Let's represent U.S. interests for once, instead of Israel's
By Joseph Sobran
'"Much as we want to coordinate our activities with the United States, the interests (of the United States and Israel) are not identical. We have to, from time to time, worry about our own interests."
That was Yitzhak Shamir speaking in 1981, before he became Israel's prime minister. He spoke as an Israeli official should speak: He reminded one and all that as far as he was concerned, Israel came first.
If you can imagine an American politician talking like that, you have a vivid imagination. The first American politician who flatly asserts the primacy of American over Israeli interests will probably go the way of Charles Percy, who in 1984 lost the Senate seat he had held for 18 years when the Israel lobby made his defeat a top priority. Sen. Percy had voted as Israel wished with almost perfect consistency, but in this Congress, almost wasn't good: enough to suit the powerful American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). He was branded "Israel's worst adversary in Congress," and now his old seat is occupied by Paul Simon, who understands that crucial distinction between always and nearly always.
Our politicians dodge the question of which country they are serving by asserting that the two countries' interests, contrary to Mr. Shamir, are practically 'identical. Israel is said to be our "only reliable ally in the Middle East," our "strategic asset" or "the only democracy in the region."
Such talk is self-serving sentimentalism. The politicians who utter it are pretending to be standing up for America when they are bending the knee before Israel. I wonder if the interests of Siamese twins could coincide as closely as those of the U.S. and Israel are said to do.
If Israel were our enemy; then a vote for Israel would be a vote against America. But this is not the case; There is no perfect correlation between our interests and Israel's, positive or negative, nor could there, since each country at times has trouble defining its own interests.
But the interests of the two countries must conflict now and then, as they visibly do over the Palestinian question, and it's suspicious when a congressman professes to be acting in America's best interests by compiling a nearly 100 percent pro-Israel voting record. It's a foreign-policy version of the idea that what's good for General Motors is good for the country: In a way, Congress' subservience to Israel is of a piece with its general subservience to domestic special interests -- business, farmers, labor and teachers unions.
The charge of dual loyalty should not be directed against the American Jewish community, but at its proper target: our elected representatives. In point of fact, American Jews have resisted Mr. Shamir's overweening demands that they give Israel, not America, their undivided loyalty. It's our leaders who have been guilty of a collective failure of hardheaded patriotism.
One congressman was recently quoted as telling an Israeli official, "I sympathize with what you're doing on the West Bank, but how can I explain it to the lumberjack in Oregon?" It didn't seem to cross his mind that the lumberjack in Oregon is the man he was elected to represent.
Even presidents have been unwilling to enforce the conditions of American aid to Israel. This was one of Ronald Reagan's chief failings. The worst, in this respect, was Lyndon B. Johnson, who squelched an investigation of the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, which killed 34 American sailors and wounded 171 others. Mr. Johnson may have also concealed the theft of American enriched uranium for use in the construction of nuclear weapons in Israel.
Israeli spying and technology theft in this country received brief publicity with the arrest and conviction of Jonathan Pollard, but there has been no comprehensive congressional inquiry into the problem. Not only would such an inquiry undercut the idea that Israel is our "reliable ally", it also would embarrass Congress itself, which has allowed this to go on with impunity for so many years.
If the interests of the two countries were in automatic harmony, there would be no need of an Israel lobby here to see that Israel's interests are served. What we need now is an American lobby in Jerusalem. No, come to think of it, what we need is an American lobby in Washington.
Joseph Sobran is a nationally syndicated columnist who now maintains a Website at http://www.sobran.com.