Who really controls US (and Canadian) policy towards Israel/Palestine? – Stephen Gowans argues that it may not be who you think it is

SteveGowansIn a new book, Ottawa-based independent political analyst Stephen Gowans examines why the USA has given such extensive military, diplomatic and economic support to Israel for the last half century. That support has led some to conclude that Israel (or “Zionists”, or even “Jews”) control US politics. Gowans calls this the “Judeo-Israeli hijack theory” and believes it is mistaken. Read more and watch the short video interview with Gowans here.

In 2007, respected US academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt wrote a bombshell study about the powerful influence of Israel on US foreign policy. It was called “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy“.  The book describes the work of a “loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction”. The authors argue that by all-out support of Israel, the “lobby” actively undermines American interests. It was a New York Times best seller.

israel lobbyThe idea that Israel, or Zionists, or even “the Jews”, control US foreign policy is widespread in Canada, including among many Palestinian human rights activists . It is also a trigger for many in Canada and the US who fear that lurking behind such claims is an anti-Semitic bias. This fear can be exploited by the Israel lobby itself to protect Israel from criticism.

The effectiveness of the charge of “anti-Semitism” was shown recently in Trudeau’s rapid backtracking when Bnai Brith alleged that Hassan Guillet an approved Liberal candidate, was “anti-Semitic” based on a quote in which he argued that US foreign policy is controlled by Zionists. Trudeau moved quickly to dump him. 

But independent researcher Stephen Gowans thinks the idea that US foreign policy is controlled by Israel (or even by Zionists) it is mistaken. gowans israel cover

Gowans doesn’t deny that AIPAC, which claims to speak for 4 million American Jews, is powerful and influential. But, he points out that there are many other lobby groups who are also very influential (for example the National Rifle Association with its 5 million members, or the dozens of US defence industry associations which have fewer members but very deep pockets).

Overall American policy, he argues, is shaped by huge corporate interests.

In fact, instead of Israel controlling the US, he claims that the exact opposite is true. “Israel is completely at the mercy of the United States for its existence”, he writes. “It must do Washington’s bidding, or risk losing the special relationship that protects it. Without the shelter Washington provides, Israel would perish.”

CTIP interviewed Stephen Gowans about his theory.


Israel, A Beachhead in the Middle East: From European Colony to US Power Projection Platform Paperback by Stephen Gowans is now available in bookstores (and on Kindle).


Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is a weekly newsletter which encourages and promotes a thoughtful discussion among Canadians on the Israel/Palestine issue, including a well informed and sensitive discussion about solutions. CTIP encourages serious people who disagree with any column to make comment. Disagreements respectfully offered are welcome. To learn more about what CTIP does, contact us at chair.ctip@gmail.com.



  1. Israel and the forces that govern the US have a symbiotic relationship. In general, when there is a symbiotic relationship, it is pointless to ask which one is in charge, which one benefits most, or which one is most dependent on the other. They have a predatory symbiotic relationship, with both sides working together to exploit or oppress others. Neither party can be regarded as neutral in conflicts between one party and others who are not in the relationship.

    1. I wonder whether it would be more apt to say that the interests of the two countries are complementary but not identical, and that on those occasions when their interests are in conflict that the interests of the United States, as an imperial power, and Israel, as a part of its empire, prevail. On two occasions Israel has conquered the Sinai and on both occasions has relinquished the peninsula when told to do so by the United States. Innumerable examples can be cited of Israel either formulating policy and actions within a framework of anticipated US constraints or reversing course in response to US objections.

      As is true of any hierarchical relationship, subordinates have some freedom to operate independently within a set of constraints, but not to violate the core interests of the dominant party. Israel depends for its very existence on the continued patronage and protection of the United States, and it’s careful not to go so far that it would jeopardize the continued goodwill of its sponsor. Indeed, the necessity of the sponsorship of an imperial power has been at the core of the Zionist project from its beginning. Israeli officials of state have never seen themselves as equals of their imperial sponsors or part of a symbiotic relationship, but as servants to imperial power.

      1. WHAT’S: How the parties view each other or how they view themselves is irrelevant in determining whether or not their relationship is symbiotic. The only requirement is that the relationship is mutually beneficial. In the case of Israel/US, I personally doubt that any officials on either side view themselves as subordinate or subservient to the other entity. Instead, each views the other as useful.

      2. WHAT’S: When Israel relinquished the Sinai it gave up a territory that was of little value to it except that their occupation made it less likely that the Peninsula would be used to attack it. The Sinai would have been difficult and expensive to defend. By returning it to Egypt, Israel turned the area into a buffer that Egypt was obliged to defend and got Egypt to restrict movement between Gaza and Sinai thus further isolating the people living in Gaza. In other words, Israel was acting in its own self-interest and did not need to be told to give it up.

