The Israel Lobby's Power Comes from The American Ruling Class
(Also a must read: "SHOULD PEOPLE OPPOSED TO BIGOTRY AND ANTI-SEMITISM SUPPORT ISRAEL?")
February 23, 2009
Among those who, like myself, oppose Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, there is an important debate about a fundamental question. The debate is about how to explain the fact that the American government supports Israel virtually unconditionally with more economic, military and diplomatic aid than it gives to any other country.
One commonly believed explanation is that the "Israel Lobby"--consisting of organizations like AIPAC and a host of other pro-Israel Jewish organizations in the United States--has hijacked U.S. foreign policy by using its wealth and control of the mass media to buy or intimidate Congressmen. According to this view, the American government's pro-Israel foreign policy is harmful to the interests of the non-Jewish American corporate upper class, and were it not for the power of the Israel Lobby American foreign policy, reflecting as it does the interests of the American upper class, would not be as pro-Israel as it is today.
I call this the "The Lobby Makes Them Do It" view. I think it is just plain factually wrong. The alternative view that I hold is that the Israel Lobby's power comes from the (mostly non-Jewish) American ruling class.
The leading advocate of the "The Lobby Makes Them Do It" view is James Petras. Petras asserts that the Israel Lobby prevailed over America's Big Oil elite to get the U.S. to invade Iraq for the benefit of Israel:
"The principal governmental architects of the war, the intellectual promoters of the war, their publicly enunciated published strategies for the war were all deeply attached to the Israel lobby and worked for the Israeli state. Wolfowitz, number 2 in the Pentagon, Douglas Feith, number 3 in the Pentagon, Richard Perle, head of the Defense Board, Elliot Abrams in charge of Middle East affairs for the National Security Council, and dozens of other key operatives in the government and ideologues in the mass media were life-long fanatical activists in favor of Israel, some of whom had lost security clearances in previous administrations for handing over documents to the Israeli government...
"In fact the US-Middle East wars prejudice the oil interests in several strategic senses. The wars generate generalized hostility to oil companies with long-term relations with Arab countries. The wars result in undermining new contracts opening in Arab countries for US oil investments. US oil companies have been much friendlier to peacefully resolving conflicts than Israel and especially its Lobbyists as any reading of the specialized oil industry journals and spokespeople emphasize. "
Just on the facts, Petras is wrong. Far from opposing the Israel Lobby, Big Oil uses that lobby. As Juan Cole writes:
"Neoconservative Jews in the US like Richard Perle, Frederick Kagan and Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute who vocally support the Iraq War (and have gotten rich off it) are a minority of a minority, and even are at odds with the Israeli security establishment! Moreover, the American Enterprise Institute, which crafted the Iraq War, gets funding from Exxon Mobil, and last I checked it was run by white Protestants. The vice chair of AEI is Lee Raymond, former CEO of Exxon Mobil and surely Dick Cheney's old golf partner in the Dallas years. That is, the Kagans and the Rubins, who identify with the Revisionist Zionist movement on the Israeli Right, are useful idiots for Big Oil, not movers and shakers in their own right."
The American corporate upper class, the American ruling class, is pro-Israel because they (or at least their sophisticated advisors, like Henry Kissinger, Condoleeza Rice, General James Jones, etc.) know that Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians performs a strategically crucial service for the American ruling class. The ethnic cleansing polarizes the Middle East along non-class lines, fomenting an ethnic war pitting Jews against non-Jews. The American ruling class uses this ethnic war to strengthen its domestic control over ordinary Americans, and to strengthen the control of Middle Eastern ruling elites (kings, mullahs, dictators) over ordinary people in their respective nations. These are the most important strategic objectives of the American ruling class: social control to prevent the spread of pro-democratic, pro-working class, pro-solidarity movements from overthrowing elite rule anywhere in the world.
Regarding domestic control of the American population, the key strategy of elite social control has for many decades been to rely on Orwellian wars of social control. The particular "foreign enemy" has changed over time, from Teddy Roosevelt's Spain to Woodrow Wilson's "Huns" to FDR's Fascists to Truman's Communists to Bush's and Obama's Terrorists. By ensuring that the American mass media refrain from telling Americans the true reason (Israel's ethnic cleansing) why Palestinians and Arabs and Muslims take up arms against Israel, the American ruling class ensures that Americans will believe the lie that Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims are hateful, irrational, anti-semitic terrorists who kill decent Israelis "just like us" and would likewise kill Americans if we fail to obey our upper class rulers who protect us from terrorism.
