10 thoughts on “Fierce Attack on ‘The Israel Lobby’ – Tikun Olam תיקון עולם إصلاح العالم
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  1. I want to focus on your point about “the charge of antisemitism”. I agree with you that many are too quick to cry antisemitism but in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s often appropriate. Consider this analogy. Five men rob a bank, four of them are white and one is black. If the black man is singled out for punishment, wouldn’t you call that racism? True, in my story the black man (like the other four) is guilty. But I think we’d agree that racism would be underlying the selective punishment.

    I get a similar sense when I read about Israel’s abuses of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. The Middle East is hardly a bastion of civil rights. Almost all of Israel’s Arab neighbors deny the basic rights of their own citizens. How many Middle Eastern nations allow women to vote? Or have laws explicitly descriminating against Jews? Why do you think the once-vibrant Jewish communities in Iraq and Iran disappeared? The persecution of Jews in Arab countries in the past century dwarfs anything Israel has done. I’m not saying that Israel is beyond criticism but, for example, when calls are made to divest from Israel and not from its neighbors with far worse records on civil rights, antisemitism isn’t such a bad guess.

  2. I didn’t quite follow the relevancy of yr analogy to the the anti-Semitism charge.

    The way I look at the charge of anti-Semitism when it is abused (which it often is) is that Jews can be extremely defensive folk (for completely understandable reasons given our history). Anyone who speaks ill of me could be the anti-Semite who wants to kill me and my family. It’s happened before this way in our history. So I can understand jumping to such conclusions. But we also have to control our reflexive “fight/flight” instinct in the face of such criticism of Israeli policy. I wouldn’t call Walt or Mearsheimer “friends’ of Israel. They’re much more interested in the issue of how support for Israel has distorted U.S. foreign policy priorities. But to call them anti-Semites or accuse their essay of being “Protocol-like” (as the right has done) is merely a way to shut down debate. If you say the content of their study is treif then the faithful don’t even have to pay attention to it at all. I think that’s most unfortunate because there is much of value there.

    As for the demise of “once vibrant” Jewish communities in Iraq: are you forgetting that Ben Gurion sent Mosad operatives (I believe with the collusion of the Iraqi government) to Iraq to bomb synagogues so Iraqi Jews would make aliyah?

    I think you far overstate the issue of Arab persecution of Jews “in this century.” I’m not saying there was none because that would be false and foolish. I can remember Jews hanged in Iran and Iraq if you back a ways historically. But the record is not consistent. Morocco didn’t want its Jews to leave. Its king asked them to say. But again Israeli operatives encouraged them to leave out of Zionist duty.

    Are you arguing that Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is more benign that Jewish treatment at the hands of Arab governments? If so, I’d take STRONG issue with this statement.

  3. Hi Richard. We disagree on a few things, but to just take you to task for one of them:

    M&W say,
    “More important, saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around. Support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question that many al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are motivated by Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. Unconditional support for Israel makes it easier for extremists to rally popular support and to attract recruits.”

    To this, you say,
    “This analysis is precisely correct and needs to be stated over and over again until it sinks in with policy analysts in Washington, D.C. Anyone who tells you (and most of the Jewish lobby will tell you this) that U.S. support for Israel has no bearing on our relations with the Arab world or the war in Iraq or the struggle against Al Qaeda is trying to sell you a pig in a poke.”

    I think your wrong. I would point you to Christopher Hitchens’ excellent critique of M&W in Slate (http://www.slate.com/id/2138741/). In it, he writes,
    “Bin Laden’s gang emerged from a whole series of tough and reactionary battles in Central and Eastern Asia, from the war for a separate Muslim state in the Philippines to the fighting in Kashmir, the Uighur territories in China, and of course Afghanistan. There are hardly any Palestinians in its ranks, and its communiqués have been notable for how little they say about the Palestinian struggle. Bin Laden does not favor a Palestinian state; he simply regards the whole area of the former British Mandate as a part of the future caliphate. The right of the Palestinians to a state is a just demand in its own right, but anyone who imagines that its emergence would appease—or would have appeased—the forces of jihad is quite simply a fool. Is al-Qaida fomenting civil war in Nigeria or demanding the return of East Timor to Indonesia because its heart bleeds for the West Bank?”

    The only bearing America’s support for Israel has on our relations with the Arab world is that corrupt Arab dictators (and wannabe dictators like Osama) use the Palestinians and their struggle in order to foment hatred of the West among their own people. The fact that none of these nations is interested in doing anything to help the Palestinian struggle is evidence that their interest in Israel is its usefulness as a flag for burning.

    I would suggest that if America were to significantly lessen its support for Israel, it would have no real impact on hatred for the U.S. in the Arab world.

