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Hard right neocons and AIPAC

Pepe Escobar talks with Jim Lobe about this history of the Israel lobby in the United States. From Christian Zionists to Neoconservatives. (Jointly produced by IPS and The Real News)

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PEPE ESCOBAR, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: Jim Lobe is the bureau chief of Inter Press Service in Washington. He’s one of the nation’s top specialists on the neoconservative movement. We spoke on the sidelines of the AIPAC meeting in Washington on neocons, Christian Zionists, and the Israeli lobby. The drive towards the extreme right in AIPAC and the Israeli lobby started way before the Clinton administration. Do you agree, Jim?

JIM LOBE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, INTER PRESS SERVICE: Yeah. I mean, I think the evolution has been quite steady, particularly since the end of the Carter administration, when you had the Likud government in Israel, which was strongly backed by what became increasingly known as neoconservatives in the United States, reached out to Christian Zionists in the hope that they would be a lobby that would favor the settlement movement in Israel or in the West Bank and Gaza as a way of defeating Carter, who had brought many, many Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals to the polls because he was a born-again Christian, but whose ideas about the rights of Palestinians to a homeland deeply threatened both Likud and traditional Christian Zionists within the larger evangelical and fundamentalist movement. In 1982, there was still a major debate within the Jewish community as to whether the organized Jewish community should be united strategically with Christian Zionists like Jerry Falwell, or whether that should be regarded as too dangerous, in a sense. And this debate was carried out in the pages of the commentary magazine, which was published by the American Jewish Committee and edited by Norman Podhoretz, the really founding figures of modern neoconservatism. Irving Kristol, also one of the major figures in neoconservatism, and father of Bill Kristol, now editor of The Weekly Standard, wrote a letter to the editor which kind of settled the debate, in which he argued that as objectionable as Jews might find Christian Zionist theology, in fact it was, quote, "It was their theology, but it is our Israel." And thus the strategic tie between Christian Zionists and neoconservatives was essentially forged.

ESCOBAR: Would you say that AIPAC nowadays truly represents the majority of the Jewish-American community in the US?

LOBE: The American Jewish Committee [inaudible] American Jews every year, and it often asks the same questions. And I would say, for example, on the question of Iran, on which AIPAC is very hawkish, it’s very clear that they do not represent the larger American community.

ESCOBAR: Well, John Hagee was at AIPAC in 2007, and he got multiple standing ovations when he said, "Today’s 1938, and it’s Germany, and Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler." Would you say that AIPAC is keen on an attack on Iran, maybe before the end of the Bush administration?

LOBE: AIPAC’s a very broad organization. If you’re talking about the leadership, the people who serve on the executive board, the major donors, I would say probably that if all else fails, they would be very relieved by an attack before the end of the Bush administration. I don’t think the organization, per se, you know, says that’s the best solution. I think they are realistic enough, and that goes for many neoconservatives too, to know that an attack, particularly if carried out unilaterally or with Israel, will be extremely damaging to their position, not only in the Middle East but in Iran itself. What’s remarkable to me in a forum like this is most of the proceedings here—or not, perhaps, the most, but the dominant issue is Iran, as it was when Hagee spoke and as it was the year before that. You essentially have the entire US foreign policy establishment saying it’s time to engage Iran. Even a prominent and very influential neoconservative like Robert Kagan has come out in favor of unconditional talks with Iran. And for AIPAC to exclude that point of view I think points (A) to the narrowness of its leadership and (B) to the degree to which the right, the neoconservatives, even hardline neoconservatives, have taken over a major Jewish-American organization over the last twenty years.

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