The Israel Lobby — Missing in Action

In their 2007 book The Israel Lobby, Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued that there exists a loose coalition of groups that attempts to steer American policy in a pro-Israel direction at a high cost to American national interests. Mearsheimer and Walt’s definition of pro-Israel was so broad and their sense of how injurious Israel’s existence is to America so deep that, in their telling, the “Israel Lobby” is both all-powerful and all-inclusive. Nevertheless, at the center of Mearsheimer and Walt”s “Israel Lobby” are American Jews –– the villainous neo-cons and the pro-Israel lobbying organization AIPAC chief among them.

The sad truth, however, is that if an Israeli Lobby exists, American Jews have failed to enlist. American Jews are demonstrably innocent of putting Israel’s interests first, or even high, on their list of concerns –– at least if Israel’s interests have anything to do with how they are defined by the overwhelming consensus of Jews living in Israel.

A vast majority of Israeli Jews would be prepared to cede a good deal of the West Bank in return for peace. But the experience of the last fifteen years has convinced them that peace cannot be obtained without a dramatic reformation of Palestinian society. From the standpoint of the Israeli consensus, the Obama administration’s obsessive mantra about the necessity of Israel declaring its support for the “two-state solution” is misguided, for it sends the wrong messages to both Israelis and Palestinians.

By focusing on what Israel must do, that mantra ignores what it has already done, and the lessons learned from its past actions. Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank, southern Lebannon, and Gaza, resulted in their becoming launching pads for suicide bombers and rockets aimed at Israeli civilians. Those withdrawals did not even improve Israel’s international standing.

The focus on Israel’s next step ignores those never taken by the Palestinians –– i.e., moving one iota from any of their positions as of the outset of Oslo. And it conveys the message that nothing is expected of the Palestinians in the future, unlike the Road Map, which made the Palestinians oft-promised end to incitement and terrorism preconditions for further negotiations.

Palestinian statehood, not peace, has become the watchword of American policy. And to that end, the Obama administration has indicated a willingness to impose a solution. National Security Advisor James Jones recently conveyed to a senior European official that “an endgame solution” would be formulated by the U.S., EU, and moderate Arab states, with Israel and the Palestinians relegated to the role of bystanders. On a happy note, he allowed that Israel would “not be thrown under the bus.” That same week the chief U.S. arms negotiator called for Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – a clear break with a forty year understanding between the U.S. and Israel on the issue, and an equally clear indication of how nasty the pressure on Israel might get.

The theory of an imposed solution is that the final contours of a settlement are already well known so it might as well be now. Even if the former proposition were true, the intention of the parties and their ability to perform would still be relevant. The Palestinians cannot run a state – certainly not one that Hamas would not quickly take over – nor do they seek to. Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid declared after the Hamas-Fatah civil war in Gaza, “We do not deserve a state.” Fatah prefers the present kleptocracy to a state.
Statelessness allows Palestinians to attack Israel without being held responsible, as would a state, and to remain the world’s favorite mendicants.

Meanwhile the contrast between the Obama administration’s urgency with respect to the Palestinian-Israel tract and its lackadaisical approach to Iran’s nuclear ambitions could not be starker. The linkage of Iran to progress on the former is backwards. No more than a year likely remains to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Peace will not in that period to a region in which there is still no Palestinian leader who can even recognize Israel’s right to be a Jewish state.

The Sunni states fear a nuclear Iran much more than they fear Israel, and they are saying so. They will support an alliance against Iran because it is their interests to do so, as long as they believe America will act decisively and not leave them to Iran’s tender mercies.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESPONSE OF AMERICAN JEWRY and the vaunted Israel Lobby to the mounting threats to Israel abetted by Washington? Silence. President Obama”s popularity among American Jews remains sky high and rising. Delegates at the recent AIPAC convention dutifully lobbied Congress for the two-state solution. Whom, one wonders, was this feared group lobbying against?

The overwhelming American Jewish support for President Obama demonstrates how far the perspectives of Israeli and American Jews have diverged. For Israeli Jews survival remains the primary desideratum. For American Jews the simulacrum of peace, in the form of a treaty, any treaty, is primary.

For many American Jews, an Israel without peace is misbegotten, not worth the scorn it engenders in The New York Times and on Ivy League campuses. Daniel Gordis records, in his important new book How Israel Can Win a War That May Never End, being asked by an American Jewish friend: “Why has Israel given up hope?” And with no genuine chance for peace, why forge on?”

It is left to Gordis’s teenage daughter Talia to set their visitor straight: The purpose of Israel is not to achieve peace with the Arabs, however devoutly such peace might be wished for. Israelis have not given up hope, just hope for peace in the near future.

American Jews remained largely quiescent during the Holocaust, in part because of their adulation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who could do no wrong in their eyes. Stephen Wise, the most influential voice in American Jewry, could not overcome his worship of FDR to challenge the latter’s position that nothing could be done to save Jews other than win the War. (David Wyman’s The Abandonment of the Jews seeringly details how much could have been done.)

