One little-noted but important result of the November election in the US that returned President Barack Obama to the White House for another four years is that the right-wing Israeli government and the Zionist lobbying organization AIPAC (for American Israel Public Affairs Committee) took a surprising drubbing and emerge a much weaker political influence going forward in US politics.
According to the recently created liberal Jewish lobbying organization J-Street, which advocates a peacefully negotiated two-state solution to the decades-long Israel-Palestine issue, Jewish voters in the US did not flock to the Zionist cause this election. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars in campaign funds from AIPAC and some wealthy Jewish Americans that were contributed to back hard-line Zionist or pro-Zionist political candidates for president and Congress, and despite a vicious anti-Obama ad campaign in southern Florida and in New York City targeting Jewish voters, exit polls the organization commissioned show that 70% of Jewish voters nationwide cast their ballots for Obama — the same percentage that has historically voted Democratic. Perhaps more important, given the current bluster by the Netanyahu government in Israel about the urgency to attack Iran, exit polls showed that 90% of American Jews list domestic issues as their main concern, not Israel. As one example of the kind of fear-mongering ad campaigns Zionist funders were running in Florida and New York, there was a large billboard put up along the state’s main north/south interstate highway, which showed an Iranian missile heading towards the state of Israel, with the message: “Friends don’t let friends get nuked. Stop Obama!”
The biggest blow to the Israeli government and to AIPAC, of course, was the defeat of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
During the height of the campaign, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the US and openly endorsed Romney, criticizing the president for his unwillingness to back or have the US participate in an air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. President Obama — who has not visited Israel during his entire first term of office — openly refused a request by Netanyahu for a one-on-one meeting at the White House — an unusual slap at an Israeli leader by a US president. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, a staunch Zionist, reportedly donated over $100 million to back Romney’s candidacy, but found that his money had been wasted as Americans chose not to back the man who advocated a harder line against Iran, and who criticized President Obama during the campaign for saying he wanted to “put more daylight” between the foreign policies of the US and Israel. (During a televised debate, Romney had blasted Obama for not visiting Israel during the campaign, while Obama retorted bluntly that all Romney had done was go to Israel to collect campaign money from Israeli donors.)
As the Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery explains in Counterpunch magazine:
American Jews (or, rather, Jewish Americans) voted as members of the American nation, not of the non-existent Jewish nation. Many of them are certainly sympathetic to Israel, but when it comes to voting, they vote as Americans. Israel plays a very minor role in their concerns. They may give a standing ovation to Netanyahu when he visits, as American Catholics would to the Pope, but they ignore his instruction to vote for a candidate.
This has great implications for the future. In any clash between vital American and Israeli interests, Jewish Americans are first of all Americans. In such a future situation, a similar miscalculation by Netanyahu or his successors may prove fatal.
Meanwhile, a number of hard-core Zionist incumbents in Congress lost their seats to candidates who are not craven backers of Netanyahu and his political cronies. For example, the Republican candidate Tommy Thompson, initially a front-runner in the race in Wisconsin for the seat of retiring Zionist Republican Senator Herb Kohl and an ardent backer of Israel and the Netanyahu government himself, was defeated by Democrat Tammy Baldwin, whose attitude towards Israel is much more nuanced. Also defeated for re-election was Florida Republican Congressman Allen West, who famously said that any two-state solution establishing a Palestinian state beside Israel would be a “foreign policy blunder of epic proportions.” He was narrowly ousted by Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy, who won despite ads run in the campaign in what is a very Jewish district claiming he would “work to weaken the defense of the state of Israel.”
A major loss for the pro-Israel lobby in the US was the replacement of arch-Zionist Joe Lieberman, a neoconservative senator from Connecticut who to the end of his term has been pushing for war with Iran, just as he pushed for the disastrous invasion of Iraq back in 2002. Lieberman decided to retire and not seek re-election when it became clear that his home state, which previously denied him the Democratic nomination in his last campaign, forcing him to run for re-election six years ago as an independent, would this time reject him altogether. He is replaced by Democrat Christopher Murphy (no relation), who also has an at least relatively less belligerent attitude towards Iran and who favors a two-state negotiated solution in Palestine.
In all, J-Street, which itself raised and donated $1.8 million in the recent election campaign, reports that 70 of the candidates it backed, all of whom had to be supporters of a negotiated two-state solution in Israel-Palestine, won their races. That includes the president.
Of course, J-Street itself, while being accused by right-wing Jews of being “anti-semitic,” says it is “pro-Israel,” and it surely is, but it is nonetheless frontally challenging the Neocon agenda that presents the Arab world and Islam as an implacable enemy, and that promotes a program for the US of permanent imperial war, with the state of Israel as a critical ally in that war.
The key point in looking at the election results is that the main power of AIPAC and the whole right-wing Zionist lobby in the US has long been its unquestioned ability to threaten politicians by saying if they didn’t vow unstinting support for Israel, including billions of dollars in free military aid each year, and if they didn’t offer unqualified support for the right-wing Israeli government’s abusive apartheid policies in the occupied territories, they would lose re-election. In years past, those members of Congress, the most notable example being Rep. Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, who stood up to Israel and AIPAC, were challenged by candidates with AIPAC backing and consequently lost their seats. But this year, in race after race, the threat didn’t work. Obama won re-election despite his blunt refusal to kowtow to Netanyahu, despite his refusal to approve an Israeli strike on Iran, and despite overt Zionist backing for his opponent Mitt Romney. The election of a number of new members of Congress who defeated AIPAC-backed candidates, some of them incumbents, further weakens the Zionist lobby. And now that the threat has been shown to be essentially empty, it will be hard to revive it.
On the eve of the election, the online political news magazine Politico wrote:
Conservative pro-Israel groups that have spent millions of dollars targeting President Barack Obama’s policies toward the Jewish state are facing a daunting reality: If the president wins anyway, their political influence may never be the same.
Now that not just Obama but also other candidates opposed by AIPAC have won, it seems clear that Zionist political influence, and public support for unquestioning US backing of Israel, has been seriously set back and will probably never recover.