The Passionate Attachment

America's entanglement with Israel

Former Senator talks about the Israel lobby’s deep penetration of U.S. government

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Senator James Abourezk, who represented South Dakota in Congress from 1971 to 1979, tells the Council for the National Interest about his experiences with the Israel lobby:

Letters of 76 Senators

When Gerald Ford was President and Henry Kissinger was his Secretary of State, the two decided, during U.S. backed peace talks to bring Israel around to U.S. thinking by withholding American aid to Israel. That effort ended quickly when 76 U.S. Senators signed an AIPAC drafted letter to President Ford containing a thinly veiled threat to Mr. Ford if he continued to withhold military aid to Israel. The letter prompted President Ford to give in to the Lobby’s demand and to resume aid to Israel.

What happened leading up to the publication of the letter in the U.S. press is an interesting story. I had dinner with one Senator—who shall go unnamed here—the night before the letter was released to the press. He told me that he had no intention of signing it.

The next day, when the letter appeared in the Washington Post, I asked my friend what had happened.

“Jim, I received phone call after phone call all during the day yesterday, calls from people who had gone beyond just supporting me in my election, but people—lawyers, doctors, professional people and businessmen—who had interrupted their careers to work in my campaign. I couldn’t say no to them, which is why you saw my name on the letter.”

Later, in the Senate cloakroom, a number of us were standing together, talking about the letter. Ted Kennedy spoke first. “I knew that’s what would happen when I was approached to sign the letter, and I don’t like it at all. We should, next time, get together before signing such a letter, and all of us say no at the same time.” What Kennedy was referring to was the Israeli Lobby’s practice of picking off the Senators by going to one Senator, saying, “Senator So- and-so has signed, and you’d better not be the only potential presidential candidate not on the letter.” They would then go to Senator So-and-so and say the same thing. Ultimately, all of the leading Senators—especially those who wanted to run from President—would put their signature on the letter.

Kennedy’s statement was what spurred me to say something, during a mini-debate I had with Hyman Bookbinder before a section of the D.C. Bar Association’s meeting in D.C. We were promoting a book we had written together as a debate on the Middle East—Through Different Eyes—and I mentioned that Senators would cheer on Israel in public but would bad mouth both Israel and the Lobby in private. One lawyer raised his hand and asked, “name just one U.S. Senator who would do that.”

I said, simply, “Ted Kennedy,” hoping he was politically strong enough to resist the Lobby’s counter-attack.

Two or three days later, Ted Kennedy called me and said, “Abourezk, what the hell have you done to me?” I guess Ted had underestimated his own political strength, or at least, did not want any of it diluted in a tiff over the Middle East. And he for sure did not want to spend his time defending himself from the Israeli Lobby.

Getting help from the lobby

I enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1948, at age 17, immediately after I graduated from High School. After training in San Diego, I was ordered to Japan to become a member of the occupation. I was stationed on quasi-shore duty in Japan, actually aboard a non-propulsion barracks ship tied up in the heart of Tokyo, on the Sumida River. The ship was essentially the barracks for members of the Admiral’s staff. Early on in my tour there, the Kodokan Judo University in Tokyo sent a few Judo instructors to our ship in order to recruit students for their Judo school. The delegation included the then world champion, Ishikawa-san, and a slightly built man in his eighties, named “never fall Mifune.” We converted a large empty cabin on the ship into a Judo room, with mats on the metal floors to break our falls.

There I learned the essence of the art of Judo—using your opponent’s strength and momentum against him in order to win.

That lesson was very useful in helping me get a Committee assignment I wanted while in the Senate. When North Carolina’s celebrated Senator Sam Ervin retired from the Senate after masterfully chairing the Senate Watergate Committee, I decided to try for his seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Jim Allen, from Alabama, also decided to try for the seat. But he was senior to me so it was obvious to everyone that I had an uphill battle.

With the lessons I learned studying Judo in mind, I caught David Brody, one of the Israeli Lobbyists, in the corridor, telling him that I was trying for the Judiciary Committee seat that Sam Ervin was vacating. I casually mentioned that if I didn’t get on Judiciary, I would then try for Foreign Relations. That, I knew, would get his attention.

Although I never saw any evidence of the Lobby’s actions, even though Allen was senior to me, I surprisingly got the most votes from the Senate Steering Committee, which makes Committee assignments. So I later thanked Dave Brody for his help, but he never acknowledged that he had done the job.

Embedded Lobbyists

It is difficult to describe how deep into the U.S. Government the Israel Lobby is embedded, but occasionally signs of the depth of its penetration become obvious. I can cite two instances where it was more than obvious.

I received a call one day from a career State Department diplomat, someone I had met during a trip I had made to the Middle East. He was my “control officer” when I was in Egypt on that trip, the diplomat whose job it was to stay with me during my stay there.

His call came out of the blue, at least two or three years after having met him in Cairo. He sounded both desperate and frantic, telling me he had to come to my apartment to talk to me about something.

When we met, he was totally different than when I had met him in Cairo, then a very suave professional diplomat. The day he came to my apartment he was both nervous and frantic, telling me that someone had to do something about the Israeli Lobby. They were “everywhere” in the State Department, he said, leaning on anyone who had anything to do with the Middle East. By that, he explained, he had witnessed both Lobby representatives and Israeli officials working over U.S. diplomats in every kind of setting, that is, he saw them doing so in restaurants, in State Department offices, virtually everywhere. All he wanted to do, he said, was to stop it, and he didn’t know how. I had to confess that I didn’t either.

I’m not certain that anyone in Washington, D.C. knows the total amount of money and favors our government gives to Israel, largely due to its Lobby. Aside from the several billions of dollars in aid that goes from our Treasury to Israel, there are a great number of top secret contracts that we sign with the Israeli government that could not stand the light of day should they be disclosed. I do remember that our taxpayers funded the “Arrow” air defense system Israel has now to deter incoming rockets and missiles.

I also knew about Israeli Aircraft Industries having an office at the airport in Wilmington, Delaware, presumably to handle air force contracts between Israel and the U.S. government. Why else would there be such an office in Delaware?

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Written by Maidhc Ó Cathail

February 27, 2012 at 8:16 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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