The decline of the pro-Israel lobby

Social media aside, politics too play a pivotal role in the shift and decline.

945 0
945 0

Published in Astro Awani, Focus Malaysia & New Straits Times, image by Astro Awani.

ACCORDING to Middle East observers, the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in the West has been declining over the years – on the back of rising awareness and shift of sentiment towards the cause of Palestine.

Generally, the decline can be attributed to the worsening and never-ending human rights abuses and crimes perpetrated by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) which have over the years become very outright in their oppression of the Palestinians.

Citizen/public (Track II) or “charm” diplomacy – where Israeli citizens and civil society seek to present a positive and benign image of their country via cultural, social, economic and political exchanges has failed to convince as social media is a powerful and potent antidote to the propaganda at the grassroots level.

Social media, more often than not, carry images in more graphic and lurid terms that tend to have shocking effect on public viewers whilst simultaneously evoking strong sympathy for the oppressed Palestinians.

YouTube videos that, for example, record the brutal treatment of Palestinian women and children by the IDF – which isn’t one-off or isolated but systematic and on-going – would naturally provoke outrage and sympathy.

Social media aside, politics too play a pivotal role in the shift and decline.

In the UK, we see that it’s due to the mainstreaming of hitherto fringe politics and campaigns like the election of Jeremy Corbyn – who from out of “nowhere” – was elected the Leader of the Labour party in 2015.

Corbyn was an outsider and outlier within both the wider party as a whole itself as well as the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that includes the centre-left Cooperative Party.

He’s known as somewhat of a maverick who regularly defied the party line by breaching the “three-line whip” on major issues such as membership of the European Union/EU and of Nato (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), nuclear disarmament, and not least on Israel-Palestine.

The presence of the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) meant that there had not been much difference on the issue of Palestine between the “left” and “right” on the spectrum of British politics prior to that.

Traditionally, significant differences among the parties had been centred on political philosophies/ideologies – rather than the policies.

For example, both the Labour & Conservative governments were Keynesian on macroeconomic policy and pursued a full employment strategy up until the 1970s.

Whilst both parties became caught up with the Monetarist revolution (whereby Labour’s Callaghan became convinced the UK had to borrow from the International Monetary Fund/IMF and successor Thatcher of the Conservatives pursued privatisation, de-regulation and liberalisation with gusto), they exchanged stance on the question of what is now known as the EU.

The formerly pro-European Economic Community (EEC) Conservative Party is now the mainstream embodiment of Brexit, whereas the historically anti-EEC Labour Party is still having a hard time coming to terms with the result of the In/Out Referendum of 2016.

But on the issue of Israel and Palestine, both Labour and Conservative were more or less tilted in sympathy towards the former. Individual Members of Parliament (MPs) like Corbyn – who’s a prominent member of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign – did raise the issue of the Occupation in Parliament but without necessarily reflecting the official stance of the party and of the PLP.

Corbyn as party leader effectively cut-off the Labour Party from the pro-Israel lobby, more so when his core supporters embodied in the anti-Zionist Momentum group (also from the fringe) acted as his “praetorian guard” (bodyguard) and enforcer of the party line.

There are other factors too – such as the increasing polarisation in American politics with the rise and emergence of the Trump cult personality from 2016 onwards – that ironically or paradoxically accelerated the decline.

Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner is, of course, Jewish and was to later become the mastermind of the “Deal of the Century” (DOTC) that gave American blessing for Netanyahu’s plan to de facto (i.e., in practice but not legally) annex or take-over administratively one-third of the West Bank.

In other words, the move from (temporary) occupation to (permanent) annexation that would destroy any hope for a viable two-state solution.

His financial ties and interests in Israel deepened in tandem with his role relating to Middle Eastern diplomacy, as highlighted by the New York Times in “Kushner’s Financial Ties to Israel Deepen Even With Mideast Diplomatic Role”, Jan’ 2018).

Arguably, under Trump, the pro-Israel lobby in the US (American-Israel Public Affairs Committee/Aipac) – through Kushner – was at its peak and the closest it could ever get to being within “the inner circle of the inner circle” of the US President.

In fact, as the Middle East Eye rightfully made the point, Kushner personified the Israel lobby right at the very heart of the Trump administration.

