Mondoweiss / December 5, 2021
The news from the Middle East is that negotiators in Vienna are trying to restart the Iran deal, and Israel is doing all it can to throw a wrench into the works. Its officials are leading a “blitz” to end the talks: the Prime Minister has called on the U.S. for an “immediate cessation of talks,” while the Defense Minister will travel to Washington this week to appeal to the Biden administration that “there may be a point when we will have no choice but to act,’” Al-Monitor reports.
The Israelis and their many rightwing friends in the U.S. are saying the U.S. must maintain crippling sanctions on Iran and keep threatening war, and oh yes, Israel has “free rein” to attack Iran in Syria. And Israel will bomb Iran if it deems it has crossed a nuclear threshold– which is always just six months from now, forever. While anonymous Israeli officials tell pliable Israeli reporters that Tony Blinken is the “biggest leftist” in the Biden administration and he is stoking “tensions” between the U.S. and Israel.
So much for the Biden-Bennett honeymoon. In August, the Biden welcomed Bennett at the White House, and announced that they were “close friends,” and Israel’s friends in the U.S. rejoiced in the fact that Israel was a bipartisan cause again, because the divisive Netanyahu was gone, and Democrats and a rightwing Prime Minister were on the same page.
One tenet of that close bond is: If there are any disagreements, they will be aired privately. Bennett has now violated that understanding. He is trying to embarrass Biden publicly, and tell the United States what to do with Iran. Just as Netanyahu embarrassed Biden very publicly and went to the Congress to try to undermine the Iran deal in 2015.
On that occasion, Barack Obama made perhaps the bravest statement of his presidency, saying, “As president of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally. ”
American leaders need to follow Obama’s example. They should stop listening to Israel, they should tell Israel to bug off. It’s in America’s interest to restore the Iran deal, and also to get Israel to stop stealing Palestinian land. Both of which aims are completely counter to the new Israeli government. It loves having a global cold war with Iran to keep the world’s attention off apartheid.
This ought to be easy. When Russia occupies territory, the American political establishment supports the occupied people and cites international law and morality. When the U.S. decides to screw France to make a deal with Australia, it screws France and France recalls its ambassador, and a lot of quiet diplomacy follows but the superpower has had its way.
The superpower should have its way with Israel too; but no, Israel is a spoiled brat that issues ultimatums. The reason it gets away with this behavior is obvious. There is a powerful Israel lobby inside the United States (though our mainstream press claims it might not exist), and the lobby has one overriding purpose, to make sure there is no daylight between the U.S. political establishment and Israel. The power of the lobby is the reason that Netanyahu once told a hot mic that the U.S. is a “thing that can be easily moved.” The power of the lobby is why Trump trashed the Iran deal in 2018, to keep the support of his biggest backer, Sheldon Adelson. The power of the lobby is the reason progressive Congressperson Jamaal Bowman goes and meets with a rightwing Israeli prime minister, and sells out Palestinian human rights organizations, out of fear he will lose his seat in Congress if he doesn’t defer to Israel.
It is really a pity, and a moral horror too, that American leaders can’t tell Israel to fuck off. But there are countless well-funded organizations, telling these politicians to stand up and grin for the “unwavering special” relationship between the United States and Israel. Donald Trump threatened the American consensus by trying to politicize it, and say the Democratic left was going off the reservation. But then former members of AIPAC promptly started a new branch of the lobby, the Democratic Majority for Israel, to close rank in the Democratic Party. And Nancy Pelosi banished the left by saying that the Capitol would crumble and fall before the U.S. abandoned its support for Israel, so please ignore the leftwing critics in her party.
Now Joe Biden is afraid to take on the lobby because the midterms are looming; and Tony Blinken has to cater to Israel’s new more-photogenic p.m. even when he is insulting him. The clear message from Vienna is that the Iran deal will not be restored because Biden is refusing to lift the sanctions that Donald Trump re-imposed on Iran. Obama’s point man Ben Rhodes says it’s all about the lobby.
Biden is afraid to politicize the issue. He knows that Adelson’s widow is conducting the same sweepstakes her late husband did: to see which Republican candidate for president will be the most pro-Israel. He knows that AIPAC is all over the Democratic Party.
The special relationship with Israel should be politicized. It helped get us into the Iraq war, with catastrophic consequences for many nations, and is now endangering war with Iran. It has granted endless immunity to apartheid, with desperate consequences for the Palestinian people.
Fifteen years ago, Walt and Mearsheimer called out the lobby’s influence in a landmark book on American foreign policy, and as Mearsheimer said often, “We just Israel to be treated like a normal country.”
But that book can still only be read in brown wrappers in Washington, and the intrusion in our politics by Israel and its friends just keeps getting deeper. Twenty-seven states adopt legislation that would limit free speech rights by penalizing those who boycott Israel. A Georgia lawmaker confesses that the Israeli government “asked me” to introduce one of those bills. A dozen attorneys-general seek divestment from Unilever because one of its brands, Ben & Jerry’s, doesn’t want to be foster the persecution of Palestinians by selling ice cream in occupied territory. A Republican congressman who voted against Iron Dome says AIPAC’s effort to turn him out of office is “foreign interference in our elections.” The University of North Carolina clamps down on a teacher who wants to tell the true history of Palestine after the Israeli consulate and a Democratic congressperson pressure school officials. “[I]t is strange that the Israeli consulate general was granted an audience,” the instructor says. “If this was a class on Hungary or Australia, would the university have permitted the attempted interference of a foreign government? The fact that this meeting happened at all is clearly a threat to academic freedom.”
The American people want distance. Polling shows that they are overwhelmingly for an evenhanded approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict, that young people are moving to the Palestinian side, and that Democratic voters are for sanctions on Israel over its settlement behavior.
It is time that our mainstream press surveys all the damage and takes on the corruption in our political process. It’s time our leaders stop worrying about what the lobby and Israeli officials want and channel Obama’s question of 2015. What is the American interest?
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006