The conflict between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu is in fact a struggle by the President to take command of his own government. The egregious Israel Prime Minister, the cynical Israel political class are not his primary antagonists. These are in the US, where parts of the foreign policy apparatus, the Congress, the media believe or claim to believe that the interests of the US and Israel are identical The President has now sided with the diplomats, military commanders, foreign policy thinkers who for decades have sought, at risk to their careers, a Mideast policy which takes Palestinian rights a precondition of an alternative US role in the region and the Muslim world.

The antagonists confronting the President are by no means exclusively or primarily Jewish. The President knows of the deep divisions within American Jewry .Many liberal and secular (and younger) American Jews reject the unthinking attachment to Israel of the leaders of most American Jewish organizations. The President’s Jewish supporters identify themselves with the US . They are quite aware of the paradox of contemporary Zionism. So far from serving as a spiritual home and potential refuge for the Diaspora, Israel is dependent upon the Diaspora for political support—and many of its own citizens, with dual passports, are already part of the Diaspora. .

What has made the Israel lobby so strong in the US is its connection with major themes of American history. A Calvinist reading of Exodus as anticipation of the white conquest of North America made honorary Yankees of the Israelis. American guilt over inactivity during the Holocaust has been sedulously exploited by Israel. The Jewish state has been, since the nineteen sixties, a Cold War ally and asset of American power. The campaign against “terror,” with all of its deformations and historical distortions, has reinforced Israel intransigence. The President has his own, different, reading of modern history. The speech in Cairo and now the conflict over East Jerusalem suggest that he will not renounce it.

Few in Europe will have heard of an “American Coalition Against a Nuclear Iran,” a well funded lobbying group. Its directors include the President of the Conference of Major American Jewish organizations, and the former CIA Director James Woolsey (a loud proponent of the fraudulent allegation of an alliance between Baathist Iraq and Al Quaida) and a miscellany of Democrats and Republicans living by such wits as they possess..It is reminiscent of “The Committee on the Present Danger” –a coalition of Democrats and Republicans who responded to the defeat in Viet Nam by demanding confrontation with the Soviet Union. The Committee’s domestic antagonists were not only the Viet Nam peace party but Kissinger, Nixon and Ford, who after all, had evacuated Saigon and then pursued arms control with the USSR. The Committee, included partisans of Israel who demanded that any agreements with the USSR be conditional upon the Soviet Union allowing Jewish emigration. The Committee did not seriously intend this: the USSR could not stand the loss of intellectual capital entailed in Jewish emigration, which would also have destroyed its alliances with the Arab nations. The actual situation of the Soviet Union and the well being of its citizens was of no interest to the Committee.

Similarly, the directors of the “American Coalition Against A Nuclear Iran” have no concern with or knowledge of Iran or its people. They seek immediate confrontation as part of a permanent American mobilization. The Iran question solved, one can easily imagine them applying the same rhetoric to China a decade hence. Here, the interests of Israel and those who have ideological and material interests in unrelenting increase in American power coincide.

The President relies on veterans of our long series of imperial misadventures: Secretary Gates, National Security Advisor General Jones, and Senior military commander Admiral Mullen. Unlike the desktop belligerents of the opinion pages, Jones and Mullen know war at first hand. They can also count. Adding up our many wars since 1945, the two the US has has won were against Granada and Panama. One understands their resistance to attacking Iran. Our imperial managers are clear: their primary task is to prevent new disasters.

The President’s demands on Israel are also, then, a response to the Israel attempt to involve the US in war against Iran. In fact, Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee had made the threat from Iran the central theme of the Prime Minister’s visit. The President’s obduracy in putting first things first took them by surprise. AIPAC did obtain the signature of not quite three hundred of the 435 members of Congress to a letter stating that since US and Israel were so close, public discussion of differences was highly inadvisable. Seldom can members of a parliamentary body have so summarily renounced their rights.

A week after the confrontation, both the NY Times ands the Post in their Sunday editions were silent about it—but offered their readers familiar matter on Iran. The Times published a series of surmises on the Iranian nuclear project, with a ration of speculation to fact of about twenty to one. Its Washington bureau chief recapitulated a trivial Brookings Institution war game of an Israel attack on Iran, extensively reported months ago. The Post published a column by William Kristol in which he urged war on Iran, recycling every cliche of the past half century. General Petraeus’ warning on the dangers to the US national interest of total alignment with Israel was not mentioned. True, the politically agile general had telephoned the Israel chief of staff to say that his report was “taken out of context”—-but in context, it is unequivocal.

The Israel elite, meanwhile, is in a state of shock at the thought that Obama may actually mean what he says. The American Jewish leadership is no less stunned, and seems unable to grasp that the fictions that it has long purveyed are now matters of debate. The President would be helped by a strong European contribution to the debate. More than a half million Israelis are flying to Europe this week for Passover holidays. Much would be gained were they to return with the impression that more civilized standards are required of Israel. Whatever he says, even so ordinary a figure as Netanyahu knows that since his White House visit, nothing will be the same.

This article was also published in today’s El Pais

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