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Hard Times Ahead for the Israel Lobby (Thank Sanders and Trump)

By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.

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Nobody knows yet what will become of the Republican Party after Donald Trump is through with it. He probably doesn’t know himself what he would like to happen. In any case, it isn’t entirely up to him.

It depends too on what real Republicans do once Trump becomes their standard bearer. Will some or all of the Party’s blue bloods, theocrats, and libertarians bolt or will they buck up and go along? We will find out soon enough.

No one knows either what effect the Sanders insurgency will have on the Democratic Party.

This will depend a lot, though not entirely, on what Sanders does: on whether he caves into the Clintonites (neoliberals, liberal imperialists, BFFs of the military-industrial complex); leads his followers out of the party altogether, perhaps by making common cause with the Greens; or, more likely, encourages them somehow to disengage from Clintonism without opposing Hillary Clinton.

The idea, then, might be to lay the groundwork for taking the party over in much the way that the Tea Party took over the GOP in the years between 2010 and 2015. But with the party poised to squeeze all the benefits it can from the Trump takeover of the GOP, and with Clinton as its nominee and Clintonites calling the shots, this would not be easy to do.

Would it be the wisest way to go? I, for one, don’t think so; but, for the time being, it may be the only feasible way forward – inasmuch as indications now are that Sanders and many of his most ardent supporters will not go for a clean break, not with the Trump menace in the offing.

At this point, though, it is anybody’s guess what will happen.

***

However, on matters of interest to the Israel lobby, some things are already clear.

For one, on the Republican side, it is plain that, thanks to Trump, the neocons have suffered a serious defeat. They have no time for the Republicans’ “presumptive” nominee, and neither does he have time for them. For the Israel lobby, this is bad news indeed.

A number of Israel-first billionaires and millionaires – people like Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer and others of their ilk — glommed onto the Republican Party years ago.   Despite Trump, many of them will probably continue stuffing the pockets of biddable Republican politicians.

But with their “intellectuals” disempowered and their flunkies decimated, they might as well flush their money down the toilet. They will hardly miss it; they have plenty to spare.

Trump says that he can fix the Israel-Palestine problem by brokering a deal between the government of Israel and the Palestinians. He doesn’t say which Palestinians; he probably doesn’t know that this could be a problem.

But he is, by his own account, all about making deals; and no problem, he claims, is too hard for him to solve. The man is a joke! But the laugh is on Israel and its lobby.

Trump and Adelson seem lately to have come to a meeting of minds – “casino moguls of the world unite!” But nothing will come of this marriage made in hell because for Adelson, Israel is all, while Trump is the alpha and omega of his own private universe.

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Meanwhile, for Hillary Clinton, willing pawn of Haim Saban and other “liberal” Adelson-Singer equivalents, the only acceptable deals are ones that give Israel all it wants and then some. As if that weren’t clear enough already, her address last March to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference left no doubts.

Leading American politicians, especially when running for office, ritually abase themselves at that yearly event. This year, to his everlasting credit, Bernie Sanders declined to attend.

In her speech, Clinton castigated Trump for raising the prospect of a deal that the government of Israel wouldn’t wholeheartedly support. This is out of the question, she declared, because: “the United States and Israel must be closer than ever, stronger than ever, and more determined than ever to prevail against our common adversaries and to advance our shared values.”

She then went on to say that she wants to move the U.S.-Israel connection to “the next level” by giving Israel even more money, arms, and diplomatic support than it now receives — “because we know we can never take for granted the strength of our alliance or the success of our efforts…”

Honest broker? Not our Hillary. She wants instead to “send a clear message to Israel’s enemies that the United States and Israel stand together, united.”

And so, at the AIPAC conference and wherever else she and her handlers think that she has something to gain, she trashes Palestinian resistance fighters and peaceful Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) activists. No one less servile than she to the Israel lobby escapes her condemnation.

But, in making her case, Hillary revealed, yet again, the inveterate cluelessness that has plagued her throughout her many years in “public service.”

Her aim was to show donors that Democrats can be even better friends of Israel’s fascisant government than Republicans. Because President Obama sometimes took umbrage at Netanyahu’s provocations – he is only human, after all – she must have felt that those nefarious moneymen needed reassurance.

But there is no need, at this point, to compete with Republicans in a servility contest. Trump is happy to take Adelson’s money and to receive his blessing, but he doesn’t need either the way that the Republicans running against him did. And he won’t need the help of Israel-first mega-donors in the general election either.