The irony is that the pro-Israel lobby in the person of Kushner has succeeded in bringing Arab partners of the US into the pro-Zionist sphere of influence.

But domestically, the deep polarisation and division caused by the election of Trump has blunted the influence of the lobby as it got sucked into the political game – by openly shifting much of the support to the erstwhile President and the Republican Party.

In other words, the strategic and tactical miscalculation of the pro-Israel lobby in the US by abandoning its bi-partisanship played straight into its own decline.

This coincided with the ascendancy of anti-Zionist (to be distinguished from anti-Jewish) factions within the Democrat Party – which propelled the Biden-Harris dream team (who unlike Corbyn, however, are “centrists” on the Palestine issue) on the road to power.

And with more minorities – who tend to be more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause – becoming more politically active and involved in the party hierarchy, the pro-Israel lobby has less room to manoeuvre.

In short, under Trump, the Republican Party has moved further to the right whereas the Democrats aided by political demographics have gone in the opposite (i.e., leftward) direction on the issue of Israel and Palestine. As it is, current and (foreseeably) future developments aren’t propitious for the pro-Israel lobby in the US.

As Asa Winstanley has cogently articulated in the Middle East Monitor, expose on the pro-Israel lobby’s antics of dirty tricks and smear tactics to put the Palestinians in a negative light as contained in e.g., the 2017 Al-Jazeera documentary, “The Lobby”, can only serve to further diminish its influence.

Expect the pro-Israel lobby, considered as a whole, to shift its attention from the West back to the Middle East, Africa, Asia and so-called “non-First World” countries as Israel ramps up its soft-power diplomacy on all fronts (economic, industrial, science including research and development/R&D, medical including vaccine, agricultural, technical, tourism, etc.).

It’s also expected, however, that the pro-Israel lobby will become more isolated and insulated from the policy-making institutions (executive and legislative) of the world’s major powers and, in due course, become something of an irrelevance. Its role would be increasingly taken up by Israeli government officials and citizens (public diplomacy), instead.

This is what happens when the aim of a lobby group is, actually at the end of the day, to deny justice to an oppressed people.

Jason Loh Seong Wei is Head of Social, Law & Human Rights at EMIR Research, an independent think tank focused on strategic policy recommendations based on rigorous research.

Bahasa Malaysia

Diterbitkan di Astro Awani, Agenda Daily & Utusan Malaysia.

MENURUT pemerhati Timur Tengah, pengaruh lobi pro-Israel di Barat telah merosot selama tempoh beberapa tahun lalu – di sebalik peningkatan kesedaran dan anjakan sentimen terhadap perjuangan Palestin.

Secara amnya, kemerosotan tersebut disebabkan pelanggaran dan pencabulan hak asasi manusia yang semakin memburuk dan salah laku Pasukan Pertahanan Israel (IDF) yang bertahun-tahun selama ini kian terbuka dalam penindasannya terhadap rakyat Palestin.

Diplomasi awam (Jalur Kedua) atau pesona (“charm”) – di mana warganegara Israel dan masyarakat sivil berusaha menampilkan imej positif dan mesra negara mereka melalui pertukaran budaya, sosial, ekonomi dan politik – terutama seperti yang dilaksanakan di bawah Benjamin Netanyahu gagal meyakinkan kerana media sosial merupakan penawar kuat terhadap propaganda pada peringkat akar umbi.

Media sosial kerap kali membawa imej yang lebih grafik dan ngeri yang kecenderungan memberi kesan mengejutkan kepada penonton awam dan pada masa yang sama menimbulkan rasa simpati yang kuat kepada rakyat Palestin yang tertindas.

Video YouTube yang, misalnya, merakamkan perlakuan kejam terhadap wanita dan kanak-kanak Palestin oleh IDF – yang bukannya jarang berlaku atau terpencil tetapi sistematik dan berterusan – secara nalurinya akan menimbulkan perasaan kemarahan dan simpati.

Selain media sosial, politik juga memainkan peranan penting dalam alihan sentimen dan kemerosotan lobi pro-Israel.

