U.S.-Israel Conflicts of Interest Now Impossible to Ignore

Iran should be thanked for this valuable service.


The Israel Project/Flickr

Thanks to the Iran nuclear deal, something remarkable is happening in American politics: the irreconcilable conflict of interest between most Americans on one side and Israel and its American supporters on the other is on full display and impossible to ignore. In the past the conflict could be papered over with grand empty rhetoric about the two sides being in "lock-step" and the absence of "daylight" between them. But no more. The conflict is out in the open where everyone can see it. Iran should be thanked for this valuable service.

War with Iran would be a catastrophe not only for the Iranians, including thousands of Jewish Iranians who openly practice their religion in their ancient community, and other people in the Middle East; it would also be a catastrophe for Americans—hence the conflict of interest between most Americans and the war party. Those, like Tom Cotton, Norman Podhoretz, Bill Kristol, and John Bolton, who think an attack on Iran would be a cakewalk, are either liars or fools. These are the same people, of course, who said the Iraq war would be easy and would usher in a new liberal Middle East. The result has been unspeakable sectarian violence throughout the region, culminating in the Islamic State and a reinvigorated al-Qaeda.

Despite the predictable catastrophe a war with Iran would bring, Israel and its staunchest, most prominent American supporters are conducting a well-financed campaign against the Iran nuclear deal that would surely lead to that war if a Republican wins the presidency next year. In fact, they want war because only war (followed by regime change) would give Israel and its American supporters what they want: unrivaled dominance in the Middle East, which among other things would relieve the pressure to make a just peace with the Palestinians at least by leaving the occupied territories.

Let's acknowledge that most Jewish Americans favor the nuclear deal and do not want war with Iran; in fact, many Jews feel little or no connection to Israel at all. But that must not obscure the fact that the Israeli government, which was recently returned to power by the Israeli people, and the richest, best-organized Jewish American groups—AIPAC and the rest of the Israel/Jewish Lobbylead the opposition to the deal and the neoconservative coalition in favor of war. (This is not to overlook the prominent non-Jewish members of the coalition.) They feign offense at being called warmongers, but they know that the kind of deal they favor would require Iran to fully capitulate to the United States and Israel, demands which go beyond nuclear questions, and surrender its sovereignty. Such a deal could never be reached, and the war hawks know it. They ought to be honest enough to admit that war is what they want. (Some neoconservatives, Jews and non-Jews, are honest enough, including Bolton, Podhoretz, Cotton, Kristol and Joshua Muravchik.)

What's noteworthy is that both sides of the divide have taken the gloves off. We had Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom former Meet the Press host David Gregory once called "the leader of the Jewish people," invited to speak before Congress for the sole purpose of undercutting President Obama's efforts to engage in diplomacy with Iran. We had senators doing the bidding of Israel and the Lobby by writing to the leader of Iran to tell him no agreement would be long-lasting. And most recently we had Netanyahu, in an unprecedented display, openly urging Jewish Americans to oppose the deal with Iran: "The days when the Jewish people could not or would not speak up for themselves, those days are over," he said in a webcast to 10,000 Jewish American activists arranged by the Jewish Federations throughout North America and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.

Are Jewish Americans supposed to see Netanyahu as their leader? (Not that I think they should see Obama as their leader.) Netanyahu apparently thinks so, and prominent Jewish Americans seem to agree. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who is Jewish, has courageously condemned this "arrogant" pretense. (Recall that Netanyahu has told Western Jews that they are welcome to "return" to Israel—even those who have never been there—to escape the dangers in their countries. Thus he embraces the pernicious Zionist doctrine, shared by anti-Semites, that Jews ultimately are aliens everywhere except in Israel.)

Obama, on the other hand, has finally been willing to openly identify the source of hawkish anti-Iranian pressure: Israel and its American supporters, especially prominent and well-organized Jewish Americans and non-Jews who kowtow to win their political and financial support.

