Israel and the United States

I have mentioned the power of the Israeli lobby a few times over the past two weeks while my fellow bloggers have debated (see comments) the consequence of America’s complete support for Israel.  My hypothesis: while America’s support for other regimes in the region (Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia…) certainly fostered anti-Americanism, the unquestioned backing of Israeli actions created a significant amount of resentment towards the US in the Middle East.  Two things caught my eye this morning that reinforced this theory.

We have all heard about the Jordanian intelligence officer Humam Khalil Abu Malal al-Balawi who turned out to be a double agent / suicide bomber that killed seven CIA agents and a Jordanian in Afghanistan.  As more information slowly makes its way to the public, the motives of Dr. al-Balawi are becoming more clear.  Al-Balawi is of Palestinian origin, but had been living in Jordan when he volunteered in Gaza, providing medical relief to injured Palestinians.  He was arrested there by Jordanian authorities (the reason for the arrest is unclear), but was soon released.  He then made his way to Pakistan where he was supposedly furthering his medical career.  It was in Pakistan where he first made contact with Jordanian officials with clear information on al-Qaeda.

It is also true that Dr. al-Balawi wrote on jihadist websites under a pseudonym.  However, his mother claims that her son was never an extremist.  So where did he get his motivation to kill CIA agents?

He described Mr. Balawi as a “very good brother” and a “brilliant doctor,” saying that the family knew nothing of Mr. Balawi’s writings under a pseudonym on jihadi Web sites. He said, however, that his brother had been “changed” by last year’s three-week-long Israeli offensive in Gaza, which killed about 1,300 Palestinians.

As our friends at Blogging the Casbah point out, it is difficult to believe that Dr. al-Balawi was an extremist before he started working for the Jordanians as Jordanian intelligence is among the best in the world.  So, Casbah asks, did he become radicalized by Israel’s brutal Gaza offensive and America’s passive support?

The second article to catch my eye came from the Majlis where Gregg Carlstrom writes about Jeffrey Goldbergs continuous coverage of some anti-semitic comments made on CSPAN.  The network was interviewing Michael Scheuer, a former bigwig in the CIA, when a caller made the comment that the United States was ‘jewed… into Iraq.’  Neither Scheuer or CSPAN host Bill Scanlan made any note of the term ‘jewing someone.’

This, of course, is extremely anti-semitic and should have been condemned by CSPAN and the caller should have been cut off.  Goldberg wrote several other posts concerning the number of bigoted and racist remarks made by callers on CSPAN, at one point calling Scheuer a ‘Jew-hating crank.’  Carlstrom of the Majlis writes that “There’s actually a very meaningful debate to be had on this subject, and it’s unfortunate that these are the two men conducting it.”  This is true.

While Scheuer (and certainly Scanlan) should have cut off the caller, questioning America’s no-questions-asked backing of Israel is not anti-Semitic.  It is good policy.  Scheuer is correct in being outraged by the (lack of) reaction by CSPAN and Scheuer, but to claim Scheuer is ‘jew-hating’ is a bit much.  Per the Majlis:

[The arguments surrounding America’s Israeli policy] are valid arguments! Goldberg labels them anti-Semitic, but that’s disingenuous; he’s confusing criticism of Israel, and America’s policies towards Israel, with anti-Semitism. (I don’t think this is accidental on his part.) The fact is that America’s unflinching support for Israeli foreign policy helps to fuel terrorism. The plight of the Palestinians is a recruiting tool for jihadi groups from Morocco to Malaysia.

America’s inability to question its unflinching support of Israel, or at least to condition its support on certain actions is hurting America’s standing in the Arab world.  From the article that is cited by the Majlis:

So extreme is anger towards Israel over Gaza among Yemenis that even that country’s President — our supposed ally in the War on Terror — called for the opening of camps to train fighters against Israel in Gaza.  In his Pulitzer Prize-winning book,The Looming TowerLawrence Wright claimed that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta signed his “martyr’s will” from Al Qaeda on the day in 1996 when Israel attacked Lebanon, and he did so due to “outrage” over that attack.  There’s just no question that the U.S.’s loyal enabling of (and support for) Israel’s various wars with its Muslims neighbors contributes to terrorist attacks directed at Americans…

As always whenever the words “Israel” and/or “Terrorism” are mentioned, there is a severe danger of over-simplification and distortion from all sides, rendering several caveats in order:  where U.S. support for Israel is a cause of anti-American Islamic extremism, it is generally not the only or even primary cause, but one of several; there is ample American interference and violence in the Muslim world that is quite independent of Israel, and that was true long before 9/11 and especially after…

I defy anyone to find a political figure in either major party’s leadership who has, in the context of discussing U.S. policy towards Israel, ever even mentioned the fact that undying, endless American support for Israel — making all of their conflicts our own — increases the risk of terrorist violence aimed at the U.S.  But it so plainly does.  The fact that Israel is now explicitly vowing that its “next wars” against its Muslim neighbors will be “much harsher” than even the grotesque atrocities in Gaza and Lebanon means these costs are almost certain to increase even further…

The author, Glenn Greenwald is trying to make the point that America’s actions in the Middle East help fuel anti-Americanism.  He also cites many other reasons beyond Israel for the resentment felt in the region:

It’s truly astounding to watch us — for a full decade — send fighter jets and drones and bombs and invading forces and teams of torturers and kidnappers to that part of the world, or, as we were doing long before 9/11, to overthrow their governments, prop up their dictators, occupy what they perceive as holy land with our foreign troops, and arm Israel to the teeth, and then act surprised and confused when some of them want to attack us.

Yet Greenwald correctly puts enough emphasis on America’s relationship with Israel.  Unfortunately, it is so incredibly taboo to criticize Israel or America’s Israeli policy that those willing to even question Israeli actions are dropping like flies in Congress.

The danger of debate over Israel is the accusation of anti-antisemitism.  We must avoid the conflation of antisemitism and true policy analysis.  If not we will continue to hurt American interests around the world.

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