Debating the Primacy of The Pro-Israel Lobby
THE DEBATE BETWEEN JAMES PETRAS AND NORMAN FINKELSTEIN
Hagit Borer: There is little question in anybody’s mind about the special relation between Israel and the United States. Israel is the largest recipient of US foreign aid to the tune of more than $3 billion dollars a year, plus miscellaneous additions like surplus weaponry, debt waivers and other perks. Israel is the only country that receives its entire aid package in the beginning of the fiscal year allowing it to accrue interest on it during the year. It is the only country which is allowed to spend up to 25% of its aid outside of the United States, placing such expenditures outside US control. Apart from financial support, the United States has offered unwavering support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine and for the ongoing oppression of the Palestinians, and has systematically supported Israel’s refusal to make any effective peace negotiations or peace agreements. It has vetoed countless UN resolutions seeking to bring Israel into compliance with international law. It has allowed Israel to develop nuclear weapons and not to sign the nuclear anti-proliferation treaty and most recently it strongly supported Israel’s attack on Lebanon in July of 2006. Support for Israel cuts across party lines and is extremely strong in Congress where criticism of Israel is rarely if ever heard. It also characterizes almost all American administrations from Johnson onwards, with George W. Bush being possible the most pro-Israel ever.
What is the reason for this strong support? Opinions on this matter vary greatly. Within strong pro-Israeli circles, one often hears that the reason is primarily moral: the debt that the United States owes Israel in the aftermath of the Holocaust; the nature of Israel as the sole democracy in the Middle East; Israel as the moral and possible strategic ally of the United States in its War on Terror. Within circles that are less supportive of Israel and which are less inclined to view Israel and Israel’s conduct as moral, opinions vary as well. One opinion stems from the position of Israel being a strategic ally of the United States – its support is simply payment for services rendered coupled with the stable pro-American stance of the Jewish Israeli population. Noam Chomsky, among others, is a proponent of this view. According to the opposing view, the United States’ support for Israel does not advance American aims, it jeopardizes them. The explanation for the support is to be found in the activities of the Israel Lobby, also known as the Jewish Lobby, or as AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee), which uses its formidable influence to shape American foreign policy in accordance with Israeli interests. The opinion as most recently been associated with an article published in the London Book Review, co-authored by Professor Merscheimer of the University of Chicago and Professor Walt of Harvard University. This debate is the topic of our program today.
Let me introduce our guests. Norman Finkelstein is a professor of political science at De Paul University. Welcome to our program, Norman.
Norman Finkelstein: Thank you.
Hagit Borer: Professor Finkelstein is the author of several books on the history of Zionism and the role of the Holocaust in present day Israeli policies. His latest book, published in 2005 , Beyond Chutzpah, on The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History.
Our second guest is James Petras. James is an Emeritus Professor of sociology at SUNY Binghamton. Welcome to our program, James.
James Petras: Glad to be here, Hagit.
Hagit Borer: Professor Petras is the author of numerous books on state power and the nature of globalization in the context of the US and Latin America, and most recently in the Middle East. His latest book, published in 2006, is titled The Power of Israel in the United States. Perhaps starting with you, James, perhaps you could tell us by way of a short opening statement where you would place yourself on this issue of a debate on the source of the United States lasting and enduring support for Israel.
James Petras: Well, I think I would probably argue that the pro-Israel lobby, the Zionist Lobby, is the dominant factor in shaping US policy in the Middle East, particularly in the most recent period. And I think one has to look at this beyond AIPAC. I mean, we have to look a whole string of pro-Zionist think tanks from the American Enterprise Institute on down, and then we have to look at a whole power configuration, which not only involves AIPAC, but also the President of the Major American Jewish Organizations, which number 52. We have to look at individuals occupying crucial positions in the government, as we had recently with Elliott Abrams and Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith and others. We have to look at the army of op-ed writers who have access to the major newspapers. We have to look at the super-rich contributors to the Democratic Party, Media moguls etc. And I think this, together with the leverage in Congress and in the Executive, is the decisive factor in shaping US foreign policy in the Middle East. And I want to emphasize that.
Hagit Borer: James, just to stop you and maybe we can also have some kind of an opening statement from Norman.
