Israel’s European Lobby
By Maidhc Ó Cathail
October 28th, 2009
“Dissident Voice” —
In their 2006 article “The Israel Lobby,” John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt famously assert, “Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.” Having for decades successfully steered policymaking in Washington in a pro-Israel direction, Israel’s American Lobby has more recently turned its attention to Europe. Despite its brief presence in Brussels, it appears to have already had marked success in influencing the nascent foreign policy of the European Union.
One of the most important of the more than 60 organizations that make up “the Lobby” is the American Jewish Committee (AJC). Jeff Blankfort, an American Jew who is one of the Lobby’s most trenchant critics, described the AJC as “the Lobby’s unofficial foreign office.” Extending its global diplomatic mission, the AJC opened an office in Brussels in 2004. Since then, according to Blankfort, it has held weekly meetings with a high official or the chief of state of EU member states. The meetings seem to be having the desired effect. As Blankfort wrote in 2006, “Over the past year the EU has moved away from relative support for the Palestinians to adopting one position after another reflecting Israeli demands.”
As part of its lobbying efforts in Brussels, the AJC founded the Transatlantic Institute (TAI) in February 2004. According to its mission statement, the institute functions as “an intellectual bridge between the United States and the European Union” with the aim of “strengthening transatlantic ties.” Although it describes itself as “nongovernmental, non-partisan and independent,” TAI’s publications leave little doubt that it intends to shift the EU in a more aggressively pro-Israel direction, as the neoconservatives succeeded in doing with the Bush administration’s Middle Eastern policy.
Like American neocons, the TAI’s executive director, Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi, has a “special affinity for Israel.” Before moving to Brussels, the Jewish Italian academic taught Israel Studies (a discipline which Mearsheimer and Walt describe as “intended in large part to promote Israel’s image”) at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, after having received his PhD in political science from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. And like the current Israeli government and pro-Israeli groups worldwide, Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons are Ottolenghi’s overriding concern at the moment – now that the threat of Iraq’s non-existent WMDs has promptly been forgotten. In his 2009 book, Under a Mushroom Cloud: Europe, Iran and the Bomb, Ottolenghi urges Europeans to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Despite his concern about the bomb, it’s unlikely that he would support a comprehensive ban on nuclear weapons in the Middle East – since Israel is the only country in the region that currently possesses them.
Israel’s crying wolf is nothing if not predictable though. As for the “mushroom cloud” that’s supposedly looming over Europe, who, bar the mainstream media, could forget Condoleezza Rice’s pre-Iraq invasion soundbite: “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”? It was Michael Gerson, Bush’s pro-Israel speechwriter, who thought up that one. Incidentally, Gerson was so incensed by Mearsheimer and Walt’s criticism of the Lobby that he accused them in his Washington Post column of “sowing the seeds of anti-Semitism.”
Anyone for World War IV?
Before European policymakers give too much credence to the prescriptions of Ottolenghi and his “non-partisan” institute, they should familiarize themselves with the geopolitical outlook of Commentary, the magazine for which Ottolenghi blogs. Like the Transatlantic Institute, which became “the flagship of neoconservatism” in the 1970s, it was also founded by the American Jewish Committee, a relationship that lasted from 1945 to 2006. But above all, Commentary has been dominated by the political views of Norman Podhoretz.
Podhoretz, who has edited Commentary since 1960, claims that September 11, 2001 marked the beginning of World War IV (he considers the Cold War to have been World War III). “We are only in the very early stages of what promises to be a very long war,” declares the doyen of neoconservatism, “and Iraq is only the second front to have been opened in that war: the second scene, so to speak, of the first act of a five-act play.” Whatever about the incalculable cost in blood and treasure to the United States, presumably Israel won’t have any enemies left standing by the end of this bloody drama. Coincidentally or not, in 2007, the same year he published World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, Podhoretz was honoured by Bar-Ilan University with its Guardian of Zion Award, bestowed on Jews who have been supportive of the State of Israel.
However, those who question the motives behind Podhoretz’s enthusiasm for World War IV, or believe that his belligerent Zionism poses a far greater threat to world peace than “Islamofascism” – a nebulous concept that lumps together disparate entities such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and Al Qaeda – are invariably smeared as anti-Semites. It’s not surprising, of course, that Zionists like Ottolenghi, in a transparent attempt to discredit their opponents, claim that “anti-Zionism is anti-semitism.” After all, “the charge of anti-semitism,” as Mearsheimer and Walt point out, is one of the Lobby’s “most powerful weapons.”
What is worrying, however, is that the EU now legitimates the deployment of that weapon by pro-Israelis against their critics. According to the definition given by the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, it seems that you’re an anti-semite if you agree with Mearsheimer and Walt that pressure from Israel and the Lobby played a “critical” role in the decision to invade Iraq, or if you suspect that the likes of Podhoretz and Ottolenghi may be more loyal to Israel than they are to their respective countries. Before coming up with their working definition of anti-Semitism in 2004, the EU consulted with Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee. If they were asked about the question of loyalty, the AJC probably forgot to mention the case of Jonathan Pollard.
Pollard, an American Jew, is now serving a life sentence for stealing thousands of documents while employed as an analyst for US naval intelligence during the mid-1980s. In Dangerous Liaison, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn write, “Though he always maintained that he was motivated purely by devotion to Israel, he was well paid for his services.” That money may have come from the US-Israeli Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD), according to Claudia Wright, the author of Spy, Steal, and Smuggle: Israel’s Special Relationship with the US. When Jordan Baruch, an adviser to BIRD’s board, was asked for an audit report, he replied, “Even if I did (have one), I couldn’t release it.” Interestingly, it was Baruch and his wife, “long-time AJC leaders,” who funded the Transatlantic Foundation.
In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 24, Benjamin Netanyahu portrayed Israel’s grievance against Iran as a conflict which “pits civilization against barbarism.” It’s tempting to dismiss the Israeli leader’s assertion as the hyperbolic trope of a demagogue, but there may be some truth to what he said. After all, what better word than “barbarism” to describe what Israel has done to the Palestinians for the past six decades? Or the havoc that Israel’s supporters in America have wrought on the people of Iraq? Or the untold devastation they have in mind for the Iranians? The influence the Israel Lobby wields in Washington has ensured that the United States has long been complicit in Israel’s barbarism. And if the Lobby gets it way in Brussels, so too will the European Union.
Maidhc Ó Cathail is a freelance writer living in Japan who writes a monthly political column for Kansai Time Out magazine. He also contributes a monthly column to the Irish language internet magazine Beo! Read other articles by Maidhc, or visit Maidhc’s website.