By Gary Leupp

In his article in the last Revolution Alan Goodman (one of those who went to the Holocaust Museum in New York City and held up the banner reading “after the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel” last week) takes on the contention that U.S. government support for Israel is “not about the Israel Lobby, and not at all about ‘the Jews,’” but about Israel being the “Hitman for the IMPERIALIST United States.”

It’s very short, and in my opinion not at all analytical enough if what he has in mind is an engagement with (for example) The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt (2007). But I thought it might be worth some discussion here.

The main paragraph is a quote from a member of Congress, explaining why Israel’s such a key U.S. ally:

“Last June, U.S. Representative Steve Rothman (who has been a strong supporter of Obama), told his colleagues that Israel provides “America with vital security assistance in the Middle East and around the world.” He pointed to “literally hundreds of examples of how Israel has helped the United States with our national security goals: intelligence, improving American military technology, capturing Soviet and Iranian equipment, destroying the Iraqi nuclear reactor, eradicating a Syrian nuclear facility, and many more unclassified and classified [secret] instances.” He argued that “without our partnership with the IDF [Israeli “Defense” Forces—the Israeli army], the United States might need to have 100,000 or more additional troops stationed permanently in that part of the world to make up for the protection of U.S. interests and vital intelligence provided by Israel to the United States.” And, Rothman emphasized, “With the ongoing efforts of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons technology,” Israel’s role is “more critical than ever.” (“U.S.’s valuable, strategic relationship with Israel,” The Hill, June 3, 2008)

“All that—the strategic role Israel plays in service of U.S. imperialism—not the “Israel lobby,” explains the real nature of the relationship between the U.S. and its “unsinkable aircraft carrier” in the Middle East.

Personally, I don’t find this a very satisfying explanation.

And I’ve never been satisfied with RCP explanations for the U.S. special relationship with Israel, which I think has to be understood somewhat less in terms of the material benefits accruing to the U.S. imperialists listed above, and more in terms of Zionist ideology and how it impacts bourgeois politics in the U.S.

Looking at Rothman’s list: The U.S. gathers intelligence through many agencies, including those of its creation, in countries throughout the region. The U.S. does not require Israeli expertise, largely acquired at places like MIT, to improve U.S. military technology. The capture of Soviet and Iranian equipment occurred in wars that did not necessarily advantage U.S. imperialist interests, nor did the eradication of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 which actually infuriated Ronald Reagan and caused the U.S. to vote against Israel in the UN (very rare). The meaning of the Israeli strike on Syria in Sept. 2007 remains unclear but it’s by no means clear that it played a “strategic role in the service of U.S. imperialism.”

In the past I’ve read RCP material in which emphasis was placed on Israel’s role as a secret middleman in arms sales to third countries (as during the Iran-Contra affair of the mid-80s) allowing the U.S. government to avoid congressional oversight. But I haven’t been satisfied with that as an explanation for the extraordinary support lavished on this country by the U.S. I just find it very puzzling. How do we really understand this U.S.-Israel relationship in Marxist terms?

The U.S. imperialists’ main interest in Southwest Asia has, from the interwar period, been petroleum: profits from it and control over its flow. They were not, as I understand it, prime backers of the establishment of the Zionist state. That project was never really one supervised by global capital but grew up unpredictably and indeed received a certain amount of Soviet support as of 1948.

The U.S. imperialists’ interests lay more with the Saudis and other Arab leaders of various types, preferably strongly anti-communist, moderately “westernizing” and “secularizing” ones. Israel’s victories over Soviet-backed armies in 1967 and 1973 impressed Washington and helped cement an undeclared military alliance. But I still don’t understand how the interests of U.S. capital are truly served or justified by the massive subsidy the U.S. gives to the settler state.

If the U.S. had insisted long ago that the Israelis comply with the UN resolutions allowing the return of the refugees to the West Bank and allowing the formation of a Palestinian state (as presumably the U.S. could do), would that not be more in the interests of the U.S. imperialists than continued association with a vicious occupation? Especially when the reputation of the U.S. is particularly affected in the countries of greatest strategic significance to U.S. imperialism, such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

How does it profit U.S. imperialism to maintain and subsidize a western settler state in the heart of the Arab-Muslim Middle East, on occupied land, surrounded by an exploding population of hostile refugees? Especially when Israel has no natural resources of interest, and the surrounding countries have resources of incalculable importance? Especially when wars involving Israel threaten the world’s oil supply, and the transit of goods through the Red Sea and Persian Gulf?

