Israel and American Politics

Palestine Center Brief No. 325 (March 15, 2019)

By Mohamed Mohamed

In the latest annual human rights report released by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, the Golan Heights is no longer described as “Israeli-occupied,” but rather, “Israeli-controlled.”

This change in language is similar to one that started to show up since last year’s report, when the “Israel and the Occupied Territories” section was renamed to “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza.”

When asked by reporters, Michael Kozak, a senior official with the bureau, said that “There’s no change in our outlook or our policy vis-a-vis these territories and the need for a negotiated settlement there.”

This is true, since despite its statements and policies, and despite the fact that Israel’s occupation and theft of Palestinian and Syrian territory is illegal under international law, the US refuses to hold Israel accountable. On the contrary, it continues to reward Israel with extremely generous military and financial aid.

This report comes in the same week that Senator Lindsey Graham toured the Golan Heights with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During this visit, Graham said, “Working with Senator (Ted) Cruz, I will start an effort to recognize the Golan as part of the State of Israel now and forever.” Last month, Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, along with House Representative Mike Gallagher introduced a bill to give formal US recognition of Israel’s claim to the Golan Heights and “to ensure that Israel retains control” of the territory.

It is astonishing and concerning that many American lawmakers bend over backwards to appease and hand over taxpayer money to an oppressive apartheid state such as Israel (or any other foreign country, for that matter). They should be serving their constituents and addressing their concerns, not those of Israel. To make matters worse, US politicians are willing to shut down the government over disagreements between the two parties, yet when it comes to Israel, they are largely in agreement.

Why is this the case? Certainly, ideological support for Zionism and Israel plays a role. But money in politics is probably a major factor as well. For example, the four lawmakers mentioned above have received over $1.6 million over the course of their careers from pro-Israel lobbying groups, according to OpenSecrets.org, which is a project of the Center for Responsive Politics that gathers information on money in politics. In total, Pro-Israel groups contributed almost $15 million in the 2018 election cycle alone. If these lobbying groups were not getting their desired outcome from lawmakers with regard to Israel, it is doubtful that they would continue to give.

In fact, some of these groups are getting a great return on their investment. Not only do they get tremendous political, economic, and military support for Israel, they even get defense for themselves. After Congresswoman Ilhan Omar recently made comments suggesting that the pro-Israel lobby influences members of Congress, lobby officials became furious and demanded that the Democratic leadership punish her for what they falsely labelled as anti-Semitism, as Phyllis Bennis noted.

American politicians have no business to fiercely defend Israel as if it was one of the 50 states. They certainly should not encourage it to continue to illegally occupy territory that it seized through war more than 50 years ago. The US political system, which allows interest groups to influence lawmakers with financial contributions, must be reformed in order for Israel to be held accountable for its illegal and immoral actions against people under its control. Until then, American politicians will continue to pander to Israel and other parties that fund and support their political careers, even if their actions are neither moral, legal, nor in the interests of the US.

 

Mohamed Mohamed is the Executive Director of the Palestine Center. 

The views in this brief are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.