Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Israel Lobby Should Not Have Veto Over US

If you care about the direction of this country but think you don't have time to pay attention to what the Israel lobby is doing, you may want to think again. This is no conspiracy theory - it is all in broad daylight and the stakes are big, in fact they are matters of life and death right now. As we communicate, the Israel lobby is teaming up with the neocon right to prevent President Obama from choosing his Secretary of Defence.

... Chuck Hagel, a Republican Senator who would normally also be easy to confirm in the Senate, as Obama's choice for Secretary of Defence. But unlike in the case of Susan Rice, there are real, substantive objections to real substantive positions he has held: he was an early critic of the Iraq war; he wants to get out of Afghanistan, soon; he does not want a war with Iran; and he has supported cuts in military spending. This makes him neocon enemy number one, someone who must be crushed.

Loyal To A Foreign Government

So, Hagel once said he was a US senator and not a senator in the Israeli government. And for this he has been vilified. This really completes my argument. Is there any other country in the world where a legislator can be denounced for not being sufficiently loyal to a foreign government? This is worse than the McCarthy era; at least back then you had to swear loyalty to the US government.

And he once used the term "Jewish lobby" instead of "Israel lobby", thus denying credit where credit is due, to right-wing evangelical Christians and other fine citizens who also would like to see a war with Iran and fight for the foreign policy agenda of Israel's far right. 

Last week, Elliot Engel became the first important Democratic Congressman to attack Chuck Hagel and oppose his nomination as Secretary of Defence. Engel is part of the Israel lobby and unfortunately he is now the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs committee. One of his first acts after being elected to Congress was to sponsor a resolution declaring Jerusalem to be the undivided capital of Israel, an extremist position even by US State Department standards. 

Promoting The Israel Lobby

Engel is a good example of how the Israel lobby, in alliance with the much weaker neocons, influences much more of US foreign policy than just the Middle East. Until the Democrats lost the House in 2010, he was Chair of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. What was he doing there, since his main interest is Israel? He was there to use the Committee to try to advocate for Israeli foreign policy in this hemisphere. Of course, he had allies among neocon Republicans like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, fanatical Cuban-born Florida right-winger who is the current (outgoing) Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Though the Republicans were more extreme, Engel shared their hostility toward left governments - now governing the majority of Latin America - that didn't fall into line.  This included of course avowedly socialist governments such as Ecuador, Bolivia and Venezuela; but in 2010, when Brazil, together with Turkey, tried to broker a nuclear fuel swap arrangement with Iran, in an attempt to defuse the escalating confrontation between the US and Iran, Engel was quick to publicly denounce and threaten Brazil for doing, actually, what Washington had asked them to do.

It is important to understand that Engel's commitment to the foreign policy of Israel is not the result of Jewish voters in New York's 17th Congressional district. Jews are less than 14 percent of his district, which is majority African-American and Latino. And most American Jews do not agree with the extremist policies of the Israeli government, which Engel represents. This is a problem of an ideological and political commitment of someone working with a powerful lobby to influence US foreign policy.

Engel was one of 81 House Democrats who went against the majority of their party in the House and voted to authorise George W Bush's invasion of Iraq. Most of these 81 Democrats had strong ties to the Israel lobby, distinguishing them from the Democrats who voted against the war. Would Congress have authorised that war without the influence of the Israel lobby?

It's difficult to say, just as it is difficult to say how much their influence will be decisive if we end up going to war with Iran - a cause that Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has lobbied for on national US TV and that the Israel lobby is eager to promote. But this country can no longer afford to have this kind of influence on such important decisions. 

The fight over the Hagel nomination, which would never have been a fight if not for the Israel lobby, is just the latest example. Hagel's presence in the Obama cabinet could easily, in some circumstances, make the difference between war and peace. 

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