The Importance of the Israel Lobby

I think the Israel Lobby really IS an important factor here. (More specifically, the Lobby with AIPAC, WINEP, the Ant-Defamation League, Christians United for Israel, Zionist Organization of Ameica, Americans for a Safe Israel, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Middle East Forum, National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, etc., as core constituents).

Notice how the other day the entire Senate in a voice vote approved the resolution supporting the invasion of Gaza, and only five voted no in the House vote. Virtually no dissent in support of the slaughter of 800 people, over a quarter of them children, in a blitzkrieg over a concentration camp. Over 600 elected adults voting, all agreeing to support Israel.

I don’t think that lopsided vote is due to the reasons Rep. Rothman lists above (concerning “U.S. national security goals”) but to concern about—fear of—the Lobby which has, as Juan Cole pointed out recently, ousted Paul Findley, Charles Percy, William Fulbright, Roger Jepson, Pete McCloskey, Earl Hilliard, and Cynthia McKinney for “stepping out of line” on Israel.

The question of “the Jews” being responsible for the U.S. government’s unwavering support of Israel is of course another question altogether. Opinion polls indicate that AIPAC is plainly not representative of the views of U.S. Jews in general. Even if it were it would be necessary to distinguish between Jews in general and those responsible for U.S. Israel policy. The political power of the Lobby (including Christian Zionists) is a separate issue.

The point I want to raise/suggest is this. There are powerful people who believe deeply in the Zionist project, invest in it financially, and support it politically with all the means at their disposal. They might not profit from it personally at all. But using their positions within the capitalist class, in finance, industry, entertainment, and sympathetic figures in law and academe, they relentlessly build the “case for Israel.” It’s a matter of ideology, perhaps of deep religious conviction and/or intensely felt Jewish nationalism (although again, there are Christian Zionists as well, as Mearsheimer and Walt discuss in detail in their book). The belief that the Jewish state should exist (perhaps in fulfillment of biblical prophesy, perhaps as only insurance of the survival of the Jewish people) quite independent of any economic consideration can if supported by enormous financial resources appreciably impact the policies of even the greatest imperialist state. Even if there are often officials at high levels of power who question those policies (as some officials U.S. officials have done in relation to Israel).

The lobby ensures that both political parties remain solidly committed to support for Israel, that presidential candidates are supplied with strongly Zionist “Middle East experts,” that pro-Israel “think-tanks” like Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) get their talking heads featured regularly on the cable channels. They wield enormous influence through organs such as the Weekly Standard, National Review Online, editorial pages of the Washington Post, Commentary, New Republic, etc. They also reach fundamentalist Christian congregations in the 10s of millions, including those expecting the End Times to come soon in Jerusalem.

They don’t get everything they want. The Lobby was generally championing a U.S. attack on Iran last year; Norman Podhoretz openly prayed for it, and it didn’t happen. They don’t control the U.S. government, and there are differences among them, but are I think largely responsible for the extremely close relationship due to their influence over the Congress.

Maybe it’s a case of Zionist capital investing in a legislator’s votes in the service of Zionist ideology. The return on the investment is a continuation of the Zionist dream. There’s no profit in it to the Zionist, necessarily, other than that. It’s more like a charitable donation he’s made, matched by a much larger one by the U.S. taxpayer and perhaps some Palestinian blood.

Again (to raise the question provocatively): I just don’t see how U.S. imperialism as a whole really benefits from, and doesn’t miss better opportunities as a result of, its longstanding relationship with Israel. There are political benefits of playing to the fundamentalists Christians’ belief in a miraculous fulfilment of scripture and all of that, but what corporations are making profits off the Israeli tie that couldn’t be profiting more from something else had the settler state never been created?

I don’t think there’s necessarily a consensus among the top tiers of the capitalist class that Israel should continue to get carte blanche from the U.S. (which is maybe why Carter was able to write his book and do his book tour, despite the icy reception it got from some and his resultant shunning from the Democratic convention stage organized by Alan Dershewitz). On the other hand Obama sure seems in the Lobby’s pocket, especially with the Dennis Ross appointment

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