Washington, DC - March 7, 2014 8AM-5PM at the National Press Club

"..a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils."

-George Washington, Farewell Address


Speaker Transcripts Audio and Video

  Are there Israel lobby gatekeepers and damage control squads on the Left?
(Video YouTube, Audio MP3)

by Jeffrey Blankfort is a journalist and radio programmer. His articles have appeared in CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, Mondoweiss, Pulse Media, Left Curve, The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and the Encyclopedia of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. He currently hosts a twice monthly program on international affairs for KZYX, the public radio station for Mendocino County in Northern California where he now lives.

Blankfort was a founding member of the November 29th Committee on Palestine, a co-founder of the Labor Committee on the Middle East and editor of its publication, The Middle East Labor Bulletin (1988-1995).

Thank you very much. The question I've been asked to address today is, "Are there Israeli lobby gatekeepers and damage control squads on the left?" Speaking from 40 years' experience, the answer is clearly "yes."

Some years ago, historian and veteran left activist Lenni Brenner, who wrote extensively about Zionist and Nazi collaboration, a taboo subject for Phil over there, described the left as the rear guard of Israel lobby. He was referring not just to the unwillingness of the left in the anti-war movement to challenge or even speak about the lobby but to the efforts of the leading factions, all of whom claimed to be anti-Zionists to isolate the Palestinian struggle from protests against South African apartheid and U.S. intervention in Central America in the '80s while Israel was occupying Lebanon and during the first Fatah and not to talk about the role of Israel in Central America and supporting South African apartheid. Thirty years later, nothing has changed. The same factions are still in control.

With Washington also being an Israel occupied territory, they have every base covered. Little wonder why the Palestine solidarity movement has not had the slightest impact on U.S. policy in all the years it's been in existence.

Stephen Green, who examined State Department archives dealing with Israel and U.S. relationship for his book on the subject Taking Sides: America's Secret Relations with Militant Israel, concluded that after Eisenhower,

"Israel and friends of Israel in America have determined the broad outlines of U.S. policy in the region. It has been left to American presidents to implement that policy with varying degrees of enthusiasm and to deal with the tactical issues."

There's a corollary to Green's conclusion. Within the left, in general, and with the organized opposition to Israel's crimes against the Palestinians and Lebanese people, there are similar limits. The parameters in which Israel and its friends in America may be legitimately criticized without the critic being stigmatized by being called an anti-Semite have been adapted for misinformation concerning Israel - U.S. relations that has advanced over the years, largely by Professor Noam Chomsky, an admitted Zionist, and echoed by, largely and most prominently, Institute for Policy Studies' Phyllis Bennis.

To a large degree, these parameters have been accepted without question by the left by mainstream religion institutions and, sad to say, by many Palestinians and Arab-Americans. They have been spread and enforced by an influential handful of Jewish activists, most notably Bennis, who appears to play an important role behind the scenes with Jewish Voice for Peace and U.S. Committee to End the Occupation, [U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation] the two most prominent and well-financed groups dealing with Israel - Palestine conflict on the opposition.

In the media, where Jewish domination of this issue is observable—as the late Alexander Cockburn once said—Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman has been of incomparable value as a gatekeeper for AIPAC and the American Jewish establishment, about which I'll say more in a moment. Given the time limits, I'll focus on two of the most important of what might be called the "Chomsky parameters."

The first is his insistence that Israel is backed by the U.S. because it is a strategic asset, America's cop on the beat in the Middle East he has written. And it will not undertake any major action without the approval of the White House. This is simply wrong. It's also the U.S., according to Chomsky, that has led Israel in rejecting an agreement with the Palestinians, implying that Washington's opposition to Israeli settlements is a ruse, another falsehood. His distortion of the facts on the ground became enshrined in stone for the solidarity movement in 1983 with a publication of his book The Fateful Triangle: the United States, Israel and the Palestinians.

