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Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Israel lobby and Western shared values

Egypt's Al Ahram recently published an op-ed, republished in Al-Arabiya, about the challenges the Arab world has in trying to come up with its own version of the "Zionist lobby." The author, Ayman El-Amir, starts off with "what everybody knows":
Ask any Arab politician, diplomat, foreign policy guru, media practitioner, political activist or Arab-American of any vocation about the secret of Israel's iron grip hold on the formulation and direction of U.S. foreign policy, and the answer comes directly: it's the Zionist lobby. Hundreds of articles, books and debates have been published about the mythical powers of this lobby, how it can make or break careers in the U.S. Congress, the junkets it organizes for high-profile or rising journalists, business leaders and promising young political apprentices to Israel.

Its intimidating influence on senators and congressmen, media magnates, academia, the intelligence community, its fund-raising activities and, above all, its deep and public infiltration of the Pentagon -- the dwelling of the Olympians who run the American war machine -- are all a matter of record. What this lobby has done over the past 40 years to dovetail Israeli interests into U.S. foreign policy, and sometimes make them superior to U.S. concerns, is stupendous. One of its many successes has been the neutralization of any Arab counter-lobby. And the Arabs are watching helplessly.
But when he starts talking about the difficulties that Arabs face in building their own lobby, he accidentally stumbles onto a real truth:
So what do Arab governments or peoples have in common with the U.S. that policymakers can take seriously as influential in formulating domestic or foreign policy?

In the U.S., the Arabs are not a solid voting bloc that politicians running for public office weigh carefully in drafting their policy agenda. They are not a significant source of campaign funding; on the contrary, their contributions could be a source of embarrassment for candidates who want to court the Jewish vote, and they all do. Looking at the Arabs on their own turf from a distance could hardly evoke a sense of joy, admiration or partnership for the average American, from the perspective of his or her value system. What shared values can be found in the area of human rights, the rule of law and equality before it, free elections of government and the free will to change it, or respect for the rights of women and their promotion?

Israel, on the other hand, is perceived as the only democracy in the region, not because it is really so, but because there are no other democratic systems in the region to match. Israel's racist policies towards the Palestinians, its brutal occupation and the threat of its nuclear arsenal, appear matters of little concern. In short, to the average American there is nothing in the Arab value system that he or she can identify with, unlike the pro-Western Israeli model.
The author seems to be saying that the main leverage of the Arab lobby is, simply, oil:
From the viewpoint of vital interests, the Arabs should have the strongest influence on US foreign policy, given its concern that oil flows freely to American shores.
Of course, it never occurs to even the more intelligent Arabs that the shared values mentioned are more important than the legendary organizational expertise of the Israel lobby in influencing who Americans identify with.
In spite of present difficulties, a potentially effective Arab special interest group in the U.S. is not impossible. However, it has to be home grown and based on grassroots action. It cannot misrepresent dictatorship as democracy, rigged elections as free and fair, police state tactics as maintaining the rule of law, or the abuse of women as respected traditional values.
So what can the Arabs do?
...the Arabs have placed all their assets in the hands of the US, including their natural resources, the value of their strategic location and the defense of their wealth and territories. They have thus lost any measure of leverage, which is the name of the game.
The answer is, simply, use oil as a weapon.

While El-Amir shows more understanding of the US than the average Arab pundit, he still doesn't get it.

America was built and relies on the same values that Israel demonstrates every day. True, the giant oil companies, the "public" media that they fund, and the State Department will tend to lean towards placating the Arabs because of oil. Yet average Americans are more interested in stopping the US dependence on corrupt, misogynist, Arab kleptocracies and the natural resources they had the dumb luck to be on top of, and they prefer to identify with the brave Zionists who built a vibrant nation from scratch - the Protestant work ethic and the American pioneering spirit being actualized in ways that are otherwise unimaginable.

Not to mention the successes Israel has had in fighting the shared dangers of Islamic and Arab terror.

The people who made their fortunes from oil think that it is Jewish money that is the major influence on American foreign policy, and they just do not get that money is not what Americans admire - it is getting results from a combination of brains and hard work. It is individual effort, not inheriting millions of cubic feet of dead dinosaurs. The Israel lobby benefits from existing American values; the Arab lobby is trying to change those values.