The third rail shrugs (Washington Post publishes Walt on Israel lobby)

on 23 Comments

Three years after the Washington Post published a disgraceful column by Dana Milbank, describing Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer as "Germanic… blue-eyed" white-knuckled anti-Semites….Three years after it allowed Jeffrey Goldberg to describe Jimmy Carter as a throwback to early Christian anti-Semitism… the Post lifts itself from the lobby’s sodden bed to print this piece by Stephen Walt on why Obama can’t confront Netanyahu. And Walt pins the tail on the donkey. He even uses the word apartheid:

Why is Obama letting Netanyahu thwart his efforts? To begin with, the president has too much on his plate — the economic crisis, the health-care battle, Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear problem — so the attention he can devote to Israeli-Palestinian peace is limited.

And then there is the Israel lobby.

The good news is that there is a new pro-Israel organization, J Street, which is committed to the two-state solution and firmly behind Obama. The bad news is that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and other defenders of the status quo remain powerful, and they will surely oppose any attempt to pressure Netanyahu…

If Obama tries to make aid to Israel conditional on a settlement freeze, Congress will simply override him. Putting real pressure on Israel risks alienating key politicians and major Democratic fundraisers, as well as Israel’s supporters in the media, imperiling the rest of Obama’s agenda and conceivably his prospects for reelection. Moreover, several of Obama’s top advisers, such as Dennis Ross, are enthusiastic supporters of America’s "special relationship" with Israel and would almost certainly oppose using U.S. leverage to force Israeli concessions. Obama and special envoy George Mitchell are negotiating with one hand tied behind their backs, and Netanyahu knows it.

If tangible progress toward a viable Palestinian state does not happen soon, however, Abbas and other moderate Palestinians will only be weakened and radical groups such as Hamas only strengthened. Obama’s commitment to two states for two peoples, and his declaration in Cairo that "it is time for these settlements to stop," will sound hollow. Israel will be stuck repressing millions of angry Palestinians and will increasingly resemble an apartheid state.

Notice the reference to the media. This piece is important because the Post speaks to Washington and Washington knows that Steve Walt is in purdah. So maybe he’s not in purdah now, huh? A piece like this can actually do something toward changing the murky water in the aquarium so that Congress is liberated, and Obama has more wiggle room. I doubt these things will come to pass, but let’s celebrate the Washington Post.

Though I am afraid of what the Post will now do to "contextualize" Walt’s truth.

23 Responses

  1. otto
    September 20, 2009, 8:45 am

    “will increasingly resemble an apartheid state”

    The sort of expression is often put in an “immanent” sense, as if Israel is about to come something that it has obviously been for many decades.

  2. Richard Witty
    September 20, 2009, 8:51 am

    You say Walt is “purdah” in Washington. Even with the press surrounding the article and book, I’ll bet that only a minority of Senators and Congressman know who he is.

    He also didn’t speak, “there is apartheid”, but “increasingly WILL resemble an apartheid state”.

    Walt is more sober.

    I think he is wrong about the degree of latitude that Obama has. Again, the key word is persuade, and that means convincing them of the benefit of alternative policies from THEIR perspective, not the perspective of BDS or radical dissent.

    So, for example, Obama and dissenters in the US would be more persuasive to describe the contrasts in the degree of security that results from a smaller exposed border (rather than the settlement maze, and rather than even the remote chance that existing treaties with Egypt and Jordan will dissemble), and from that smaller border with a state that it has treatied and helped develop.

    Its a difficult effort, even that, as Israel has helped Palestine financially and with a great deal of technical assistance in the mid-90’s, which was either destroyed, or not completed due to conflict.

    Also, to argue FOR the Arab League proposal is a very different approach than to argue against Israel’s rejection of it.

    The anti approach itself conveys to Israel that is only perceived as an obstacle, not of as a community.

    If your convictions are that Israel is human beings, then please get more skillful in persuasion.

    • Mooser
      September 20, 2009, 11:20 am

      “If your convictions are that Israel is human beings,”

      Except that Zionism, to be sucessful, requires that they be better than human beings, which nobody is. Or maybe when a Jew becomes a Zionist, he can transcend himself and his humanity, and become an ubermenschen?