Norman Finkelstein: Well, first of all, thank you for having me. I would say that I situate myself on the spectrum somewhere towards the middle. I don’t think it is just the Lobby which determines the US relationship with Israel. And I don’t think it is just US interests which determine the US relationship with Israel. I think that you have to look at the broad picture and then you have to look at the local picture. On the broad picture, that is to say, US policy in the Middle East generally speaking, the historical connection between the US and Israel has been based on the useful services that Israel has performed for the United States in the region as a whole. And that became most prominent in June 1967, when Israel knocked out the main challenge, or potential challenge, to US dominance in the region, namely Abdul Nasser of Egypt. So, on the broad question of the US-Israel relationship that is the regional relationship, I think it is correct to say that the alliance has been based fundamentally on services rendered. On the other hand, it is very clear from looking at the documentary record, that the US was euphoric when Israel knocked out Egypt – or knocked out Nasser and Nasserism, it is also clear from looking at the documentary record, that the United States has never had any big stake in trying to maintain Israel’s control over the territories it conquered in the June 1967 war, that is to say, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, the Syrian Golan Heights and, at that time, the Jordanian West Bank and Jerusalem. The US clearly had no stake in it and already from July 1967, wanted to apply pressures on Israel to commit itself from fully withdrawing. It was pretty obvious, if you look at the record again, that Israel, at that point, was able to bring to bear the Lobby. In 1967-68 it meant principally the forthcoming Presidential election and the Jewish vote. It was to bring to bear the power of the Jewish vote to resist efforts to withdraw. And since ’67, the Lobby has been very effective, I think, in raising the threshold before the US is willing to act and force an Israeli withdrawal pretty much like the withdrawal it forced on Indonesia in 2000 to leave Timor. The two occupations begin in roughly the same period: in 1974, Indonesia invades Timor with the US green light and in 1967, Israel conquers the West Bank, Gaza and so forth with the US green light. And so the obvious question is: Both occupations endured for a long period. The Indonesian occupation was infinitely more destructive, killing more than one-third of the East Timorese population. But it is true to say come 2000 the US does order Indonesia to withdraw its troops. Why hasn’t it done so in the case of the Israel-Palestine occupation? And there I think its true to say, ‘It’s the Lobby’.
Hagit Borer: I have a feeling that one of the things we really need to start with when we try to address this issue is: What is it that we recognize, if we could recognize, on more or less a global level, as ‘American Interests’? Such that we can say that they have so some degree systematically characterized different US Administrations. This is because it seems to me that it would be very difficult to evaluate to what extent policies that are going on with respect to Israel aren’t compatible with American interests, if we don’t talk a little bit about what we perceive to be ‘American interests’. So James, would you like to talk about that a little bit?
James Petras: Yes, I would. As a matter of fact, on that question, we have to be clear if we are talking about the US government and corporate interests in the Middle East, in particular, or if we are talking about what should be US interests.
Hagit Borer: Let’s talk about what they are…Let’s say, what the aims of various administrations are as opposed to what is in the best interest of either the American or the Israeli people, which may be very different.
James Petras: Very good. On that count, I think it is very clear that US policy is directed toward empire-building, extending its political, economic and military control over the world as a whole and, in particular, in the Middle East. And it pursues that policy, either through military means or through market mechanisms, such as the expansion of corporations, the capture of pliant client regimes, etc. And if we look at the Middle East, in particular, the US has been very successful in securing agreements with most of the oil-producing countries, except Iraq and Iran, and even there it is mainly because of its own rejection of relations with both those countries. US oil companies have done extremely well through non-military means. They have expanded their commercial ties- Goldman Sachs has just signed a big agreement with the biggest Saudi bank. Britain is organizing a secondary market in Islamic bonds. Wall Street is very interested in that. None of the oil companies supported a war in Iraq. And it is part of the rubbish that has been peddled – that the war was about oil. The oil companies were doing fabulously before the war and were very nervous about getting involved in a war. This, I think, leads us to the whole question of ‘why then’ if it was prejudicial to the major US economic interests. As we can see, there were many US military people who were opposed to going into Iraq because they felt it would prejudice the US overall military capacities to defend the Empire – just like the war in Viet Nam prejudiced the capacity of the US to intervene in Central America against the Sandinistas, against the overthrow of the Shah, etc. So from the point of view of global imperial interests, the war in Iraq was certainly not on the behest of the oil companies. I have looked at all the documents, I’ve done interviews with oil companies, I’ve looked at their publications for the five years in the run-up to the war and there is absolutely no evidence. On the contrary, if you pursue research on the various members of the Zionist power configuration in the United States, which I think is a conceptually more correct way of talking about this, rather than ‘the Lobby’, you will find that people of dubious loyalties, like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle and Elliott Abrams – the felon, that had an agenda of furthering Israel’s interests.