[That] an Israeli soldier has yet to shed a drop of blood on America's behalf and that Bush's father, the Bushes, father and son, paid off Israel to stay out of both Gulf Wars hasn't dissuaded Chomsky or his followers from adhering to that position. The result of this, from a political standpoint, has been that the left has allowed members of Congress who publically support Israel, particularly democrats, to go unchallenged if they are considered good on other issues.

In The Fateful Triangle, Chomsky didn't spare words describing atrocities committed by Israel during the 1982 war in Lebanon. But in a clever bait-and-switch, he placed the ultimate blame for those crimes not on Israel but on the U.S. for providing the weapons to commit those crimes. The weaponry was provided, according to Congress [Chomsky], not because of pressure on Israel by AIPAC but because the Reagan administration approved the invasion. What's telling is there's no mention of AIPAC in his entire book.

A possible reason for Chomsky placing the blame for Israel's crimes at the foot of Washington and the willingness of Israel's critics inside and outside of the Jewish community to accept it is that the alternative is something that few of them, at least publically, will acknowledge: that those responsible for the plight of the Palestinians were the Zionist Jews and their supporters around the world who, backed by no empirical power, carried out the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and the capture of the West Bank and Gaza again in 1967.

To fit that war within his analysis, Chomsky described Nasser's defeat as a "favor" to the United States. He's frequently said that, after 1948, when Israel declared statehood, it was as legitimate as any other state and should be recognized as such by the Palestinians, implying that the theft of their country, their being expelled, and the destruction of 500 Palestinian villages was something they should put behind them.

Most critics of Israel, Jews and non-Jews, don't want to acknowledge Jewish culpability for the Nakba because a notion of blaming the Jews has an ugly historical precedent, and they share the fear of provoking anti-Semitism. Thus, in the alter of protecting Jewish sensibilities, the oppression of the Palestinians continues, as does AIPAC's occupation of Congress.

Downplaying the influence of the Israel lobby in determining U.S. Middle East policies is the second of Chomsky's parameters and flows from the first. For him, the lobby is just pushing through an open door. "I don't write about it, I don't talk about it," he once wrote in explaining why he wouldn't debate the issue. The invasion of Iraq was a major threat to Chomsky's positions, particularly the attention given to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's excellent book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which attributed the launching of the war to the lobby and punctured the left mantra that it was a war for oil.

In response to that book, the first on the subject released by a major publisher in more than two decades on the subject, The Rear Guard, rallied its forces, essentially linking arms with Alan Dershowitz to dispute Mearsheimer and Walt's thesis and sully their reputations.

First on the attack, ironically, was Palestinian professor Joseph Massad, who had been targeted by a lobby group while teaching at Columbia. His experience had apparently taught him how to behave, and now the lobby leaves him alone.

Excessively long attacks on the book followed, one by longtime AIPAC apologist and Chomsky favorite Professor Stephen Zunes and another by Jewish Voice for Peace's Mitch Plitnick. Amy Goodman's response, however, took the prize for damage control because, as an untouchable icon of the left with an ever-widening listening and viewing audience, what she does and doesn't say about it of singular importance. Rather than invite either Mearsheimer or Professor Walt to be a guest on her program to discuss the book, she brought in Chomsky, who obviously hadn't read it. It was no surprise he dismissed it. Mission accomplished for both of them.

The exclusion of Mearsheimer and Walt on Goodman's show, which, on these issues, should be renamed "Damage Control Now", is, of course, an experience shared by most, if not all, of today's speakers. Telling your viewers and listeners the truth about Israel - U.S. relations, the Iraq War, and the build up to a war in Iran is clearly not on the Goodman agenda. Bringing in Chomsky to throw cold water on the Mearsheimer/Walt book was in keeping with the tradition of ignoring AIPAC. She never reports on the almost unanimous votes on sanctions legislation against Israel's enemies that AIPAC drafts for Congress, nor on its annual policy conferences here in Washington, which are not insignificant events.