  2. fascinating discussion and much of which I do not consider so heretical. While Gowans maintains the Israel lobby has to be put in perspective with parallel entities like the NRA and Chamber of Commerce, I was puzzled that there was no reference to the support of Evangelical Christians who also have reason for U.S. foreign policy being supportive of Israel — its biblical need for protection and eventually rapture. R


  3. There are two issues here about who is influencing who, and who’s interests are being served. Gowans talks about Israeli Middle East foreign actions and policy, but not about its occupation of Palestine. Those are not exactly the same issue.

    Noam Chomsky shares a similar POV, that the US is a major imperialist superpower, and Israel is a convenient ally in a region where the US has major imperial interests and conflicts. The US runs the show.

    At the same time, the occupation of Palestine is not directly in the US’s interests, (although one could argue that indirectly, the pacification of Palestinians maintains Israel’s military industrial complex – which aids its relationship with the US’s Middle East policy).

    Israel lobby forces work strategically to protect Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine from any US criticism and opposition within the US. It works to create the public ideas that Israel is the good guy and Palestine is the bad guy in the conflict. It works the US to block or mute UN investigations and resolutions of the occupation.

    1. Allowing Israel to seize Palestinian land is part of the price the US pays for having a reliable ally in the Middle East.

  4. Poppy cock and red herring – all in the interest of chasing our tails in hopelessly pointless questions which obviously do not move us closer to understanding let alone resolution. One thing about this approach is it almost always guarantees continuation of the status quo while good people debate a moot point. Faced with blatant and even prideful criminality of Israel’s daily actions against Palestinian civilians across every realm of human existence, we waste time and energy on this question. The more important question is – why engage yet again in a pointless exercise. Thank you Mr. Parnas, your response is by far the most cogent and useful (as usual).

  5. Hello Dr Larson, I read the note but I have not watched the interview so maybe this is premature. However it just felt necessary to refer to Netanyahu’s behaviour during the Obama years to put into perspective as to who needs whom. Margaret Navarro

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Hey Margaret, I am sure you are not alone in thinking that. But I wonder – was Obama really being forced to do what Netanyahu wanted, or was he being forced to do what Congress wanted?

  6. I think Stephen Gowans is right that the U.S. is in charge: when the U.S. wants to assert itself over Israel, it does. But he’s wrong, I think, that Israel is simply a tool of U.S. imperialism. Here’s another view, from Robert Kagan (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/09/12/liberal-world-order-helped-israel-flourish-now-state-is-pushing-back/?arc404=true) Thank you, Scott, for recommending this interesting article).

    It seems to me a leftover from some kind of archaic and scientistic, Marxian, base/superstructure determinism, that the root cause of everything has to be economic. Much of the support for Zionism came, and for Israel comes, from genuine liberal motives — as Edward Said implied when he said it is the bad luck of Palestinians to be victims of the victims of the holocaust. Zionists/Israelis used to understand this and, whatever was really happening, always proclaimed their efforts as liberal and moral (e.g., the most moral army in the world).

    Robert is concerned that our discussions be useful. I think Palestinians and their supporters must accept that (until they are able to defeat Israel militarily) they must appeal to liberal sentiments.

  7. First to point out that when Gowans mentions other large influential organizations like National rifle assoc. or The retired people …These are internally involved, not trying to dictate foreign policy. Granted there are others who have indirect reasons to influence foreign policy, but nothing compare to the Israeli, Jewish lobby in U.S. and the Christian Zionists..

    To the question of U.S. benefiting from Israel. U.S. is also benefiting from alliances with many other countries, like U.K., France, Saudi Arabia, Canada etc. But none has the staggering direct influence on politicians in general and the congress in particular,like the ones mentioned have.

    Almost no politician in U.S. will come out to go against Israel. Is this not enough.
    No precedent of these kind of interference from any other country.
    When Obama was running for reelection, (not sure about the timing) Netanyahu in his speech in U.S. congress told them flat out who to vote for and who not. During that speech he got 29 or 39 standing ovations.No criticism.

    Can Gowans name any country coming close to these influences. On the contrary, I believe that U.S. could achieve a lot more around the world including Arab countries by genuinely helping in different ways other countries in the last few decades. That with almost no harm to U.S. personal and interests.

    1. Hey Jake, with respect, I think there is another way of analysing the same facts.

      The facts you state are right. Netanyahu did get those standing ovations. And Obama was humiliated.

      BUT why did those congressmen/’women support Netanyahu? What lobbies are at work in their constituencies in addition to AIPAC? How many have arms producers in their constituency? Do they lobby too? How many have military bases? How many have big oil companies? Dont those companies/organizations have their own rights to support Israel?

      Gowans argues (and I agree with him here) that AIPAC is a significant voice. But there are many other voices. And to attribute US support for Israel to AIPAC (or Zionists, or Jews) alone is too simplistic IMHO.