To avoid embarrassing or pressuring the President, Wise sat on a telegram from Gerhard Riegner of the World Jewish Congress in August 1942, detailing plans to exterminate three to four million Jews in German-controlled Europe, until pressured by the Orthodox and Revisionist Zionists to do something.

American Jews are besotted again. This time the object of their affections is President Barack Obama, who has consciously fashioned himself the new FDR. And a little matter like Israel will not cool their ardor. President Obama, like President Clinton before him, has proven that a Democratic president can sell American Jewry any policy to Israel, as long as it is packaged in sufficient expressions of concern for Israel’s well-being.

The Israel Lobby of Walt and Mearsheimers’ febrile imaginations never existed. And never has that been so obvious as today.`

Jerusalem Post, May 21 2009

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12 Responses

  1. aron feldman says:

    You also overestimate the general level of Israeli understanding of the Arab enemy. Tzipi Livni tried to give away Jerusalem under the cloak of night, and still did well in the elections. Jewish Israeli intellectuals regularly tell me things like, “We envision living side by side with them, like France and Belgium.” When I ask, “Which one are they?” they cannot answer
    Comment by Adamchik — June 4, 2009 @ 3:18 am

    That is why Avigdor Lieberman did so well also.Anyone who is not Ashkenazi elite is thoroughly disparaged by people like Livni.Leiberman’s campaign slogan was “Leiberman can understand Arabic”
    The rank and file remember the “Let’s not disrupt the Peace Process” days of Oslo much more objectively than the elites do

  2. Bob Miller says:

    L Oberstein said, “Since Livni and Olmert and Barak all support a two state solution, how can one accuse the President of being anti-Israel for having the same idea?”

    Easy. Livni and Olmert do what they’re told.

  3. L Oberstein says:

    I admire Jonathan Rosenblum’s analyses. Being a pundit is great and he always has quotes to back it up. Comparing Barack Obama to FDR is reasonable. In my lifetime, I have not seen the admiration and good will for a President that the American People and the people of the world have for Obama. He is a cause of hope for so many that finally we have a grownup in the White House. Don’t underestimate Michelle either.
    Roosevelt had a similar impact on a suffering nation led by Hoover who was clueless. Many people say Roosevelt was a failure and his policies didn’t work, and many say that the same thing will be true of our current President. Time will tell. But, the times are different.
    With the internet, the Holocaust would have been known by all.There was blatant anti semitism in American society and nobody would have fought a war for the Jews. The West colluded in the Holocaust because they didn’t want the Jews either. We can’t understand the mind set of most Jews in 1940 in the US because we live in such a different world today. There was not AIPAC convention with 6,000 people and every elected official pledging that he loves the Jews more than his sainted mother. So, you are right in making the comparison ,but you go much too far .

  4. L Oberstein says:

    Since 1948, various Amerivcan administrations have tried to pressure Israel and Israel is stronger than ever. The Obama Administation seems to feel that in the overall interests of the USA it is necessary to move away from the Bush administration’s total support for Israel’s positions. Let me pose this question to your wise readership. Are you sure that the status quo is in Israel’s intersts? The question is not whether Israel has made good faith efforts that have not been matched by the Arabs, that is clear. Since Livni and Olmert and Barak all support a two state solution, how can one accuse the President of being anti-Israel for having the same idea? Could it be that there has to be a paradigm shift in the Arab mentality and that is what the President is trying to help along. Maybe he will fail, as did previous administrations, but his intent is not sinister. Meanwhile, both sides lie and make promises they have no intention of keeping, so say the words and avoid the crisis. There is not realistic cance for a 2 state solution in the near future because the Palerstinians are incapable of getting their act together, so agree to it but put qualifiers so that it won’t happen unless such and such happens.
    I think the Israel Lobby is not asleep at the switch, even if they don’t always follow the advise of many Jews. As Rabbi Berel Wein once wrote, he finds the solutions to most world problems by listening to people who daven at the minyan in Shaarei Chesed in the Grah Shul. If we had to balance all the issues a world leader has to balance, we would also not see things the same way. My point is not to convince any die hard haters of the Democratic Party , of whom there are too many, but to point out that lovers of Zion don’t always see things the same way.

  5. Adamchik says:

    Your laying the American state’s negligence during the holocaust at the feet of those Jews “adulating” FDR, and then tying that dynamic to present day Jews and Iran, is simply offensive and wrong-headed.

    You also overestimate the general level of Israeli understanding of the Arab enemy. Tzipi Livni tried to give away Jerusalem under the cloak of night, and still did well in the elections. Jewish Israeli intellectuals regularly tell me things like, “We envision living side by side with them, like France and Belgium.” When I ask, “Which one are they?” they cannot answer.