Even the public confrontation between Obama and AIPAC over new sanctions has rated only a single headline on which she now intones everyday as the war and peace report. What Goodman also shares with Chomsky and Bennis and other of her frequent guests is their silence concerning the network of pro-Israel think tanks that dominate the Washington Beltway.

We had to learn about the Project for the New American Century from the Scottish Morning Herald years after PNAC initiated and made up of prominently Jewish neocons began promoting regime change in Iraq. Today, we hear nary a word or its successors the Foreign Policy Initiative and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which sprang into existence the day after 9/11, both of which also are dominated by Jewish neocons, some the very same ones.

When on a panel here in 2011, during AIPAC's policy conference, I asked an audience of over 100 people who had attended an ostensibly anti-AIPAC event an hour earlier if they had heard of either one of these organizations. Only one hand went up. How many here have heard of the Foreign Policy Initiative? Not many. How about Foundation for Defense of Democracies? Not many. You should wonder why not.

Then there's the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, or WINEP, whose resident experts are quoted on a daily basis by The New York Times and other national media on Middle East issues and routinely testify before Congress on issues affecting Israel. Who, aside from the present company, knows that it was created by AIPAC in 1985 to do exactly what it is doing now? That is, founding director Martin Indyk and one of his leading spokespersons, David Makovsky, were appointed by John Kerry to bridge the differences between Israelis and Palestinians during the phony peace talks that are now going on. That should be news, no? No. Not at least for the mainstream media, nor for Chomsky, Bennis, or Goodman, nor for their followers, nor for the left, nor for the Palestinians who they have managed to fool.

In his biography, Colin Powell blamed the war on Iraq on "the JINSA crowd," the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. How many readers of this book have ever heard of it? How many people outside of this room that has been around since 1976 and a Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, Jeane Kirkpatrick, Paul Wolfowitz, and former CIA chief James Woolsey have been among its members should be news, no? No. Not for our damage control trio and those who worship them uncritically.

One may argue that they know their audience and only say what their audience wants to hear. The role of the gatekeepers is to keep it that way. In 1991, speaking at Berkeley, Chomsky was asked by an Iraqi-American in the audience about the role of the Israel lobby in pushing George Bush, Sr., to attack in Iraq in 1991. To the loud applause of his fans in the audience, Chomsky said the lobby played no role. It wasn't true, but it was what they wanted to hear.

Chomsky's Fateful Triangle was a polemic designed to prove that supporting Israel has been high on the agenda of every U.S. president that followed Eisenhower. When it hasn't, he simply ignores it. That's why there's no mention of Kennedy in his book. Kennedy strongly opposed Israel developing nuclear weapon and was the last president to do so.

He also supported the Palestinian right of return and wanted implemented to some degree. At the time of his murder, his Justice Department, under brother Bobby, was engaged in a serious effort to get the American Zionist Council, a creation of Israel's Jewish Agency, to register a foreign agent, and it became AIPAC.

All these positions were red lines, as far as Israel was concerned. Why didn't Chomsky mention them in his book or mention them since? Why also didn't he mention Gerald Ford's delaying a major weapons shipment to Israel in 1975 for six months when he [Israel] refused to disengage from Sinai land captured in the '73 war and Ford's concurrent threat to call on Israel to return to the '67 borders, which AIPAC was able to stymie.

Later, he'd tell his readers that George Bush, Sr., who went on national TV to block Israel's request for $10 billion of loan guarantees and who, when vice president, wanted to sanction Israel both after bombing the Iraq Osirak reactor and after invading Lebanon, that he was ardently pro-Israel. Chomsky said he was pro-Israel, and the Israelis would find that very ironic. As a matter of fact, Moshe Arons wrote a whole book about attacking George Bush Sr.

I believe these historical errors and omissions on Chomsky's part are not accidental, anymore than those of Goodman or Bennis. We have to answer them with the truth, and this conference is a way to begin.

Thank you very much.

Speaker Transcripts Audio and Video


Questions? Email to

© Copyright 2014.  All Rights reserved.