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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

  Does Israel act like a U.S. ally?
(Video YouTube, Audio MP3)

by Ray McGovern is a retired CIA officer who holds an M.A. in Russian Studies from Fordham University, a certificate in Theological Studies from Georgetown University, and who is a graduate of Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program.

McGovern was a CIA analyst from 1963 to 1990

In the 1980s he chaired National Intelligence Estimates and prepared the President's Daily Brief. He received the Intelligence Commendation Medal at his retirement.   

McGovern's current work includes commentating on intelligence issues and in 2003 co-founding Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.

As I look out at this room, I see a lot of gutsy people but no more gutsy than Medea Benjamin who's with us here. Medea, are you in the house? It's sort of painful for Medea to stand up because she, they dislocated her shoulder for her, and I know how painful that is. Welcome back, Medea.

Is Ann Wright -- are the others still camped out on the tarmac there at Cairo Airport, or have they been able to get into Gaza?

MEDEA BENJAMIN FROM AUDIENCE: The ones in the airport have all been deported. Ann Wright is one of the few that actually got into Cairo, and she is still there but not able to go to Gaza.

MR. MCGOVERN: Not able to go to Gaza. You're going to Gaza for International Women's Day, correct?


MR. MCGOVERN: So there are a lots of people that give me a lot of courage, you know. Really. I see a lot right out here. And I wear this bracelet that Rachel Corrie's dad gave me all the time. So I'd like to say Rachel Corrie presente, presente. And all it says is Rachel Corrie, April 10, 1979 - March 16, 2003.

Anybody see any significance to March 16, 2003? When was that? Right, two days before the war started. Why do you suppose they did it then? Why do you suppose the Israeli bulldozer was given the go ahead to run over Rachel and then the instruction to back over her to make sure that her back was broken? Because they knew that war was brewing, the headlines would be dominated by the war, and that if Rachel Corrie's assassination or her murder made the back pages, they were lucky. And, of course, they were right. A very cynical calculation.

The other person that I would simply call attention to is Alison Weir who has faced her own bulldozers, figuratively speaking, so far at least. And there are a lot of people facing bulldozers out there. They give me a lot of courage. And when I look at this bracelet, I say, well, if Rachel Corrie can do that, I can do whatever I feel called to do.

Is Israel really a U.S. ally? Well, if you look at the dictionary, there's a definition for ally, and it says an ally is a country with whom your country has a mutual defense treaty. Oh, wow. Is that too literal?

Well, I was speaking to a bunch of congressmen one time, congress people, and I said, hey, these are lawmakers, they should probably know that Israel is not our ally and for them to keep talking about our ally Israel, our ally, well, you know, juridically speaking, without a mutual defense treaty, that's not quite right. That's not quite right. Now, that's the first point.

The other point is simply that after the 1973 war where the Arabs did attack Israel, there were all kinds of plans as to how to prevent this from happening again. And some of my former colleagues were involved in taking soundings among high Arab leaders and so forth, and the idea was maybe we'll offer Israel a mutual defense treaty and then, you know, nobody will try that again.

So we broached it to the Israelis. This is not widely known. And the Israelis said, "Well, you know, that's really sweet. Thank you very much, but no thanks." Now, why do you suppose a country would turn down a mutual defense treaty with the strongest nation in the world? Well, treaties require mutually internationally-recognized borders, you know, and that's kind of a sticky wicket there, you know.

The other thing is that treaties usually require, as Paul said, you know, sort of a modicum of sharing of information. If you're going to attack another country, you should really let your ally know, oh, by the way, next week, we're going to attack Syria or next week we're going to, you know, and the Israelis didn't want to, didn't want to bother with that because it's far easier for them, in their view, to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.

You probably have heard the old saw that some people wanted to make Israel the 51st state. And Likud objected vehemently saying, no, that would mean we'd only have two senators.

Now, I had an old Russian teacher who used to say this point, "Why [What] are you laughing? Who are you laughing? This is nothing to laugh," okay? She couldn't get it, you know, that laugh was not really a transitive verb in English. But this is really nothing to laugh.

