Special report: Inside the Israeli lobbyThe Israeli Lobby. It is a term that brings up images of an entity of near-mythic strength that seems to influence all branches of US policy and has an inside track to prominent US politicians, whether Republican or Democrat. It is credited with the power to make or break Presidents and dictate US foreign policy. Unaccountable and impossible to fight, it is seen in Pakistan and in large parts of the Muslim world as the driving force behind the United States’ pro-Israel stance.
It is in fact not a monolithic entity, and comprises of many separate lobbies, the most powerful of which is the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is considered to be the most powerful lobbying group in the United States (see The Lobby List).
From 1982 to 1986, MJ Rosenburg was editor of the AIPAC’s Near East Report, a biweekly publication on Middle East Policy. Since then, he has held the position of Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, a non-partisan group that lobbies for a two-state solution to the Palestinian issue and has also worked as a fellow for Media Matters for America, a media watchdog group.
Once a supporter of Israel’s policies, Rosenburg is now a staunch supporter of peace between Palestine and Israel and holds AIPAC and the right-wing Israeli lobby responsible for not only distorting American policy, but also plunging Israel and Palestinians into a seemingly never-ending conflict.
In an exclusive interview, The Express Tribune Magazine spoke to him about the role of AIPAC, and how left-wing Jews like him believe that AIPAC has harmed US politics. The interview was conducted in two parts — as the November war between Gaza and Hamas in November took place, and a few days after the ceasefire agreement was agreed to.
For Rosenberg, there were two defining moments that led to his split with AIPAC. The first came when he witnessed the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin shake hands with Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat on the grounds of the White House in 1993.
“I was at the White House lawn and [the handshake] indicated to me that the conflict was over,” says Rosenberg in a telephonic interview. Two years later, Rabin was assassinated by the Jewish extremist Yigal Amir at a rally held in support of the Oslo accords and it seemed as if the peace process died with him.
“The final breaking point was when the Camp David negotiations of 2000 collapsed,” says Rosenberg, adding that “the nature of Ehud Barak’s statements made after the collapse of the talks between him and Arafat,” made it clear that Rabin’s dream of peace did not outlive him.
ET: What makes AIPAC so influential in US politics?
Rosenberg: It is important to understand that American politics is entirely governed by money.
Presidential campaigns cost billions of dollars and its primarily the Democrats who rely on the Jewish donors for the money to run their campaigns.
Republicans can afford to rely on big business, and have all kinds of billionaires making sizable campaign contributions. They don’t need the pro-Israel crowd as much as the Democrats do.
And what the Democrats seem to believe is that every Jew who gives money to President Obama is giving it to support Netanyahu — that’s not true. Jews are liberals, and always have been, even before there was an Israel.
What AIPAC has done is to convince the Democrats and Obama that the reason he got 72 per cent of the Jewish vote is because he supports Netanyahu. Now if the US had public financing, and if political campaigns were paid for by taxpayers, you would see Congress and Obama taking a different position. It’s all about the money.
ET: How do you think AIPAC viewed this current conflict? There are reports coming out that the US will block the UN resolution on Gaza?
Rosenberg: I think AIPAC, and more importantly rich donors associated with AIPAC, are on the phone with the State Department and the National Security Council and with members of Congress to make sure the US blocks the resolution.
I think that this war, is going to help convince the people of Israel to think that this [approach by Israel] is only going to lead to the next war, and the yet another war. And in every encounter, the Palestinians are getting stronger.
Who would be believed they had rockets that could reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem? Next time they’ll have guided missiles. This is not what the Israeli people want. Netanyahu is desperate to get a ceasefire because the Israeli people are going to start turning on him. Within the next few years, Israel is going to have to deal with whomever the Palestinians choose as their representative. Public opinion polls say that the number of people supporting Israel in this war is much lower than before. Less than half of the Democrat voters supported Israel this time around.
Unfortunately, many innocent people are going to die before this realisation takes hold. There has to be some kind of arrangement before the round of conflict. I don’t know what that’s going to be but ultimately Israelis and Palestinians will have to live together, and I think that can be done. Sadly, the leadership to advance that idea is not there, and certainly not on the Israeli side.
Hamas would like to achieve a long-term ceasefire, but Israel may not want that. If the Gaza blockade is ended, if Israel stops its targeted assassinations in Gaza, and Hamas stops shooting rockets into southern Israel you will have a true and total ceasefire. I think that’s a good enough situation for now. But anything less than that, and especially if Israel is going to maintain its blockade of Gaza all it will get in return is missiles.
By Huma Imtiaz
The Express Tribune
Published: December 2, 2012