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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 3/11/19

Israel's Stranglehold on American Politics

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The Israel lobby's buying off of nearly every senior politician in the United States, facilitated by our system of legalized bribery, is not an anti-Semitic trope. It is a fact. The lobby's campaign of vicious character assassination, smearing and blacklisting against those who defend Palestinian rights -- including the Jewish historian Norman Finkelstein and university students, many of them Jewish, in organizations such as Students for Justice in Palestine -- is not an anti-Semitic trope. It is a fact. Twenty-four state governments' passage of Israel lobby-backed legislation requiring their workers and contractors, under threat of dismissal, to sign a pro-Israel oath and promise not to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is not an anti-Semitic trope. It is a fact. The shameless decision in 2014 by all 100 U.S. senators, including Bernie Sanders, to pass a Soviet-style plebiscite proposed by the Israel lobby to affirm Israel's "right to defend itself" during the 51 days it bombed and shelled homes, water treatment plants, power stations, hospitals and U.N. schools in Gaza, killing 2,251 Palestinians, including 551 children, is not an anti-Semitic trope. It is a fact. The U.S. refusal, including in the United Nations and other international bodies, to criticize Israel's apartheid state and routine violation of international law is not an anti-Semitic trope. It is a fact. The well-funded campaigns by the Israel lobby, which works closely with Israel's Ministry of Strategic Affairs, to discredit any American politician or academic who even slightly deviates from Israeli policy is not an anti-Semitic trope. It is a fact. (One infamous example of a U.S. politician kowtowing was the unconstitutional invitation by then-House Speaker John Boehner to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress in 2015 to denounce President Barack Obama's Iranian nuclear agreement.) The massive interference in our internal affairs by Israel and the Israel lobby, far exceeding that of any other country, including Russia or China, is not an anti-Semitic trope. It is a fact.

Israel's lackeys in the political class, along with bankrupt courtiers in the U.S. press, including former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) employee Wolf Blitzer, are making a serious mistake, however, in refusing to acknowledge Israel's outsized, transparent and often illegal meddling in the American political system and Israel's brutal oppression of Palestinians. It is too obvious and too egregious to hide. The longer the ruling elites ignore this reality and censor and attack those such as Rep. Ilhan Omar who have the temerity to name this interference and the human rights abuses perpetrated by Israel, the more it gives credence to the racists, bigots, conspiracy theorists and white hate groups, many rooted in the Christian right, who are the real anti-Semites. Israel and its lobby, rather than protecting Israel and Jews, are steadily nullifying their moral and ultimately political force.

Criticism of Israel and the ideology of Zionism is not anti-Semitic. Criticism of Israel's influence and control over U.S. foreign policy, and of Israeli efforts to silence those who champion Palestinian rights, is not anti-Semitic. Criticism of Israel's oppression of the Palestinians or its dangerous campaign to orchestrate a war with Iran is not anti-Semitic. The more Israel and the Israel lobby abuse the charge of anti-Semitism, a charge the Israel lobby has leveled against British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, among many others, the more they lose their effectiveness against the dangerous anti-Semites whose ranks are growing within the far right and across the Muslim world.

Israel and its lobby do not care if its political allies, including those in the Christian right and the Trump White House, possess warped and racist attitudes about Jews. The Christian right and many of those in the White House, while embracing Zionism, are also anti-Semitic. President Donald Trump has called neo-Nazis "very fine people" and once tweeted an illustration of Hillary Clinton against a background of hundred-dollar bills and with the Star of David superimposed near her face. The sole criterion of Israel and the Israel lobby in determining who to support and who to demonize is identifying who backs the far-right agenda of the apartheid state of Israel and who does not. Genuine anti-Semitism is irrelevant. For Israel, the world is divided along the fault line of Palestinian rights. Stand up for the Palestinians and you are an anti-Semite. Cheer their marginalization, oppression and murder and you are a friend of the Jews. Have Jewish leaders forgotten their own history? Anti-Semitism is wrong and dangerous not only because it is bad for the Jews, but because the dark forces of ethnic and religious hatred, used by Israel and the lobby against critics, are bad for everyone, including the Jews and the Palestinians. You open this Pandora's box of evils at your peril.

