Jacob Heilbrunn’s book on neocons teased the public with boldfaced back-cover suggestions of a neocon cabal and then Heilbrunn soberly denied he meant any such thing when he was at forums. I feel I’ve been taken in by the same bait-and-switch by Aaron David Miller, whose book The Much Too Promised Land I got yesterday and began eagerly last night.
Miller’s website is filled with frank descriptions of the Israel lobby, notably Chuck Hagel’s statement that it "intimidates" a lot of senators, and John Sununu’s statement that candidates are bought and paid for as soon as they announce for statewide office. I wish the book contained that sort of intelligence. So far (I’m 90 pages in) it issues the usual disclaimer from Walt and Mearsheimer as some sort of fringies and then asserts that the Israel lobby has 5 elements: "a well-organized, affluent, and disproportionately politically active and influential Jewish community… a sophisticated congressional lobby…. millions of conservative Christians are increasingly finding their political voice…"  The alleged American interest gang: "both governments foster the vision of democracy under threat from radicalism and terror…"  The Israeli P.M.
This is unconvincing. The assault on Walt and Mearsheimer, or on Juan Cole, or Norman Finkelstein, or on the Rachel Corrie play, or on Jimmy Carter, came from 1 & 2. You did not see millions of Christians rising against Carter, or denouncing Walt and Mearsheimer’s book. Almost all the harsh critiques of Walt and Mearsheimer were written by Jews. This seems to me obvious and central. Yes, the Christians for Israel are important, but is Israel a core issue for them, the one they write letters about and go crazy about? No. I don’t think the Times worries about them when it covers Israel, or that a congressman worries about them when he’s thinking about saying we should talk to Iran and Hamas.
Putting the lobby off on poor evangelicals is a way of putting off the necessary and inevitable battle within the Jewish community over these issues.
When that battle comes, Miller will be on the right side. His book is welcome for its rich store of data. I’m learning something about policy-making on every page. The guy was a smart, fair, hardworking peaceprocesser for 25 years, he wants to tell all. He is a reasonable guy who acknowledges his own bias–that he didn’t believe in a Palestinian state till ’88, that he grew up in a rich Cleveland real estate family that gave so much to Israel he was going to Passover with Israeli Prime Ministers. He made the famous statement that the U.S. was Israel’s "lawyer" at Clinton’s Camp David; sometimes his insights gleam.
The problem is that Miller is an apparatchik and a middling writer and lacks the vision/overview of Henry Siegman. His general theme is that these two people are so at each others’ throats, and this is such a tough neighborhood, that there’s nothing the U.S. can do about it. Just as he cannot see the true strength of the lobby, he cannot see the essential role that the U.S. has played in giving Israel the go-ahead on the settlements and expansion for three decades. He says that little states push big states around. He says that under Reagan, who opposed the settlements, he, Miller, undertook to measure and divide the main street in Hebron for the use of two peoples. Then he notes what I saw for myself, this street is now completely engulfed by the religious settlers. What does that failure mean? Miller would seem to blame it on forces beyond our control. When it is actually political: a failure of American politics to enforce even a minimal sense of justice here.
I feel as if Miller is ensnared by his own identity issues. He is a Jewish American prince who though he has tried mightily and honorably as a policy guy to see things from the other side doesn’t really break thru. As he observes, Israel has flourished economically and as a place for Jews to make their dreams for 40 years; and meanwhile Palestinians are utterly denied their dreams in statelessness. Yes, there is violence and misery on both sides; still, Israeli kids can dream of growing up to be scientists and real estate guys and Palestinian kids face deprivation and prison. What does that terrible state of affairs mean? I want some larger analysis. Maybe it is coming. So far there is this regrettable language:
In September 1996 Israel’s opening of the Hasmonean tunnel in Jerusalem triggered a major crisis. That act resulted in the worst Israeli-Palestinian violence since Oslo; Palestinian security forces fired at their Israeli partners, leaving 85 Palestinians and 16 Israelis dead.
Wait. Did the Palestinian security leave 85 Palestinians dead? Or did Israelis do that? Where is the basic moral and military responsibility in that lazy language? It’s nowhere.
And what is the significance of the fact that, according to the JTA, that religiously-laden tunnel in a city holy to three religions was opened by Jerusalem’s latest conqueror in part at the urging of an American benefactor of Netanyahu–Dr. Moskowitz? Or that Moskowitz also funded David Wurmser at AEI when Wurmser plotted Saddam’s decapitation–and the next thing Wurmser is at Dick Cheney’s elbow and we are invading Iraq? No it’s not a conspiracy, it is a religious extremist faction that is politically well-connected.
O.K., maybe I just haven’t gotten to that part…. To be continued.