  3. Citizen
    September 20, 2009, 9:05 am

    Walt lays out why Obama’s one hand is tied behind his back. The Democrats funding is
    what, 40-50% derived from the status quo Jewish donors? Too, congress is bought and sold as far as Israel is concerned–and surely the Republicans would consider Obama’s putting real pressure on Israel (threat of cutting off aid, other aspects of the “special relationship”) a bonanza & the Hageeites would go crazy, attacking Obama as an anti-semite [using bible language code]. Yet if Obama doesn’t manage to use his bully pulpit to over the heads of the Zionists of very stripe, what POTUS ever will? And the masses
    have long been seduced from Newman in Exodus to Brand Israel Toronto film festival focus now. Look at Obama’s recent dismissal of Goldstone’s report. Mmmm, I wonder
    if Obama’s appointee cadre ever gave him a copy of the CIA report that Israel will
    fall in 20 years? See: link to

    • potsherd
      September 20, 2009, 9:29 am

      Really interesting report, Cit. I’d love to read the whole thing. I wonder how much weight it gives to the prospect of secular Israelis fleeing oppression of the Haredim.

      And it’s funny coming out right now, just to prove Ahmadinejad right!

      • LeaNder
        September 20, 2009, 9:53 am

        It feels a hoax. But its interesting how it manages to combine the Iranian perspective with the US domestic view that the CIA is somehow biased against Israel. What do you think?

        Several of your recent notes made me think: “absolutely” today, but I actually shouldn’t waste my time here due to an urgent job, but pray tell me: why didn’t I notice you before? Are you a newcomer, or didn’t I pay enough attention? What made you choose potsherd?

      • Danaa
        September 20, 2009, 10:49 am

        Didn’t see this report before. Thanks, citizen. I second PH’s allusion to the haredi effect. There’s little about the secular-religious divide in Israel from the MSM in this country, probably because it raises spectres both embarrassing and scary. But in Israel, the intense antipathy – and even hatred – between the two groups is often stronger than that between israelis and arab palestinians. That’s because the ultra-orthodox – including their relatively newly minted religious-zealot-nationalist varieties – are something secular israelis are much more afraid of than some rag-tag palestinians (rag tag to them, that is). For one, they cannot be blithly bombed; for another, they grow faster than any other segment, including palestinians. Third, everyone in Israel knows that you cannot negotiate with the religious because their they are implacable in their ultimate goal – which is a complete take over of Israel. As they grow in power (and israeli schools are now already over 30% haredim, predicted to rise to well over 35% in less than 10 years), the masks will start coming off, and fissures will develop that are now just barely papered over.

        This is the key reason Israelis are rushing to get foreign passports, and I agree with the report’s observation that they are. Can confirm from personal experience too – the last time I visited, more than half of the people I ran into either asked if I know of a good way to get out (for themselves or their grown off spring) or voiced deep regret that they didn’t get out when they had the chance. The yearning for places not israel runs deep in the secular urban community, with hi tech types leading the way, basically hoping to have feet firmly planted in both worlds. Of course, ideally what they all seem to want is to have residence in some nice western country (they mostly seem to prefer the US) but visit israel for what israelis call “homeland visit”. Though this trend was always there as witnessed by the 100’s of thousands of israelis in America, I have never seen it so noticeable before. Interestingly, I also noticed that conversation topics have shifted – even personal stories are mostly about experiences and/or opinions about places not Israel.

        People interestingly cite first the haredi “problem” (their word), the impossibly hopeless governance of civill affairs which leave them all feel powerless, the poor economic prospects, the rudeness and coarseness of everyday life and – finally – at the end of the list – the Arabs (Israelis) – who are perceived as coming to a neighborhood near you. Kind of like an all-encompassing NIMBY effect, more than anything else.