  4. I’m surprised you rely on Hitchens to make your point as I regard him as someone completely lacking in intellectual credibility and it is he who is the “fool,” not those who pose a connection between U.S. policy toward the Palestinians and Arab hated of the U.S. As far as his contention that Bin Laden doesn’t care much about Israel or Palestine, he’s dreaming. I don’t even follow Bin Laden’s various communiques to the outside world very much & I’ve heard him denounce U.S. support for Israel a number of times.

    Regardless of what Bin Laden believes, the entire Arab world is riveted on the I-P conflict and the U.S. role in supporting the Israeli position to the detriment of the Palestinians. I am absolutely unprepared to cede the primacy of this issue in the minds of the world’s Arabs. The U.S. has to worry more about its relations with the Arabs of the world than it does specifically about Al Qaeda or Bin Laden. As such, we have to help resolve this conflict or we’ll forever be hated by a huge percentage of the world’s population.

    none of these nations is interested in doing anything to help the Palestinian struggle

    This is pure anti-Arab propaganda. Do you know how many Arab nations have pledged financial support for the new Hamas government? If not, you ought to be doing some research of yr own. Why do you think the Arab League meetings continually reaffirm their support for the Saudi I-P peace plan as they did this week? Because they don’t care about Palestinians? Why do you think Muslims pray each day for the the Jerusalem holy places? Because they don’t care? If you think that Palestine is any less in the minds & hearts of the world’s Muslims than Israel is in the minds & hearts of the world’s Jews you are sorely mistaken.

  5. Richard, I whole heartedly agree with your assessment of the M&W paper. I live in California and I found the paper through Haaretz and the London Review of Books and I have a Harvard labeled copy. I read the full version twice, and highlighted it. I first got interested in the I/P conflict in 2002 and was appauled by the media misrepresentation of the facts. 4 years and a M&W paper later, there is still little discussion of it in the American media (surprise!). As I’ve read responses to the paper, yours was the first positive response to the paper (aside from that hate monger David Duke). I take that back, I did hear Garafalo breifly mention it on the Majority Raport on Air America. I don’t want to see Israel get destroyed nor do I feel much simpathy for a people who riot over a cartoon. I’m not anti-semetic and I don’t appreciate being labeled one because I agree with a pretty acurate academic assesment of the situation. My question to you is this, What would you recommend a secular progressive American do about our tragic foreign policy?

  6. Scott: Thanks for your comment & your interest in this tortured conflict.

    There are a number of positive critiques of the essay though there are far more which denounce it. I can find you some positive ones if you’d like to read more.

    There are a number of things you can do to help if you’re so inclined. You can write to your congressmember & tell them not to sponsor or vote for the Ros Lehtinen-Lantos Palestinian Anti-Terrorism bill now before Congress. You can take a look at some of the other blogs I feature in my Mideast Peace category in my sidebar. If you want to see things for yourself you can go on progressive tour of Israel & Palestine. If you are charitably inclined there are scores of terrific organizations that deserve support. I’ve linked to many of them in a Mideast Peace Directory I wrote a few yrs ago & posted here. I can get you the link if you can’t find it yourself.

    I hope this provides a few ideas & thanks for your support of a progressive approach to the I-P conflict.

  7. Dear Richard,

    I found your blog while surfing the Net on the subject of the M&W article. I agree with you wholeheartedly when you state that the authors have “something very important to say.” and that there is a pernicious campaign to discredit them. Unfortunately, that campaign has been very successful thus far.

    If you would permit me to take issue on the following point you make,

    “To call Dennis Ross or Aaron Miller slavish adherents of pro-Israel policy seems absurd. Since when does the fact that someone “has lived in Israel and often visits the country” mean that they can’t have a balanced perspective on the conflict that allows for empathy for the Palestinian cause?”

    To my mind, Ross is a government official that best illustrates the presence of pro-Israel advocates in the US government. Ross, who was the lead negotiator at the Camp David Peace talks, was publicly criticized for his lack of objectivity by his own deputy Aaron Miller. Miller, in a Washington Post op-ed called “Israel’s Lawyer” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/22/AR2005052200883.html), wrote that during the negotiations Ross and his team (which included Miller), instead of facilitating compromise, which would have been in America’s best interest, chose to act as an advocate for the Israelis. Dennis Ross is currently the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israel think-tank which is funded by the American Israel Policy Action Committee (AIPAC).

    Richard, your fair-mindedness and honesty is apparent from your review of the M&W article. My guess is that if you give Dennis Ross and his team of negotiators another look, you may change your mind about them.

    Here is something I wrote about about the lobby elsewhere. This is the type of stuff that Israelis read that never makes it to the States.

