Chomsky Doesn't Say That The Israeli Lobby Has No Influence
Alam: Often the so-called 'war on terror' is depicted by its American supporters as a civilizational war, pitting an advanced, upright nation against a sea of savage, senseless, Islamic barbarians. This depiction is interesting because it has always resonated well with a crucial U.S. ally whose role in this endeavor has been controversial and, to many, vague: Israel. You argue in Hegemony or Survival that Israel "has virtually no alternative to serving as a US base in the region and complying with U.S. demands."
Others, however, particularly in the Arab world, see Israel as using the financial clout of the pro-Israel lobby in the US to press its own demands. Some Israeli dissidents cite not financial but ideological influence: prefacing a summary of interviews with William Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and Thomas Friedman, Ari Shavit of the Israeli daily Haaretz, wrote that "the ardent faith [in war against Iraq] was disseminated by a small group of 25 to 30 neoconservative intellectuals, almost all of them Jewish, almost all of them intellectuals…" Even the non-neoconservative Friedman, according to Shavit, justified the Iraq war as a replay of Jenin on a world scale. Do you consider it possible that, precisely because Israel depends so much on US support, pro-Israel intellectuals argue for US military action against the Arab world? Or is the role of neoconservatism and intellectuals like Kristol and Krauthammer overblown and only a subtext to a larger point?
Chomsky: It is impossible to give a measure to the influence of the Israeli lobby, but in my opinion it is more of a swing factor than an independently decisive one. It is important to bear in mind that it is not neoconservatives, or Jewish. Friedman, for example, is a liberal in the US system. The union leadership, often strong supporters of Israeli crimes, are protypical liberals, not neocons. The self-styled "democratic socialists" who modestly call themselves "the decent left" have compiled an unusually ugly record in support of Israeli government actions ever since Israel's massive victory in 1967, which won it many friends in left-liberal circles, for a variety of reasons. The Christian right is a huge voting bloc, plainly not Jewish, and in fact to a significant extent anti-Semitic, but welcomed by the government of Israel and its supporters because they support Israel's atrocities, violence, and aggression, for their own reasons. It is a varied and large group, which happens also to constitute a substantial part of the intellectual elite, hence the media elite, so of course there is ideological influence. However, these groups rarely distance themselves far from what they know to be authentic power: state-corporate power. If US government policy would shift, they would shift along with it, maybe with some snapping at the heels of the powerful, but never daring too much. That has been fairly consistent in the past, and I think there is good reason to expect similar behavior in the future. Privilege and rewards do not come from confronting power, but by serving it, perhaps with some complaints at the margins while pouring out lies and slanders against anyone who strays a few millimeters to far from doctrinal orthodoxy, a primary function of respectable intellectuals throughout history. Particularly since its 1967 victory, state power has generally regarded Israel as a very important "strategic asset," by now virtually an offshore military base and militarized high-tech center closely linked to the US and major regional US allies, particularly Turkey. That opens the way for the ideological influence to exert itself - lined up with real power. The story is far more complex than anyone can describe in a few words, but my feeling is that the essentials are pretty much like that. That is true of domestic lobbies quite generally, in a state capitalist society with very close ties between state and corporate power, a very obedient intellectual class, and a narrow political spectrum primarily reflecting the interests of power and privilege.
Alam: Israel's rhetoric and actions appear to be pulling in opposite directions. Its actions clearly point to greater brutalization and destruction of the Palestinians, as evidenced by continued construction of illegal settlements, erection of a separation wall which annexes more Palestinian land, and military raids leading to the death of innocents on a weekly basis. And yet some in the official establishment, from dissenting Refusenik air force pilots and special forces to former Shinbet officials and senior Likud officials like Ehud Olmert, are openly questioning the occupation and calling for unilateral withdrawal to preserve the "Jewish-democratic character" of Israel in the face an impending demographic crisis whereby Arabs will outnumber Jews in Eretz Israel.
Given that Zionism is, as Norman Finkelstein writes in Image and Reality, "grounded in its pre-emptive right to establish a Jewish state in Palestine - a right that, allegedly, superseded the aspirations of the indigenous population," do you think the pragmatists advocating withdrawal from Gaza and the West Bank can trump those who still want to pretend the indigenous Palestinians are, as Israel's first president Chaim Weizmann once said, "a matter of no consequence"?
Chomsky: I think it would be very likely to happen if "the boss-man called `partner'" - as more astute Israeli commentators refer to the US - were to change course and inform them that the time has come to obey the overwhelming international consensus that the US government has been blocking for 30 years. The "demographic crisis" is impelling hawks in the same direction. The "refuseniks" and Israeli solidarity groups are brave and honorable people, who deserve very bit of support we can give them. Their inability to have much of an impact is our fault, not theirs. No group in Israel can gain much credibility within unless it has strong support from the society of the boss-man.
Alam: Professor Chomsky, thank you very much for your time and responses.On Bush, the Left, Iraq, and Israel