Hagit Borer: James, maybe we should go on with this. Basically if I understand what your are saying, your are suggesting that up to the point of getting involved militarily with Iraq, you would characterize American policies in the Middle East – you know, the Lobby notwithstanding, as extremely successful. So, I am just wondering…
James Petras: It’s what we call ‘market imperialism’.
Hagit Borer: Yes. Norman, do you want to comment on this?
Norman Finkelstein: Well. You have to look at the interests at many different levels. And unfortunately it becomes murky and complicated, where one would prefer a simple picture, I don’t think it is all that simple when you try to figure it out. Number one, you have to look at the interests in terms of who is defining them. And, I agree, I think it is fairly obvious certainly to your listeners that there are different interests that are being defined by corporate power, or are being defined democratically by the desires and choices of ordinary people in any democratic system. So, lets limit ourselves to the first – the question of the corporate interests, since obviously they are playing the dominant role in determining US policy. Or it should be obvious, not that it always is.
Hagit Borer: Let’s assume it is fairly obvious.
Norman Finkelstein: It’s playing the determinant role. Then you have to look at ‘how do they conceive the best way to preserve and expand their interests.’ Now the way they perceive it may seem to a person like you and me to be irrational. It’s that they are pursuing policies which are actually hurting them. But the fact that they may seem irrational to us, does not mean that that is the way they perceive these as the best way to preserve their interests. So you take the concrete case at hand. It may be the case that it was irrational for the US to go into Iraq because there are other ways to control the oil, or as some people have argued, that the market mechanisms are such that, on a world scale, you no longer need to control a natural resource in order to make sure you get the lowest price or make sure it is flowing at the lowest price. Control isn’t all that important anymore in the modern world. It is not like when Lenin was writing his Imperialism. Now that may be rationally correct and maybe there is a good argument for making it. But that doesn’t mean that those in power aren’t making decisions to further their own interests, which may seem irrational to us. In the case of Iraq, if you look concretely at what happens: Number 1 – There is no evidence, whatsoever, that people like Wolfowitz or the others were trying to further an Israeli agenda.
Hagit Borer: Let me interrupt. What would be the Israeli agenda, if there was one?
Norman Finkelstein: There is an Israeli agenda, and I am not disputing it. The Israeli agenda is basically the following: Israel does not care which country you smash up in the Middle East, just so long as, every few years and, sometimes, every few months you smash up this or that Arab country to send a lesson or to transmit the message to the Middle East that we are in charge and whenever you get out of line we are going to take out the ‘big club’ and break your skull. Now, it happens that in the late 1990’s that Israel would have preferred the skull that was cracked would have been the Iranian one. There was no evidence that Iraq was upper most on the Israeli agenda. In fact, all of this talk about the famous document that was written up by these neo-cons to attack Iraq – that famous document – was handed to Netanyahu when he came to office to try convince him to put Iraq at the top of the agenda. It’s not as if Israel passed that document to the neo-cons, who then plotted to get the US government to attack Iraq. It was the opposite. Israel would have preferred to attack Iran. However, once those in our government, maybe for misguided reasons for all I know, decided to fasten on to Iraq – that is to attack Iraq – Israel was of course ‘gung ho’ because Israel is always ‘gung ho’ about smashing up this or that Arab country. That has always been its policy for the last hundred years – since the beginning of Zionism. The most common place, the cliché of Israeli power is ‘Arabs only understand the language of force’. So, when the US embarked on its campaign against Iraq, the Israelis were gleeful – but they are always gleeful. It doesn’t mean that people like Wolfowitz, let alone people like Cheney, are trying to serve an Israeli agenda. There is no evidence for claims like that. Its pure speculation based on things like ethnicity.