"Because this is such a strong deal," Obama said, "every nation in the world that has commented publicly, with the exception of the Israeli government, has expressed support." He also said, "Between now and the congressional vote in September, you're going to hear a lot of arguments against this deal, backed by tens of millions of dollars in advertising. And if the rhetoric in these ads, and the accompanying commentary, sounds familiar, it should—for many of the same people who argued for the war in Iraq are now making the case against the Iran nuclear deal."

Everyone knows, first, that the major push for the war against Iraq came from Israel and the Lobby, supported by the neocon devotees of Israel's agenda, and, second, that the multimillion-dollar ad campaign against the Iran deal is run by an AIPAC-related group, Citizens for Nuclear Free Iran, and United Against Nuclear Iran, led by former Sen. Joe Lieberman and financed by wealthy casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who makes no secret of his Israel-first sentiment.

But we shouldn't overstate Obama's willingness to identify the malign influence on American foreign policy that emanates from Israel, its Lobby, and the neocons in general. He also said:

When the Israeli government is opposed to something, people in the United States take notice. And they should. No one can blame Israelis for having a deep skepticism about any dealings with a government like Iran's—which includes leaders who have denied the Holocaust, embrace an ideology of anti-Semitism, facilitate the flow of rockets that are arrayed on Israel's borders, are pointed at Tel Aviv. In such a dangerous neighborhood, Israel has to be vigilant, and it rightly insists that it cannot depend on any other country—even its great friend the United States—for its own security. So we have to take seriously concerns in Israel.

Note that he did not mention Israel's large, invulnerable nuclear arsenal. Israel is the nuclear monopolist in the Middle East and has been since the 1960s, thanks to the connivance of its American supporters inside and outside of government. In the context of Iran's potential for obtaining a nuclear weapon, wouldn't you think that fact is relevant? Why do establishment politicians and the mainstream news media hardly ever mention it? Moreover, the rockets that threaten Israelis come from people whom Zionist militias drove off their land in 1948 in a far-reaching ethnic-cleansing campaign and who are now routinely threatened and oppressed: the Palestinians in the open-air prison known as the Gaza Strip, target of savage air wars and a years-long blockade, and the people of southern Lebanon, whom Israel has attacked repeatedly and occupied over the years.

Note also that Obama accepts the premise that Iran aspires to be a nuclear power, a proposition for which there is zero evidence and against which there is abundant evidence. Nevertheless, to his credit, Obama did say, "As President of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to act against my best judgment simply because it causes temporary friction with a dear friend and ally."

It's not every day that an American president acknowledges that, whatever his job is, it is not to serve the interests of Israel's racist ruling elite and population. That is indeed good to hear, but it would be news to the Weekly Standard and the Wall Street Journal editorial page, among others. (But don't expect U.S. military aid to Israel to end or even diminish—quite the contrary; it will increase.)

Israel's American partisans have predictably accused their opponents of anti-Semitism for focusing on Jewish attempts to kill the Iran agreement, hoping Americans will believe that criticism of Israel and the Lobby in itself constitutes bigotry, if not Nazi sympathies. (Mike Huckabee's claim that Obama is leading the Israelis to the ovens is only the most obnoxious example.)

But taking offense at the focus on Jewish efforts is a cynical ploy void of legitimacy. Israel bills itself The Jewish State, representing Jewish interests worldwide. The Lobby embraces that designation. (Not all Jews regard Israel as The Jewish State, however. Jewish anti-Zionism, which dates back to before Theodor Herzl's time, thrives today.) AIPAC boasts of its political clout and its command of vast resources that can make or break political careers. An AIPAC official, asked if the Lobby had lost influence after a scandal, once famously boasted to a journalist over dinner, "You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin."

