Paul Findley, They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby (Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill and Company, 1985).
A long-running debate among critics of US policy toward the Palestinian-Israeli conflict concerns the extent to which this policy is influenced by domestic pressure groups, especially the Zionist lobby. Conservatives, Arab government officials and many Arab nationalists argue that well-intentioned US presidents and members of Congress are forced to adopt a skewed pro-Israel stance by a powerful, ethnically based, single-issue domestic lobby. Even US officials have argued that “the Lobby” has prevented them from pursuing a more enlightened approach. Leftists, on the other hand, have argued that US policy fundamentally derives from a calculation that sees advantage in a well-armed militarist ally in the Middle East and that hostility to the aspirations of the Palestinian people is typical of its policies towards all national liberation movements.
Paul Findley, a conservative Republican congressman from Illinois for 22 years, has compiled an impressive and compelling array of real-life episodes illustrating what he believes is the uncontested and overwhelming influence exerted by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other pro-Israel pressure groups on the legislative and executive branches of government and academic and media circles. This account is descriptive and does not pretend to deal with the “whys” of US policy or the dynamics of the Zionist movement in this country. Yet the sheer number of battles the Zionist lobby has waged and won on both the national and local levels, and the striking similarities in the baptisms of fire suffered by those, big and small, who dared to speak out publicly against Israel policies, make it impossible for radicals to dismiss the Zionist lobby argument as irrelevant apologia.
The strongest parts of the book are the first two chapters, where Findley outlines the spectacle of a deficit-conscious Congress competing with President Reagan to increase aid to Israel. Goaded on by AIPAC, Congress also voted to subsidize Israel’s war industry to the apparent detriment of its US counterpart, and diligently worked to undermine administration policy toward the “moderate” kingdoms of Jordan and Saudi Arabia. All this leads Findley to conclude that “AIPAC has effectively gained control of virtually all of Capitol Hill’s actions on Middle East policy.”
AIPAC has also led a relentless campaign against perceived "pro-Arab" bias in the universities and the media. Blacklisting of professors and journalists, the concerted three-year campaign leading to the liquidation of the outreach program of the University of Arizona’s Near Eastern Center and the Washington Post’s acquiescence in placing a representative of a Zionist lobby group as a “fairness” observer in the Post newsroom for one week are just a few examples of how, Findley asserts, the very basic right of Americans to free speech is being stifled. Especially disconcerting to Findley is the increasing ease with which the charge of anti-Semitism is leveled at any one who is even mildly critical of Israeli government policy. He also cautions the reader about two more recent developments: the “unprecedented intimacy” between the Lobby and the White House under Reagan, and the growing alliance between right-wing fundamentalist groups and the Israeli government.
What explains the success of the Zionist Lobby in spite of the fact that many of its partisan goals run counter to US public opinion? Findley mentions a number of factors in passing: demographic concentration of Jews in states crucial to national elections, ability to mobilize campaign resources and to generate intense political pressure through grassroots organizing, and a high degree of motivation. Yet rarely do Jews constitute more than 1 percent of the population of any one congressional district and, despite the mushrooming of pro-Israel political action committees (PACs), all those who have been targeted by AIPAC for defeat were generally able to raise an amount of campaign funds roughly equivalent to their Zionist-supported challengers. Most Jews, in addition, are not single-issue voters. These qualifications, while recognized by Findley, are dismissed with the argument that the very perception of AIPAC controlling the substantial financial and political resources of the entire Jewish community, as well as their unique ability to sustain unrelenting pressure, is enough to explain their hegemony over this aspect of US foreign policy. He goes as far as to claim that “the Lobby’s influence rests mainly on mythology which a reasonably broad educational program can readily destroy.”
While the dissemination of objective and balanced information on the Middle East is urgently needed to overcome the current ignorance and racist stereotyping of Arabs, it must seem curious to many that the very concrete and joint economic, strategic and military interests that tie Israel and the United States together are not mentioned anywhere in the book. It is precisely these shared interests that provide the positive atmosphere in which the Zionist lobby operates. In the final analysis, the “special relationship” between the US and Israel does not emanate from nor depend on the presence of the Zionist lobby.
The real issue, then, is not who decides US Middle East policy, but who maps its specific terrain as it moves along its historically determined coordinates. Israel, like South Africa, has become a regional power with its own agenda. In spite or because of its heavy dependence on US aid, it has sought to create wide room for maneuver. The Zionist lobby’s unwavering support for the Israeli government’s specific agenda, even at the expense of the other apparent American interests in the region, raises the question: Does the Zionist lobby’s zeal to maintain Israel as the chief, if not the sole, ally in the region narrow Washington’s own options to the point of paralysis? When the issue is framed this way, one can point to specific instances, such as recent arms sales to Jordan and Saudi Arabia, where a narrow Israeli perspective prevailed. But what is most notable is the complete lack of any serious effort on the part of strategists and policymakers to differentiate US from Israeli interests in the region. Has the lobby imposed itself on the Reagan administration, or has the administration embraced the lobby as a powerful advocate for policies which, broadly speaking, it is quite happy with?
Two other important factors that provide the context for the lobby’s success are not mentioned by Findley. First, there is the political unreliability of Arab regimes that are despised by the majority of their own people, and the extensive disarray of the Arab state system. Second, there seems to be a convergence between the rising currents of fascism in Israel and the US. The Israeli government is no longer alone in advocating quick military solutions to rooted social problems, nor in branding all antagonists as “terrorists.”
At its best, Findley’s book is a powerful indictment of the “McCarthyism” of the Zionist lobby and, incidentally, a sad commentary on the opportunism and sheeplike behavior of many congresspeople, public officials, media executives and academic administrators. Unfortunately, the dozens of cases it relates have already been buried under a pile of others since the book was published. The murder of Alex Odeh and the firebombing of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee national headquarters are but two recent reminders of the high price some pay for daring to speak out.