Lets take a simple example, that, I’ll call him James, I don’t usually call people by their first names, but Jim Petras mentioned…Let’s take the case of Elliott Abrams. These are interesting cases. Elliott Abrams is the son-in-law of Norman Podhoretz. And Norman Podhoretz was the first big neo-conservative supporter of Israel, the editor of Commentary , the magazine. But if you look at people like Podhoretz, you look at their history, I’ll take a book which I am sure Jim is familiar with, in 1967 Podhoretz publishes his famous memoir called Making It. It’s how he succeeded and made it in American life. He was a young man and the editor of Commentary Magazine. You read that book, his celebrated memoir written two months before the June 1967 war, there is exactly one half of one sentence in the whole book on Israel. People like Podhoretz, Midge Decter, all the neo-cons…I have gone through the whole literature on the topic and have read it quite carefully. Before June 1967, they didn’t give a ‘hoot’ about Israel. Israel never comes up in any of their memoirs, in any of the histories of the period. They become pro-Israel when Israel is useful to them in their pursuit of power and fortune in the United States. Elliott Abrams is as committed to Israel as his father-in-law, Norman Podhoretz, was committed to Israel: When it is convenient and when it is useful. This idea of trying to serve an Israeli agenda, especially coming from somebody as sophisticated as Jim Petras, strikes me as absurd. He knows as well as I do that power…
Hagit Borer: Lets me just interrupt to let James…
James Petras: Its very strange that one says Wolfowitz was not influenced by the Israeli agenda when he was caught passing documents to Israel in the 1980’s. And Douglas Feith lost his security clearance for handing documents to Israel. Elliott Abrams has written a book calling for maintaining the ‘purity’ of the Jewish race…
Norman Finkelstein: I know. They write that crap…and you believe them? Jim, do you think they care…?
James Petras: Its not a question of believing them, it’s a question of looking at the documentary evidence of uncritical, support for Israel in all of its policies – A position that is taken by the Presidents of the Major American Jewish Organizations. They give unconditional support!
Hagit Borer: Let me perhaps interject here a little bit. I think that there a couple of things. One is…I am wondering, for instance, I don’t know whether you would agree, James, with the particular Israeli interest that Norman had identified with respect to the invasion of Iraq. But assuming that you would agree that the Israeli interests is precisely that, namely to smash some Arab country mainly because it is a ‘good idea’…
James Petras: I think that’s very superficial…
Hagit Borer: The question is also…has it been in American interests? So we have seen America go after countries, which are sometimes, in terms of their power, are otherwise really quite negligible – just so as to make a point that anybody who dares to stand up to American power is just a bad example and needs to be smashed…
Norman Finkelstein: I totally agree with that…
James Petras: Israel was running guns to Iran as late as 1987 during the infamous Iran-Contra Scandal…To say that they weren’t interested in destroying Iraq as a challenge to Israel’s hegemony and Iraq’s support for the Palestinians, particularly funding the families of assassinated Palestinian leaders…that’s absurd. And I think …
Norman Finkelstein: Oh look…
Hagit Borer: Could I stop you at this particular point…because we need to take a station break…
James Petras: I want to answer your question…
Hagit Borer: We will come back to it…At this point I think we should try to shift the topic a little bit and…
James Petras: Let me finish my last comment. I think when the Pentagon offices are flooded, like a crowded bordello on Saturday night, with Israeli intelligence officers, crowding out even members of their own Pentagon staff – full of Mossad, full of Israeli generals, in the making of Iraq policy, I don’t think you can say that they are ‘just any old Pentagon officials’. I think you can’t dismiss the fact that Feith, Wolfowitz, Elliott Abrams have a lifetime commitment to putting Israel’s interests as their prime consideration in the Middle East. I think it is absurd to think that somehow they just happen to be right-wing policy makers that happen to support a militarist policy. Wolfowitz designed the program. Feith put together the Office of Special Plans, the policy board that fabricated the information for the Iraq war. They were constantly consulting on a day-day, hour-to-hour basis with the Israeli government. This has absolutely been documented a hundred times and I think it is impossible to deny this and say ‘Well, you can’t deduce policy from ethnic affiliations.” Yes, you can! When that ethnic group puts forward a position that puts the primacy of a foreign government at the center of their foreign policy and prejudices the lives of thousands of Americans…its economic interests in the area…then it’s absurd to say, ‘These are a bunch of irrational policy-makers.’
Hagit Borer: James, let me pursue this and actually go into a slightly different point. That is, wouldn’t it be possible, you know, it’s a question for both of you, for instance to think about whatever the neo-con group is…it’s not a group that represents Israeli interests, it’s a group which represents interests which ‘happen’ to perhaps coincide for both countries and which represent alliances of particular politicians in both countries with one another, and particular power configurations in both countries with one another – but not by any means – all Israeli politicians or the entire Israeli power structure – or all American politicians or all American power structures.
