Mohsen Abdelmoumen: What is the real weight of the Zionist organizations, such as the AIPAC and the ADL in the American political life?
Jeffrey Blankfort: It is both considerable and immeasurable and their influence can be felt, if not seen, in every critical sector of American society. AIPAC and the ADL are only the most well known among a web of powerful political organizations that function on Israel’s behalf and effectively set the parameters for US Middle East policy although for most of its sixty plus years AIPAC has preferred to limit its public profile to the political class and those who fund it. There is no lobbying group or combination of groups in the United States or elsewhere that begin to compare with the Zionist network in terms of sheer political power at every level of government, including the courts.
What I am referring to is, essentially, the Jewish political establishment, religious as well as secular, plus a number of “think tanks” and foundations that while not officially identified as Jewish or pro-Israel, function as if they are. They include the American Jewish Committee, the establishment’s foreign policy arm; theJewish Council for Public Affairs(JCPA); the national arm of Jewish Community Relations Councils across the country; The Washington Institute for Near East Policy (TWI), which was founded by AIPAC in 1985 to take a more direct role in influencing Congress and setting policy; the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), a neocon stronghold which former Secretary of State Colin Powell later blamed for the Iraq war; Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) and theFoundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the successor organizations to PNAC (Project for a New American Century; the Saban Forum of the Brookings Institution, initiated and paid for by Israeli-American Haim Saban, the biggest contributor to both of the Clintons; and The Israel Project (TIP) which propagandizes the media and has on its advisory board 25 members of the US Congress (12 Senate; 13 House), to name the most important.
Most of them are based in Washington while the ADL has its main office in New York City across from the United Nations. All, however, gather their strength from the “grassroots,” the Jewish organizations that exist in cities where Jews can be found in substantial numbers, primarily the aforementioned Jewish Community Relations Councils, and from wealthy Jewish businessmen and women, wherever they happen to live, who function as ambassadors/agents for Israel within their respective states and local communities.
While they comprise a minority of America’s six million Jews, 20-30% at the most, their organizational capabilities, dedication to the Zionist cause, and their willingness to use their considerable affluence to advance what they perceive to be Israel’s interests, more than make up for any shortcoming of numbers in a nation of 300 million people.
AIPAC’s role is to draft legislation favoring Israeli policies and make sure it has support from both Democrats and Republicans. In return, AIPAC guides individual Jews and a variety of Israel-oriented political action communities or PACs to the members of Congress most in need of their contributions at election time with a special emphasis on those who sit on committees involved in either establishing levels of foreign aid or advising the White House on foreign policy.
Every year, AIPAC’s national policy conference in Washington DC is the biggest event of the political season. Between one half and two thirds of the members of Congress usually attend and their names are read off, as if they were on an honor roll in order to attract the attention of prospective donors.
In addition, AIPAC branches in major cities host fancy lunches and dinners for local politicians, such as mayors, supervisors, city council members, police chiefs, school officials, etc. which are addressed by a major speaker, usually a governor or senator from another state, of which the press is neither notified or invited.
In succeeding months, local JCRCs or other Jewish organizations will send some of those local officials on all expense paid group trips to Israel where they will meet the prime minister, the president, the army chief of staff, visit the Yad Vashem holocaust museum, and take a tour of the settlements, accompanied by wealthy Jewish businessmen who they can later expect to “assist” them in the furtherance of their political careers.
Trips to Israel by members of Congress are paid for by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), a tax-exempt organization run by AIPAC that claims to be a charity but is simply a front organization designed to get around anti-lobbying laws that would prevent AIPAC paying for the trips directly.
There is no real counterpart to AIPAC or the scores of pro-Israel Jewish-American organizations in the Arab-American community or among its supporters. But more significantly, the Palestine solidarity movement, for the most part, behaves as if this Zionist leviathan does not exist.
This state of affairs is due in a large part to the fact that important spokespersons for the Palestinian cause, most notably Noam Chomsky, continue to minimize the role played by AIPAC and other Zionist organizations in influencing US Middle East policy. Most recently, on the day before Netanyahu’s appearance before the US Congress, the significance of which he downplayed, Chomsky insisted that Israel remains an “offshore US military base.” Unfortunately, he is not willing to debate the subject.
The role of the ADL has been to intimidate critics and potential critics of Israel by either labeling them “anti-Semitic” or of “unintentionally” provoking “anti-Semitism.” It has been unusually quick to use both terms in attacking African-American critics of Israel while keeping Black politicians and community leaders dependent on contributions from Jewish donors.
Since the 1930s, it has maintained files, first on people it considered “subversive,” (pro-Communist, etc.) and then, after 1948, it began actively spying on those who criticized Israel, which it labeled “the new anti-Semitism,” among them myself. In 1993, a raid on its San Francisco office revealed that the ADL was running a nation-wide spying operation out of its New York headquarters that was probably unparalleled by any other private organization.