In light of all this, it's a little absurd to object to the identification of Israel with Jews or to rail against those who point out the obvious: that Israel and its Jewish-American partisans have been at the forefront of the campaign for war against Muslim nations. As Chemi Shalev, writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz, put it:

Netanyahu is allowed to address 10,000 American Jewish leaders and activists from Jerusalem, but mentioning their faith is forbidden; he is allowed to be the sole foreign leader to openly campaign against the deal, but singling him out is verboten; AIPAC can raise emergency funds, cancel all vacations and send its lobbyists to canvass on Capitol Hill, but say the words "lobby" or "money" and you are quickly branded a bigot; [Sen. Chuck] Schumer can famously boast that he sees himself as a Shomer [guardian of] Israel but you won't dare say that when he seems to live up to his promise.

Moreover, how absurd is it for Israel's partisans to accuse critics of raising the dual-loyalty issue, which these days sounds rather antiquated? Did anti-Semites put Netanyahu up to his machinations? Did they sponsor the trip to Israel for over 50 members of Congress just as debate over the Iran deal was starting? 

Do not misunderstand: Israelis and Israel's Jewish-American partisans are not promoting war with Iran because they embrace Judaism, the Torah, and the Prophets. Many of Israel's Jewish American supporters are secular and even atheist, and many observant Jews oppose war with Iran, support the nuclear deal, and hate Israel's mistreatment of the Palestinians. What motivates many Israelis and Israel's partisans has little if anything to do with Judaism. Rather, they are motivated by an essentially secular ideology and parochial identity politics—Gilad Atzmon calls it "Jewishness" to distinguish it from Judaism—that prioritizes the interests of the tribeThese Jews judge issues by the standard "Is it good for the Jews?" (as they see the good).

This chosen-people framework is anti-liberal and anti-universal, featuring ubiquitous enemies and impending doom. One might think this attitude is understandable in light of the history of persecution of Jews, culminating in the Nazi Judeocide. But since this ideology fuels the persecution, oppression, and slaughter of innocent others, rather than extra sensitivity to injustice no matter who the victim, we cannot be so forgiving. Nothing in Jewish history can justify how self-identified Jews have treated the Palestinians, or American Jewish support for, or acquiescence in, that treatment. Israel faces no "existential threat" from Iran or anyone else. If that treatment is an application of Jewish values, then Americans should take note. If it is not, then in what sense is Israel The Jewish State?

Whether this ideology has roots in Judaic doctrine and tradition or whether it is a modern secular phenomenon is a complicated question. But people ought to see it for what it is—before we are dragged into another catastrophic war.

Finally, Israel's Jewish American partisans warn that criticizing the campaign against the Iran deal risks reinforcing stereotypes and inflaming anti-Semitism (even if in itself it does not constitute anti-Semitism). Almost anything anyone says about anyone else could be exploited by bigots, so that is no reason to withhold valid criticism. But if Israel's partisans genuinely fear an anti-Semitic backlash—which all decent people would condemn as bigoted collectivism—perhaps they should reconsider their campaign to provoke an American/Israeli war of aggression against Iran.

This piece originally appeared at Richman's "Free Association" blog.

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  1. typical argument most often used by democrats and their useful idiots. Do it our way or the world explodes. Non-agreements do not cause war, agreements backed by force, otherwise who needs an agreement, cause wars.

    1. Here’s what’s going to happen. Israel will go it alone attacking Iran, blowing up as many nuclear sites as possible and Obama will come out smelling like a rose because he kept America out of the conflict and Iran’s nuclear program will be thrown off schedule. Of course Obama will claim credit for his wisdom and foresight and republicans come out looking like fools, as usual.

  2. God dammit. Now he’s confused about the difference between “allied” and “conflict of interest”.

  3. I think everyone knew this was coming. Richman never disappoints.

    You aren’t fooling anyone Sheldon, the deal is a sham.

    1. “You aren’t fooling anyone Sheldon, the deal is a sham.”

      What Sheldon is not telling you is that the threat Iran poses to National Security is a sham conjured up for the rubes.