James Petras: Absolutely.
Hagit Borer: So in that case, these are not really American interests. These are just interests of a particular group of people, which is just as interested in bringing to effect in the United States as it is in Israel. It’s just basically, if you wish, a wonderful symbiotic relationship. What would you say, Norman to something like that?
Norman Finkelstein: I’ve said in my remarks at the beginning that there is an overlapping of interests in a regional level for reasons for which, in part you suggested earlier. You said that the United States often goes after weak regimes as a kind of demonstration effect of its power and Israel also has a desire for demonstrating its power. Often there is an overlapping, or confluence, of interests. I think, however, it’s also true to say on the specific question on the occupation – there is a conflict of interests. Were there not a Lobby, it’s quite likely that the US would have exerted the kinds of pressures needed to force an Israeli withdrawal. On questions like Iraq and Iran, I don’t see any evidence whatsoever, of its being driven by cloak in dagger type of operations in the Pentagon. These operations, which Jim mentions, are so trivial – next to the very high level planning that goes on between the United States and Israel, conscious, legal high-level planning on a daily basis. High level planning and high level coordination. You don’t have to conjure up ‘cloak and dagger’ tales, many of them true, going on inside the Pentagon, in order to demonstrate there is collusion, planning and coordination between the United States and Israel. The question is not whether that goes on, the question is ‘whose interests are being served by it?’ There is this notion that somehow they are managing to distort and deform US policy in a crucial region, on a crucial resource, doesn’t, in my opinion, have any basis in fact. It defies any kind of reason or any kind of common sense reasoning – especially coming from, in my youth, I used to be a student of James Petras at SUNY Binghamton from 1971-74 and he used to be a Marxist and at that time he would tell you how people in power act from interests, which spring from …a basis in which they are the main beneficiaries.
Hagit Borer: Norman, let me ask you …
Norman Finkelstein: Just a second…Mr. Wolfowitz…, Mr Feith and all the others…their power springs from the American state. If Israel gets stronger, their power does not increase. If the United States gets weaker, their power decreases. So now we are having this weird phenomenon of people, due to their ethnic loyalties, are willing to strengthen another state and thereby weaken the sources of power from which their power comes…that doesn’t sound believable.
James Petras: This is a convoluted thinking. I am sure Norman didn’t take that logic from my classes. I’m afraid he has gone off the track somewhere – despite some very good books he has written on the Zionist ‘shakedowns’, on the Holocaust and the refutation of the plagiarism of Dershowitz. I am afraid that when it comes to dealing with the predominantly Jewish lobby, he has a certain blind spot, which is understandable. In many other national and ethnic groups – where they can criticize the world but when it comes to identifying the power and malfeasance of their own group….
Hagit Borer: I think maybe we should all…perhaps we can move away from this topic. OK?
James Petras: Let me finish my sentence. There is nothing ‘cloak and dagger’ about the multiplicity of pro-Israel groups, that have pressured Congress, that are involved in the executive body in shaping American policy in the Middle East. The US does not support any other colonial power, it has opposed colonial occupation/imperialism since World War II. They opposed the British occupation of the Suez in 1956/1955. They have been pushing these countries of Europe and other countries out in order to establish US hegemony through economic and military agreements. The policy with the Israelis is very different from the policies the US follows everywhere else in the world. It’s the only country that gets $3 billion dollars a year for 30 years. This is not just something that happens because of ‘cloak and dagger’. This is the result, as Norman knows – as a very brilliant analyst, from organized power, an organized power that openly admits and states very explicitly that Israel is their major concern…and ‘what’s good for Israel is good for the United States’. They say that, Norman.
Norman Finkelstein: I know that. But regardless of what they say…
Hagit Borer: Let me interrupt you. I need to do a station ID and maybe we could change the topic…
James Petras: OK. Norman was a good student of mine.
Hagit Borer: I think that at this point we can agree that you guys have a lot of mutual respect for each other. But obviously you do not agree on some topics. I wanted to move on to the question of whether there are in fact cases that show that when there are conflicts of interests, say between the US and Israel, that there are instances where the United States does in fact pressure Israel to at least in some cases to act in ways which are against what Israeli wishes would be. Because it seems to me that if we don’t find cases along these lines, then basically the discussion becomes one of ‘the eyes of the beholder’. We see a lot of cooperation, a lot of joint interest, but they could be coming from either side. If there are cases where perhaps there are interests, which part ways and where we can see in fact there is a discord that we can talk about. Norman, since you are the one who believes that this is a possibility, could you talk about that?