The spying operation involved and required close ties with the FBI and police agencies across the country, ties that have been strengthened, ironically, since the spying scandal. With little publicity outside of the Jewish community press, chiefs of police and sheriffs from US cities routinely make trips to Israel for “counter-terrorism” training.
The ADL is also active in our public school system, shaping how textbooks describe the establishment of Israel and insuring that the Nazis’ attempted genocide of Europe’s Jews in WW2 receives more attention in American classrooms than the far more devastating genocide of the Native Americans, in terms of effect if not in numbers, and the four centuries of American slavery and decades of legalized racism against African-Americans that followed and continues to this day.
Can anyone seriously make the case that knowing what happened to the Jews in Europe, whatever its horrors, is more important for young Americans to learn about than their knowing what their ancestors did to the people whose lands we stole, whose populations were decimated, and their cultures destroyed? Or about slavery and its deadly legacy which is being played out in the cities of America every day?
You are an intellectual committed to the cause of the Palestinian people. Is it easy for an American intellectual today to be an opponent of Israeli policy in the US?
It is not easy if one wishes to have acceptance in academia and it is advisable for any professor who speaks critically of Israel or in support of the Palestinians to have tenure before doing so. Otherwise he or she may lose their position which has happened in several instances. Within the national media where the Israeli narrative is dominant, the door is effectively closed to dissenting opinions.
Speaking personally, Taking on AIPAC and the Zionist leviathan has been more problematic, since my first experiences at being censored came not from the Zionist establishment, ironically, but from within the Palestinian solidarity movement in which I had long been active.
It occurred in the mid-80s when I began speaking about the Israel Lobby, a subject that I soon learned was taboo. Jews who were influential at the leadership level of the solidarity movement were clearly troubled by what I had to say and 30 years later they still are. They prefer to point to the evils being committed by Israel against the Palestinians, take frequent trips to the West Bank and Gaza to demonstrate their solidarity credentials while ignoring the responsibility of American Jewish institutions, such as AIPAC and the ADL–never mentioning the others I noted earlier–for maintaining US support for Israel and allowing such evils.
Fear of “provoking anti-Semitism” proved to be more of a concern to them then confronting the Palestinians’ powerful domestic enemies among their fellow Jews. I would like to say that there has been significant improvement in this situation over the past quarter century but what there has been is barely perceptible. Most Jews who claim to be anti-Zionist now, like then, want to set the limits within which both Israel and the Jewish establishment may be criticized and Israel targeted with the sanctions, etc. On the other hand, most Palestinian-Americans seem so gratified to have Jewish support that they let them write the script.
Do you think that the movement BDS is gaining ground worldwide or is there still long way to go?
It is heartening to see the degree to which BDS is spreading around the globe but, unfortunately, in the US, despite various resolutions passed on college campuses and by one major church supporting BDS, there has been little material success to show for it. Since Washington provides Israel with its most essential political and military support, the situation here requires activity by pro-Palestinian activists on a wider variety of fronts than can be expected elsewhere and, with some welcome exceptions, such as billboards and bus signs in several cities calling for an end of US funding for Israel, it just has not been happening.
One problem is that too many proponents of BDS in the US act as if supporting BDS is all that needs to be done on the Palestinians’ behalf.
In this manner the US campaign for BDS is in danger of becoming as counter-productive as have been those vague demands, “End the Occupation!,” and “Two states for two peoples!” that have provided an excuse for groups across the spectrum to avoid taking on pro-Israel members of Congress at the local level and the public faces of the Zionist establishment in their respective communities.
One sign that this outcome is not unlikely is that, since 2010, apparently due to pressure from Jews within the movement, the demands for BDS in the US no longer target Israel as in the original call, but are limited to goods produced in the West Bank and to the companies that operate there.
What is your analysis regarding the situation in the Middle East with, for example, the phenomenal rise of ISIS or the status quo that prevails in the solution of the Palestinian question?
There has been a great deal of speculation as to who is behind the rise of ISIS which gained ammunition in these past days with the release of formerly classified documents from the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012 that speak of the emergence of an ISIS-like organization “establishing a declared or undeclared Salafist principality in Eastern Syria and this is what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to Isolate the Syrian regime.” The supporting powers named in the document are the Gulf countries and Turkey, whose role in supporting ISIS appears, from a distance, to have been essential to its successes thus far.
I would point out, however, that the main beneficiary from the disintegration of Iraq and Syria and the emergence of ISIS has been Israel which, from its beginning, has depended on the existence of enemies, real, potential, or imagined, to maintain critical US and Western support and justify it remaining the region’s Sparta.
The same can be said for the American Zionist establishment which would lose its political power, “evaporate,” as one Israeli-American critic put it, if Israel was at peace with its neighbors regardless of how the Palestinian conflict was resolved.