      1. Do you mean the same Iran that supplies munitions and funding to terrorists, is responsible for killing hundreds of Americans and Israelis, and is fighting proxy wars? The same Iran that is acquiring a nuclear weapon and a missile delivery system? The same one that is very clear about wanting to annihilate the west and Israel?

        I think your comment is a sham. You aren’t fooling anyone either.

        1. ” is responsible for killing hundreds of Americans ”

          Who was the last American to be killed by an Iranian? I’m really not familiar with these hundreds of killings. Are they recent?

          “The same Iran that is acquiring a nuclear weapon and a missile delivery system?”

          If you have evidence that the Iranians have been diverting uranium to a military programme, don’t waste another minute chit chatting on this board. Call your superiors and inform them immediately.

          “The same one that is very clear about wanting to annihilate the west and Israel?”

          I’m not losing any sleep over it. Are you? Didn’t think so. Fact is Iran could destroy Israel and the world economy today without using nukes. Don’t be so eager to be taken in with the rest of the rubes over this sham threat.

          1. Its well documented that Iran gave weapons to insurgents in Iraq to attack Americans hence Iran is guilty of murdering Americans.

            1. “Its well documented that Iran gave weapons to insurgents in Iraq”

              Well documented by CNN and the State Department? Consider the source, Ron. Don’t be so eager to believe the propaganda they put out. Do you know what an insurgent is? I get the impression you don’t. The government of Iraq was essentially hand-picked by pro-Iranian Shiites. Iran would never simply have no interest in supplying insurgents with anything. Their interests are in supporting the Iraqi government. You want to keep one step ahead of the lies told you in the press? You need to be able to think for yourself. They won’t do it for you.

              1. Indeed. It’s all a Jew conspiracy. Everyone knows that.

      2. If Iran poses no threat to our national security then there is even LESS reason to make this deal with them. Just leave the sanctions in place and go about our business.

        1. “Just leave the sanctions in place and go about our business.”

          It is these sanctions that prevent you from doing business. That’s why they are called sanctions. Maybe you believe that government should prevent you from doing business with all non threatening nations. Wouldn’t surprise me considering the calibre of Libertarian thinking on display here today.

          1. It is these sanctions that prevent you from doing business. That’s why they are called sanctions.

            The sanctions on Iran don’t “prevent me from doing business” any more than the bans on slavery and murder-for-hire do.

            1. Heaven forbid the notion that you might want to dabble in the satanic art of trade. Thank goodness we have a government who can guide us onto more righteous paths.

              These sanctions emiserate millions and are Capitalism’s greatest crimes. I find Libertaran support for them less and less strange.

  4. Hey Sheldon, is this the “strong deal” that calls on the Iranians to “verify” their own compliance with the “strong deal”? I notice you didn’t mention that little detail.

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  6. Richman is a myopic, mendacious, moronic piece of shit. His piece essentially boils down to “it’s this deal or it’s war.” Bullshit.

    He presents some decent individual arguments but his rhetoric is wrapped in a false choice and, as such, is rendered nonsense.

  7. The tone of this article, and many of its assertions, are shameful. Reason should be embarrassed for printing it.

    1. The author has a loyal cadre of people who like to come here and smack him around in the comments. It’s outrage clickbait but Reason should be better than that.

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  9. This article is just sort of sad.

    The whole thing is built on a false dichotomy that the only options on the table are “war” and “this exact agreement”. That’s pretty silly.

  10. Richman’s entire article is based on a false dichotomy. There’s a great deal more choices than ‘war’ and ‘accept an agreement that is an utter embarrassment to diplomatic competency’. Of course, this entire process has been so incompetently managed by the Obama Administration that any positive outcome would be unlikely. It’s almost like diplomacy and foreign policy are a great deal more complex than Richman presents them. It’s almost like Richman is being deliberately dishonest to try and cast anyone who disagrees with him as ‘pro-war’. In his usual display of regional ignorance, Richman completely ignores the other possibilities of Iranian nukes being used in response to countries other than Israel, i.e. their regional rivals.

