by Ellen Isaacs
It is indeed gratifying to those of us fighting the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza to hear the issue being brought into the open by new members of Congress, stimulating a greater national debate on the issue. It is heartening that more Americans, including more Jews, are beginning to question Israel’s extreme racism toward and oppression of Palestinians and not assume that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. However, the view of the U.S. relationship to Israel espoused by Ilhan Omar and her supporters is limited by its over-assessment of Israel’s power over the U.S. and is associated with a view of American foreign policy in other realms that is much too sanguine.
It is incontrovertibly true that AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) engineers the monetary support of politicians in order to insure support of Israel, and it is also true that the U.S. gives massive amount of aid to Israel. But we must ask why this is so, and does it mean that the U.S. has lost control of its own foreign policy with respect to Israel.? This has become a popular thesis, adopted by the young congresswomen, which is far from being correct.
American support of Israel is clearly not borne out of a love of Jews. This certainly was proven before and during World War II, when the U.S. did little to protest the anti-Semitic policies of Hitler or welcome Jewish immigrants. But with the onset of the Cold War, the U.S. saw the need to counter Soviet interests in the oil-rich Middle East and now needs to also to counter those of Iran and China.
There are many benefits to the U.S. government in the alliance with Israel (informed by the writings of Steven Zunes):
- Israel has limited victories by radical nationalist movements in Lebanon and Jordan, as well as in Palestine.
- For many years, Israel kept Syria, an ally of the Soviet Union, in check, now even more important as Russia’s influence there is increasing.
- Israel’s air force and nuclear weapons are vastly superior to any other power in the region. This gives grave pause to those who might wish to intervene versus U.S. military ventures to control energy and other resources in neighboring areas such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, etc.
- Israel’s frequent wars have provided battlefield testing for new Israeli weapons, exported throughout the world, as well as American arms. Israel also makes large purchases of American arms.
- It has been used as a conduit for U.S. arms to regimes and movements too unpopular in the United States for open direct military assistance, such as apartheid South Africa, the Islamic Republic in Iran, the military junta in Guatemala, and the Nicaraguan Contras. Israeli military advisers have assisted the Contras, the Salvadoran junta, and foreign occupation forces in Namibia and Western Sahara.
- Israel’s intelligence service has assisted the U.S. in intelligence gathering and covert operations.
- Israel has cooperated with the U.S. military-industrial complex with research and development for new jet fighters and anti-missile defense systems.
When Israel’s wishes have run counter to those of the U.S., such as when the Obama administration wished to make a treaty with Iran, the U.S. proceeded with its own preferred policy. Most U.S. administrations would have preferred that Israel come to some sort of settlement with the Palestinians so that the issue did not continue to inflame anti-Israeli sentiment around the world, although this is not a strong enough desire that Israeli aid has been threatened. The current and likely short-lived presidency is an exception.
With respect to Ilhan Omar and her fellow democratic-socialist politicians, however, Israel is seen to represent a separate issue from general U.S. foreign policy, about which they are much more supportive. That is, they fail to understand the general American imperialist enterprise that encompasses the entire world and is universally aimed at maintaining U.S. access to resources, pipelines, and economic and military superiority. As the U.S. faces increased economic and military competition from China and Russia, it is inevitable that wide-scale, possibly nuclear, war looms in the future. (See the article on this blog at https://multiracialunity.org/2018/02/02/as-u-s-imperialism-declines-we-must-fight-racism-and-nationalism/ for a general summary.)
However, in a Washington Post op-ed of 3/17/19, Omar states that: “I believe in an inclusive foreign policy – one that centers on human rights, justice and peace as the pillars of America’s engagement in the world…that takes into account the long-term effects of U.S. engagements in war and that is sincere about our values….” In other words, she is convinced that our government’s motivations have at times been and can be altruistic, dominated by human rights as opposed to power-expanding concerns. Ocasio –Cortez expresses similar sentiments, saying that continued U.S. military action in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia “damages America’s legitimacy as a force for good…. We can become stronger by building stronger diplomatic and economic ties, and by saving our armed forces only for when they’re truly needed.” Of course when they’re needed is completely undefined, and does she really believe that the US was ever a force for good in the world? When exactly? And Bernie Sanders can be quoted in a similar vein: “In order to effectively combat the forces of global oligarchy and authoritarianism, we need an international movement that mobilizes behind a vision of shared prosperity, security and dignity for all people, and that addresses the massive global inequality that exists, not only in wealth but in political power.”
It is difficult to know if these democratic-socialist politicians are simply naïve about the history and motivations behind U.S. foreign policy, or consciously wish to mitigate criticisms of U.S. foreign ventures. In either case, the effect on those who admire their daring, courage and supposed progressiveness is dangerous, for they serve to convince their admirers that there is the possibility of actually changing the overseas actions of the U.S. into a force for good, if only we solve certain problems, like U.S. support for Israeli policies. And then, those policies don’t really reflect the desires or interests of our otherwise not-so-bad or remediable foreign policy. What Americans need to hear is that support for racist and oppressive Israeli policies is similar to support for such policies by the U.S. around the world, from Honduras to Saudi Arabia to Sudan, to name a few. We don’t just need to fight AIPAC or Netanyahu. We must point the finger squarely at the interests of U.S. imperialism.