      1. I agree with the points which you raised and I mentioned it in my first paragraph. The fact is that from time to time there are criticism of other countries by U.S. law makers, although the same economic considerations apply, but in relation to Israel, there is NONE. And if once awhile one dares to speak the TRUTH, he/she is QUASHED and in most cases is committing political suicide, as Jimmy Carter many years ago said, while being interviewed by Larry King.
        Not to forget that the deliberate misuse of the terms: Antisemitism, Holocaust, Jew haters, Israel’s existential threat etc, play significant role in the over all phenomena.

  8. Some observations in reply to the comments about my position.

    Do AIPAC and evangelical Christians influence US policy? Without question. But are AIPAC and evangelical Christians the only, or even the principal, influences on the way Washington engages with the Middle East?

    We can examine this by asking two questions.

    #1. If Israel didn’t exist, would US policy toward the Arab and Muslim worlds differ? The White House recently released a statement that said it “remains committed to ensuring global oil markets are stable and well supplied,” which is to say it remains committed to a self-appointed ‘leadership’ role in West Asia. In a world without Israel, it’s doubtful that Washington would cease to regard Middle East oil as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history”, as a US State Department analysis once concluded. The United States dominates the Middle East economically and politically not to defend Israel, but to defend US commercial, financial, and strategic interests, most of which are bound up with the region’s treasure trove of oil. It defends Israel, because Israel is a strategic asset used to suppress local opposition to US domination and control of the Middle East’s material prize and strategic power.

    #2. What would the United States gain by forcing Israel to concede a Palestinian state on some portion of the territory Israel has conquered, or more generally, to stop obstructing the realization of Palestinian rights?

    If Washington pursued this course, its Arab allies would be marginally happier, but they’re already firmly within the US camp and effectively allied with Israel. On this front, there would be no gain of consequence for the United States. Egypt, Jordan, and the Gulf monarchies would continue to act as US satellites, cooperating informally with Israel, in the service of US interests, as they do today. No change.

    Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah would continue to oppose US hegemony in the Middle East, as would other forces of local independence and national assertiveness. Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS, and other Islamist groups would continue to oppose US meddling in the Muslim world. Arab nationalism would remain a force with which Washington would have to contend. The objection of Islamists and nationalists to US Middle East policy is not limited to the plight of the Palestinians. Again, no gain for the United States. No reduction in opposition to US hegemony.

    Washington, thus, has no incentive to defend and promote the interests of the Palestinians. Doing so would contribute in no significant way to the defense and promotion of US commercial, financial, and strategic interests in the Middle East. If anything, it would harm them. Acting in favor of Palestinians at the expense of Israel would disrupt a relationship with a staunch ally which has long been counted on to undermine the local forces of independence and national assertiveness that must be suppressed if US commercial, financial, and strategic interests in the region are to be safeguarded and advanced.

    It’s easy, then, for US politicians to support Israeli designs on Palestinian territory, and to cater to AIPAC and evangelical Christians. There’s no reason not to. Why block the aspirations of a valuable ally, if the ally’s pursuit of its aspirations comes at no cost to yourself? If your attack dog wants to raid the rabbit hutch, and you don’t need rabbit meat, why would you stand in the way?

  9. To expand on my earlier comment, one of the main arguments presented by proponents of the view that Israel and the Jewish lobby control US foreign policy is that the United States would get along better with the Arab world if it didn’t defend an Israel which abridges and violates Palestinian rights. That the United States fails to act in this manner, these people contend, means that it acts against its own interests. If Washington acts against its own interests, it must do so, they conclude, because it has been coerced by the Israeli lobby.

    What this view misses however is the reality that much of the Arab world already gets along quite well with the United States, and that, that part which doesn’t has grievances with Washington far beyond the plight of the Palestinians. Pressuring Israel to improve its treatment of the Palestinians wouldn’t result in any meaningful improvement in the degree to which the United States gets along with the Arab world.

    Hence, the United States fails to pressure Israel to grant the Palestinians the charter of humanity they seek, not because its politicians have been coerced by the Jewish lobby to act against their will, but because they have no will to act against. Improving the lot of the Palestinians offers no gains of significance to the United States in protecting and promoting its economic and strategic interests in the region. US politicians, then, have no incentive to intercede on the Palestinians’ behalf. On the other hand, they have an interest in keeping the Israelis happy, since Israel acts as the United States’ little Sparta in the Middle East, countering the local forces of independence and national assertiveness which challenge US hegemony.

    Interestingly, militant Arab opponents of Israel, including Nasser, the Assads, Leila Khaled and the PFLP, Nasrallah, Saddam, and Bin Laden, have been very clear that in their view Israel is subordinate to and an instrument of the United States, and not the other way around. The Judeo-Israeli hijack theory of US foreign policy appears to be mainly a theory of Western origin, one which resonates with a view that often recurs in Western thought about the Jews having enormous influence over world events, and also one which allows its proponents to avoid engaging with the reality that the United States is an imperialist power, and not a promoter of self-determination, universal equality, and freedom from tyranny.