Trump is shrewd enough too to realize too that the Israel lobby, always something of a Paper Tiger, is now more than ever on the ropes, and that it has no prospect of recovering its past glory.

Hillary has no inkling of this; it is one of many things that she just doesn’t get. This is why, even at this late date, she is working overtime pandering to Saban and others who think the way he does.

All she is doing, though, is deepening the gulf that separates the Democratic Party’s base, and the majority of Americans, from the Party’s establishment and its “donor class.”

The evidence is clear, and is mounting day by day: Americans, if they think about Israel at all, consider its half century long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza appalling. Increasingly, American Jews agree — especially those who are not yet collecting social security.

Despite the best efforts of Jewish day schools and yeshivas, and despite the all expenses paid trips to the “Holy Land” that wealthy Zionists offer young American Jews, perceptions of Israel and Palestine are changing within the American Jewish community.

Mainstream journalists and pundits are still keeping the faith, and the fervor of Christian Zionists, awaiting the End Time, continues unabated.   Nevertheless, within the crucial target population, perceptions of Israel and Palestine are changing – fast.

Hillary is oblivious to this and, more generally, to the fact that “the arc of the moral universe” is finally bending in justice’s way; or at least this is the pose she finds it expedient to strike. Bernie is more attuned.

It is not what he says about Israel and Palestine that matters. In point of fact, he has said hardly anything at all – only that Israel’s periodic assaults on the defenseless open-air prison that Gaza has become under the unrelenting siege Israel imposed upon it a decade ago are “disproportionate.”

Most liberal Zionists are more critical of Israeli policies than that; and, only a panicked Zionist ideologue could impute so much as a whiff of principled anti-Zionism to anything Sanders has said.

Nevertheless, Bernie broke the taboo. He could have said more; there is so much more to say. But what counts is that he said anything at all. The genie is out of the bottle now, and there is no turning back!

Who would have thought it? As the campaign for the Democratic nomination unfolded, Sanders’ criticisms of neoliberal economic and trade policies were spot on, but his views on foreign affairs conformed generally to the Democratic Party line. If he had concerns about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, he kept them to himself.

And then he announced that he had better things to do than come to Washington to address the AIPAC conference, and, in his last debate with Clinton, he faulted Israel for its “disproportionate” use of force!

It goes without saying that Israel should not be assaulting Gaza at all. It should not be occupying Palestinian land, directly or indirectly, either. In a more law-abiding and morally sound possible world, the question of “proportionality” would therefore not even arise.

But, again, it doesn’t matter that Sanders didn’t or wouldn’t point this out. What matters is that he brought criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestine out of the margins of the political mainstream, and onto center stage.

Because he did, the Israel lobby will never again be able to exercise the stranglehold over the Democratic Party that it has maintained for more than half a century.

Add that to Trump’s (probably) unintentional but nevertheless historic achievement in diminishing the power of Zionist mega-donors, and the Israel lobby has reason indeed to be concerned.

Trump owes his success in the Republican primaries, in part, to the money he has. But he is not the only billionaire befouling the landscape; he is not even the only one with political ambitions.

However, he is the only one with skills honed over many years in reality television. As a time-tested mountebank, he has perfected a mindless, in-your-face demeanor that many people nowadays find appealing.

Blame it on America’s dysfunctional political culture, on “deadlock” in Washington, or on what Trump and his supporters call “political correctness,” the coerced civility that the ambient political culture demands of ordinary citizens and the politicians who (mis)represent them.

And blame it most of all on the widespread, utterly baseless, notion that Trump can work wonders; that he would be a Leader who would “make America great again.”

This has to be the dumbest idea to come along this election season – except perhaps for the idea that Clinton is a “pragmatic progressive,” not a warmonger and Wall Street flunky.

To be sure, not all Clinton supporters believe that nonsense; many, maybe most, of them are just well meaning lesser evilists.

And not all Trump supporters are suckers, notwithstanding the fact that there is one born every minute.

Those who see through Trump’s pretenses stand by him nevertheless, at least for the time being (while the election still seems far off), because they see supporting Trump as a way to stick it to the political class. Who can blame them for wanting to do that!

The Israel lobby can because they own the political class; it is their most important asset. But, from their point of view, Sanders’ success in drawing huge crowds and in battling Hillary nearly to a draw is, or ought to be, more troubling.

One of Sanders’ signal accomplishments, arguably the most momentous of all, is how he showed that small-donors are up to the task of paying the exorbitant costs of presidential campaigns.

