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Netanyahu and the Crumbling Israeli Lobby

Support for the Likud prime minister's hardline policies is fading among American Jews and Christians alike.
Netanyahu wolf blitzer

Jewish resistance to Netanyahu’s invitation by Republicans to address Congress is showing cracks in the Israeli Lobby’s influence over Congress. The leading Jewish newspaper Forward reports, “the biggest casualties may be the normally omnipotent pro-Israel lobby and its allies in the Jewish community, who have seen their credibility and political power severely shaken.” CNN reports that 63 percent of American oppose the invitation.

The Israeli Lobby represents less than half of American Jews. The real lobby today is an amalgam of mainly older Jews, evangelical Armageddon believers, and the military-industrial complex, which prospers from unending wars and chaos in the Middle East. A recent Pew poll shows 31 percent of Jews do not feel attached to the state of Israel while another 39 percent feel only “somewhat” attached. A massive 83 percent think that construction of settlements on Palestinian lands on the West Bank do not help Israeli security. Sixty-two percent believe that the Israeli government is not negotiating in good faith with the Palestinians.

Media reporting about the growing American Jewish opposition to Israel’s Likud Party hawks is especially scarce. Republican media such as the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages and Fox News disregard such news. I have attended three meetings of the pro-peace and fast-growing Jewish organization J Street. The last meeting’s dinner banquet in 2013 was attended by 60 members of Congress and sponsored by 41 major Jewish organizations. (I wrote about their counter-influence in “J Street and the Israeli Lobby,” reporting on how so many Jews oppose the Israeli government’s hawkish Likud regime of Netanyahu.) Rarely in America does one see such exhibits as one finds at their meetings that show the suffering of the Palestinians under Israel’s brutal occupation and the many Jewish groups trying to alleviate their suffering. There are many other Jewish and Israeli organizations promoting compromise and peace with the Palestinians, as well.

The hawkish Israeli Lobby’s massive strength in Congress depends for its power upon a myth—that it represents nearly all American Jews. Instead, today it depends upon others, especially Bible Belt Republican evangelicals—think Mike Huckabee. About them I once wrote “The Strangest Alliance in History,” explaining how each side thought it was using and fooling the other. Above all it is their longing for Armageddon that motivates many so-called Christian Zionists. They fervently believe and want Israel to help bring about the end times. Indeed I called them the Armageddon Lobby. Journalist Max Blumenthal recently did video interviews of some of these evangelical supporters of hardline Israeli policies, including former Republican congressional leader Tom Delay, at the massive convention of Christians United for Israel. Delay said how he longed for the end times, which “our connection” to Israel would help bring about. Others voiced similar aspirations.

Yet there is now extraordinary ferment, especially among younger evangelicals, questioning and weakening Christian Right support. Fifty-eight years after Israel’s founding, the idea of imminent Armageddon, promised in the Scofield Bible, is wearing thin. The Middle East Quarterly reports, “How quickly things change. The days of taking evangelical support for Israel for granted are over … anti-Israel Christians are penetrating the evangelical world at its soft underbelly, the millennial generation. Young believers are rebelling against … the excessive biblical literalism of their parents … as they strive to imitate Jesus’s stand with the oppressed and downtrodden.” The article’s author, CUFI executive director David Brog, warns that polling shows only 30 percent of evangelicals sympathize with Israel, while 49 percent sympathize with Israelis and Palestinians equally. Brog warns, “The day that Israel is seen as the moral equivalent of Hamas is the day that the evangelical community will cease providing the Jewish state any meaningful support.” An article in Counterpunch, “Christian Evangelicals Increasingly Support Palestinian Human Rights,” has very detailed information on all sorts of changes and challenges to the formerly monolithic Israeli Lobby.

Allied with the Christian Zionists is much of the military-industrial complex. It is a key industry in many congressional districts benefiting from unending wars, that create more and more enemies for America. See “The Unholy Alliance Between the Military-Security-Industrial Complex and the Israel Lobby,” which explains how “irrational and conflicting U.S. policies in the Middle East are quite logical from the viewpoint of economic and geopolitical beneficiaries of war.” Noam Chomsky argues that the military-industrial complex’s “lobbying influence and campaign contributions far surpass that of the much-vaunted Zionist lobby and its allied donors to congressional races.”

Republican pandering to the hardline Israeli Lobby through Netanyahu and his push for America to start a third war against another Muslim nation, this time with Iran, may not be so politically beneficial as the GOP’s leaders imagine.

Jon Basil Utley is publisher of The American Conservative.