    1. Is the glass half empty or half full?

      Clearly, “Much of the Arab world already gets along quite well with the United States, and … that part which doesn’t has grievances with Washington far beyond the plight of the Palestinians.” On the other hand, much Arab hostility to the U.S. comes from U.S. support for Israel, or at least so Arab leaders say — including Osama Bin Laden. Either argument works. Both are factors.

      Liberal sensitivity to Jewish concerns is very strong. So is the Israel Lobby. American leaders do not have sufficient reason to cross it. But that doesn’t mean the Lobby controls U.S policy in the Middle East.

  10. WHAT’S: Your analysis implies a “dog eat dog” world in which every party acts in its own self-interest and ignores the interests of the other. In my observation dogs do not eat dogs and many people act on principles other than their own self-interest. Further, countries are not homogeneous societies; within each country, individuals differ greatly in why they oppose or support a policy. Ignoring that leads to a dangerously oversimplified view of a situation.

  11. Thank you Peter for detailed analysis. I agree with the points you made for example that the Arab countries do not really care that much about the Palestinians and also that they and U.S. has no gains to be made by going against Israel. I agree to all.
    You did agree to the power of Israel, the Jewish lobby, the Jews and the evangelicals, but don’t hold the idea that they have much significance in dictating U.S. Middle East policies.
    I think that their power to influence is enormous. There is no denying that politicians, policy makers up to presidents are terrified to criticise Israel, because they know that they can lose in several ways.The loss will be personal, financial, their name smeared plus the party’s losses financially (the Benjamins) and politically. They have the money and media and the support of most U.S. citizens, (since most citizens due to decades of propaganda believe that this little country of Israel only trying to live in peace, but they are facing imminent existential threat every day), that they can attack viciously anyone who even mildly dares to open his mouth.
    Look at what is happening to Corbyn in U.K. plus the two U.S. congress ladies. Also to consider that politicians are being brain washed by constantly going to Israel, all paid by AIPAC. Carter maintains that he lost second term presidency due to his stand against Israel.
    Recently I watched one hour documentary about Israel’s torpedoing the new most electronically sophisticated U.S. boat in 1967 in the Red sea, killing scores of Marines and injuring many, in order to prevent U.S. from witnessing the attack on Egypt.The cost of the boat was 100 million but is was sold on the quiet to a far east country $100,000 as scrap metal.
    President Johnson decided that he can not forgive this and will punish Israel. The Jewish lobby asked him not to, but he said he will. They went back to him and threatened him that if does they’ll smear his name as Antisemite and bring the blood libel on him. After 3 days of thinking he gave up.
    I don’t say that Israel, +++ control U.S. policy, but the power and influence is great. U.S. invasion of Iraq had great deal to do with Israel, due to the 4 Zionists closest Bush’s advisers and the Jewish lobby.

    As always I value your work and writings greatly.

    1. hey Jake,
      I would like to make a small comment on your last statement.
      Quote: “I don’t say that Israel, +++ control U.S. policy, but the power and influence is great. U.S. invasion of Iraq had great deal to do with Israel, due to the 4 Zionists closest Bush’s advisers and the Jewish lobby.”

      That is absolutely true. But the question Gowans raises is this: If Israel had not existed, would the USA have attacked Iraq anyway? Iraq was, along with Iran, THE country in the Middle East that was most strongly opposed to US involvement in the area.

      I conclude that Israel and the USA had convergent interests.

  12. Peter, “if Israel didn’t exist would U.S. invade Iraq anyway” this would be a total new way to look at this and a lot more. Most likely if Israel didn’t exist, the whole world would’ve been different today. In the last 100 years, the Zionists and later Israel put the whole Middle East upside down and had directly and indirectly effected the whole world to some degree.

    By an influx of a lot of Jews coming there from Europe which had nothing in common with the region in any way and with the explicit plan to take over the land by any means, killing tens of thousands, dispossessing hundreds of thousands and inflicting never ending atrocities on the locals plus attacking all neighbour countries, all the while having total support of U.S. and western countries in many many ways, (too numerous to mention in a short paragraph),

    These events created millions of angry people, and rightly so.These created a whole lot people wanting to hit back. I don’t deny that western countries not having their colonial agendas, but I don’t believe that the level of hostilities would’ve been near what they turned out to be with Israel there, combined with Israels unrelenting push together with the Jewish lobby and the evangelical Christians.
    I believe that perhaps 9/11 would’ve not happen.

    The whole world could be different even if Al Gore was elected instead of that idiot cowboy G. Bush.

    Yes in my opinion if Israel didn’t exist, there was no reason for Iraq’s invasion.

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