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Weighing the Costs

October 23, 2001

One reason the Middle East has always baffled me is that we hear such contradictory things about the state of Israel. Israel’s defenders make it sound like heaven; its detractors make it sound like hell. On the one hand, its citizens, including Arabs, enjoy liberties denied by most states in the region; on the other hand, it deals harshly and cruelly with non-Jews, especially in the occupied territories.

A Christian has to be particularly disturbed by the recent killings of innocent Christians, including children, in Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ. The exact circumstances are unclear, because our news media don’t report much on the plight of Christians in the region; but it’s hard to believe these violent deaths were unavoidable. Were they inflicted by weapons supplied by the United States?

The question is not whether Israel is heaven or hell; it’s neither. It’s a deeply troubled country, and the real question, for Americans, is whether the fate of the United States should be tied to it.

It’s understandable that the Israelis should want U.S. support; but what is the cost to Americans? There is the monetary cost, in billions of tax dollars per year; there is the hatred of this country that is exacerbated, if not wholly caused, by the U.S.-Israel alliance; and that hatred has now cost thousands of American lives, with the toll rising.

It would be one thing if Israel’s American advocates frankly admitted the costs and argued that America has nevertheless gained more than it has lost by the alliance. But they don’t. They talk as if the alliance has been all profit to this country, with no downside. They contend that the 9/11 attacks had little or nothing to do with the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Some of Israel’s advocates are even arguing, as former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu does, that Arabs hate Israel because of the United States, and not vice versa! Even by the standards of political propaganda, which assumes the stupidity of the masses, this is absurd. If it were true, the Israelis would end their ties to the United States in a flash.

[Breaker quote: Realism and the Middle EastA decade ago, Patrick Buchanan was accused of anti-Semitism for referring to Israel’s “amen corner in this country.” But nobody denied that such an Amen Corner exists, including many journalists, Christian as well as Jewish, who constantly urge the United States to go to war against Israel’s enemies — especially, at the moment, Iraq.

To acknowledge this is to incur the charge of raising “the canard of dual loyalty.” Now it would be grossly unfair to accuse all American Jews of giving their chief loyalty to Israel. But that some Jews do it is beyond question. What is the pro-Israel lobby in this country seeking, if not at least the partial sacrifice of American interests to Israeli interests? That’s what lobbies are for: sacrificing general interests to particular interests. Farmers’ lobbies do it, labor unions do it, big corporations do it. They always pretend that what is good for the narrow interest is good for everyone, just as the pro-Israel lobby always argues that what is good for Israel is good for America.

The pro-Israel lobby never acknowledges that there may be sharp divergences between the two countries’ interests. Having read its literature for many years, I can’t recall a single case when Israel’s advocates have said: “Policy X would be to Israel’s advantage, but it would hurt the United States, so it should be avoided.” Even “dual” loyalty would sometimes put U.S. interests first.

Worse than the pro-Israel lobby itself are the American politicians who constantly pander to it. They act on the assumption that Jewish voters and campaign donors place Israeli interests above American interests. And as long as they act on this assumption without putting it into words, nobody comments on the “anti-Semitic” implications of their behaving as if the “canard” were solid fact.

Even when the Israelis kill American sailors or steal American military secrets, these fine Americans never express outrage or demand investigations. Nothing could better illustrate the sagacity of George Washington’s warnings against the “foreign corruption” to which republics are susceptible.

Israel has become so dependent on American aid that even to ask for candor about the interests at stake is to risk the charge of being “anti-Israel” — as if seeking the unvarnished truth amounted to declaring war on Israel. Israel’s defenders imply that Israel depends not only on America, but on false propaganda. Don’t they ever listen to themselves?

Joseph Sobran

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Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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