Is Israel a U.S. ally? Well, I had a chance to raise this issue directly on C-SPAN. It happened in June of 2005. The scene was John Conyers' room that they gave him for a briefing on the Downing Street Memo. Now, the Downing Street Memo was published in The London Times, no left-wing rag, The London Times. It was a literal rendition of what Sir Richard Dearlove brought home to London after he talked with George Tenet, the head of the CIA, and was told, A, the president had decided to attack Iraq; 2, it would be justified by the conjunction of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction (translation: we're going to say that Saddam Hussein has all manner of weapons of mass destruction and he's going to give them to terrorists); and then the crowning sentence, the one that intelligence analysts or investigators, you know, sort of pine after, lust after, "And the facts and the intelligence are being fixed around the policy." Hello? Genuine document, acknowledged as authentic by Tony Blair and others.

And so there it was. Guess what? The media really didn't, they missed it. The American media missed it. And by the time Conyers got this little briefing, he couldn't call it a hearing because he wasn't in the majority, in the bottom of the Capitol, that was six weeks after the publication by The London Times.

So, finally, the day before the meeting, Conyers and I were on Amy Goodman. And, luckily, I had a chance to look at  that morning, and, sure enough, they broke their silence, and what they said was, "What's this big deal about the Downing Street Memo? We knew all that stuff all along." I couldn't believe it, you know? They knew all that stuff all along and, yet, they were cheering for the war.

Well, during the course of that briefing, I had a chance to answer some questions. Since there were no weapons of mass destruction and since there were no ties between Iraq and Al-Qaeda, the congress people who kept coming in, there were about enough seats for 10 or 12 of them, they were all democrats, they kept coming in and switching around for, you know, people could stay for five or ten minutes.

One of them, Jim Moran of Alexandria, finally said, you know, "Could somebody help me out here? I mean, it wasn't weapons of mass destruction, it wasn't terror, so what was it?" I mean, hello? What was going on here? And so I looked around and saw that nobody else was, none of the other panelists were really interested in answering that, so I said, "Well, I've been lecturing around to the universities, and I use an acronym, OIL." And the congress people looked at me, and I said, "O for oil, I for Israel," (inaudible). The congress people, you know, a lot of progressives there, all froze up. And I said, "Well, that's interesting," and I said, "L for logistics," logistics for the permanent milit-- well, we don't say permanent anymore. Please. What do we say?


MR. MCGOVERN: Right. Believe me for all those enduring young military bases. Give me a break. What's the difference between enduring and permanent? You know, enduring sounds more endearing, I guess. Anyhow, we were already on to that. They've got to be enduring, they can't be permanent, okay?

So I went through that, and then I thought, wow, you know, these people are really objecting to what I said about Israel. So I simply said, "Well, you know, it's well known that the U.S. and Israel is determined to dominate that part of the world." And they're looking at me like this, and it was really (inaudible). And I said, you know, I'm thinking, wow, you know, here's this C-SPAN cameras and, you know, I'm an intelligence analyst and I'm not running for anything and I don't need any money and I tell it like it is. That's my whole profession. So I said, "You know, you ought to realize that not only is Israel not our ally, but General Scowcroft has just got finished telling The Financial News that Ariel Sharon has our president wrapped around his little finger and that he's got our president mesmerized."

So I said, well, okay, now I'll maybe cease or desist, but it was really, really quite a exhibition of how delicate, how explosive this issue was. And I was violating the, you know, all the rules of what you say when the cameras are on.

Jon Stewart, by the way, my children told me Jon Stewart referred to all this three days later and said, "That McGovern, that McGovern, he's violating the rules for acronyms. You can't have an acronym that spells out the word that you really mean. OIL, oh, that's wrong," and he ranted for about five minute, and I was just delighted. There was the O-I-L right there.

So, now, the military permanent or enduring military bases, well, we didn't get them, did we? So that one sort of -- oil? I don't think anybody in this room, I hope not anyway, will argue that if Iraq didn't sit on all that oil that we would have gone in there anyway. I don't think that's . . .

So what about the Israeli thing? Well, my experience, I think, was worth a thousand words. When I got finished, I had got a little telephone call to be on Lehrer, and I'm walking across the mall, and one of the correspondents that was covering us in this little room in the Capitol puppy-dogged after me asking why I was anti-Semitic, why was I anti-Semitic, why was I anti-Semitic? And I said, "I'm not anti-Semitic," you know, "I'm from the Bronx. My father has an honorary degree from Yeshiva University." "What do you mean? You're anti-Semitic."

Well, the next day, the press, of course, rang several changes on this theme what I had said was anti-Semitic, and, sure enough, three hours, three hours after I had finished testifying, the three representatives from New York City and thereabouts issued a statement and said, "This is terrible. What McGovern said was anti-Semitic. Who's trying to dominate this part of the Middle East? Of course not us," and that he should be upbraided for what he said.