        So it looks as if AJ’s dream of a demise of the zionist state will come to pass, just not quite the way he calls it. In a funny sort of way, Israel will likely become much more stridently jewish long before zionism itself goes into retreat (let’s not forget that a sizeable fraction of the haredi are not, in fact, zionists). The two -zionism and judaism – have been on diverging paths for quite a while, anyways. the divergence just takes on different aspects depending on whether one is inside or outside the country.

      • potsherd
        September 20, 2009, 11:24 am

        Actually, it’s the scare of the Haredim coming to a neighborhood near you that gets most secular Israelis worked up at least as much as the Arabs.

        One group will steal your women, the other will throw rocks at your car and lure your kids into their cult.

      • Richard Witty
        September 20, 2009, 11:28 am

        PressTV is the Iranian international news service.

      • Dan Kelly
        September 20, 2009, 1:00 pm

        Thank you for your insightful post, Danaa.

      • Richard Witty
        September 20, 2009, 2:22 pm

        The religious are more diverse than you attribute.

        They subscribe to 180 degree differences of interpretation.

        But, they all regard Torah as authority. So, to convince them, you’d have to refer actual events and relationships to Torah, not solely to external references.

        And, only someone versed in Torah, and trusted can accomplish that, and then it is difficult.

  4. potsherd
    September 20, 2009, 9:26 am

    Congress lost no time in August running en masseto Israel to pledge allegiance and promise to undermine any moves by Obama.

  5. gmeyers
    September 20, 2009, 11:27 am

    It’s still gratifying to see how an author, so vilified in the US for saying what in Europe was simply common knowledge [the existence of powerful lobbies, commonly referred to as ‘the Israel Lobby’] now gets published in WaPo and even refers somewhat weakly to the ‘A-word’.

    This at least is a battle American Zionists lost big time…

    • Oscar
      September 20, 2009, 11:43 am

      Well, sometimes it’s a form of “affirmative action.” The WashPo can now say “hey, we’re not one-sided! We not only published a pro-peace article, we published it by Walt!”

      Now watch the flow of pro-Zionist counter-op-eds come cascading across the WaPo editorial pages, not to mention the scathing critical letters to the editor that will vilify Walt for his piece.

      The most recent example was cited here on Mondo when the NY Times published the Goldstone op-ed. There was four times as much ink devoted to countering it in the days following, until the story was pushed off the pages in favor of Amedinehjad’s purported “Holocaust denials.”

    • bob
      September 20, 2009, 12:04 pm

      This at least is a battle American Zionists lost big time…

      Of course, M&W’s work had to work against the lobby itself with all the screaming hyperbole and personal attacks. M&W’s standard of proof was much higher than what most scholars have to deal with. I think its this is what stops many people. Its just easier (and lazier) to wrote something that supports the dominant paradigm. Its harder to write something that breaks it. Moreover, its even harder still to write something critical of a lobby known for spewing vitriol against any who run counter against it.

    • Oscar
      September 21, 2009, 12:11 pm

      gmeyers, see my post above, in which I predicted a tidal wave of anti-Goldstone editorials following the publication of the Walt piece.
      link to

  6. Donald
    September 20, 2009, 11:45 am

    Testing. The website didn’t let me post a few minutes ago.

  7. Chris Moore
    September 20, 2009, 12:46 pm

    Walt: “Moreover, several of Obama’s top advisers, such as Dennis Ross, are enthusiastic supporters of America’s “special relationship” with Israel and would almost certainly oppose using U.S. leverage to force Israeli concessions.”

    Israel and its lobby have done so much damage to American interests, reputation and authority, it’s impossible to conceive how anyone who is still an advocate of the special relationship can possibly be a patriotic American.

    Honestly, the absolute best thing America could do for Israel would be to end its special relationship status, which would force it to start behaving like a human being. Israel’s current modus operandi — to use American Zionism to tie itself so closely to Washington that America has to follow it all the way into WWIII against Islam — is literally insane.

    This special relationship is like a dysfunctional and destructive marriage that is killing both partners and should have been ended years ago, but because it wasn’t ended, has made everyone with whom it comes into contact miserable.

