Ashleigh Banfield, the MSNBC journalist who a few months ago falsely charged Israel had violated Security Council Resolution 242, and then compared Israeli and Iraqi compliance with UN resolutions – Israel came in a close second – has found a new villain: the “Jewish Lobby,” and its alleged role in paying off politicians to support Israel.
The topic arose recently when Banfield read this note from an e-mailer: “What are the interests of America in Israel? What do we get from Israel by supporting them with billions of dollars? Do politicians in the US support Israel for America’s interests or just for their own benefit?”
Did Banfield respond by mentioning the common interests and values that bind the world’s greatest democracy with the Middle East’s only democracy? Did she mention the strategic value to the United States of a militarily strong Israel? Did she mention that US aid to Israel was minimal until after the Six Day War, and only took off after Israel saved US ally Jordan from a PLO-Syrian invasion in 1970? Did she mention Israeli intelligence coups in acquiring both a MiG-21 and a MiG-23 during the height of the cold war, and the immediate and invaluable access the US was given to those Soviet-built fighter jets? Did she mention the 1979 Camp David Accords, which secured peace between Israel and the former Soviet ally Egypt, and which mandated increased aid to Israel to compensate in part for Israel’s return of the Sinai and the resulting loss of strategic depth, air bases, training grounds and oil fields? Did she mention Israel’s prescient destruction of Iraq’s nuclear program in 1981, the only thing that stopped Saddam Hussein from having nuclear weapons when he invaded Kuwait nine years later – nuclear weapons he could have used against US troops during the subsequent Gulf War?
No, Banfield mentioned none of this. Instead she simply quoted some figures on money contributed by “the Jewish lobby” versus money contributed by the “Arab and Muslim lobby,” as if that were the whole picture:
Very quickly from the Center for Responsive Politics, here is the amount of the Jewish lobby. In fact in the last 12 years, 41.3 million dollars has come into mostly federal candidates and party committees. That's about two thirds or so is going to the Democrats. When it comes to the Arab and Muslim lobby, though, it's less than 300,000 dollars for the same 12-year period. Hopefully that answers your question as well. (May 8)
The next evening Banfield read a viewer e-mail criticizing her “Jewish lobby” contentions:
Your response incorrectly conveyed the message that the sole reason the U.S. and our politicians stand with Israel is the fact that the pro-Israel lobby in the United States provides millions of dollars to U.S. politicians, while the pro-Palestinian lobby provides only a small percentage of that sum.
President Bush, U.S. diplomats, politicians of both parties, and commentators have stated America’s strategic interest lies in that Israel is a democracy, a free and open society with Western values, and a free market economy – the only such country standing in a sea of totalitarian and repressive Arab regimes.
Banfield falsely responded that she had mentioned Israeli democracy:
Gary, very good point that you make. You're absolutely right. There are lots of reasons cited by American leaders and Americans alike for standing behind Israel. And the democracy in Israel is one of them. I did mention that, in fact, I didn't leave that out last night.
Now, maybe Banfield realized she should have cited Israeli democracy, maybe she even believed she had – but the fact remains that the words never passed her lips. Undaunted by the criticism, Banfield then repeated her claims about the Jewish lobby, adding that “somebody once told me as I was getting into the journalism business, always follow the money trail ...”
Had Banfield really followed that trail, she might have noticed that the largest contributor in the “pro-Israel” list she cited is the Center for Middle East Peace and Economic Cooperation (CMEP), which supposedly gave about 20 percent of the total, all to Democratic candidates (a curious thing, since so many Republicans have been so supportive of Israel). And she might have further noticed that CMEP’s positions have more in common with many pro-Palestinian groups than with those of the mainstream Israeli consensus. CMEP’s founder, for example, defended Syria’s late dictator, the notorious Hafiz al-Asad, as a good and benign ruler. Does that sound like the “pro-Israel” lobby?
In addition, had Banfield dug just a bit deeper, she might have noticed that CMEP is, in any event, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, and is therefore legally barred from making any political contributions whatsoever. In other words, Banfield’s research was less than thorough.
No less important, Banfield also ignored two crucial players in the struggle for public opinion: staunchly pro-Arab US businesses, and staunchly pro-Israel Evangelical Christians. US companies that do billions of dollars of business in the Arab world, especially with the Gulf states, routinely do their Arab clients’ bidding when the time comes to lobby Congress or the administration against Israel. And Evangelicals overwhelmingly support Israel, were a crucial component in President Bush’s winning electoral coalition, and are pivotal to the hopes of many conservative candidates. So maybe the next time Banfield goes “On Location” (the name of her program), she might leave the flak jacket and passport at home and instead visit the headquarters of big oil, followed by a side trip to the Bible belt. Both she and her viewers might actually learn something.