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Obama more likely to succumb to Israeli lobby
By Musa Keilani August 28, 2010
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We know that there is a strong Israeli lobby in Washington that is capable of turning things around to suit Israel’s interests. We have been experiencing the machinations of that lobby for decades now. It is indeed the biggest obstacle in the way of a fair and just solution to the Palestinian problem since it wields so much of financial and political clout to dissuade the US president from pressuring Israel into accepting the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people as the basis for a peace agreement.

Now, is there an Arab lobby in Washington? There is indeed, according to a new book written by Mitchell Bard, said to be an American expert on the Middle East. The book, titled Arab Lobby, according Yitzhak Benhorin of Israel’s on-line Ynet news, is a counter argument to those who warn of the influence of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in Washington.

The book says that “one of the most important distinguishing characteristics of the Arab lobby is that it has no popular support. While the Israeli lobby has hundreds of thousands of grass root members and public opinion polls consistently reveal a huge gap between support for Israel and the Arab nations-Palestinians, the Arab lobby has almost no foot soldiers or public sympathy.

It’s most powerful elements tend to be bureaucrats who represent only their personal views or what they believe are their institutional interests, and foreign governments that care only about their national interests, not those of the United States.”

Bard goes on to say that “What they lack in human capital in terms of American advocates, they make up for with almost unlimited resources to try to buy what they usually cannot win on the merits of their arguments.”

In the absence of such support, Saudi Arabia, which, according to Bard, heads the Arab lobby, has taken a different tact from the Israeli lobby, focusing a top-down rather than bottom-up approach to lobbying.”

Commenting on the book, lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz has written, as quoted in the Ynet news article: “The primary means by which the Saudis exercise this influence is money. They spend enormous amounts of lucre to buy (or rent) former State Department officials, diplomats, White House aides, and legislative leaders who become their elite lobbying corps. ....The Saudis let it be known that if current government officials want to be hired following their retirement from government service, they had better hew to the Saudi line while they are serving in our government.”

If that is indeed the case, why are we not seeing the results of such influence? Again the focus shifts to the deep roots that the Israeli lobby, led by the AIPAC, has in the American financial and political establishment. While the Arabs who migrated to the US last century were always more occupied in establishing themselves in their new home, Jewish migrants there, including those who fled Nazi Germany, dedicated time also to building political connections. And the result is what we are seeing today.

According to the New York Times, the AIPAC is “the most important organisation affecting America’s relationship with Israel.” It is one — if not the strongest — of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington. Critics call it an agent of the Israeli government with a “stranglehold” on the US Congress. That is indeed true.

A simple example of that was the way American legislators reacted to President Barack Obama’s snubbing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu early this year. Almost every member of the US Congress warned Obama and insisted that he made up with Netanyahu. And Obama had no choice. He was forced to invite Netanyahu back to the White House in July and go through a series of motions and gestures to reaffirm that the US remained committed to a strong relationship with Israel (and implicitly subservient to the Jewish state).

The Arab American Institute says that there are approximately 3.5 million people of Arab heritage in the US today. About 50 per cent of them live in five states — California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York. Nearly 40 per cent of these Arab Americans are Lebanese, mostly Christians, who could not be expected to be strong sympathisers of the Palestinian cause.

Steven Emerson, American journalist and author, wrote in 2003: “Assessing the influence and breadth of the Arab/Muslim lobby would be a difficult thing to do, since the metrics for assessing such things are not easily available. The lobby’s real strength is felt on the local level, where its members receive community awards, participate in human relations councils, change the local educational curricula, persuade school districts to give them holidays off, and get local police and statewide officials to attend their events.

Nationally, their influence is felt at the State Department in terms of their being invited to briefings, sponsored on road trips abroad, etc.”

The Arab lobby in Washington is tied up with the various Arab American groups which seek to protect the interests of Arab Americans. They do have their clout in the US Congress but far too weak when compared with the AIPAC and others.

Many of the Arab American activists know well that it is indeed an impossible mission, under the given elements at play in American politics, to persuade any US administration into adopt practical action to address the Arab-Israeli conflict in a fair and just manner.

Their awareness of this reality renders many of them inherently weak. And the sense of a common cause, as far as the Palestinian problem is concerned, takes a back seat when individual Arab governments seek their help to serve Arab national interests.

That is the key problem in building a strong and influential Arab lobby capable of ensuring that Washington would insist on fairness and justice in any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

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