The Pro-Israel Lobbies and the Israel/Palestine Conundrum

    As Israel expands its war in Gaza, the unconditional support of the United States for Israel continues unabated. Most recently, the White House reiterated its support for Israel by stating, ‘We did not draw red lines for Israel.’

    Washington’s initial reactions were framed within the context of Israel’s right to self-defence against Hamas, supported by footage showing Israeli civilians under threat, which resonated with public opinion. The self-defence narrative was an effective piece in Israel’s perception management arsenal.

    However, as the situation developed, Israel’s operations in Gaza shifted to ‘mass punishment,’ marked by the loss of numerous civilian lives and the targeting of civilian infrastructure. The destruction of hospitals, schools, and civilian infrastructure has raised concerns worldwide. 

    Against this backdrop, the international community is divided. Calls for de-escalation of violence and the need for a peaceful resolution are occasionally emphasised by Europe. Conversely, the United States, historically a staunch ally of Israel, consistently reiterates its unwavering support for Israel’s right to self-defence.

    Beneath these unequivocal statements of support, the broader historical and political contexts of the conflict are omitted, and with it, a complex web of grievances, oppression, land misappropriation, and the plight of the Palestinian people, which has been suffering for 75 years. Issues such as the status of Jerusalem, Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the blockade of Gaza perpetuate tensions and cycles of violence.

    Almost two decades after the publication of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s seminal book “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” the influence of the pro-Israel lobby on US politics has been on the rise.

    The strong Israeli diaspora in the US political climate significantly shapes Washington’s policies and stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict, preventing Washington from playing an effective mediation role in the region while weakening the US position in the long run.

    Lobbying plays a considerable role in the country’s political landscape, policy decisions, and election outcomes. Through substantial campaign contributions, media influence, financial support, and perception management actions, organisations such as AIPAC, JFNA, ADL, and J Street have a big say in Israel-related policies.

    The power and influence of the American Jewish diaspora can be exemplified through various case studies, among which the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Paradoxically, the liberal-leaning J Street supported this agreement under the rationale that its signing would prevent Iran from producing atomic weapons. On the other hand, AIPAC opposed the deal, which would lift sanctions on Iran. Consequently, these two groups faced off during the 2016 Illinois Senate race, backing opposing candidates, Senator Mark Kirk and Senator Tammy Duckworth, who were funded a total of $701,973 throughout their campaigns by the respective lobbies. This single-state scenario illustrates the broader picture.

    While J Street’s efforts culminated with the signing of this agreement by the Obama administration in 2015, AIPAC managed to ultimately torpedo the deal under President Trump’s administration in 2018.

    Additionally, pro-Israel lobbies, including AIPAC and the North American Jewish Federations, consistently advocate for substantial financial aid packages to Israel. AIPAC defines itself as a bipartisan organisation, and the bills it lobbies for in Congress are always supported by both the Democratic and Republican sides. In 2020, AIPAC conducted lobbying efforts to increase military aid to Israel, resulting in the US continuing significant financial support to the Israeli military. Notably, since World War II, the US has provided more aid to Israel than any other country, surpassing $260 billion in assistance.

    So, what do politicians gain from this? The answer is quite simple: power. Let’s explain this cycle with examples.

    During the 2018 midterm elections, Jewish lobbies like J Street supported Democratic candidates advocating for a more diplomatic approach towards Iran and criticising the policies of the Trump administration. As a result, Democrats, for the first time since 2010, gained the majority in the House of Representatives.

    Prior to the 2020 Presidential elections, Sheldon Adelson significantly shaped the Republican Party’s policy orientation by contributing $172.7 million to Republican candidates and causes. Donors like Haim Saban, James Simons, and George Soros contributed millions to various Democratic candidates and causes in the 2020 US presidential elections.

    The latest flare-up in Gaza occurred in an election year (2024). the Biden administration and the Republicans are competing on ‘who supports Israel the most’, aiming to woo the powerful pro-Israel lobbies.

    It is worthwhile to note that the American Jewish community is not monolithic, and the influence of these lobbies is just one component of a broader democratic system where various interest groups try to increase their political footprint. However, influential pro-Israel lobbying groups like AIPAC, JFNA, ADL, and J Street strongly support Israel’s war on Gaza. Such alignment has led to an American political position biased towards Israel across the political spectrum. Despite scattered voices criticising Israeli policies, overwhelming support from influential pro-Israel lobby groups and political donors hinders a more balanced approach in the US foreign policy toward the Israel/Palestine conflict.

    Another side of the coin is the substantial flak that the Israeli lobbies direct at any credible opposition to the pro-Israel outlook. One of their most potent political weapons is the anti-semitism label. This label is corrosive and extremely difficult to rebuff. The dismissal of Representative Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee is a case in point.

    While lobbies or interest groups are legal in American politics, addressing ethical considerations has become paramount for maintaining a robust and representative democratic system in the United States.

    The unconditional support given to Israel by the United States without balancing the Israeli gung-ho and proposing a genuine peace initiative exacerbates the problem in the region, making peace virtually impossible. This stance may potentially harm America’s long-term relationships and interests in the region. Furthermore, with this approach, the democrats could lose many votes in their constituencies as anti-war groups, including citizens from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, have opposed the ongoing Israeli onslaught on Gaza. 

    Therefore, it is time for American policymakers to revisit the unchecked power of the lobbies in Washington. The current war in Gaza shows the limits of the current system; limits that disadvantage the US foreign policy and could accelerate the erosion of America’s supremacy in world affairs.

    This article originally appeared in the opinion section of the website Middle East Monitor.

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