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Influence of Sharon Supporters on U.S. Mideast Policy Has Entered the Public Arena

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
July - August 2004

The influence of individuals and groups who are committed to the policies of the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon upon U.S. foreign policy has become a subject of widespread public discussion.  

Retired General Anthony Zinni, a past chief of the U.S. Central Command and President Bush’s former Middle East special envoy, told “60 Minutes” in May that the role of neoconservatives in pushing the war in Iraq for Israel’s benefit was “the worst kept secret in Washington.”  

In Zinni’s view, the Bush administration was reckless in permitting itself to be influenced by neoconservatives who advanced the notion of pursuing a policy of democratizing the entire Middle East, starting with Iraq.  

Earlier in the month, Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC) wrote in The State and other leading South Carolina newspapers, that since we know Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, nor is there any evidence of a tie between Iraq and al Qaeda, we must seek another explanation of the rush to war. His assessment is that the war was entered into as part of “President Bush’s policy to secure Israel.”  

Hollings writes: “Led by Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz and Charles Krauthammer, for years there has been a domino school of thought that the way to guarantee Israel’s security is to spread democracy in the area . . . Every president since 1947 has made a futile attempt to help Israel negotiate peace. But no leadership has surfaced among the Palestinians that can make a binding agreement. President Bush realized his chances at negotiation were no better. He came to office imbued with one thought — re-election. Bush felt tax cuts would hold his crowd together and spreading democracy in the Mideast to secure Israel would take the Jewish vote from the Democrats. You don’t come to town and announce your Israel policy is to invade Iraq. But George W. Bush, as stated by former Secretary Paul O’Neill and others, started laying the groundwork to invade Iraq days after inauguration. . . .”  

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, in an interview with The American Conservative, said that “the subservience of our congressional and White House puppets to Israeli military policy has been consistent. Both parties concede their independent judgment to the pro-Israeli lobbies in this country because they perceive them as determining the margin in some state elections and as sources of funding.” In Nader’s view, Iaraelis enjoy greater freedoms than Americans in discussing Israeli policies. He said he would heed Israel’s peace movement in formulating his own policies.  

Writing in The Houston Chronicle, former President Jimmy Carter declared: “The prime source of animosity towards the U.S. is lack of progress in dealing with the Palestinian issue. We have been exclusively committed to the policies of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Israel, and have made no effort to try to have a balanced negotiating position between Israel and the Palestinians.”  

General Zinni, Senator Hollings, President Carter and Ralph Nader were all sharply criticized by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as being guilty of potentially spreading anti-Semitism. The ADL’s Abraham Foxman sent Senator Hollings a letter on May 14 arguing that his remarks were “reminiscent of age-old anti-Semitic canards about a Jewish conspiracy to control and manipulate the government.” Hollings, in a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate, spoke angrily about such critics: “I won’t apologize. I want them to apologize to me.” With regard to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), he said: “You can’t have an Israel policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here. I have followed them mostly in the main, but I have also resisted signing certain letters from time to time to give the poor president a chance.”  
General Zinni, referring to those who called his remarks anti-Semitic, replied: “I mean, you know, it’s unbelievable that that’s the kind of personal attack that are run when you criticize a strategy and those who propose it. I certainly didn’t criticize who they were. I certainly don’t know what their ethnic religious backgrounds are. And I’m not interested.”  

The Forward (May 28, 2004) notes that the old ploy of attempting to silence criticism by calling critics “anti-Semitic” may no longer be effective: “The ground shifted . . . subtly but critically, in the ongoing debate over the role of Israel in America’s Iraq policy . . . As recently as a week ago, reasonable people still could dismiss as antisemitic conspiracy mongering the claim that Israel’s security was the real motive behind the invasion of Iraq. No longer. The allegation has now moved from the fringes into the mainstream. Its advocates can no longer simply be shushed or dismissed as bigots. Those who disagree must now argue the case on its merits.”  

What changed the terms of the debate, according to The Forward, was “the entry into the debate of the very respectable Anthony Zinni,” who said that the neoconservatives had pushed for invading Iraq to make the Middle East democratic and, therefore, safer for Israel. “Everybody I talk to in Washington has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do,” said Zinni.  

While The Forward disagrees with Zinni’s overall assessment, it admits that, “The truth is, of course, that Zinni is partially right — but only partly. Securing Israel was one of the war hawks’ motives, but not the only one, probably not even the main one. Saddam’s regime genuinely threatened the stability of the region, as the U.N. Security Council had unanimously agreed the previous fall . . . The line between legitimate debate and scapegoating is a fine one. Friends of Israel will be tempted to guard that line by labeling as antisemites those who threaten to cross it. They have already begun to do so. But it is a mistake. Israel and its allies stand accused of manipulating America’s public debate for their own purposes. If it were to succeed in suppressing debate to protect themselves, it would only prove the point. Better to follow the democratic path: If there is bad speech, the best reply is more speech.”

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