    Obama is doing some serious repair of the damage done to the US international image by Bush and Co. It is part of the nasty dance called politics. We hold our noses, but we depend on wealthy Gulf States to sell us oil in exchange for our (increasingly worthless) dollars. We also hope that they will use those dollars to buy our treasury obligations (becoming less and less likely). As oil production peaks and our money is worth less and less, some understand that these are becoming “extinction event” issues for America.

    The question of whether we can influence a state like Iran is one of game theory and statesmanship, carrots and sticks. Can you catch more Iranian flies with honey than with vinegar? Probably. Remember William Odom’s words (the general that ran the NSA for Reagan), “Restoring cooperation between Washington and Tehran is the single most important step that could be taken to rescue the US from its predicament in Iraq.”

    Finally, is it more important to have Netanyahu in office than Obama? I believe, yes. American Jews have focused so much on the President of the US, rather than the Israeli Prime Minister. Let Obama make the Arabs feel good, secure our access to oil, and keep the petrodollars flowing back to us. The Palestinians are in disarray, and if Israeli leaders like Netanyahu can stay focused, Hashem will take care of the rest.

    To say that all of this is the fault of American “liberal” Jews is absurd on so many levels.

  6. cvmay says:

    “……was not opposed to surrendering land taken in ‘67 if it would bring security”

    Jewish people dream & yearn for SHALOM.
    IF, IF, IF…. Can not allow the survival of a country to be placed in the dream of IF, IF, IF.

  7. Chaim Fisher says:

    Just to set the record straight Rav Shach was not opposed to surrendering land taken in ’67 if it would bring security. Neither is Maran.

    It’s the ‘if it would bring security’ part that has yet to materialize in the C Street options floated by Obama.

    The US diplomats have continued to enforce their reputation as the world’s worst. Look at Obama’s latest pipe dream, to talk the Saudis and 22 Arab countries into recognizing Israel. Such incompetent misunderstanding of other people has not been seen since Marie Antoinette said ‘let them eat cake.’ The blind mice on C Street have no idea how much lead is going be in their balloon.

    When a country’s enemies are calling publicly for their destruction and testing new intercontinental missiles to do just that is not the time to surrender vital land necessary for security as a goodwill gesture.

    Obama is going to find the Arabs much less tractable than his foolish advisers are telling him. And mumble some Phd professor mantras about difficulty levels and long-term hopes. And go back home and write checks for billions of dollars to more of his buddies in finance, which he seems to be pretty good at…

  8. Ori says:

    Aron Feldman: There will come a time when the Christian Right,will have a more Pro-Israel position than that of the Jewish Establishment

    Ori: I think that time has already come.

  9. Nathan says:

    Jonathan Rosenblum said:

    “But the experience of the last fifteen years has convinced them that peace cannot be obtained without a dramatic reformation of Palestinian society.”

    I understood this clearly 25 years ago.

    When an intelligent man negotiates, he learns as much as possible about the person he is negotiating with, especially when the negotiation is an important one.

    Many Israelis want to negotiate with the Arabs / Muslims / Palestinians / terrorists, but they NEVER seriously studied the beliefs of the people they want to negotiate with.

    Many Israelis mistakenly assumed that the Arabs / Muslims / Palestinians / terrorists think the same way they do, or close to it.

    Many Israelis still do not realize that the Arabs / Muslims / Palestinians / terrorists are SERIOUS about their religion, even when Jews are not.

    Many Israelis still do not realize that the Arabs / Muslims / Palestinians / terrorists believe that if they die fighting Jews, not only is the Muslim who died guaranteed to got to Heaven forever, but he also takes 70 of his relatives to Heaven with him, according to the claims of the Islamic faith.

    Many Israelis still do not realize that offering land for peace is interpreted by the Arabs / Muslims / Palestinians / terrorists not as a step towards real peace, but as a sign of weakness, which invites more attacks against Jews and Israel.

    Many Israelis still do not realize that offering land for peace was what caused the extinction of 500 Native American nations, also known as the “Indian” tribes.

    If giving land in exchange for peace is such a great idea, then let the Arabs give up their land in exchange for peace. Considering that the Araba have land 350 times the State of Israel, they can afford to give up land in exchange for peace much more than Israel.

  10. Ori says:

    Is there anything Israel could do to be relevant to Heterodox Jews in the US?

  11. aron feldman says:

    The vast majority of American Jews would rather listen to Sara Silverman’s obnoxious rants,and be proud of the court Jews like Rahm Emanuel than observe the facts on the ground.

    There will come a time when the Christian Right,will have a more Pro-Israel position than that of the Jewish Establishment

  12. Bob Miller says:

    If our so-called defense organizations won’t actively defend Jewish interests, including those tied to Israel, we need new organizations, and the old, failed ones don’t deserve a dime.