'Zionist lobby' - Anti-American bogeyman
Time has not sapped the clout of the Zionist Lobby. Never the political force of anti-Semitic claims, yet the myth of a lobby powerful enough to bend the will of government to unpatriotic interests -- Jewish interests -- remains a handy cudgel for the right moment. Heads of state still keep the Jewish scare on ice to blame for big disruptive acts. War and bogus Zionist power go together like horse and carriage. Monarchs and icons of the past found it so. They wheeled out the bogeyman to blame for European wars. It was blamed for the first modern type, the Anglo Boer War. Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh blamed the bogeyman for World Wars I and II respectively. In the build-up to the Anschluss Hitler warned that it would be the work of manipulative Jews. On the outbreak of war, the Fuehrer hitched the bogeyman to the hell he was going to unleash.
Then Zionists plucked sovereignty out of nowhere, and the bogeyman had to get a new face. Israel now took the blame for making war not peace. Israel was saddled with a unique sin called Occupation. It was the old bogeyman in new clothes that wouldn’t gift the Palestinians a state. And when Israel did make offers or overtures, they were never good enough for the powers that be. A Prime Minister of Israel once took a walk on the Temple Mount, and the world erupted in furious disgust. So did a Palestinian uprising known as Intifada. Never mind that their leader, Yasser Arafat, had planned the Intifada long before the bogeyman walked.
Was there no limit to blameworthiness? It seemed not when a member of Europe’s parliament traced climate change to the bogeyman. Clare Short complained that Israel “undermined the international community’s reaction to global warming.” How did the bogeyman contrive such a thing? Wily is as wily does. An Israel that refuses to make peace, explained her accuser, “prevents leaders from attending to the threat of carbon that, if left unregulated, will end the human race.” So, when the human race ends, it will be laid at the bogeyman’s door.
Then a President of the United States wheeled it onto his platform. It was unprecedented. Barack Obama had made a deal with his country’s foe number one, Iran. He claimed that only Israel with the Zionist lobby opposed a deal that would make the whole world safer. At American University on August 8, 2015 the President rattled the bogeyman’s cage. He accused it of wanting war; of getting America into war (Iraq); of a fondness for military escapades; of exaggerating Iran’s threat in order to push America into fighting Israel’s fight; of misleading Americans about the cost of going to war; of wanting an elected President to abrogate his sworn duty to put American interest before that of a foreign country. Obama had kept the bogeyman in reserve for a big occasion. Here it was. What could be bigger than a threat to the precious (Gollum-precious) nuclear deal? “As president of the United States, it would be an abrogation of my constitutional duty to defer to Israel’s wishes on this matter,” said the White House incumbent.
Throughout the West pundits and politicians hone their blades. Support the nuclear deal or be another war-thirsty Zionist. ‘Spoiler!’ echoes from Washington to Brussels and back again. The lobby is conceived, even by the best of brains, in conspiratorial terms. “The situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security, and that of many of its allies, in order to advance the interests of (Israel)?” Mearsheimer and Walt wrote those words in 2007, in their celebrated essay, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”
Is the Zionist lobby a de facto policy maker? Is it an underhand thing to sway public policy and opinion? Are pro-Zionists not simply doing what every other lobby group does? When conducted in the open in a democratic system, what is inherently sinister about lobbying to swing the political climate in favor of some cause?
Some of the staunchest Obama supporters concede that their man got it wrong. Law Professor Alan Dershowitz took his President to task for bringing out the old bogeyman. “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is acting properly in lobbying against the Iran deal. And President Obama is acting improperly in accusing him of interfering in American foreign policy and suggesting that no other foreign leader has ever tried to do so. President Obama is as wrong about American history as he is about policy. Many foreign leaders have tried to influence US foreign policy when their national interests are involved." Dershowitz went on to observe that Obama himself invited British Prime Minister Cameron to influence US Congressmen to support the Iran deal.
Considering that the Middle East conflict dominates world agendas, and has done for a long time, lobbies -- pro, anti and powerful -- are bound to be active volcanoes. In the American context everyone knows about AIPAC. “There is a big bad lobby that distorts US foreign policy…way out of proportion to its actual support by the American public. But the offending lobby is not AIPAC but rather the Arab lobby, which opposes the Jewish state.” So writes Mitchell Bard in a book titled, ‘The Arab lobby: the invisible alliance.’
Looking at Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, at his unequal treatment of the parties in the Middle East “Peace Process,” at the way he forced Israel to make painful concessions while he enticed the Palestinians to make fanciful demands, it’s not difficult to pick out which lobby group, Zionist or Arab, wielded more influence over American policy. How the two wield power is a different matter. An unhealthy lobby, Bard says, is one that tries with unlimited money to buy what it cannot win on the merits of its case.
Is the Zionist lobby all powerful? Far from it, according to Walter Russell Mead. “When pro-Israel policies are popular, as they usually are, lobbies that advocate for them appear unstoppable. But when the Israel lobby gets on the wrong side of public opinion, the magic goes away.”
And Mead goes on to describe how AIPAC is smart enough to know not to start fights it cannot win. It stayed out of the Hagel confirmation battle and the Jonathan Pollard scandal, both of which it understood were hopeless fights. “It would do the lobby no good at all to wage a battle on lost causes and suffer humiliating and disempowering defeat.”
AIPAC did lose that uncanny touch on two big Washington divides. It paid the price in humiliating and, partially, disempowering defeat. One lost AIPAC fight was over its support for an attack on Syria; the other was AIPAC’s support for the Iran sanctions bill. Misjudging them as winnable, betting on the losing horse twice, the Zionist lobby gave up some of its hard earned invincible aura.
Arm-twisting the powers that be is a perfectly legitimate thing to do. How a lobby goes about twisting arms is another matter. Is it more open than covert? Does it respect human rights and liberties? No lobby will have a perfect scorecard. Just because it operates in a democratic system, don’t expect a lobby to be democratic. The Zionist lobby is no exception.
In the West two monolith lobby groups, one pro-Israel and the other anti, vie to sway policy and opinion. The Anti-Zionist boycott lobby, under the umbrella of BDS, vies with a pro-Zionist lobby under the umbrella of Jewish communal bodies. Both lobby groups are legitimate. Why pillory the Zionist lobby and not the adversary? A small yet economically influential Jewish minority has a perfect right to try its hand at arm-twisting.
On the battlefield of Europe how effective is the lobby’s record? In twisting government’s arm to do the bidding of Zionists, the jury is well and truly unanimous: the boycott lobby has outgunned and outplayed the Zionists. Take product labeling from the “Palestinian territories” so called. Boycotters won that battle without having to draw weapons. Given the non-too subtle backing of the European Union, the outcome was inevitable. Even taxpayer money helps to oil the wheels of the anti-Zionist lobby. And why not! The Muslim component of Europe is massive and vocal; trade with the Arab world is gigantic, while the threat of terrorism hovers over Europe like the sword of Damocles.
And that surely is the essence of lobbying: asking policy makers to pay a price by confronting them with a credible threat.
Steve Apfel is a prolific author (novels and non-fiction), essayist and commentator on ‘enemies of Zion’ which happens also to be the title of his latest book. His books are: ‘The Paymaster,’ 1998; ‘Hadrian’s Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel’s critics,’ 2012; ‘War by other means: Israel and its detractors,’ Contributor. Israel Affairs, 2012; ‘Enemies of Zion,’ (for publication in 2015); ‘Balaam’s curse’ ( A novel in progress.). Author webpage: http://sbpra.com/SteveApfel