Norman Finkelstein: Well, the thing is, I don’t want to make the argument that these kinds of individual cases can prove one side or the other. You pick up a book by Steve Zunes, and he is going to demonstrate that the US government always gets its way. You pick up something by somebody on the other side, and they are going to demonstrate that it’s Israel that always gets its way when there are conflicts of interests. And each side can give a list of examples – to demonstrate his or her case. I don’t think you can prove anything by citing a handful of cases on one side – Professor Chomsky will cite the recent case where Israel was severely reprimanded by Bush for trying to sell technology to China -and then you will find cases on the other side. Even though it’s important to look at the empirical record, I don’t think the empirical record – in and of itself– resolves the question. Let me give you a couple of examples of how I think it works. Let’s take two prime examples. Let’s start with 1948. Why did President Truman recognize Israel? There are all sorts of debate about that question. One claim that is constantly made was/is the role of the Jewish lobby. Namely Truman was heading for elections and wanted in particular, the New York vote…and the Democratic Party wanted Jewish money. It was due to the Jewish lobby of its time that Truman quickly recognized Israel, even though he was bound to alienate Arab interests which were very hostile to Israel’s founding. What does the record show? I have gone through the record very carefully. The records shows, Number 1 – our main interest at that time was in Saudi oil and the US enters into discussions with the Saudis, ‘What will you allow the US government to do regarding the founding of the state of Israel?’ And the Saudis basically said the following, ‘We will let you recognize Israel, but if you supply arms then there is going to be trouble. They are referring to arms after Israel was founded when there was an imminent war. What does the US do? It recognizes Israel, that is to say, it goes the limit. Truman goes the limit, because he wants that Jewish vote and he wants Jewish money. But he immediately slaps an arms embargo on the region. And the Secretary of State, Marshall, at the time says, ‘It looks like Israel is going to lose the war.’ That is what our intelligence tells us. We were wrong, but that is what US intelligence said at the time. So they were willing to let Israel be annihilated, because that’s what our intelligence told us, if the price was losing the support of the Saudis. It is true that Truman went the limit – the limit was ‘recognizing Israel’ to get the Jewish vote, but he never went beyond the limit of alienating a prime US interest in the region, namely the Saudis. Let’s take 1956, which Jim mentioned, but I don’t think he knows what happened. In 1956, it’s true – the United States told Britain, France and Israel – they had to get out of Egypt. And its true, we looked very anti-colonial. But the only reason the United States did that was because the British, the French and the Israelis acted behind the back of the United States. The very moment the tri-partite invasion of Egypt occurred, the US was plotting to overthrow the government of Syria. And the US wanted to knock-out Nasser, but they didn’t like the timing – because the timing was not the US choosing but rather the British, French and Israelis behind our backs. Once again it was the US interests that determined US policy, not any commitment to anti-colonialism or crap like that. It was the US interest.
James Petras: He’s had five minutes already. I demand equal time. He’s been giving us long lectures. If you look at US policy toward Israel, the US alienates practically the whole world in favor of a tiny country, which has practically no economic value to the United States, which is a diplomatic albatross and has its own hegemonic, military and political interests in dominating the Middle East. We go into the United Nations and we alienate the whole of Europe and the Third World when Israel destroys Jenin, when it engages in genocidal policies in the Occupied Territories, when it violates the Geneva Agreements. The US backs it and totally discredits itself before anyone seriously concerned with international law, with the niceties of international relations. I am not just talking about Moslem opinion, Arab opinion…I am talking about world opinion. Secondly, to say that the United States has overlapping interests with Israel is totally ‘off the wall’, I mean – I don’t know where Norman’s head is. The United States gets involved in countries to set up neo-colonial regimes. They are not into occupying and setting up colonial governments. They’d prefer local clients. And they had one in Lebanon – with the President (Fouad) Sinoria – who was receiving US backing when Israel attacks Lebanon, presumably to attack Hezbollah – but totally undermines the US puppet. Is that is US interests?
Norman Finkelstein: Yes.
