In the last issue of Al Shindagah, former US Congressman Paul Findley looked at the origins of Muslim stereotypes. Islamophobia began spreading through American as early as 1948, he writes. This was when the Israeli flag was first mounted on Palestinian soil. Findley looks at how each American president dealt with the issue from President Harry Truman through President Lyndon Johnson. In part two of the series he picks up from President Richard Nixon…
US President Lyndon B. Johnson’s successor, President Richard Nixon, rescued Israel from Egypt’s 1973 assault but soon directed Secretary of State Henry Kissinger to prepare plans intended to force Israel to make peace with Arab neighbours. In memoirs, Kissinger mentioned these plans, but in 1983 future Vice President Richard Cheney, my former colleague, told me he found no records of such plans when he became President Gerald Ford’s chief of staff. They disappeared when Watergate washed away the last two years of Nixon’s presidency. Assuming the presidency when Nixon resigned, Ford announced plans to reappraise US policy in the Middle East. He changed his mind when he received a letter signed by 76 senators protesting a reappraisal. The protest letter was drafted and organised by Israel’s main US lobby, AIPAC. During the administration of Jimmy Carter, annual aid to Israel topped $3 billion and rose above $4 billion under President Bill Clinton. [Speaking Out: Paul Findley, Lawrence Hill Books, pp 259-270].
By then, skilled lobbying and control of major media had gained Israel unprecedented influence over American society. It was so intimidating that public discussion of Israel’s illegal expansion into occupied Palestine was, in effect, nonexistent. Shielded by this silence and goaded by Israel’s US lobby, each Congress and administration since Kennedy have donated massive, unrestricted aid to Israel. The largess is reported and criticised in most foreign media but little noted anywhere in the United States.
In the fall of 1982, with Ronald Reagan in the presidency, Israel launched another brutal assault, this time on Beirut, Lebanon, where Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat had his headquarters. Israeli air and sea forces, using US supplied armaments, destroyed large parts of Beirut and suburbs. The bombing did not kill Arafat or lead immediately to PLO departure, but it killed more than 16,000 Arabs, most of them Muslim civilians. This toll is more than five times the 9/11 deaths that occurred 20 years later in the United States. In between these awful carnages, insurgent leader Osama bin Ladin reported in several televised messages that, while observing on television n 1982 the fall of tall Beirut buildings, he decided as payback Arabs should destroy tall buildings in Manhattan. His warnings had limited viewing in America. At the time, I was in my last few weeks as a Member of Congress. As soon as the killing in Beirut stopped, I voted no when the US House of Representatives rushed through a $150 million gift that enabled Israel to replenish at US taxpayer expense war materiel expended in the assault. Most of my colleagues rejoiced. For me, it was a day of mourning and embarrassment.
Israelis have reason to worry about their country’s future. The greatest threat to Israel’s survival as a Jewish state may be posed by demographic trends rising rapidly within territory it controls: First, Palestinian parents often have eight to 10 children, four times the size of most Jewish families. In another generation they may be able to achieve reforms when Palestinians constitute a clear majority of the total population; second, within Israel’s Jewish majority, ultra orthodox sects are costly and highly privileged. They are fully supported financially by the government and exempt from both employment and military service. Families are similar in size to Palestinians, placing a fastgrowing financial burden on other citizens. They maintain privileged status through astute political action.
To his credit, President George W. Bush complied with the War Powers Resolution of 1973. Helping to write and enact it was one of my main legislative endeavours in Congress. It is intended to make presidential wars less frequent.
When Barack Obama became president, I hoped he would begin the task of ending pro-Israel bias in US foreign policy. Even small steps in that direction would reduce anti-American passions worldwide, lessen discomfort of US Muslims, and relieve some of the misery Palestinians confront day and night. To his credit, he ended US war measures in Iraq and promises an early termination of war measures in Afghanistan, but his administration also focused on widening acts of war without Congressional approval in other Muslim countries, among them Pakistan and Yemen. He repeatedly and passionately pledged unconditional support to Israel despite its accelerated construction of illegal settlements in occupied Palestine, an ongoing crime that infuriates Muslims worldwide and offends most other people. Both Democrats and Republicans quake in fear. No president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has effectively challenged Israel and its US lobby. Future historians will shake their heads in dismay at the costly, subservient role our entire government accepts with hardly an audible murmur of complaint.
Obama ignores an important truth: any president can quell terrorism without ordering a shot fired anywhere. All that is needed is a convincing step toward ending the bigotry of our Middle East foreign policy. Congress is totally subservient to Israel, powerless to initiate reform. But a president is not powerless. Notwithstanding public law that precisely mandates specific annual aid to Israel, any president, citing national security requirements, can issue an executive order that will effectively suspend all aid to Israel indefinitely. He has the “bully pulpit” from which to explain his action to the American people, and I am confident he would win overwhelming support. His announcement would lead to a change in the government of Israel, and the new leaders would comply with US demands to reverse Israel’s conquest of Palestine. The world would salute the US president as a peacemaker and heave a sign of relief. Palestine would soon become a truly independent and viable state, and Al Qaeda would wither away. Sadly, I see no prospect for the presidency even on the distant horizon with the wisdom and courage to so act.