Thursday, December 21, 2006

3 Trends in the Use of the "Israel Lobby" Diatribe

Playing the "Israel Lobby" card isn't just for 'academics' anymore

Following the most recent airing of the accusation of the excessive power of the "Israel Lobby" by Mearsheimer and Walt, the same them has been struck in 3 very different circumstances recently. This may signal the seepage of the idea into mainstream discourse. At the very least, it signals that claims about the exaggerated influence of the "Israel Lobby" has become a weapon that people are less and less bashful about using--whether an ex-president in the LA Times, a defense attorney defending a terrorist, or a Jewish liberal.

Jimmy Carter of course, claiming that he was merely Speaking frankly about Israel and Palestine when he claimed:
For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize any policies of the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices.
Obviously, Carter has never heard of Noam Chomsky or read Alexander Cockburn and The Nation. He has not read They Dare To Speak Out-People and Institution Confront Israel's Lobby by Paul Findley, published in 1985. Perhaps he is not aware of Senator William Fulbright's open criticism of Israel back in 1963 or Hedrick Smith's criticism of AIPAC in his 1990 book The Power Game: How Washington Works.

You can argue about the amount of influence that the "Israel Lobby" in general and AIPAC in particular has, but to claim that there is an "absence of any significant contrary voices" just doesn't fly. Carter's accusation of the power of the "Israel Lobby" is as a private citizen writing an editorial in a newspaper, as opposed to writing a 'scholarly' piece or politician and introduces the idea into the general public.

A very different use of the claim of the power of the "Israel Lobby" is in a court case in Illinois where Mohammed Salah is accused of having served as a high-ranking operative of Hamas, which the US considers a terrorist organization. The defense has claimed that Hamas is a political party and not a terrorist group by virtue of having won democratic elections. However, the defense has gone further, pointing to Israel's influence in the case in order to
prove that the criminal case is the product of "the joint venture, cooperation, and partnership" between the American and Israeli governments.

...A defense lawyer, Michael Deutsch, described a "longstanding and profound political military and law enforcement relationship" between Israel and America. One authority he cited is an academic paper published in March, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." The hotly disputed treatise by a political science professor at the University of Chicago, John Mearsheimer, and the academic dean at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Stephen Walt, argues that pro-Israel elements have effective control over American strategy in the Middle East.

Mr. Deutsch also asked to present evidence about the role of the Anti-Defamation League as a "conduit and facilitator" between Israeli and American authorities.
If Deborah Libstadt had not won her court case in David Irving's libel suit in 2000, the result would have been an important boost to Holocaust deniers around the world. Likewise, if Salah's lawyers were to be successful in court in using the claim of "Israel Lobby" influence, it would give the claim an aura of validity that would make it possible to undercut the US-Israel relationship.

The third example of the exploitation of the "Israel Lobby" claim is by Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun. In a recent article, Lerner defends Jimmy Carter's latest book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, going so far as to claim that "Jimmy Carter was the best friend the Jews ever had as president of the United States." Lerner goes on to decry those who oppose his view of the way to peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs:
Unfortunately, this peace is impeded by the powerful voices of AIPAC and the mainstream of the organized Jewish community, who manage to terrify even the most liberal elected officials into blind support of whatever policy the current government of Israel advocates. Ironically, this blind support has had the consequence of pushing many morally sensitive Christians and Jews to distance themselves from the Jewish world, which makes blind support for Israeli policies the litmus test of anti-Semitism. Younger Jews cannot safely express criticisms of Israeli policy without being told that they are disloyal or “self-hating,” and elected officials tell me privately that they agree with Tikkun’s more balanced “progressive Middle Path” which is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine.
Lerner takes advantage of the rhetoric of those who accuse the "Israel Lobby" of having too much control in the US and gives it added life, claiming that the same situation occurs within the Jewish community itself. By using the claim himself, he gives the claim added weight.

The "Israel Lobby" claim is being voiced once again--and as more than just a criticism of Israel and its influence in the US. It is also being used as a tool: by Carter to deflect charges of plagiarism, by a lawyers to defend terrorists, and by a Jewish liberal to support his version of a peace plan for Israel.

We will be hearing the phrase "Israel Lobby" a lot more.

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