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21 Jun, 2009

The day Lee Kuan Yew cited the problematic role of the U.S. Jewish lobby

Originally Published: 21 Jun 2009

Aviation industry conferences are not usually where one expects to hear political statements, so it was pleasant surprise, nay, shock, to hear former Singapore Prime Minister and now Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew in a meeting of airline leaders in Kuala Lumpur cite the role of the U.S. Jewish lobby in the continuing problems faced by the Middle East.

The Minister Mentor was only saying what the world already knows and what many Middle East commentators have long warned of: Pro-Israeli lobby groups like the innocuously-named American-Israel Public Affairs Committee play a major role in influencing the inner sanctums of decision-making in the U.S. government and perpetuating the imbalance that triggers much of the violence.

The fact that leaders like Mr Lee are saying publicly what they would not say when in office is a bit of a curiosity. Had former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed made the same comment, there would have been hell to pay. But there was no international media there, except some aviation correspondents, and the local media missed the comment entirely.

Mr Lee was at the 65th annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association at which he was conferred an award in recognition of his role in the development of Singapore Airlines and Singapore’s Changi airport. To accompany the accolade, he was interviewed on his life and times by BBC news-anchor Nik Gowing.

After some discussion of Mr Lee’s life and times in the aviation world, Mr Gowing veered towards world affairs. Naturally, the Middle East situation came up. As U.S. President Barack Obama had just made his speech to the Muslim world, Mr Lee was asked what he thought of it.

“Words do not a change of policy make,” Mr Lee replied, noting that settling the Middle East impasse was critical to the future of America’s relations with the Islamic world. He indicated that pressure would need to be brought on Israel to stop its settlement building on the West Bank, which the U.S. is well placed to do.

“If the funds are cut, despite the very strong Jewish lobby in the U.S. , then (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu will have to think again,” Mr Lee said.

Caught off guard, Mr Gowing tried to cut him off, but Mr Lee went on: “If you solve the Middle East problem, you will solve many other problems. You will solve the violence in Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and many other places. Terrorism will go down. And we will all breathe easier. I put the Middle East very high on the agenda.”

Aside from underscoring the veracity of what this column has been advocating for years, the fleeting but highly significant comment only goes to show that leaders are coming to the end of their tether with Israeli intransigence, and the monumental waste of human life, time, effort and money in the perpetuation of one of the world’s most intractable problems.

Indeed, the comment sends a clear message that the role of Jewish lobby and its obstructionist role should be subjected to the same processes of accountability as Islamic terrorism.

Even the most casual observer of the Middle East knows well the three components of the Jewish lobby’s strategy in the United States, it is to infiltrate and influence the political process by flexing the financial muscle which helps those politicians get elected. In Europe, it is to constantly harp on the Holocaust and keep Europeans in a permanent state of guilt. In the rest of the world, it is to market the “shared values” ploy by positioning Israel as some kind of liberal democracy while painting Arabs/Muslims as “terrorists” and a “common threat.”

If that does not work, there’s always the “anti-Semitism” angle.

I doubt any Jewish leaders would dare to accuse Mr Lee of anti-Semitism. They might get a tongue-lashing they would regret.

As global leaders become increasingly outspoken about the root causes of the Middle East problems, Jewish lobby groups need to be aware of three things.

First, they now have a major fight on their hands. The chorus of opposition to the Israeli occupation will soon match what is being seen in the streets of Teheran against the Iranian clerics. The Israelis’ stalling tactics will not hold off the pressure indefinitely. Last week, the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, based in Washington D.C., held its annual meeting and came away invigorated and energised to take on the Jewish lobby.

Second, the more global leaders begin to pinpoint the role of the Jewish lobby, the more scrutiny it can expect of its inner workings, especially funding. The world will then discover that the Israeli occupation of Palestine is funded primarily by Jewish groups and Jewish-owned companies abroad, similar to the funding of Tamil Tiger terrorism by its diaspora living in Europe, North American and Australia.

Third, Jews should be ashamed of themselves. Last week, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter declared: “Tragically, the international community largely ignores the cries for help, while the citizens of Gaza are treated more like animals than human beings. The responsibility for this terrible human rights crime lies in Jerusalem, Cairo, Washington, and throughout the international community.”

Earlier this past week, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza. According to a UN press release, she told the Geneva-based Council: “Gazans’ rights continue to be severely undermined or violated. These crippling conditions must be eased. Ultimately, the blockade and other restrictions that violate human rights must be lifted.”

So, let’s get this right. The children and grand-children of the victims of the Holocaust are part and parcel of an occupation that sees people being “treated more like animals.” So much for the lessons of the Holocaust. Shame, shame.

As I have written in the past, the intellectual weakness, impotence, and lack of courage and self-respect amongst the leaders of the Arab/Islamic world bears much responsibility. And there was clear evidence of that, too.

Newsweek magazine published an interview with the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Saud al-Faisal, conducted the day after Mr Obama’s outreach speech to the Muslim world in Cairo.

Asked what is it the Saudis actually expect Mr Obama to do to pressure Israel, the prince was quoted as saying: “The United States has the means to persuade the Israelis to work for a peaceful settlement. It needs to tell them that if it is going to continue to help them, they must be reasonable and make reasonable concessions.”

He was then asked if the United States should cut off aid to Israel if it doesn’t comply. Reply: “Why not? If you give aid to someone and they indiscriminately occupy other people’s lands, you bear some responsibility.”

Finally, he was asked obliquely what if the Israelis don’t budge. Reply: “What can we do more than that? The land that is occupied is in the hands of Israel. We don’t have anything to offer Israel except normalization, and if we put that before the return of Arab land we are giving away the only chip in the hands of Arab countries.”

“What can we do more than that?” Try highlighting the role of the Jewish lobby, Your Highness.