Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 7, 1985, Page 2


Winning All the Battles But Losing the War?

September brought new triumphs for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Israel's awesome lobby in the U.S. Its Congressional disciples had warned the Reagan administration not to introduce into Congress the long-postponed plan to sell 40 F-15s to Saudi Arabia. Even with Congressional armament restrictions limiting their role to defense of Saudi territory, and basing restrictions literally keeping them out of range of Israeli territory, the Congressmen said they would oppose the sale so vociferously that it would doom the rest of the two planned weapons sales packages for Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

So the administration's decision to give up on the sale was passed to the Saudis, who bought British attack jets instead. They come with no restrictions on the weaponry they carry, or on basing. America's aircraft industry therefore lost $3 billion up front and an incalculable amount in follow-up training, servicing and spare parts contracts. The Israelis will lose the ability to overfly Saudi Arabian territory near Tabuk air base with impunity. They will, therefore, doubtless be demanding more free U.S. weapons to compensate for the resulting damage to their "security."

In the words of Middle East Arms Expert Anthony Cordesman, "the implications for the U.S. are disastrous." But that's not all. "AIPAC," he adds, "has done more damage to Israel in the last three months in terms of the political and military consequences than is imaginable."

Thanks a heap, AIPAC.

If anyone believes that America's mainstream, national press is more independent of the lobby than are our Congressmen, however, let him consider the selective media coverage of the Reverend Benjamin Weir, the second of the "forgotten" American hostages to emerge from long-term captivity by Shiite extremists in Lebanon.

With Americans naturally curious to listen to a Christian minister who was rewarded for 31 years of selfless service in Lebanon by being held blind-folded and in solitary confinement for more than a year, and with the lives of six remaining hostages possibly riding on his ability to deliver a message from his captors, he could hardly be denied national television exposure. He got it in a televised press conference in Washington held by the Presbyterian Church.

After the message from his captors calling for release of 17 Iraqis and Lebanese convicted of terrorist bombings in Kuwait was delivered, virtually every reporter in the audience, including former hostage Jeremy Levin of Cable News Network, tried by sympathetic questioning to help the Reverend Weir say what was obviously on his own mind: That Americans should reexamine a Middle East policy that is putting us all in jeopardy while hurting, not helping, reasonable Arabs and Israelis alike.

He said it, and eloquently, but not a hint of these most important questions and answers of the entire press conference appeared in the news accounts or the "partial transcripts" compiled by the Washington Post and the New York Times. Readers in the nation's capital who didn't hear the statements live on television would never have known they were made at all except for an account printed in the Washington Times.

Congratulations again, AIPAC. You've turned the publishers and editors of our two "great national newspapers" into craven flacks for Israel. Too bad you overlooked the littleWashington Times. Don't punish them too severely by scaring away all of their advertising, though. They're new and maybe they just didn't know any better.

Clearly, by now virtually all working journalists know better. They know what's been happening in the Middle East, and they know why they dare not write or talk about it in Washington. It used to be possible to count prominent U.S. media personalities who knew enough about the Middle East to express private doubts about Israel on the fingers of two hands. Now mostjournalists clearly entertain those private doubts. In fact, one can almost count on the fingers ofone hand the nationally-syndicated media figures who remain Israel-right-or-wrong true believers like George Will, Joseph Kraft, and William Safire. Most of the others maintain a kind of fearful, sullen silence. As was so clearly demonstrated at the Weir press conference, however, they know.

The change is due to no lack of zealousness by the lobby. It's quite simply because, under the leadership of men like Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, and Meir Kahane, Israel is deteriorating into an economic and moral quagmire from which an entire class of educated and skilled Jewish citizens is quietly fleeing. Israel's American apologists have to work harder and harder in the media and Congress to keep the lid on. As each new lobby triumph damages still more Americans, however, awareness spreads.

"Good Americans" of the Benjamin Weir and Jeremy Levin mold are reluctant to believe the worst about anyone, until guilt is absolutely proven. But when it is, they are equally reluctant to just stand by and do nothing. We think we saw evidence of that at a just-concluded convention of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). Among the speakers who joined the Arab-American members were a former chief of naval operations and many ordinary seamen who served under him. They reminded participants of an early lobby triumph, the thwarting of an official investigation into why Israel attacked the U.S.S. Liberty in 1967, killing 34 and wounding 171 Americans. There were also former members of Congress, former ambassadors, and other high officials of the Executive Branch, all of them victims of past lobby triumphs.

All were there to speak out and they did. Although lobby victims aren't new, lobby victims who fight back are. We think it's clear evidence that "the times they are a changing." Read our excerpts from former Senator Charles Percy's remarks at the Middle East Institute's Annual Conference, and Robert Hazo's report on the ADC convention in this issue and let us know if you agree.

Richard Curtiss was Chief Inspector of the US Information Agency when he retired in 1980 after 31 years of service with the U.S. Army, Department of State, and USIA.