Bush. McConnell adds to this the strengthening of Zionist control over the U.S. broadcast media through the establishment of FOX News, the emergence of neoconservative publications such as The Weekly Standard, the neoconservative takeover of the conservative movement’s flagship magazine The National Review, the effective ostracism of anti-Israel voices such as Patrick Buchanan from the conservative milieu, and the proliferation and growing influence of Zionist organized or funded think tanks.
The Israel Lobby and the American Political Class
This is not to say that the Israel lobby only exercises influence within the Republican Party. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Republican Party normally holds to positions that align with the furthest right-wing sectors within Israeli politics. However, the most influential pro-Israel organization in the United States, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), considers itself to be a bipartisan organization and is firmly embedded in both major American political parties. For example, AIPAC holds an annual policy conference that is normally attended by a cross-section of the American political elite. Attendees and speakers at the conference have included Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Secretaries of State John Kerry and Hillary Clinton, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Harry Reid, and a vast array of current and former Senators and Congressmen.
The principal and considerably less influential rival to AIPAC is J Street, a more moderate organization founded in 2008, and which has been funded by the multi-billionaire George Soros. While AIPAC is supportive of the Likud Party, J Street is oriented towards the centrist Kadima Party. The principal differences between the two groups is that the Likud Party is an overtly Israeli imperialist party that opposes Palestinian sovereignty, favors the continued expansion of Israeli colonial settlements in the occupied territories, and assumes a hawkish stance towards Iran. Kadima is more moderate only when compared with Likud, having been a strong supporter of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and Kadima’s leadership has actually described itself as more right-wing than J Street. The entire American political class exhibits extreme subservience to the Israel lobby, as was illustrated during the summer of 2014 when Israel launched its attack on Gaza. The U.S. Senate voted unanimously in favor of an AIPAC-backed resolution endorsing the attacks, including ostensible “progressives” Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken, “socialist” Bernie Sanders, and “libertarian” Rand Paul.
The Israel lobby also exercises power outside of the United States to a considerable degree. An Israel lobby similar to the U.S. Israel lobby exists in the United Kingdom, although it is more loosely organized and not quite as powerful. Israel also exercises considerable influence in the European Union, due to the fact that Israel and the EU are primary trading partners. Canada has even threatened to use its hate speech and hate crimes laws against organizations that advocate a boycott of Israel, similar to the international boycott of South Africa that existed during the apartheid era.
The Fate of Critics of Israel
On May 27, 2010, eighty-nine year old journalist Helen Thomas, a veteran White House Reporter remarked when asked for comments on Israel during an impromptu interview, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine…Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not Germany, it’s not Poland” and that the Israelis should “go home to Poland or Germany or America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?” Thomas’ remarks were met with a round of termination of employment contracts and revocation of previously bestowed awards. She subsequently resigned from her position with Hearst Newspapers. However, Thomas refused to retract her remarks saying, “”I paid a price, but it’s worth it to speak the truth…Congress, the White House, Hollywood, and Wall Street, are owned by Zionists. No question, in my opinion…I just think that people should be enlightened as to who is in charge of the opinion in this country.” Coming to Thomas’ defense, Ralph Nader observed the irony that Thomas would be attacked for such comments, noting that “ultra-right wing radio and cable ranters” promoted “bigotry, stereotypes and falsehoods directed wholesale against Muslims, including a blatant anti-Semitism against Arabs” hold a substantial presence in American media.
Not only journalists but also politicians and academics that have dared to expose or challenge the power of the Zionists over U.S. politics have been subjected to professional ruin. Among the American elected officials whose careers were destroyed or undermined by the Israel lobby have been Paul Findley, Jim Trafficant, Cynthia McKinney, Pete McCloskey, JamesMoran, Charles Pearcy, Earl Hilliard, William Fulbright, Mike Gravel, Roger Jepson, and James Abourezk. DePaul University denied tenure to the distinguished Jewish scholar Norman Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors and a leading critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, after a campaign against Finkelstein was organized by the Zionist attorney Alan Dershowitz.
A Turning of the Tides?
Traditionally, authentic anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist, or pro-Palestinian voices have been completely absent from both the U.S. media and the political class. Such voices have existed only on the left-wing or right-wing fringes of American politics. However, a rather remarkable event occurred in March of 2015. The Congressional leadership of the Republican Party invited former Israeli Prime Minister and Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu, then seeking re-election which he would successfully achieve, to address the U.S. Congress for the purpose of denouncing President Obama’s nuclear negotiations with Iran, and in defiance of ordinary protocols. Nearly sixty members of Obama’s Democratic Party retaliated by boycotting Netanyahu’s address. The key question regarding this occurrence involves what this unprecedented defiance of the Israel lobby means for the future of U.S. politics.
The division between the two major political parties in the United States is now wider than at any point in the past century, and the same is true of both cultural and socioeconomic divisions. It may be that these divisions are now so great that the Zionist currents among the power elite are increasingly unable to control the political process. The willingness of President Obama to negotiate with Iran and avoid war may represent a growing division between the Zionist elites and important sectors of the wider American ruling class. Indeed, a sharpening of divisions between among the Zionist elite may be developing, as illustrated by the emergence of J Street. Evidence indicates that Americans, both Jewish and Gentile and especially younger people, are becoming increasingly unsympathetic to Israel, as evidenced by the rise of the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” movement concerning Israel, and the emergence of such groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace.
A War with Iran?
The power of Israel in the United States and in other nations has rendered these nations into accomplices to the carnage that occurs in the occupied territories. There can be no denying that Likud’s primary allies in the United States, the neoconservatives, were the driving force behind the war in Iraq with its hundreds of thousands of deaths, and millions more maimed, displaced, or subjected to the dystopian tyranny of the Islamic State that has emerged in more recent times. In a similar vein, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a one-time aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, recently observed that the Republican Party, “the party of Israel” as Scott McConnell describes the GOP, is apparently zealous for an eventual war with Iran, a war that will have an even more devastating outcome that the war with Iraq. Further, Zionist partisans in the United States appear to be constructing a false rationale for a war with Iran that is comparable to the false rationale that led to the war with Iraq. Just as it was wrongfully claimed that Iraq was in possession of “weapons of mass destruction,” against the insistence of an actual experts on international disarmament, so it is being claimed that Iran is developing nuclear weapons in defiance of the consensus of actual scholarly opinion on the question. If the present push for war on the part of the Likud Party and its arguably even more extreme partisans in the United States is successful, a voluminous amount of entirely needless death, destruction, and human suffering will result.
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