Similarly, the oil-rich Middle East ruling classes, in countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran, use their people's anger at Israel to strengthen their power over them, as I discuss in some detail in
How Israel Helps Saudi Arabia’s Rulers Control their Working Class and How Israel Helps the Islamic Republic of Iran Control the Iranian Working Class. James Petras is naive to think that Big Oil's interests are prejudiced by the pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy. If the Saudi royal family, for example, were really opposed to U.S. support for Israel, then it would use its vast wealth to support pro-Palestinian forces inside the United States, to counter the Israel Lobby; but it doesn't.
By the same token, if any members of the American mostly non-Jewish ruling class, with billions of dollars to throw around (Buffet gave away $40 billion alone!), wanted to tell Americans the truth about Zionism (the movement to create and protect a Jewish state), they could do so. They could tell Americans how Zionism is all about ethnic cleansing, how Albert Einstein (whom the Israeli government asked to be the President of Israel, and declined) always opposed the Jewish state idea because it was morally wrong, and how the Zionists betrayed European Jews during World War II by opposing rescue efforts (so there would be more dead Jews to give them greater standing at the post-war negotiations over who would "get" Palestine)--they could do so; but they don't. If they did, they could turn the American public against Zionism and against the Israel Lobby as quickly as they turn it against a politician soliciting sex in a toilet stall.
So why don't they do it? It is not because Zionists control the mass media. Sure, pro-Zionists do control the mass media, but billionaires could create their own anti-Zionist media if they wanted to. After all, Rupert Murdoch owns a large enough media network to do the job and at the time of his divorce in 1998 his personal fortune was only 3.3 billion pounds (less than $5 billion I imagine.) The American ruling class chooses not to oppose the Israel Lobby because they have no reason to. The Israel Lobby is an instrument ("useful idiots" as Juan Cole puts it) of the American ruling class. The Lobby spreads the lies that the pro-Israel foreign policy requires, and it keeps politicians in line who might otherwise stray from the path. The Lobby is powerful because it does the bidding of the powerful.
Very different organizing strategies against Zionism are appropriate, depending on whether one agrees with "The Lobby Makes Them Do It" view of James Petras or the view I advocate. If Petras is correct, then the natural strategy to turn U.S. foreign policy around would be to side with the likes of Big Oil against the Israel Lobby. But since Big Oil and the Israel Lobby are in fact on the same team, this is a ridiculous strategy. Instead, the strategy that makes sense is to mobilize the general public against the American ruling class around not only opposition to Israeli ethnic cleansing but also opposition to the entire anti-democratic, anti-equality agenda of the ruling class. This is a revolutionary pro-working class strategy, and only it can win.
UPDATE: In 2017 I posted the following on Facebook, which explains why the "tail wags dog" theory fails to persuade many good people because they very understandably perceive it as an anti-Semitic argument:
AN EFFECTIVE WAY, AND AN INEFFECTIVE WAY, TO PERSUADE AMERICANS TO OPPOSE ZIONISM
When I worked at the Harvard School of Public Health before retiring, a Jewish colleague of mine stuck his finger a quarter inch from my nose, and, with his face twitching in anger, shouted at me, "You're THIS close to being Hitler!"
The occasion was when I was sitting at a table in the HSPH cafeteria collecting signatures in support of the right of return of Palestinian refugees. A week or so after this incident, I ran into this colleague in the cafeteria one morning and asked him if he had a minute and he said ok (we were colleagues who had to work with each other after all.) I proceeded to tell him the sordid truth about how Zionist leaders, in order to become a rich and powerful ruling elite in a nation of their own, had betrayed ordinary Jews during WWII by sabotaging all efforts to rescue Jews from the Nazis that didn't entail sending the Jews to Palestine, how Zionist leaders had made deals with the Nazis at the expense of ordinary Jews, and how Zionist leaders to this day demonstrate their continuing utter contempt for ordinary Jews as well as their more obvious contempt for ordinary non-Jews. My colleague listened in silence for 15 minutes, totally surprised to hear words in defense of ordinary Jews from an anti-Zionist he had been sure was an anti-Semite "This close to Hitler!"