This was why AIPAC and the other Zionist organizations have long opposed, in practice, any resolution of the Palestinian issue, including the two-state delusion, as well as an all encompassing peace treaty with the Arab states. They are as thrilled by the existence of ISIS and the collapse of Iraq and Syria as is the Likud and, I suspect, are most Israelis.
What is happening in the Middle East appears to be following a plan outlined by Oded Yinon, an Israelis journalist attached to the Foreign Ministry, in a paper he wrote in 1982 entitled, “‘A Strategy for Israel in the Nineteen Eighties.’Yinon suggested that Israel’s objective should be to break up the Arab states into their religious factions, one turned against the other. How could one better describe the situation in Iraq and Syria today than that?
You are a radio host, what are the themes that you treat?
My twice monthly program, Takes on the World, has been broadcast on the public radio station where I live since January 2001 and has survived what little opposition there was to having me on the air. The hour long programs are divided into two parts, an introductory commentary of about 20 minutes followed by an interview with a knowledgeable guest about an international subject in which the US is heavily involved or about which I believe my listeners should be concerned.
For some months they have largely been about developments with the Iran negotiations, the Middle East, and Ukraine. While my commentary tends to deal with activities of the Israel Lobby and its influence on Congress that, for the most part, are heard nowhere else, that is only rarely the focus of my interviews although the subject does arise in many of them, such as when discussing the push for more sanctions on Iran.
The reason I devote so much of my commentaries to the Israel Lobby, I tell my listeners, is because the subject is taboo, not only on the part of mainstream broadcasters but the alternative ones, as well; that what they hear from me they will hear on no other radio station. That is less something to boast about than it is a commentary on the extent to which the Zionists control the US media. To make such an accusation, of course, is to draw charges of “anti-Semitism.” If so, then the truth is “anti-Semitic.”
When I am occasionally asked by listeners how I can get away with saying what I do about Israel and the Lobby I tell them it is because I sued and won a settlement from the ADL as a result of its spying on me and I did not sign the standard confidentiality agreement in order to receive the settlement.
This allows me to talk about what we learned in the case, for example, that the man who spied on me and many others was also being paid by an agent of the South African intelligence service to spy on the anti-apartheid movement and on black South African exiles in the US. In addition, in his files, San Francisco police found a floor plan and the key to the office of Alex Odeh, the head of the Southern California office of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committeewho was killed by a terrorist bomb planted in that office in 1985. Also, I tell my listeners, the county where I live in Northern California is not Israeli occupied territory, unlike virtually every other city and county in the country.
What role can have the alternative media in front of the mass media domination in the hands of the lobbies of the finance and the military-industrial complex?
At the moment, the internet offers the only possibilities to reach broad sections of the public with what is really going on, not only in the Middle or Near East, but the world, in general. One must read everything on the net, however, with a critical eye. If a story appears “too good to be true,” too frequently it is false, either through a deliberate fabrication or, as often as not, sloppy journalism. That is why it is important to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources, even though you may share the world view of the latter.
The media, by itself, has its limits. Its greatest potential is as an organizing tool, to get people angry and turn that anger into concrete action.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Jeffrey Blankfort is an American journalist, radio host and former documentary photographer. Privileged witness of the great social movements of 60-70 years in the United States, he rubbed shoulders iconic figures of the anti-war movement (among them Ron Kovic, Tom Hayden, David Harris), of the movement of the civil rights (Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali, and the Black Panthers Bobby Seale and Kathleen Cleaver), numerous personalities of the political world (Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, Robert Kennedy, etc.), of the art world (with Marlon Brando, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Jim Morrison, etc.), intellectual (Eduardo Galeano, James Baldwin, Carlos Fuentes, Nawal el Saadawi, etc.). He visited many countries including Northern Ireland, Mexico, Italy, Palestine and the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. His numerous photos are published on his site: http://www.jeffblankfortphotography.com/index.html
His articles have appeared in CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, Mondoweiss, Pulse Media, Left Curve, Ramparts, Lies of Our Times, MERIP, The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and the Encyclopedia of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. It was his first trip to Lebanon and Jordan in 1970 to take photos for a book on the Palestinian struggle that led to his intense involvement in their cause (Palestine: the Arab-Israeli Conflict; Ramparts Press, 1972).
Blankfort became a founding member of the November 29th Coalition on Palestine in the early 80s and in 1987, co-founded the Labor Committee on the Middle East and was editor of its publication, The Middle East Labor Bulletin(1988-1995).
For the past two years, the most recent on April 10, he has been a speaker at all-day conferences at the National Press Club in Washington, DC devoted to the impact of the Israel Lobby on American politics.
He currently hosts a twice monthly program on international affairs for KZYX, the public radio station for Mendocino County in Northern California where he now lives. His commentaries and interviews can be found here: http://http://www.radio4all.net/index.php/contributor/1752
Published in Oximity, May 30, 2015: http://https://www.oximity.com/article/Jeffrey-Blankfort-The-main-beneficiary-1