A Free Press in the USA?
Not where our Special Relationship with Israel is Involved
by Susan Madeiros
It's been thirty years since Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza, the Golan Heights, and East Jerusalem. And the occupation continues, thanks, largely, to the unchecked flow of US tax dollars to Israel. Occupations are expensive, especially when massive (and illegal) building of settlements is part of the pattern. But US tax dollars make Israel's intransigence possible.
Recently (April 25) the United Nations general assembly held an emergency session to demand that Israel stop building settlements in the occupied territories, including East Jerusalem. 134 countries endorsed the action; only Micronesia, Israel, and, of course, the United States, cast negative votes. This came on the heels of two US vetoes of Security Council resolutions to pressure Israel to stop its unlawful and provocative behavior.
Presumably the US ambassador to the UN, Bill Richardson, keeps a straight face during all this nonsense. But one wonders how, and if, he can keep from blushing.
The United States routinely defies the entire world, discredits itself, denigrates the United Nations Security Council and General Assembly, and makes a mockery of the UN, by backing its wayward "friend," Israel, regardless of the circumstances.
The US press reports this phenomenon, but only briefly and blandly. Look in vain for commentary or in-depth analyses. Look in vain for any analysis at all.
This most recent news item, for example, has a number of intriguing facets which could make for fascinating reading. Why, for example, did tiny Micronesia feel compelled to disagree with, virtually, the rest of the world? Does the country have strong pro-settlement sentiments? Or was one of its arms twisted by some Superpower or other? And why? Why Micronesia? Surely a journalist could find a good story here.
Or Clinton could be put on the spot by reporters who demand that he explain why he is preventing the world from applying pressure to Israel to try to get it to behave itself, especially since strenuous negotiations alone have led nowhere.
But, the mainstream press carefully avoids putting Clinton on the spot for supporting Israel. And these bizarre UN episodes continue to be mentioned only in passing, and then dropped.
Even more bizarre is the billions of US tax dollars that are quietly but steadily funnelled to Israel every year, while our politicians wring their hands and wonder where to cut the budget in order to balance it. Should they cut from disadvantaged kids' lunches; poor folks' heating fuel subsidies; health care for the disabled?
But no one mentions cutting US foreign aid. Perhaps the fact that Israel gets well over half of this aid is irrelevant. Yet again we have another gap in the media. And it's rare to find any critique of our foreign aid budget, or a clear breakdown of who gets what. (Another large chunk of US aid goes to the military regime running Egypt; this was the price tag for Egypt's agreement to sign a peace treaty with Israel.)
And so it goes. The United States defends Israel, right or wrong. And it bankrolls Israel's expensive and expansive settlement construction in the occupied territories. Even though the US acknowledges that this activity is counterproductive to peace, its continues its largess - at the expense of US taxpayers! And the press maintains silence!
It's hard to imagine any other nation that claims to have a free press ignoring such questions as: Why is so much money going to Israel, a relatively small and well-off country? Why do US tax dollars continue to flow even when Israel uses them to build illegal settlements? (Money is fungible, so, definitely, your and my tax dollars are paying for the bulldozers!) Why does the United States humiliate, anger, and baffle most of the world with its ludicrous UN vetoes? What hold does Israel and its supporters have on the US government, that such a small percentage of (pro-Israel) citizens and voters have so much clout?
An article in the BOSTON GLOBE shortly before the 1996 presidential election (on September 27) illustrated this last point: "Less than six weeks until the presidential election, Clinton has almost choice, politically, than to stay neutral....If he were to condemn Netanyahu's actions, he would risk losing political support from Jewish groups," GLOBE writer Brian McGrory (matter-of-factly) reported.
The US/Israel Special Relationship is
what allows, and even encourages, Israel to violate international
law, peace accords, and human rights - with impunity. And it seems
that two main factors are at the root of the US/Israel Special
1. Small pro-Israel special interest groups (not necessarily "Jewish,") have far too much clout for their size.
2. The mainstream media refuses to criticize or analyze: US unconditional support for Israel; The pro-Israel lobby's outrageous impact on US elections and foreign policy; and hefty US funding of Israel. (The official annual "aid" of about $3.67 billion, plus "loan guarantees" of $2 billion, are just the tip of the iceberg of US largess towards Israel.)
Probably not much can be done about the first factor. Special interest groups will continue to have disproportionate power until, among other things, extensive campaign finance reforms are made.
But the Press! What about the "free"
US Press in our open society? In regards to the Special Relationship,
it is virtually non-existent. An editorial in the BOSTON GLOBE (April
11) was telling. "American dedication to Israel's security and
well-being has been established beyond question," an editor boasted.
He continued, "President Clinton and Vice-President Gore have
credentials second to none."
Dedication to Israel? Pro-Israeli credentials? Are these qualifications appropriate for the highest officers in the USA? If the majority of voters were Zionists, this might be appropriate. But that is certainly not the case. Also, how can a Superpower that has "dedication" to Israel and pro-Israeli credentials be a fair broker for peace in the Middle East?
Most likely, the approval of this Special Relationship on the part of the press is a combination of personal political views of the owners and editors, combined with the need not to offend advertisers who might be put off by denunciations, or even evaluations, of the Special Relationship between Israel and the United States.
It's a sorry state. We have an American public kept, purposely, it seems, in the dark about the significant US role in the turmoil in the Middle East. The public sees politicians wondering, "What can we do?" about Israel's increasingly aggressive behavior, when the answer is screamingly obvious: Put in the plug on the flow of US tax dollars to Israel, and let Israel put up with the world's sanctions when it deserves them. We should know that's the answer, and demand that our politicians heed us.
But it's difficult to know the obvious when facts are kept from us, or obscured, by the press. No other country that boasts a "free" press would keep such a lid on such significant information. Pick up a newspaper from England, France, Mexico - even Israel, and you'll find heated debate and in-depth analysis on prominent international relations issues like these.
What can you do? Write, phone, e-mail, and/or fax major newspapers, questioning them about this silence regarding this unhealthy Special Relationship. Demand that they analyze and openly debate this topic. And contact elected officials, including President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright, demanding that they stop the flow of tax dollars to Israel, at least until Israel stops its irresponsible course. And demand that support for Israel only be given when Israel deserves such support.
Do it if you are concerned for world peace. Do it if you care about peace and justice for Palestinians. And do it if you care about Israel. Because this US policy of permissiveness is continuing to push Israel, along with the entire Middle East, down the road of war, death, and disaster.
Susan Madeiros is a Boston area activist. She has travelled to the Middle East several times.