In these times of a growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement regarding the apartheid state of Israel, public opinion is finally changing, even if those in the large political bubbles in Westminster and Washington either can’t or won’t see it. Those defending the Zionist project have always had the ears of Western governments and the popular media, but censorship of the message is starting to infect legislation too. If you care about the roots of this Hasbara spin, therefore, here’s a book for you. Not only will Israel’s Armor: The Israel Lobby and the First Generation of the Palestine Conflict open eyes, but this concise tome is also guaranteed to exercise your neck muscles as you shake your head in disbelief. The repeated point made by author Walter L Hixson is that, yes, Israel has used the most advantageous avenues to get what it wants from the United States.
We all know about the spikes in Jewish migration to Palestine in the years immediately after the First World War, during the 1930s and the Great Depression, and again as a result of Europe’s Nazi Holocaust. However, the increase was actually one result of what became America’s pro-Israel Lobby. In 1939, the Jewish Agency took to registering with the US Federal Government as a “foreign lobby agent”. From that point on it pressed hard on all elected officials working in Washington DC. In this mostly pre-AIPAC— the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — story, we meet persuasive Zionist Jews who could tirelessly talk the talk.
As it happened, Cleveland, Ohio boasted the largest synagogue congregation in the whole of America. It was there that Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver used the power of the pulpit to make the Zionist cause one of urgency. Fellow Clevelander Leo Kenen then advanced the cause by influencing important politicians, starting with the 1944 election, when Congressmen were won over, with Zionism making its debut onto party platforms. As Christianity was the backbone of US culture, aligning Jews, Judaism and Zionist ideology with it was rather easy, and both the Democrats and Republicans were easy political converts.
When Harry S Truman was sworn-in as President in April 1945, he took office with a newly edited playbook, in which confidential insiders, close friends to the Commander in Chief himself, not only promoted Eretz Israel, but also discredited the State Department’s own advice on addressing the Arab region. Specifically, the White House’s main non-domestic concern was the containment of Communism, so supporting a growing anti-Arab entity was like building a motorway for Soviet regional influence. The State Department wasn’t pleased with the military success of the Haganah, the forerunner of the Israel Defence Forces. But then the Pentagon, finding itself rather stretched in the immediate post-Second World War years while it was busy kicking Commies, didn’t fancy protecting the Holy Land as a partner in international trusteeship as well.
As nobody is ever far away from the next major election, lobbyists really got busy leaning on their pals in power. The plain-speaking Presidential candidate relied on his Jewish former business partner to gain insight of that ethnic voting bloc, and some campaign funds too. Thus, just before the 1948 election, Truman made a special Yom Kippur announcement in support of the partition of Palestine. After welcoming Chaim Weizmann and Co through a side entrance at the White House he said, half-jokingly, “You two Jews have put it over on me.” And sure enough, just before the election campaign season heated up, the President not only recognised the newly-declared state of Israel, but he also gave a generous loan to the nascent state before the Republican campaign challenger Thomas Dewey could beat him to it.
Many of Israel’s lobbyists decamped to the nation’s capital and Kenen formed a successful trio with ace orator Abba Eban and strategist Louis Lipsky. Together they formed the Lobby as we know it today. Lipsky understood that bloody-minded American Zionists could provide the “armor Israel cannot get along without.” Further, the group was entirely American and so the nuisance of having “foreign agent registration” became instantly unnecessary. From then on, Washington would unwaveringly sing Israel’s song at the UN. An early tune was the blocking of Jerusalem being regarded as a corpus separatum, as was the intent of the 1947 Partition plan. America’s Security Council veto has, of course, become an old favourite in this repertoire.
By 1954 the Lobby reorganised as the American Zionist Committee for Public Affairs (AZCPA), a kind of benevolently educational, non-profit body, keeping Congress up to date in foreign matters that “did not relate to any legislation either pending or proposed.” Three years later, AZCPA lost its tax-exempt status, so Kenen manoeuvred towards a start-up magazine, his crowning achievement, called the Near East Report. This publication, separate from AZCPA, could absorb a wide range of contributions, including the purchase of multiple copies of each issue, and its circulation reached 20,000 by the close of the decade. Historian Hixson has turned its pages out with clarity and skill, describing the distribution to elected officials, universities, newspapers, churches and libraries.
From then on it’s clear that the continual expansionist efforts are not incidental to the journey, for the author always buckles it into the front passenger seat. In 1956, we read about Israel angling for a partition of Lebanon, to create a Maronite Christian ally; this gives some foundation to the Ariel Sharon-orchestrated, 1982 massacre of Palestinians living in the Shatila and Sabra refugee camps in Beirut.
Coincidentally, AIPAC was established in 1960 as well. President John F Kennedy was provided with his own top advisor on the Middle East in Myer Feldman, always on hand with helpful insight and, surprise, surprise, Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was welcomed into the White House. Any fairness in the US approach to Arab countries was effectively sabotaged at the highest level. It would be hard to make this up. The 1960s are shown by the author to have been the decade of the Israelis forcefully securing water access, keeping those pesky Palestinian refugees off all agendas, and demonising Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser and his less significant competition in the Arab leadership stakes.
Hixson’s research led him to archival material from the State Department and other originally non-public sources. The revelations are often quite damning of the Israel Lobby. Reliance on them makes this history seem other-worldly, as there are no anchoring citations connected to the mainstream media. The precise chronology is sometimes unclear, though, which is unfortunate in such a riveting narrative; the endnotes are unhelpful in this regard.
Nationally syndicated New York journalist Dorothy Thompson was the most important woman in American journalism. After the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, she was a supporter of the Zionist project, but became an early critic of Israel. She’s all-too-briefly mentioned here, and Hixson makes no mention at all of her sudden loss of coast-to-coast syndicated columns. Given the near certainty that the Israel Lobby had something to do with this, it would have been an important, relatable example of its influence and power.
The Lobby’s luckiest success of the 1950s was getting support from the Christian Zionist Lyndon B Johnson. After President Dwight D Eisenhower’s sanction-like response to the Israeli-led Suez invasion in 1956, the then Congressman Johnson apparently softened legislative support for any official reprimand. The book notes that he used the famous “Johnson treatment”, but no hint is made as to what this was. Nonetheless, his handy Zionist advisors and his own blessed Zionist heart colluded to ignore arguments from the Secretary of State, the Pentagon and others who got in the way.
Even those already familiar with the 1967 Six Day War will still find jaw-dropping facts in Hixson’s book. Apparently, if Nasser had not been running his own Vietnam War in Yemen and his forces had overcome the Israeli attack, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol’s government was considering the use of nuclear weapons in the Sinai Peninsula.
Although this book leaves out some important stars of pre-Nakba lobbying — Hollywood’s Ben Hecht and the Revisionist movement’s Peter Bergson (aka Hillel Kook) — it’s still a worthwhile read. For the period in question, it now forms a bond with two other stellar histories: Rafael Medoff’s Militant Zionism in America (2002) and Leonard Slater’s equally outrageous own-goal, The Pledge (1970).
For information about the first two decades of the Israeli state’s existence in occupied Palestine, this book is invaluable. Author Walter L Hixson has pulled the curtains back on what has been perhaps the ultimate political corruption in US Presidential politics, otherwise known as the Israel Lobby.