This says to the Sheldon Adelsons of the world, and to the Haim Sabans, that, in the future, it will be a lot harder than it used to be to buy support for the self-declared “nation state of the Jewish people.”

Because Trump hasn’t had to spend a lot of money so far – thanks to all the free publicity he gets from “liberal” media — this is a lesson of the Trump campaign too. That publicity is unfailingly negative, but this hardly matters; as the Donald knows well, for a showman and a huckster, even bad publicity is good.

However, in other times and with other candidates, Trump’s method will be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate. On the other hand, what Sanders has achieved could become the new normal in progressive electoral campaigns.

Thanks to Bernie’s example, the word is now out: an honest and principled candidate, even an implausible one, can get by on small contributions alone.

This is bad news in its own right for the Israel lobby and for others whose “business models” depend on the generosity of plutocrats.

It gets better than that, though. Having amassed nearly as many popular votes as Clinton, Sanders forced the Democratic Party leadership to cede some power to him over the composition of the committee writing the party platform.

Unless Clintonites somehow manage to put the kybosh on an agreement that has already been reached, this means that there will be principled defenders of justice for Palestinians on the platform committee – Cornel West, James Zogby, and Ralph Ellison.

They will be outnumbered, of course; Sanders got to choose five members (the other two are Bill McKibben, co-founder of the environmental group 350.org, and native American activist Deborah Parker), while Clinton gets to name six, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, chair of the Democratic National Committee, gets to name four more.

Thanks to Clinton and Wasserman Schultz, her alter ego, institutional Democrats and corporate lobbyists will run the show. But they won’t be able to monopolize it the way they usually do.

Let them knock themselves out.

With Sanders’ appointees on board, the rift between the party elite and the party base – on Israel-Palestine and on much else too – will be out in the open. Once this happens, the divide can only grow wider.

This is not the place to recount the many ways that Zionism has deformed Jewish identity politics and the Jewish religion. The point, for now, is just that none of this would have been possible but for the prestige that attaches to the state of Israel in Jewish circles. And that would not have been possible without the unqualified support that American governments have accorded Israeli governments for as long as Israel has existed.

Hillary will try her best to keep the bad old ways going; and even Sanders, were he somehow to become the next President, would be unable to introduce a radical change of course even if he wanted do, which he almost certainly does not.

But, because he crossed the line, the way forward is clear.

Monumental changes that people have fought for seemingly forever, but that have seemed hopeless for just as long, sometimes unfold with astonishing rapidity – once some triggering event gets them underway.

Not long ago, even the most optimistic defenders of same-sex marriage thought that it would take years for the idea to gain acceptance. Then, to everyone’s surprise, a few state Supreme Courts broke the taboo and, in less than a decade, gay marriage became the law of the land.

The same could happen to the blank check that Israeli governments get from the United States. It seems impossible now; but that check could be withdrawn sooner than even the most optimistic proponents of justice dare hope.

When this happens, it will be good news for Israelis and Palestinians and for American Jews and Jewish communities around the world, whether they know it or not. The Zionist colonial project – especially its post-1967 (Six Day War) version — has done them all more harm than good.

However, for Zionists and the politicians who do their bidding this will be bad news indeed.

Hillary Clinton will be among the last to figure this out; it is her nature to be slow in catching on.

But because Bernie broke the taboo, the question is no longer if, but when.

Before long, the Israel lobby will get its comeuppance, and Israel will either become a normal democratic state – a democracy not just for its Herrenvolk, but for all of its citizens — or it will have no future at all.

The writing is on the wall – clear enough that even Hillary is bound to see it eventually.

But, by then, it will be too late for her to stop doing harm – especially if, as seems inevitable, she and Bill move back into the White House. The time to cease and desist was the day before yesterday. If Hillary stays true to form, she will not get around to it until the day after tomorrow.

Expect therefore that, as President, she will make an already horrific situation worse; that she will be a cause of yet more injustice and oppression.

The Israel lobby is on its way out, but it is not out yet. This is why it is now more dangerous than ever.

Foreign affairs is supposed to be Hillary’s strong suit, and one of Trump’s weakest. Indeed, he seems to know as much about it as, say, Sarah Palin did.

But the fact that the Israel lobby has Hillary in toe, while the Donald could care less what Zionist plutocrats think, is just one of several reasons why, despite the former Secretary of State’s purported expertise, it is not as clear as most liberals assume just who the lesser evil actually is.

ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).


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