The Israel Exception

The Israel Exception
Soon Congress will begin hearings into attempts to influence U.S. foreign policy with campaign cash--but you can be sure that the Israel lobby will get a free pass on this one.


WHEN BILL CLINTON decided to veto a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the resumption of settlement-building in the Occupied Territories by Israel's Likkud government, it was a reminder of how U.S. foreign policy is dictated by narrow domestic political concerns rather than the national interest--or even, heaven forfend, commitment to some higher principle, like international law or the world's peace.

The veto was necessary to stop the resolution because every other member of the Security Council was for it--even U.S. allies like Britain and France. Halted by the Labor governments of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, the building of new settlements is part of Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's desire to appease the ultra-Orthodox religion fanatics to whom he owes his parliamentary majority. It is Netanyahu's cynical hope that this move--a major violation of the Madrid Accords that have been the basis for Israeli/Palestinian negotiations--will force Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat into a corner and stall the peace talks, which is what the parties of the religious right want. But the far more likely result will be to further weaken the already shaky hold Arafat has over the Palestinian masses, whose nationalist passions are fueled by massive unemployment and crushing poverty. If the Islamists of Hamas launch the Intifada, Netanyahu will have an excuse to unleash a new wave of repression--thus securing his right flank and maintaining himself in power.

Soon Congress will begin hearings into attempts to influence U.S. foreign policy with campaign cash. But you can be sure that the Israel lobby will get a free pass on this one, for the simple reason that members of Congress from both parties have benefited from its largesse. It's no secret that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee is a virtual extension of the Israeli embassy. Funded by perfectly legal donations from U.S. citizens, AIPAC plays a potent role in American politics. Its fat cats were the founders of the Democratic Leadership Council, whose director, Al From, used to run AIPAC. From is a long-time counselor of Clinton's political turn to the right, and AIPAC's influence has only grown in this White House. For example, the new chair of the Democratic National Committee, Steve Grossman, is a former AIPAC chairman. Illustrating AIPAC's bipartisan clout is Defense Secretary William Cohen--according to the Center for Responsive Politics, as a Republican senator, Cohen received the largest single group of donations from pro-Israeli PACs inspired by AIPAC.

Al Gore, too, is a voluntary hostage to the pro-Tel Aviv Jewish conservatives. His 1988 campaign for president was in large measure financed by key AIPAC/DLC players, and one of his biggest fundraisers is New York City Council member Noach Dear, a divisive and race-baiting conservative Democrat from Brooklyn's Orthodox community who has been a bitter critic of the peace process begun by Rabin and Peres.

Israel is increasingly a society divided against itself. On the one hand, there is the secular Israel of Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Rabin. On the other is the Israel envisaged by the ultra-Orthodox rabbi-politician who wants to turn the country into a religious state. The Israeli religious right hates secular Jews almost as much as Palestinians: Under Netanyahu, it has won an abrogation of the historic right of return to Israel by any Jew, for now only the Orthodox Grand Rabbinates can decide who is a Jew and who is not. Violent campaigns against Jewish merchants who refuse to observe Sabbath closing laws, repression of homosexuals, curtailment of the rights of women, and making religious education mandatory are all part of its anti-democratic arsenal.

Clinton's veto puts him on the side of Netanyahu and his extremist religious allies, whose hate rhetoric created the climate in which Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. It also destroys the ability of the U.S. to posture as an independent broker of future negotiations. And it makes a mockery of Clinton's tears at Rabin's funeral, for it is a body blow to the peace process for which the soldier-statesman gave his life. CP

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