Di UK, pemilihan Jeremy Corbyn sebagai Pemimpin Parti Buruh pada tahun 2015 menandakan normalisasi atau pengarusutamaan politik pinggiran.

Sebelum ini, Corbyn ialah orang “terkecuali” dan berada di luar parti termasuk Parti Buruh Parlimen (PLP) yang merangkumi Parti Koperasi berhaluan kiri-tengah. Beliau terkenal sebagai seorang “maverick” yang selalu menentang dasar dan pendirian rasmi parti dengan melanggar “cambuk tiga baris” berkenaan isu-isu utama seperti keanggotaan Kesatuan Eropah (EU) (walaupun sebagai pemimpin, beliau berkempen untuk kekal dalam EU) dan Nato (Pertubuhan Perjanjian Atlantik Utara), perlucutan senjata nuklear, dan tidak kurang pentingnya Israel-Palestin.

Kewujudan organisasi Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) bermaksud tiada banyak perbezaan dalam isu Palestin di antara “kiri” dan “kanan” dalam spektrum politik British sebelum itu.

Secara lazimnya, perbezaan ketara di antara kedua-dua pihak berputar pada falsafah/ideologi politik – dan bukannya dasar atau polisi.

Sebagai contoh, kedua-dua kerajaan Buruh dan Konservatif merupakan Keynesian dalam dasar ekonomi makro dan mengejar strategi pekerjaan (berkapasiti) penuh hingga tahun 1970-an. Walaupun kedua-dua pihak terpengaruh dengan revolusi Monetaris (di mana Callaghan dari Parti Buruh diyakinkan bahawa UK perlu meminjam daripada Tabung Kewangan Antarabangsa/IMF dan pengganti Thatcher dari Parti Konservatif melaksanakan penswastaan, deregulasi dan liberalisasi dengan penuh keghairahan), kedua-dua parti bertukar pandangan mengenai persoalan apa yang dikenali sekarang sebagai EU.

Parti Konservatif yang dahulunya pro-Komuniti Ekonomi Eropah (EEC) kini menjadi lambang utama Brexit, sedangkan Parti Buruh yang berlatar-belakangkan anti-EEC sekarang masih mengalami kesukaran untuk menerima dengan hati terbuka keputusan Referendum Brexit pada 2016.

Mengenai isu Israel dan Palestin pula, kedua-dua parti Buruh dan Konservatif secara amnya cenderung bersimpati kepada yang pertama. Ahli Parlimen seperti Corbyn – yang merupakan ahli terkemuka dalam Kempen Solidariti Palestin – sememangnya membangkitkan isu penjajahan di Parlimen tetapi tanpa semestinya mencerminkan pendirian rasmi parti dan PLP.

Tony Blair sendiri, di bawah tekanan AS, berat sebelah terhadap perspektif pihak Israel pada satu ketika berkaitan dengan sekatan Gaza di bawah pemerintahan Hamas.

Pemilihan Corbyn sebagai Pemimpin Parti pada umumnya mencantas pertalian Parti Buruh dari lobi pro-Israel, lebih-lebih lagi ketika penyokong utamanya dalam kumpulan Momentum yang anti-Zionis (juga dari pinggiran) bertindak sebagai “pengawal praetorian” (pengawal peribadi) dan penguat kuasa dasar parti

Terdapat faktor lain juga – seperti peningkatan polarisasi politik AS dengan kemunculan “kultus individu” Trump dari 2016 dan seterusnya – yang secara ironis atau paradoks mempercepatkan kemerosotan pengaruh lobi pro-Israel.

Jared Kushner (menantu Trump), seorang Yahudi, menjadi dalang “Kesepakatan Abad” (Deal of the Century) yang memberi restu Amerika ke atas rancangan Netanyahu untuk mengambil alih, dari segi pentadbiran, satu pertiga tanah Tebing Barat.

Dengan kata lain, peralihan dari penjajahan (sementara) ke aneksasi (tetap) yang akan menghancurkan harapan bagi satu jalan penyelesaian dua negara yang boleh dilaksanakan.

Hubungan dan kepentingan kewangannya di Israel semakin mendalam seiring dengan perananya yang berkait-hubung dengan diplomasi Timur Tengah, seperti yang didakwa New York Times dalam “Ikatan Kewangan Kushner dengan Israel Mendalam Dengan Peranan Diplomatik Tengah”, Januari 2018).