The interference by Israel in the American political system is amply documented, including in the Al-Jazeera four-part series "The Lobby," which Israel and its supporters managed to block from being broadcast. In the film, a pirated copy of which can be watched on the website Electronic Intifada, the leaders of the Israel lobby are repeatedly captured on a reporter's hidden camera explaining how they, backed by the intelligence services within Israel, attack and silence American critics and use huge cash donations to control the American electoral process and political system. The Israel lobby, lacking any plausible deniability, has remained stunningly silent about the film. The corporate press, in the face of pressure by the lobby, has ignored the documentary.

The series exposes the various machinations of the Israel lobby.

"We made sure that there were people [agents of the lobby] in every single congressional district," M.J. Rosenberg, a former editor of the AIPAC policy journal Near East Report and now a critic of AIPAC, said in the film in an on-the-record interview with Al-Jazeera. "You call [politicians] and say, 'I'm calling from AIPAC in Washington.' I did these calls. 'We hear you're good friends with Congressman So and So.' 'Oh my God, yes, we've been friends with so and so.' 'Well, what does he think about Israel?' 'I never talked to him about Israel.' 'Well, can I come down and talk to you? And help you figure out a way to talk to him about Israel?' 'No, just tell me. What should I say? I'll just tell him.' "

Craig Holman, who campaigns for lobbying reform with Public Citizen, is another participant in the film who denounced the Israel lobby's fundraising practices.

"Right now our current [federal] contribution limit from any person to a candidate is $2,700," Holman says. "That's a lot of money. It can certainly buy " some gratitude with a lawmaker. But if you really want to add punch to that type of buying of favors, what you do is you get 50 or 100 people together at an event like this, all chipping in $2,700 and then you bundle it all together and hand the total amount to the lawmaker. At that point, we're talking anywhere around a quarter-million dollars. So suddenly you've got a group of people with the same demand they want from the lawmaker, handing over a quarter of a million dollars. That buys a lawmaker."

One of the fundraising events captured in the film was for Anthony Brown, a Democrat who successfully ran for Congress in Maryland in 2016.

"You strategically pick the ones who are in close races and [whom you] want to build relationships with," David Ochs, the founder of HaLev and an activist for Israel, says in the documentary. "We want the Jewish community to go face to face in this small environment -- 50, 30, 40 people, and say, 'This is what's important to us.' "

"They're actually buying these officeholders," Public Citizen's Holman says in the documentary. Speaking from the lobby's point of view, he says "we're chipping in all this money so we can hand over $100,000 or $200,000 to the officeholder so we can buy them."

"What [the] group is doing to avoid that [federal] disclosure requirement is it isn't taking money and putting it in its own account and then handing it over to the officeholder," Holman says of the Israel lobby. "It's just collecting credit card information and turning that over directly to the candidate. Therefore, it's not violating the earmarking law and they're not reporting this. All we can see on the campaign finance reports are the individuals who contributed. But there are no records on those campaign finance reports that they weren't together in a bundling group who are all at this event. All we'd know is Person A gave $2,700; Person B gave $2,700. And we'd have no idea they're working in tandem with each other."

The Israel lobby also flies hundreds of members of Congress, often with their families, to Israel every year for lavish junkets at expensive resorts. These Congress members run up individual bills that frequently exceed $20,000. The Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007 attempted to restrict lobbyists from offering paid trips lasting more than one day to members of Congress. But AIPAC, which has never been forced to register as a foreign agent, used its clout to insert a clause in the act to exclude so-called educational trips organized by charities that do not hire lobbyists. AIPAC is affiliated with such a charity, called the American Israel Education Foundation.

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Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years.

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