First Summit to Reassess the Special Relationship Between the US and Israel
From the May 2014 PNL #834
Central New Yorkers Working for a Just Peace in Palestine and Israel (CNY WJPPI), a part of the Syracuse Peace Council, was formed in 2009 after Israel’s completion of Operation Cast Lead. This attack on Gaza resulted in over 1,400 deaths, left thousands wounded (mostly civilians), turned homes to rubble, and ruined the Palestinian economy.
As Norman Finkelstein titled his book on the events of Cast Lead, This Time We Went Too Far, the CNY group felt compelled to come together for the sake of all the people in this conflicted region. Since formulating our mission statement, CNY WJPPI has endeavored to educate the public about the harsh realities of the Israeli occupation, confiscation of Palestinian land, continued settlement expansion, home demolitions, olive tree uprooting, and the creation of small enclosed Palestinian ghettoes called Bantustans.
On March 7, 2014, a contingent from the local group (Ann Tiffany, Ed Kinane, and Pat and Ava Carmeli) traveled to Washington, DC to attend the Summit to Reassess the Special Relationship between the US and Israel held at the National Press Room and televised by C-SPAN. (The entire event can be viewed online at http://www.c-span.org/video/?318179-1/reassessing-usisrael-relations.)
US financial aid to Israel has grown within the last 60 years and now accounts for vastly more resources than the US provides any other nation. It has become the prevalent opinion among some that US aid to Israel has not made US citizens safer, but rather has increased the disdain many nations feel for the world’s only superpower. Lacking a full evaluation by our Congress on the relationship which US leaders have defined as “unbreakable,” this Summit addressed the bond from various perspectives.
The speakers (politicians, journalists, CIA and military officials) rose to discuss the nature of the relationship and problems that result for all concerned: for the US which treats Israel as an ally but reaps no obvious benefit from the partnering; for the Palestinians whose needs and rights continue to be overlooked and underfunded and who cannot view the US as an “honest broker” for peace; and for the Israelis who threaten their legitimacy and world opinion if they allow the continuation of the status quo.
Organized by the Council for the National Interest, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, If Americans Knew, and Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, this summit provided a forum for open discourse on relevant topics that have not previously been aired publicly. While understanding that peace and justice will not be achieved overnight, its organizers aimed to open up the debate by featuring speakers with diverse backgrounds and top credentials to provide detailed analysis.
Paul Findley, former congressman and the author of They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, whose political career suffered when he offered a criticism of Israel, suggested that President Obama leave an inspired legacy by suspending all aid to Israel until it withdraws to the 1967 borders.
Janet McManon reviewed the ways AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) channels money through other political action committees (PACs) to pro-Israel candidates. She remarked that these PACs put the interest of Israel above those of the US.
Allen Brownfeld of the American Council for Judaism suggested how one of the US’ most fundamental beliefs— separation of church and state—viewed as crucial and cherished here, is neglected in Israel.
Delinda Hanley, editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, spoke about the bottom line—money. US taxpayers are funding Israel $3.1 billion a year, while our educational and medical institutions and infrastructure suffer. Hanley suggested we cut aid to Israel until it complies with UN treaties and pulls out of the occupied territories.
A particularly moving speaker was Ernie Gallo, a survivor of the USS Liberty, who spoke about the attack on his ship in 1967 by the Israeli Air Force and Navy. This brutal and unprovoked attack on a US vessel left over 30 of his fellow sailors dead and hundreds wounded. Survivors received a stern admonishment from the US Government not to disclose the details of the attack to anyone including family members under threat of military court actions. Despite consistent pleas to open up a full investigation, the US government appears determined to keep the truth from the American public. (For more information on the USS Liberty, go to ifamericansknew.org.)
Pat Carmeli, a US/Israeli citizen, commented that Gallo’s presentation and the entire event increased the anger she already felt toward the Israeli and US governments and made her more committed to discovering the basis for the unbreakable bond between the two nations.
Is Israel an Ally?
The last panel discussion after a full day of speakers asked the most basic question: is Israel a US ally? Paul Pillar, a former CIA agent, explained that an ally is a nation that would assist another even if it weren’t in its own best interest. The US has shown itself to be a good ally for Israel, but Israel has never gone out of its way to assist the US as an ally should.
Ray McGovern, a retired CIA officer, described allies as two nations with a mutual defense treaty, which the US does not have with Israel. In order for countries to have a treaty, they both must have identifiable borders (which Israel does not), and warn the other of its planned military operations, which Israel does not.
Phil Giraldi, a former counter-terrorism specialist and the final speaker at the summit, took his presentation even further and suggested that Israel is neither an ally nor friend. The current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, viewed the events of September 11, 2001 as positive for Israel as it has further cemented the relationship against a common foe—Arab terrorism.
With over twenty speakers, a packed room, and complete coverage by C-SPAN, this first summit will become an annual event, according to its organizers, until hopefully soon, there will be no need to assess a special relationship between Israel and the US.