James Petras: And when you talk about the fact that Israel is taking measures, overlapping with US policy-makers, you are overlooking the fact that most of the US generals were opposed to the war in Iraq and the Israeli agents in the United States, and that’s what they are and they should register themselves as agents of a foreign power, were attacking them (the generals) as wimps, attacking them because they wouldn’t follow the war precepts of the Zionists in the Pentagon. There is a whole string of military officials and conservative politicians who were opposed to going into Iraq. And if you look at the data …if you look at Cheney, Cheney was getting his from Irving (Scooter) Libby – another landsman, another member of the fraternity linked to Wolfowitz. He’s a protégé of Wolfowitz.
Norman Finkelstein: I think Cheney can think for himself.
James Petras: Look, if you are trying to set up a matrix of power, dealing with US policy-making in the Middle East, to simply say that this is ‘shared interests’ without looking at the fact that the Israelis blew up a US surveillance ship, killing scores of US sailors and get away with it and continue to get US economic aid and the US officers that were wounded or murdered by the Israeli warplanes, with US flags flying over the ship, and say…that’s overlapping interests. That’s chutzpah! That is really chutzpah. And it is very revealing that you went into a detailed explanation, or purported to be explanation, about the Suez, that you leave out that in 1967 the Israelis are the only country in US history that bombs a US ship and doesn’t even have to apologize – and receives no retaliation from the United States. Now that is ‘power’ for you. That’s ‘influence’ for you. And I thank to deny these realities…and say: ‘this is just overlapping interests, the Zionists have no power in the US government or if they are Zionists then they are not tied to Israel etc..’ That’s a strange kind of Zionist that doesn’t have allegiance to the state of Israel.
Hagit Borer: We have only five minutes left. I want to ask you about a couple of things that I want the cover. Maybe the most important one has to do with the fact that this debate, about the Israel Lobby in general has broken surface into the mainstream in the last year or so. Of course, a lot of it had to do with the Mearsheimer and Walt article, and subsequently, let’s say, by the attacks on Carter’s book. There were attacks before and reviews and debates about the role of the Lobby before. But they never made it too the mainstream and they were never reviewed by, lets say, the New York Review of Books, and they were never discussed by major outlets in the United States. In fact the Mersheimer and Walt article originally was turned down for publication by the Atlantic Magazine that had commissioned it. So maybe you can comment a little bit about why this debate is finally breaking surface and why is it that it is now a much more legitimate thing to debate within American mainstream circles.
James Petras: I’ll give your three fast reasons: One, because of the disaster in Iraq, the public is open to discussion, particularly with the prominence of Zionists in bringing about the war – so I think you have public opinion open because of the discontent with the war and their concern about who got us into the war and into this mess. Second reason is that there is an inter-elite fight in the United States, between sectors of the military, sectors of the Congress, conservatives versus the pro-Israel crowd, the pro-war crowd. And the third reason is the arrogance and bullying by the Zionists, in particular, their organizations that go around trying to prevent this discussion has backfired and I think people are fed up with the Zionist banning (the play about Rachel) Corrie in New York and elsewhere – so I think these are the reasons.
Hagit Borer: James, we have to move on. We have only a few minutes. We have only a minute and a half. So Norman, could you say some final words?
Norman Finkelstein: Well, I agree with the reasons…maybe I wouldn’t state them the same way as Jim does. It’s clear that the debacle in Iraq forms the overall framework for the opening up of discussion. In my opinion, that’s probably not the most positive result because its going to end up with, I think, creating a ‘scapegoat’ for disastrous war by the US. I think the second reason is that the Israeli approach which seemed to have been successful since 1967, the approach of simply applying force to every break in conformity with US policy, of applying overwhelming force, plainly is not working. And so there are questions about the ‘usefulness’ of Israel’s guidance and instruction in how to control the Middle East. It has not worked in Iraq and it proved to be a disaster in Lebanon this summer (July-August 2006). So there is a question about the ‘effectiveness’ of the Israeli approach, in addition to the effectiveness of Israel itself as a ‘strategic asset’, which is very different than it was in 1967. And the third reason, it seems to me is that, Israel is becoming more and more what you might call a ‘bloated banana republic’ with scandals daily and this kind of squandering of resources and that being the case – it has alienated large sectors of American ‘liberal’ Jewish opinion.
Hagit Borer: I thank you very much, James and Norman. I think on this point of accord between you, we need to end. Thank you so very much for being here.
Hosted and produced by Hagit Borer for the SWANA (South and West Asia and North Africa) Collective of KPFK