A short time later I gave a showing of the anti-Zionist film, "Jenin, Jenin" during lunch hour at the HSPH and later that day I ran into my colleague; he told me--very friendly now!--that he wasn't able to attend the film because he had a conflicting meeting but that he would attend the next film if there was one. (Alas, I didn't show another film.)
To read about what I told my colleague about Zionist leaders, including how they use ethnic cleansing of Palestinians to control and oppress ordinary Jews as well as non-Jews, how the American ruling class supports this ethnic cleansing because it provokes the Muslim anger and violence that the American mass media need to provide the Orwellian War on Terror (a war of social control) with the bogeyman enemy (that the media falsely says is motivated by anti-Semitic hatred) that the War on Terror requires to be credible, and much more about Zionism, see Chapter 8 of my book DIVIDE AND RULE .
This approach to condemning Zionism is persuasive not only to non-Jewish Americans but also to Jews like my colleague whose pro-Israel position is based on ignorance rather than any vested interest in oppressing Palestinians. A key part of this approach is that it explains that the U.S. ruling class supports Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestinians for the same reason the Israeli ruling class does: it creates a bogeyman enemy with which to frighten ordinary people (Jews in Israel and the American public in the U.S.) into obedience of their ruling class.
In contrast, the approach used by people like James Petras (whose view is commonly known as "tail wags dog," meaning that the little Israel "tail" wags the big powerful American ruling class "dog") results in many good Americans BOOing. This is what I heard happened, for example, when an anti-Zionist who was invited to speak at the Occupy Wall Street crowd in NYC gave a "tail wags dog" speech.
Why do people BOO? It isn't because they are particularly pro-Israel. It is because people know that tails don't wag dogs and that the only thing that makes such an implausible theory have any credibility at all is the notion that Jews have some mysterious power to control non-Jews, which is well-known to be an old anti-Semitic canard, and one that people reject if they wish not to be anti-Semitic.
The "tail wags dog" explanation for why the U.S. government supports Israel says that the American ruling class (the billionaires who control the government) only support Israel because the Israel Lobby forces them to; that were it not for the Israel Lobby the billionaires would not support Israel, and that the national interest of the billionaires is harmed by the pro-Israel foreign policy of the U.S.
I wrote about why James Petras's "tail wag dog" view is wrong in an article here and in another one titled "The Israel Lobby's Power Comes from The American Ruling Class."
One huge piece of evidence for the wrongness of the "tail wags dog" theory is this: If it were true, then at least one American billionaire would use his/her wealth to simply tell the American public the sordid truth about Zionism, which would turn the public against the Israel Lobby and render that Lobby powerless to control election results anymore. Any billionaire could create his/her own independent media network and use it to get the truth out about Zionism. A polished TV series (like Roots) and some good films and books, could, within a few months, make support from the Israel Lobby be the kiss of death to any politician, as much as support from the Church of Satan.
If the pro-U.S. foreign policy is really against the interests of the billionaires (as the "tail wags dog" theory asserts) then there is no way to explain why at least one billionaire is not doing what he/she could easily do to destroy the power of the Israel Lobby. This is Sherlock Holmes's "dog that didn't bark"! It totally refutes the "tail wags dog" theory.
The fact is that no billionaire tells the public the sordid truth about Zionism because they have no reason to do it: the pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy is one that U.S. billionaires depend upon to make sure that the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians continues so that the Muslim bogeyman enemy remains angry and violent and scary, thereby enabling the American billionaire ruling class to control the American public with the Orwellian War on Terror, which is as vital a strategy of social control as was the former War on Communism (which was also a big lie as I discuss here.
If there were no Israel Lobby to make sure that Congress was filled with pro-Israel politicians, then the billionaires would have had to CREATE that lobby.
There are two ways to try to persuade Americans that Zionism is wrong. One way works. The other way doesn't. Which way do you want to use?
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