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The Israel Lobby

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by Brien Jackson

I have to say, I find the behavior of the “usual suspects” in the “Israel lobby” downright fascinating. What’s most unusual is that they go to such great lengths to claim that no such lobby exists. But this is just silly, American politics, especially in Washington, is basically interest group politics. That’s not really a controversial point. There are gun lobbies, environmental lobbies, abortion lobbies, corporate lobbies, labor lobbies and right on down the list. And while people say they dislike lobbyists, I suspect it’s a little like lawyers; everyone hates them, until you need one.

Moreover, it’s just plain as day that there is a group dedicated to lobbying on behalf of Israel’s interests here, and attempting to maintain the status quo prohibition on even handed debate on Israeli actions, especially in government. That’s what the Chas Freeman debacle was about, maintaining as much of one-sided perspective in the administration as they could. They’d already gone after George Mitchell, after all, but effort was likely derailed by the rather bizarre protestation that he was “too fair.”

So the real debate, I think, is how effective they really are. On the one hand, they were able to force Freeman out. On the other hand, they couldn’t force Mitchell out, and the worm is clearly turning in the jouranlistic and academic fields. Ultimately, I think they still have a lot of influence, but it’s clearly on the decline, and that’s mostly a fact of their own making. Not that long ago, AIPAC’s enforcer role was actually limited to junior reporters and lowly academics. These were people who didn’t really have a lot of institutional protection, nor a lot of personal clout to fight back, and so they were cowed. And the effect of this was to give the impression that AIPAC was the sort of institution that you didn’t want to cross. But at some point AIPAC started believing their own hype, and they started targeting much higher profile individuals. They went after Stephen Walt and John Mearshimer, and the scribes at Commentary turned their ire on Time’s Joe Klein. These were people of very high stature in their fields, who were very highly regarded by their peers, and so much of AIPAC’s criticisms not only rolled off of them, more or less, but attacking such well respected figures earned AIPAC much more skepticism from others in those fields.

I think the best evidence that AIPAC”s influence is waning is the increasingly bizarre behavior they, are their allies, exhibit. For example, this is Chas Freeman’s withdrawal statement:

The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful  lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East.  The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, the willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth.  The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government – in this case, the government of Israel.  I believe that the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for US policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the state of Israel.  It is not permitted for anyone in the United States to say so.  This is not just a tragedy for Israelis and their neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States

John Podhoretz labels this proof that Freeman is an “Anti-Israel anti-Semite.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who can’t for the life of me figure out what’s supposed to be anti-semitic about that statement. And let’s not even get into the laughability factor of having Steven Rosen and Jeffrey Goldberg front and center complaining that a potential NIC director is too sympathetic to another country. I don’t approve of “dual loyalty” accusations as a rule, but nonetheless you’re pushing it when you volunteer for another country’s military (Goldberg), or you’re under indictment for espionage in the United States for passing classified material to Israel. And, of course, the irony of letting an alledge spy participate in an effort to discredit someone who has been appointed to an intelligence position speaks for itself.

So, broadly speaking, I think the AIPAC group still has a lot of influence in government, but at the same time it’s clearly waning, and I suspect that the more generations shift, the less influence they will have.

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