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Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August/September, 1997, pg. 96

Middle East HistoryIt Happened in August

Fulbright Called for U.S. Defense Pact With Israel But Was Labeled Anti-Semite

By Donald Neff

It was 27 years ago, on Aug. 22, 1970, when Democratic Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas proposed that the United Nations impose peace on Israel and Arab states and that the United States guarantee Israel's borders within its pre-1967 boundaries. His proposal also urged that the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation be granted self-determination, that Jerusalem become an international city, as mandated in the original U.N. partition of Palestine, and that Israeli ships be guaranteed passage through the Straits of Tiran and the Suez Canal.1

Fulbright was the respected chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and generally a foe of U.S. commitments abroad. Nonetheless, in a 15,000-word speech titled "Old Myths and New Realities the Middle East," he said it may be necessary to commit U.S. troops to the Middle East in order to gain peace. He proposed that the United States enter into a bilateral treaty with Israel to "guarantee the territory and independence of Israel within the borders of 1967."

Fulbright added: "The supplementary, bilateral arrangements with Israel would obligate the United States to use force if necessary, in accordance with its constitutional processes, to assist Israel against any violation of its 1967 borders which it could not repel itself, but the agreement would also obligate Israel, firmly and unequivocally, never to violate those borders herself."

It was an extremely favorable proposal for Israel, giving it recognized sovereignty over the Palestinian land it had captured and held by force before 1967, free naval passage through the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean, and a formal defense treaty with the United States, which it had long sought. But it did not give Israel sovereignty over Jerusalem and, significantly, it would mean the return of vast areas of Arab territory it had captured in 1967 and on which it already was constructing illegal settlements.

Instead of using Fulbright's plan to talk peace, Israel sharply rejected it as unfair, and Israel's U.S. supporters increased their personal attacks on the senator. Fulbright had long been characterized as an "anti-Semite" by American Jews because of his critical views of Israel's aggressive policies and its enormous influence in Washington. His critics, and there were many, particularly on the right after he spoke out against the Vietnam War in the mid-1960s, delighted in referring to him as "Senator Halfbright."

But it was Zionists who especially despised him. Fulbright had earned the ever-lasting enmity of Israel and its friends as early as 1963, when his Foreign Relations Committee held hearings on foreign lobbies, including Israel's lobby. The hearings concluded that Israel operated "one of the most effective networks of foreign influence" in the United States. It found that Israel used tax-free dollars donated to the United Jewish Appeal for charities in Israel in the United States to influence U.S. opinion.

These funds eventually were used to purchase the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, to establish and maintain the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and to pressure U.S. newspapers to support Israel and to attack critics of Israel, among other activities. Fulbright revealed that the Zionist pursuit of promoting Israel included "placement of articles on Israel in some of America's leading magazines," arranging for radio and TV programs sympathetic to Israel, and subsidizing trips to Israel by such "public opinion molders" as Christian clergymen, academics and mass media representatives.2

As the years went on, Fulbright became an increasingly outspoken critic of Israel. During the 1973 war in the Middle East, he said that the best way to have peace was for the United States and the Soviet Union to refuse to provide Arabs and Israelis weapons, adding: "but we are not going to do that....Somewhere around 80 percent of the Senate of the United States is completely in support of Israel and of anything Israel wants." In December, while the Senate debated the award to Israel of more aid, Fulbright observed that "instead of rearming Israel, we could have peace in the Middle East at once if we just told Tel Aviv to withdraw behind the 1967 borders and guarantee them."3

When Fulbright stood for re-election the next year, he was defeated, ending a 32-year congressional career. He believed his criticisms of Israel largely caused his loss, noting that "any member of Congress who does not follow the wishes of the Israel lobby is bitterly denounced and can be assured of finding his opponent richly funded in the next election." 4

Indeed, major Jewish contributions flowed to his opponent, Dale Bumpers. A Bumpers' aide bragged: "I could have bought central Arkansas with the offers of money from the Jewish community they came particularly from people in New York and California who have raised a lot of money in the Jewish community for political purposes."5

Although out of office, Fulbright maintained his interest in the Middle East and Israel's influence in America. He joined a Washington law firm, where he was well situated to keep an eye on the Israel lobby's activities. In a 1989 book, The Price of Empire, he wrote: "The [Israel] lobby can just about tell the president what to do when it comes to Israel. Its influence in Congress is pervasive and, I think, profoundly harmful to us and ultimately to Israel itself...So completely have many of our principal officeholders fallen under Israeli influence that they not only deny today the legitimacy of Palestinian national aspirations, but debate who more passionately opposes a Palestinian state."

He added: "AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee] and its allied organizations have effective working control of the electoral process. They can elect or defeat nearly any congressman or senator that they wish, with their money and coordinated organizations. They are the really important power to negotiate with in the Middle East if you want an agreement.

"The Israelis and their supporters here especially the latter have long taken the position that if you do not do exactly as they wish, you are anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. Accordingly, since no one welcomes these charges and the political sanctions that go with them, it has been impossible to follow what I would call an evenhanded policy in the Middle East. It has not been possible in the past; and it still isn't."6

Anyone doubting his claims about the influence of Israel's lobby had only to read the obituaries written about Fulbright following his death at age 89 on Feb. 9, 1995. The lengthy obituaries recounted his distinguished career as the president of the University of Arkansas at age 34, then being elected to the House of Representatives in 1942 and to the Senate in 1944, where he introduced legislation that led to the Fulbright Scholarship program. He became chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1959 and retained that position for 15 years, the longest tenure in history.

For all that, no mention was made in either The New York Times or The Washington Post about his views toward the Middle East. It was as though his critical positions on Israel had been sucked into a black hole, totally forgotten. Yet here was an issue on which Fulbright had provided a major voice, and which directly contributed to the end of his political career. Clearly the Middle East constituted an important part of his life. Indeed, his career and his loss of office could not be understood without mention of it.7

That the omission of this vital subject was no oversight became clear in succeeding weeks. Both newspapers printed a number of letters from readers recalling various aspects of Fulbright's long career. But none of the letters sent to the two papers reminding them about Fulbright's record on Israel were deemed fit to print.8


*Fulbright, J. William, The Price of Empire, New York:Pantheon Books, 1989.

Lilienthal, Alfred M., The Zionist Connection: What Price Peace?, New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1978.


1 Excerpts are in New York Times, 8/23/70.

2 Alfred M. Lilienthal, "J. William Fulbright: A Giant Passes," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April/May 1995.

3 Ibid.

4 See Fulbright's last book, The Price of Empire.

5 Alfred M. Lilienthal, "J. william Fulbright: A Giant Passes," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April/May 1995.

6 Richard H. Curtiss, "U.S. Obituaries on Senate Leader Omit His Mideast Views," Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, April/May 1995.

7 Ibid.

8 Donald Neff, Middle East International, 4/9/95.

*Available from the AET Book Club