    But no Richman column would be completely without pathetic attempts at emotional manipulation about generating antisemitism. You dishonest hack, you handwave every example of Iranian antisemitism, but suddenly now it’s vital because it allows you to tar your opponents as encouraging violence.

    Reason, I get that Richman’s idiocy may generate you some traffic, but these articles make your foreign policy platform an utter joke. For the love of God, hire a foreign policy correspondent that displays actual competency and honesty, not a utterly inconsistent hack.

  11. Judging by the paucity of comments, it seems that Reason has failed in its goal today of producibg clicks by indulging Richman’s views.

  12. I don’t know. Despite all his protestations to the contrary, I definitely get an anti-Semitic vibe from a lot of what Sheldon says. I’ll accept his assurance that he has no anti-Jewish intent, but prejudice tends to operate on an unconscious, emotional level, and I really get the feeling there’s something there, even if he himself is unaware of it.

    Which is sad, because I actually agree with many of the things he says–There really is a strong pro-Israel lobby in the US, and they probably are the biggest constituency pushing for hostilities with Iran (not necessarily war, though there are a lot of people pushing for that). I also agree that Israel has been absolutely brutal in its treatment of Palestinians and has done a lot to provoke hostility from its neighbours. And the hypocrisy of ignoring Israel’s nukes while trying to stop Iran from getting any is pretty blatant.

    But I’m troubled by how Sheldon seems to equate all US support of Israel (and hostility to Iran) with Jewish Tribalism. Has he never been to the Bible Belt? Knee-jerk support of Israel and Israeli power is extremely prevalent among Evangelical-type Christians. I can’t deny that AIPAC and similar pro-Israel Jewish groups do make up a powerful lobby in Washington, but they pale in comparison to the Christian fanatics.

    1. Had to divide my comment in two in order to post it—

      I don’t know enough about this particular deal to know whether it’s a good idea or not. My gut says it probably isn’t. But I do believe some kind of acceptable deal is possible. I do think the (relatively) rational and moderate factions of the Iranian Government are powerful enough to enforce an anti-nuke deal if it lets Iran appear strong and independent enough.

      My suspicion is that Iran is not actually in a hurry to acquire nukes. They just want the capability to produce them quickly if they ever feel threatened enough. Keep the threat level low enough, and treat them like a legitimate country, and they’ll keep their nuclear programme on hold.

    2. Despite all his protestations to the contrary, I definitely get an anti-Semitic vibe from a lot of what Sheldon says.

      Noooooooo!!!!!!!! This cannot be!

  13. IME the quickest way to piss of an Iranian Jew is to call him an Iranian Jew (they prefer to be called Persians). Also, a friend of mine for some 25 years was forced to flee Iran precisely and solely because his family was Jewish. The vast majority of that ancient community Sheldon refers to got gone during the revolution. It is not a friendly place for Jews.

  14. First, AIPAC is not the Jewish lobby any more than the NAACP is the Black lobby. AIPAC has its own interests some of which are supported by some Jews others of which are not.

    Secondly what the fuck is this supposed to mean: “If that treatment is an application of Jewish values, then Americans should take note”. Ill give Richman the benefit of the doubt but that phrase is menacing, and pointlessly so considering the sentence following it.

    There is plenty of room to debate AIPAC’s agenda, the special relationship between Israel and the US, and how that shapes Iran without the vague assertions of group responsibility levied at American Jews.

    Last year in New York palestinian activists picketed a jeweler’s office in Manhattan because he was a prominent Jew who “supported Israel”. And I will never forget when Ad Busters printed a list of names that it claimed were all Jewish Federal government employees who were responsible for conspiring to engage in a radical pro-Israel neoconservative agenda. There is ugly shit brewing under the surface in this debate, and we have a right to be concerned.

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  16. Israel did wrong to whole nation.

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