Boleh dikatakan, di bawah Trump, lobi pro-Israel di AS (Jawatankuasa Hal Ehwal Awam Amerika-Israel/Aipac) – melalui Kushner – berada pada puncaknya dan yang paling dekat yang sekali dalam “lingkaran dalam lingkaran dalaman” Presiden AS. Sebenarnya, Middle East Eye dengan tepat mengemukakan pendapat (“Kes Jared Kushner dan lobi Israel”, 4 Dis 2017) bahawa Kushner mempersonifikasikan lobi Israel di tengah-tengah pentadbiran Trump.

Ironisnya adalah bahawa lobi pro-Israel yang berindividukan Kushner telah berjaya memujuk rakan Arab AS masuk dalam sfera pengaruh pro-Zionis. Tetapi di AS, polarisasi dan perpecahan mendalam disebabkan kemenangan Trump telah melemahkan pengaruh lobi itu yang terjebak dalam permainan politik – oleh kerana secara terbuka mengalihkan sokongan kuat kepada Presiden Trump dan Parti Republikan.

Dengan kata lain, salah perhitungan strategi dan taktikal lobi pro-Israel di AS dengan meninggalkan pendekatan bipartisan secara langsung menyebabkan kemerosotannya.

Ini seiring dengan kenaikan golongan anti-Zionis (yang dibezakan dari sentimen anti-Yahudi) dalam Parti Demokrat – yang mendorong pasukan impian Biden-Harris (yang mengambil pendekatan “sederhana” dalam isu Palestin – tidak seperti Corbyn) pada landasan menuju kuasa. Dan dengan lebih banyak minoriti – yang lebih cenderung bersimpati dengan perjuangan Palestin – lebih aktif dan terlibat dalam hierarki parti, lobi pro-Israel kekurangan ruang untuk bergerak.

Singkatnya, di bawah Trump, Parti Republikan telah bergerak lebih jauh ke haluan kanan sedangkan Demokrat yang dibantu demografi politik telah menuju ke arah yang bertentangan (iaitu ke haluan kiri) dalam isu Israel dan Palestin.

Perkembangan semasa dan (yang dijangka) masa depan tidak menguntungkan lobi pro-Israel di AS.

Seperti yang dinyatakan Asa Winstanley dalam Middle East Monitor (“Lobi pro-Israel mengalami kemerosotan; mari kita bantu dalam perjalanannya”, 30 Nov 2019), pengungkapan tipu helah dan taktik kotor lobi pro-Israel untuk meletakkan rakyat Palestin dalam keadaan negatif seperti yang terkandung dalam dokumentari Al-Jazeera 2017, “The Lobby“, sebagai contohnya, hanya dapat mengurangkan pengaruhnya.

Kita boleh jangkakan lobi pro-Israel, secara keseluruhan, akan mengalih perhatiannya dari Barat kembali ke Timur Tengah, Afrika, Asia dan negara-negara yang disebut “Dunia Bukan Pertama” ketika Israel sedang meningkatkan diplomasi kuasa lembutnya dalam semua bidang (ekonomi, perindustrian, sains termasuk penyelidikan dan pembangunan/R&D, perubatan termasuk vaksin, pertanian, teknikal, pelancongan, dan lain-lain).

Namun, juga dijangkakan bahawa lobi pro-Israel akan menjadi lebih terpencil dan terpinggir dari institusi pembuat dasar (eksekutif dan perundangan) kuasa besar dunia dan, pada waktunya, menjadi tidak relevan lagi. Sebagai gantian, peranannya akan diambil alih pegawai pemerintah Israel dan warganegara (diplomasi awam).

Inilah yang terjadi apabila tujuan kumpulan pelobi, pada akhirnya, adalah untuk menafikan keadilan kepada masyarakat yang ditindas.

Jason Loh Seong Wei merupakan Ketua Bahagian Sosial, Perundangan dan Hak Asasi di EMIR Research, sebuah organisasi pemikir bebas berfokuskan saranan-saranan dasar strategik berdasarkan kajian yang menyeluruh.

In this article