AIPAC and Syria

Just as Israelis are split on support for US military intervention against Assad, so undoubtedly is the American Jewish community.

September 8, 2013 21:45
3 minute read.
Syrian activists inspect bodies of people they say killed by nerve gas in Damascus August 21, 2013

Bodies from Syria chemical weapons attack 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Bassam Khabieh)


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Adecade ago as the US marched on Iraq, prominent news commentators and academics raised accusations that a “Zionist cabal” was pushing America to war.

Sometimes this group – which included Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Bill Kristol and Douglas Feith – was referred to as “Likud-oriented members of the president’s team,” sometimes it was referred to as “the clique of conservative intellectuals pushing the war.”

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Whatever their title, according to two university professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who wrote a book called The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, these “neo-cons” had in common the inability to “distinguish their loyalties to their original homelands from their loyalties to America and its national interests.”

In their 2007 book, they argued that pro-Israel organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had managed to divert the US from its true national interests while simultaneous convincing Americans that US interests and those of Israel were essentially identical.

It seems the traumas of these baseless accusations – which border on anti-Semitism – continue to haunt and intimidate US Jewish organizations and Israeli officials as President Barack Obama attempts to muster congressional support for limited military action against Syria.

As the JTA’s Ron Kampeas reported last week, “A lingering sensitivity over misrepresentations of the role of the pro-Israel community in the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003 kept Jewish groups from weighing in on Syria until it was clear that President Obama was determined to strike.”

And even after Obama announced publicly that it was in America’s interest to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad and deter other countries from developing and deploying nonconventional weapons, organizations such as AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations that have come out publicly in support of military intervention in Syria were careful not to make any “Israel-centric” statements.

Only over Rosh Hashana was it disclosed that Obama had recruited AIPAC to send more than 250 activists to Congress on Monday to “flood the zone” with support for intervention.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, officials have remained intentionally silent on the issue of military intervention.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stressed that “we are not involved and not interfering in what is happening in Syria... We repeat and emphasize that.”

And Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called on his ministers to refrain from making any statements for or against a US attack.

Just as Israelis are split on support for US military intervention against Assad, so undoubtedly is the American Jewish community.

It is ludicrous to claim that US Jewish organizations support an attack on Syria even though it is contrary to US interests and because it is in Israel’s interest. In fact, as pointed out by Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, “[Obama’s] not doing this for Israel. This may have serious ramifications for Israel which are negative.”

Foxman was referring the very real possibility that Syria or Hezbollah would launch rocket at Israel in retaliation for a US military attack.

AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and other Jewish groups have same the right as other American organizations to come out publicly in support of military intervention in Syria.

But that support should emerge from a starting point of Americans backing an American action initiated by the president of their country. It should not be predicated in any way on whether the action against Syria is “good” or “bad” for Israel.

The sorts of “Israel firster” allegations used a decade ago during the Iraq War against a predominantly Jewish group of neo-con intellectuals have no place in the present debate over military intervention in Syria.

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