The President Who Stood Up To Israel and Won
George Bush, AIPAC, and the proven folly of unconditional aid.
As the camera moved between shots of a rally of ultra-right Israeli settlers in Jerusalem, the reporter sounded somewhere between amused and incredulous.
“‘Throw the bums out.’ That’s a loose translation of the Hebrew posters in this Jerusalem rally. But the bums these Jewish settlers refer to are not Israeli politicians, but President Bush and [U.S. Secretary of State] James Baker. Settlers are conservative by most political standards, but if they could vote in the American elections, Bill Clinton would carry the West Bank in a landslide.”
Then, the scene switched to a march of Palestinian nationalists. The reporter was just as bemused as before.
“And Palestinian leaders, supporters of that radical national liberation movement called the PLO, confess that, these days, their hearts are true-blue Republican.”
This was not a parody. It was a real news clip—you can watch both segments at the link here—and it depicted the political reality in Israel and Palestine, at least as it was for a moment. It’s impossible to imagine seeing today, both because of the unintuitive partisan loyalties and the mere fact that there was any disagreement over U.S. electoral politics at all. For the past number of decades, practically every politician in the United States has adopted the AIPAC line towards the conflict: that the U.S. should not only support Israel, but that this support be an unquestioned bipartisan consensus, with “no daylight” allowed between U.S. policy and Israeli policy. They insist that this line be maintained no matter what, regardless of anything that Israel does or how extreme its government gets. Anybody who advocates for anything less is pilloried as an anti-Semite and forced to contend with a well-funded primary challenger. We are supposed to simply accept as a fact of life that the United States must send tens of billions of dollars in aid to one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, year in and year out, but cannot ask for anything in return.
It’s an absurd concept. But with how much money organizations like AIPAC spend to uphold it, it’s been a very tough one to take down. That does not mean, however, that there have never been any challenges to it. Over 30 years ago, one President decided to break from this consensus and adopt a far more evenhanded policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It resulted in unprecedented diplomatic successes, and it has been forgotten by all except for the Israel lobby, who have dedicated themselves to preventing it from ever happening again. Allow me to introduce you to the story of President George Bush, a set of loan guarantees, and an absolutely vital lesson that Washington has been determined to erase from its memory.
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