So that was the tenor of the reaction. And I guess I shouldn't have been surprised and I was glad that I wasn't running for office or that I didn't need any money.

So then what happened was really interesting. Howard Dean, Howard Dean, head of the DNC at the time, he issued a statement, the same statement as came out of the congress people from New York, who, incidentally, said, "If we were in the room, we would have (inaudible)." But they were in the room and they didn't say anything. They were just too shocked.

So Howard Dean did the same thing, you know, saying, well, that's odd, you know. Here's Howard Dean. He blew his chance just because the media did a job on him. He, at one point, made a point of saying, well, you know, we might be just a little bit, maybe not really evenhanded but a little more evenhanded on the Israeli -- and so they did a job on him and now he's criticizing me for being anti-Semitic.

Well, two days later, a friend of mine called from Dallas, and she's very high in the Democratic Party there. And she said, "Ray, I was just with Howard Dean. He's doing a fundraiser out here. It was amazing. I said, ‘Hey, what did you think about that Downing Street Memo hearing? and he said, ‘It was awful, it was terrible." She said, "What do you mean? They had the goods on Tony Blair and Bush. He said, ‘no no no that anti-Semitic guy.’" She says, "You mean Ray McGovern?" "Yes, I think (inaudible)." She said, "He's a good friend of mine." "Well, he may be a friend of yours, but he caused me all kinds of problems. I had to come back in, interrupt dinner, come back in, answer phone calls from all the usual suspects. And, look, these people are the real deal, okay? Not little punk, you know, a million dollars here, a million dollars, like in Dallas. These are the real deal. This is Foxman and everybody else. So, look, he gave me all kinds of problems. You know. He's a real anti-Semite.

Now, what was my reaction to that? Well, I know Howard Dean. I used to caddy, I used to caddy for his parents, and I watched him as a little twerp with his madras shorts and his alligator shirt on trying to learn how to play golf, you know.

Now, the thing is that this was at a very exclusive golf course on the dunes of the Atlantic in East Hampton, Long Island, okay? What does that mean? Well, for those of you not from New York, maybe you don't know what exclusive is, all right? Well, all right, maybe you do. Okay. That means that Howard Dean couldn't take his wife to lunch at the Maidstone club, and I'm going, oh, you know. It doesn't help to be Irish when you get angry. Luckily, people reined me in and told me, "Look, they're trying to make it about your anti-Semitism, Ray. Don't let them do that to you."

What's the point here? Well, the point I guess is that one has to expect this kind of thing and one has to persist. And what I'd like to do is just go from the general to the particular just for another minute. I'm running a little -- well, I'm doing all right, I guess.

MR. GIRALDI: We're running out of time.

MR. MCGOVERN: Are we? Okay, all right. All I want to say is that if you run from general to the specific, I had a conversation with Dahr Jamail this week. I saw him on Amy Goodman on Tuesday. He was talking about Fallujah. And Fallujah, my friends, is America's shame. America's shame. Depleted uranium, white phosphorus, all kinds of genetic defects.

The point I just want to make is who knows how Fallujah started? Oh, everybody thinks Blackwater guys, right? Yes. It wasn't the Blackwater guys. It was the assassination of Sheikh Yassin, a blind, old, crippled cleric in Gaza, well, he was a spiritual leader of Gaza, by the Israelis on the 22nd of March, 2004. That's a week before those Blackwater guys got misdirected, and two days later they were killed and then dragged through the streets, okay? And then three days later, the U.S. started what the UN representative called reprisal raids on Fallujah. That's what happens when people identify the United States with the kind of assassination techniques that the Israelis are doing.

I want to close now and simply refer to one of my favorite prophets, who was mentioned before, Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who said, "When injustice takes place, few are guilty but all are responsible." He added, "Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself." Indifference to evil more insidious than evil itself. So if Barack Obama and John Kerry are indifferent to evil, we can't just say, oh, (yawns), you know. It's really up to us, folks. It's really up to us.

And there's nothing in the Hebrew or the Christian scriptures that urges us to use the imperative, the imperative voice in addressing God. It seems to me that she's very offended when we use the imperative mood. I think it's idolatry. And so let's do it this way: God bless Palestine, God bless Israel, God bless the rest of the world, no exceptions. And then God bless us, too. Thanks.

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