It’s no secret that the powerful advocates for policies supporting the Israeli occupation are Americans who prioritize other interests over those of the United States. In fact, it’s never been more obvious, especially if you work on Capitol Hill. However, this fact remains vastly underrepresented in public debate about US foreign policy. Fortunately, some brave souls are doing their best to change that.
MJ Rosenberg, is at it again. After a brief flirtation with divorcing the term “Israel Firster,” MJ has reunited with it. MJ had been working for Media Matters for America, and he was reveling in the newfound freedom he had to speak openly, something he hadn’t been able to do at the Israel Policy Forum.
But he had been using the term “Israel Firster” to refer to the influential few Jews and Christians who lobby with unparalleled intensity in Washington for Israel’s interests, over and above those of the United States. Now, with many of those folks pushing hard to get the United States to attack Iran on Israel’s behalf, the masks are off and a lot more fear of MJ’s terminology is reaching the surface.
So, the lead attack dog of the Israel Firsters, the fanatical Alan Dershowitz, went after Rosenberg. Media Matters was ready to stand by him, but rather than risk damage to Media Matters’ larger mission, he stepped down, and also said he would stop using the phrase, as “Israel Firster” seemed too controversial to be of use.
Now, MJ is back to employing it, because he has realized that the reaction from the Right was rooted in the threat the term represented.
As Rosenberg put it, “The reason Israel Firster became so explosive in 2012 is because (1) this is the year the lobby wants the United States to either attack Iran or allow Israel to do it and (2) this is the year in which tens of millions of dollars of unregulated campaign contributions are flowing to the Republican candidate for president simply because the single-issue crowd believes that Mitt Romney is the candidate most likely to fit comfortably in Netanyahu’s pocket. The lobby’s biggest fear is that the American people will figure this out and that the blow back will harm the US-Israel relationship.”
I’m glad MJ is back to using that term. He and I don’t entirely agree on the role the Israel Lobby plays in policy formation — I see it as extremely powerful, but less absolutely powerful than Rosenberg does — but his prominent role in calling out their actions is indispensible.
But in one small way, I think MJ sells the Israel Firsters short. He writes: “The way I see it, both my country, America, and a country I deeply care about, Israel, and the Jewish people are all being placed at risk by a small bunch of multi-millionaires and billionaires whose only interests are self-aggrandizement, hobnobbing with those in power, and crushing anyone who gets in their way.”
In my view, there are two groups of Israel Firsters, and MJ here describes only one of them. He discusses the ones who do care about Israel, put it before all else, and are misguidedly advocating policies that they think support Israel while they actually make it less secure and put its future at risk.
The second stratum is really the core of forces that are pushing so successfully for policies that not only interfere with US interests and deepen the misery of the Palestinians, but also harm the Israeli people. And they don’t care about any of that.
That group, which also advocates for what they describe as “Israeli security” is much more closely associated with the Israeli right. However, their ambitions go well beyond that.
This group is defined by a worldview in which Israel is just a means to an end, not an end in itself. Leading neoconservatives are certainly part of it, as are some of the farthest right wing financiers of Super PACs and of Israel’s settlements.
There is also the apocalyptic Christian component of that group, the ones who see the Book of Revelations playing out in the Middle East and who, despite their recent, cynical turn toward an odd brand of philo-Semitism, do not wish to see peace in any form in the region. It is conflict that they want.
What these groups have in common is that they push for policies that do not enhance either American or Israeli security but which, in their view, advance a much broader vision of the world they intend to create. They’re distinct from most Israel Firsters because they know what they are doing.
There are a variety of motivations potentially in play here. One might be reactionary, fundamentalist Christian prophecy. Another might be a broad war on Islam. There is also control of the vital resources of the Middle East, which, despite the long existence of so many Arab regimes before the current “Spring” dawned, has never been entirely secure, always threatened by the horrifying possibility that the general populace that lives above those oil reserves might have the audacity to expect that those resources should benefit them, rather than a few elites and a slew of foreign investors.
These groups are also united in opposition to universal values of human rights and dignity, seeing some as more deserving of such things than others, as well as looking with favor on suppression of global labor rights. In short, they share a common, far right wing ideology.
Despite some very clear differences among the groups I mentioned, the general right wing orientation remains consistent among them. And these people are not “Israel Firsters” in the sense that they are motivated primarily by Israeli, or even Likud interests, as are many in AIPAC and other Jewish groups, including some of the more rabid public speakers like Dershowitz.
For them, Israel is a tool. It is useful to maintain a Western presence as well as an inherently destabilizing influence in the Middle East. This keeps alive the dream of more direct Western control of the region and of increasing confrontation with Islam as a religious and cultural force. That’s also why such people consistently support regime change and increasing US and European military presence throughout the Middle East.
Is this mere speculation? Perhaps. But consider for a moment that these elements are pushing hard for an attack on Iran, a position opposed by almost the entire Israeli military establishment. Consider as well that the emergence of the neoconservatives as a major, organized political force at the beginning of the 21st century and the growth of the Christian Zionist movement at the same time, culminating in 2006 with the creation of Christian United for Israel coincided with a sudden jump in pro-Israel campaign contributions, in 2000.
At that same time, the more established lobby groups, such as AIPAC, edged closer to the right, moving away from Israel advocacy no matter who ran Israel and closer to the Israeli right.
Perhaps it was all coincidental.
But I wonder. So many of these policies have been demonstrably destructive to Israel. Neocons and the Christian Right heavily advocated for the invasion of Iraq, despite the obvious reality that this would produce an unleashed Iran and draw Salafist groups in greater numbers closer to the Levant. Hardly conducive to any concept of Israeli security. And that was recognized by mainstream Jewish groups, generally considered part of the Lobby, which were silent about, and sometimes even opposed to war with Iraq.
The same distinction can be drawn with regard to bombing Iran now, and to support for the two-state solution while that illusion could still be maintained. Christian Zionists and Neocons have consistently advocated policies that few Israelis agreed with, and which have been consistently proven to be detrimental to Israeli security.
It seems to me that something else is at play with that small but influential minority among Israel Firsters.
Most of MJ’s Israel First crowd truly puts Israel first. But just as they are unrepresentative of both American Jews and Americans at large (Rosenberg puts the figure at 4% among Jews) while being enormously influential and being mistakenly seen as representative, so too do these Israel Users exercise a massively disproportionate influence over policy while representing very few people’s actual views.
The threat they pose, though, must not be underestimated.
Photograph courtesy of Brian Negin. Published under a Creative Commons license.