How “Russiagate” helps the Israel lobby

Ever since Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 US presidential election, the Democratic Party establishment has held tightly to the belief that her shock defeat was not the result of her and their shortcomings, but rather due to a nefarious Russian plot to “hack” the election in “collusion” with the winner.

Instead of examining why Donald Trump was able to connect with voters in economically distressed parts of the country in a way that Democrats failed to do, adherents of the Russiagate narrative hoped that investigations would quickly find a smoking gun, leading to Trump’s impeachment and undoing an election result they consider aberrant and unjust.

On Friday, I spoke at a conference in Washington, DC, titled The Israel Lobby and American Policy, sponsored by The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and IRmep, a group that researches the lobby’s influence.

As I note in my talk, a handful of journalists – especially Max Blumenthal and Aaron Maté of The Real News – have consistently debunked the wild, exaggerated and sometimes fabricated claims of Russian interference made by members of the self-styled but woefully ineffectual “Resistance” to Trump.

Watch the video above.

True, over the course of the last year, special counsel Robert Mueller has made a number of indictments, but none of those cases – including the recent indictment of 13 Russians linked to a St. Petersburg troll farm – substantiates the heavily hyped claim that Russia helped Trump win the White House.

Perhaps the most high-profile indictment of someone in Trump’s inner circle, the president’s first national security adviser Michael Flynn, actually shows that rather than colluding with Russia, senior members of Trump’s team were really working with Israel to advance its agenda.

And while no one has pinpointed evidence of Trump auctioning off his foreign policy to any Russian oligarchs, he has definitely tailored his policy toward Israel to the demands of casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, his biggest campaign donor.

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Adelson’s immediate priority was securing US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the American embassy there – and Trump duly obliged.

New censorship helps Israel

In my talk I consider how the Russiagate narrative is actually helping Israel and its lobby in particular ways.

I point out that the Russiagate hysteria being adopted by many liberals is legitimizing censorship that helps Israel clamp down on free speech and a free press.

Last year, the Russian-funded network RT was forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).

As Maté has noted, free speech advocates and journalists were largely silent about it, perhaps thinking this tool of government control over the media would never be used against them.

But now, Israel’s supporters in Congress – including Senator Ted Cruz – are demanding that Al Jazeera be investigated by the Department of Justice and forced to register as an agent of Qatar. They are explicitly citing the US government crackdown on RT as their precedent.

Al Jazeera’s transgression is that it produced an undercover documentary on the workings of the Israel lobby in the US.

Qatar has come under intense pressure from that lobby to make sure the documentary is never aired. Five months after the network’s head of investigations Clayton Swisher announced it would be released “very soon,” the film has yet to be broadcast.

On Monday, The Electronic Intifada exclusively published details of what is in the film.

According to a source who has seen it, the film identifies a number of lobby groups as working with Israel to spy on American citizens using sophisticated data gathering techniques. It is also said to cast light on covert efforts to smear and intimidate Americans seen as too critical of Israel.

True, FARA is being used only against foreign networks, but the point is that these outlets – whatever their flaws – are providing space for discussion and dissent that docile US mainstream media keep closed.

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It’s simply impossible to imagine CNN, ABC – or for that matter the BBC – showing true independence and taking on the power of the Israel lobby.

While organizers diligently informed media about the Washington conference, the only outlets that invited me on to talk about the Israel lobby were the The Real News and RT. I know that other speakers were shut out of mainstream media as well.

And besides, there are other forms of high-tech censorship that are being used to stifle or stigmatize dissent in domestic media: Partly as an outgrowth of Russiagate, Silicon Valley giants Google and Facebook have succumbed to political pressure to effectively throttle the exposure of independent outlets in the name of fighting extremism, “fake news” and alleged foreign interference.

The perverse effect has been to reassert state and elite control over media and erode the freedom that those of us shut out of mainstream outlets rely on. Nothing could suit Israel and its lobby better.

Stark warning

The conference in Washington featured many interesting presentations that can be seen at The Washington Report’s YouTube channel.

Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Colin Powell when he was secretary of state in the run-up to the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, issued a stark warning that the US ramping up its military presence in Syria may be a prelude to launching a war on Iran on behalf of Israel.

Wilkerson said that Israel and its ally Saudi Arabia are encouraging the US to fight a regime-change war against Tehran that they would be incapable of mounting on their own.

“We’ve already done Iraq, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan,” Wilkerson said, “so we’d just be seen as continuing the trend.”

He warned that an Israeli confrontation and war with Lebanon – perhaps on the pretext of disputed gas fields in the Mediterranean – could provide the pretext.

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In an ominous parallel, he likened the current situation to 1914, the eve of World War I – any spark could generate a broad regional or even global conflagration.

Wilkerson singled out the role of the neoconservative think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies as leading the campaign for war on behalf of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his defense minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Notably, the source who spoke to The Electronic Intifada about Al Jazeera’s suppressed Israel lobby film said that the documentary reveals that the same think tank may be acting as an agent for Israel in its covert efforts to undermine support for Palestinian rights in the US.

In spite of Wilkerson’s worrying thesis, it must be said that, however powerful, the Israel lobby cannot alone force the US to undertake foreign military conquests. For one thing, US elites have never needed encouragement from anyone to wage devastating wars around the world.

When the US establishment sees a critical interest at stake, it pursues it regardless of what the lobby may want. That is why the US signed the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement despite all of Israel’s efforts to sabotage it. Of course whether that deal survives the Trump administration remains to be seen.

In his keynote address, Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy stated that Israel’s military rule over Palestinians “is today one of the most brutal, cruel tyrannies on Earth.”

He asserted that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights is a “legitimate tool” and the “only game in town” to force Israel to end this injustice.

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