Saturday, March 25, 2006

Joseph Massad on the Lobby Canard

I view Joseph Massad as a symbol of the double-standards in place in Middle Eastern Studies departments. The man has constructed what amounts to a theology on Israel, Israeli society and Zionism, apparently with little knowledge of Hebrew and very little inside understanding of Israel. How this guy has the balls to preach about such complex matters as Israeli ethnic-relations is beyond me. I guess what matters most for Massad and his ilk is their grand theory or whatever cause they're fighting for.

Having said all that, I have to admit that I was almost pleasantly surprised by Massad's latest piece in the Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly. Massad sees past the ludicrous obsession of the western left and the Arab world with the Jewish Lobby and sets the record straight: America backs Israel because it is in its own "evil" interest to do so, not because of some omnipotent evil Jewish Lobby that prevents the good "real" Americans from doing what is right. Massad even points out that America spends far more on its American bases in the Arab world and in the rest of the world than it contributes in aid to Israel. He even attacks American State Department Arabists, whom he accuses of using the spectre of the "Jewish Lobby" as a lame excuse to their Arab dictator friends. There's lots more in the article, and it definitely deserves to be read. Here's an excerpt:

Joseph Massad, "Blaming the Lobby," Al-Ahram Weekly 23 - 29 March 2006, Issue No. 787.


"AIPAC is indeed powerful insofar as it pushes for policies that accord with US interests and that are resonant with the reigning US imperial ideology. The power of the pro-Israel lobby, whether in Congress or on campuses among university administrators, or policy-makers is not based solely on their organisational skills or ideological uniformity. In no small measure, anti-Semitic attitudes in Congress (and among university administrators) play a role in believing the lobby's (and its enemies') exaggerated claims about its actual power, resulting in their towing the line. But even if this were true, one could argue, it would not matter whether the lobby has real or imagined power. For as long as Congress and policy-makers (and university administrators) believe it does, it will remain effective and powerful. I of course concede this point.

What then would have been different in US policy in the Middle East absent Israel and its powerful lobby? The answer in short is: the details and intensity but not the direction, content, or impact of such policies. Is the pro- Israel lobby extremely powerful in the United States? As someone who has been facing the full brunt of their power for the last three years through their formidable influence on my own university and their attempts to get me fired, I answer with a resounding yes. Are they primarily responsible for US policies towards the Palestinians and the Arab world? Absolutely not. The United States is opposed in the Arab world as elsewhere because it has pursued and continues to pursue policies that are inimical to the interests of most people in these countries and are only beneficial to its own interests and to the minority regimes in the region that serve those interests, including Israel. Absent these policies, and not the pro-Israel lobby which supports them, the United States should expect a change in its standing among Arabs. Short of that, the United States will have to continue its policies in the region that have wreaked, and continue to wreak, havoc on the majority of Arabs and not expect that the Arab people will like it in return."

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