  8. MRW
    September 20, 2009, 2:16 pm

    The is OT, but somehow appropriate to the discussion: I found the following comment on an Israeli blog, DesertPeace, that published “How I’m Losing My Love For Israel — The Polymath” By Jay Michaelson

    Israel has full pariah status now in the Netherlands, and it is not just in leftist circles and universities and campusses.
    It is out on the streets: say Israel and people start shaking their heads.
    Utter disappointment in the pro-Israeli circles, anger and despair in the moderate christian circles, total rejection among otherwise not-so-interested folks, disgust and contempt in comments on blogs left, right and center.
    Middle class, poor, rich, old and young: Israel has lost all support but for a handful of fanatics (and the very unpopular government) – among them Geert Wilders who carefully avoids the subject (like all media do, too) or he would lose votes.
    This is why he only speaks about Israel outside of the Netherlands, in english.
    The situation couldn’t be worse, or better, depending on your perspective.
    The Goldstone report hit home like a clusterbomb.
    This in a country where once 90% of the population backed Israel all the way.
    Israel has dug its own grave: this time, it cannot blame the victims.

  9. DICKERSON3870
    September 20, 2009, 4:59 pm

    RE: “purdah”

    PHIL(L): “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” How many times do I have to tell you to stop usin’ dem big, fancy, pretentious, Harvard-inspired words like ‘amanuensis’ (describing Jeffrey Goldberg back on April 1). When I excitedly read your mea culpa (circa May 17), I thought you had finally ‘learned you lesson’ – link to

    Apparently, I was wrong [yet again (again as the proper English speak it – “a gain”)]. I swear on a stack Bibles, sometimes you can be such a putz! Sometimes you act as though you think your wife is a Singer® Sewing Machine fortune heiress. Well, as they say, you can take the boy out of Harvard (spoken with a Wm F. Buckley Jr affectation), but you can’t…um…er…(smirk)…uh…you can take the boy out of Harvard, but you can’t…uhm…uh…(nervous giggle, sotto voce)…er…but you can’t fool a person twice!

    Main Entry: pur·dah
    Pronunciation: \ˈpər-də\
    Function: noun
    Etymology: Hindi & Urdu parda, literally, screen, veil
    Date: 1865
    1 : seclusion of women from public observation among Muslims and some Hindus especially in India
    2 : a state of seclusion or concealment

  10. Richard Witty
    September 20, 2009, 5:41 pm

    Another irony of the condition that Walt refers, the jockeying between Obama and Netanyahu and the mix of deferrence to respect a foreign powers liberty to form their own foreign policy, and the urgent objective need for cessation of settlement expansion to achieve any viable peace.

    That is that in the timing of the Hamas resumption of shelling of civilians in Sderot, Ashkelon, Beersheva and other towns, that conflict GREATLY affected the Israeli elections.

    I am not a pollster, and didn’t follow the details of the elections closely. There results were that Kadima won the most seats, but couldn’t form a majority coaltion without the right-wing parties in the coalition, while likud could and did.

    My sense is that the timing of the Hamas rocket firing was what made the electoral difference between likud being the center of balance of Israeli electorate and kadima, that in effect Hamas elected likud.

    Is it an irony?

    I asked Phil earlier in the discussion if Obama turned out to be a center-left politician rather than a left-progressive, if he would still vote for him and support him as president. His response was “of course, how could you question that”.

    Kadima was a center/center party, dissenters from likud, unwilling to join a coalition with likud for its foreign and domestic policy. Even Sharon couldn’t stomach likud’s approaches.

    It would have been so much better for the world if Gaza military conflict had been avoided. I don’t know if Hamas thinks that. For all I know they could conclude that this was the best that could happen, the pressure on Israel and all. Or, they could be living in deep remorse for the suffering that resulted from their actions.

    Hard to know.

    • Shingo
      September 21, 2009, 6:45 am

      It’s not hard to know at all.

      It’s common knowlegde that Olmert had the Gaza war planned months in advance and made a flawed calculation that a war would bolster Kadima’s popularity. Instead, it played into the hands of the far right.

      BTW. Obama is acenter-left politician. The only change to foreign policy he’s made was to terminate the missile system in Poland, and even that was melrely a downgrade.

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