    In their recent best-selling book, Boomerang: The Failure of Leadership In the Second Intifada, presently only available in Hebrew, Raviv Drucker and Ofer Shelah, two respected Israeli journalists, described a meeting between the then Secretary of State Colin Powell, who the lobby considered to be the “weak link” in the chain of more Israel-friendly Bush Administration officials, and Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith, who is a prominent member of what in Israel is called the Jewish lobby. The following selection indicates in a dramatic way the power of the Israeli lobby.

    “In his [Powell’s] own State Department there was a keen awareness of the strength of the Jewish lobbyists. Secretaries of State did not usually meet with lobbyists, but both Jewish officials and Jews that did not officially represent specific groups from Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League to Ronald Lauder, could meet with Powell on short notice…. At the State Department, Foxman had an aura of omnipotence. He was held responsible for the appointment of Indyk as Undersecretary of State under Clinton, and was thought to have played a role in the appointments of Secretaries of State Christopher and Albright. Powell related to Foxman almost as if he were someone to whom he must capitulate. Once Foxman told one of his deputies that Powell was the weak link. When the Secretary of State heard this he began to worry. He knew that in Washington a confrontation with the Jewish lobby would make his life difficult. Once he arranged a meeting with Foxman, but the busy Foxman postponed the meeting three times. When they eventually met, the head of the Anti-Defamation League apologized to the Secretary of State [for the postponements]. “You call, we come,” replied Powell, paraphrasing a well known advertisement for a freight company. That statement had much more meaning than just a humorous polite reply.”

    Drucker, Raviv and Shelah, Ofer, Boomerang…, Keter, 2005, pps. 132-133. Translation and text enclosed in brackets, mine.

    I enjoyed your review and will be check back again.

  8. Ira: Thanks for that thoughtful comment. I think we’re generally in agreement on this issue with the caveat that you attribute ulterior motives to figures like Ross that I wouldn’t. You say that Miller accused Ross of being “an advocate for the Israelis.” But you don’t quote fr. his article so I’m not sure if he said precisely that or something different. I read that op ed piece some time ago & didn’t come away w. the impression you did. BUt I haven’t reread it myself.

    I HAVE heard Ross & Miller speak many times & read their work in the press and respect them both. When I last heard Miller speak his criticisms of the Camp David process didn’t speak to Ross himself. They addressed what he perceived as the naivete of the Clinton folks in believing they could get both sides to agree to a settlement w/o doing the requisite preparation before the summit began. He also felt that presenting Arafat a plan that did not include a return to pre-67 borders was foolhardy.

    Ross btw is not “the director” of WINEP. He’s listed as “counselor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow.” I think perhaps you’re giving him more centrality to the organization’s management than he warrants. He’s also a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum which is one of the more dovish Israel-oriented think tanks in DC.

    And as for Foxman, I think that Aipac is a FAR more pernicious group than the ADL (though I disagree often with Foxman’s & ADL pronouncements). But I’m not enough of an insider to say my impression is the correct one. I know Aipac is bad news. ADL seems a more benign group to me (though one certainly worthy of monitoring).

    I’m not doubting the conversations bet. Powell & Foxman took place but I’d have to see what the author’s sources were before deciding how credible the passage is. I’m not saying it isn’t credible. Just that it needs to be authenticated before it’s fully credible.

  9. Dear Scott, thank you for your well reasoned and objective response to this contreversey. It is more important than ever that those in the Jewish community who disagree with AIPAC’s goals speak up and speak up loudly so that gentiles like myself can more easily avoid having the label “anti-semite” attached to us. Israel has been wagging this dog for a long time. I remember being asked by a friend’s wife in 1978 why I hadn’t spoken out publicly against American policies that supported Israel unconditionally. My response was that I had a wife and children and I would not put them through the public condemnation of myself (and all attached to me) that would follow. Amazingly, for a total political naif, I instinctively knew how powerful the Israel lobby was.

  10. Adam: Sometimes Gentiles who criticize Israel deserve to be called anti-Semites and sometimes they don’t. It really depends on yr analysis of the situation. If you believe that Israel is wholly evil & add a denunciation of Jews into the mix then yes, that would be anti-Semitic. But if one merely criticizes Israeli policy without attacking the foundation of the State of Israel, then this is far fr. being anti-Semitic. In fact, it is in Israel’s best interests to hear such criticism (though it hardly ever does).

    I think perhaps you’re overstating the power of the Israel lobby. I have no doubt that someone affiliated w. Aipac is following this blog. But neither you nor I are prob. going to feel any negative repurcussions fr. our opposition to Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians. But for people like Juan Cole that is a diff story. Become prominent and powerful enough & you will become a target.

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