Friedman says lobby’s power to stymie Obama on major foreign policy opening stems from ‘Jewish votes and donations’

on 34 Comments

Hat’s off to Tom Friedman, for stating the basis of the power of the Israel lobby, money. His column is called “Let’s make a deal” and supports Obama’s efforts in Geneva. He is completely aligned with Walt and Mearsheimer here, in stating the power of the lobby to “stymie” a major foreign policy initiative.

Dplomats and ministers from Israel and the Israel lobby have been working Congress, while officials from Arab Gulf states have been telling the Obama administration directly the same message: how much they oppose the proposed deal that Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany have drafted to trade limited sanctions relief in return for Iran starting to roll back its nuclear program.

Never have I seen Israel and America’s core Arab allies working more in concert to stymie a major foreign policy initiative of a sitting U.S. president, and never have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s. I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.

This is a continuation of Friedman’s assertion that Congress is “bought and paid for” by the Israel lobby, and of his explanation in England that the reason the U.S. supports Israel blindly is that in the 1992 election, would-be presidents learned that if they crossed the lobby they would be roadkill. (And the reason that Obama was “absolutely livid” when the Democratic convention left out platform language saying Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.)

Friedman separates himself from the Israel interest in the way that many Israel supporters in the U.S. are now doing. Some anyway.

If Israel kills this U.S.-led deal, then the only option is military. How many Americans or NATO allies will go for bombing Iran after Netanyahu has blocked the best effort to explore a credible diplomatic alternative? Not many. That means only Israel will have a military option. If Israel uses it, it may set Iran back, but it will also set Iran free to rush to a bomb. Is Israel ready to bomb Iran every six months?

Jeffrey Goldberg can’t abide this. He smeared Walt and Mearsheimer as anti-semites. He is far more polite with Friedman:

Who is right? It’s time to have this out. Calling Robert Simon on 60 Minutes. And Chris Matthews. Wait, scratch that. Obama just held a million-dollar fundraiser at Matthews’s boss David Cohen’s house.

David Cohen

David Cohen

Cohen is a former vice chair of the Philly Jewish Federations, and a big supporter of Israel.

The fundraiser featured Senator Robert Casey, who has taken a hard line against Obama’s talks with Iran. But Obama hosted a fundraiser with someone who is opposing his policy? Why? Who has more power in this situation? Obama or the Israel lobby? This is precisely what Friedman described, and the reason that members of Obama’s own party are bucking him on a crucial foreign-policy question.

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34 Responses

  1. Mike_Konrad
    November 20, 2013, 11:26 am

    I disagree with Tom Friedman on this one. U.S. lawmakers have reasons other than Jewish money to worry about contours of Iran deal.

    — Jeffrey Goldberg (@JeffreyGoldberg) November 20, 2013

    It is not the lobby which is pushing this. The thought of a nuclear Iran scares everyone.



    • Woody Tanaka
      November 20, 2013, 2:02 pm

      “It is not the lobby which is pushing this. The thought of a nuclear Iran scares everyone.”

      The lobby is pushing hard on this one. And speak for yourself. The fact that the Iranians are pursuing nuclear power should scare no one but the pathological paranoid, thus explaining the opposition of the USrael forces. (And even an nuclear weapon would be justified, since people and politicians in both the US and israel have threaten Iran with nuclear weapons. Far from scary, it would be a very rational thing to do.)


      Based on other people who had the same problem, I believe it is because you chose an underscore in your name and the software running the site doesn’t handle that properly.

    • traintosiberia
      November 20, 2013, 7:12 pm

      “The thought of a nuclear Iran scares ”
      This line is racist and insinuating. It presupposes that Iran is intending to build nuke any time soon from 2 weeks to 5 yrs to 10 yrs. SEcond it assumes that Iranian nukes would prove unstable, destabilizing, and would pose a problem for the simple reason ( well its with the Iranains! Thats the arguments)that no one could answer or spell out.

      Iran ‘s nukes are not the issue. It is the issue of supremacy of certain color and religion over certain color and religion. Pakistan is an exception that is tolerated and suspected, and often mentioned with same scare mongering purpose with worrisome results that may be used in future to take control of Pakistani nukes , and it is kept in line by the other nation of good and accecptable color and religion that have attacked other countries repeatedly, have destabillized the neighbors ( Russia, US, Isreal, ) and have destabilized the near abroad ( UK, France ) and have always carried the day out of sheer military power and technological advances, not out of better ethics,arguments,or virtues.
      If your future with an Iranain nukes look so frighteneing, you should be screaming berserk mad for help to rescue the humanity from the existing nukes in the hands of the countries with good color and desirable religion .

    • Shingo
      November 20, 2013, 9:06 pm

      The thought of a nuclear Iran scares everyone.

      No it doesn’t, which is why Bibbi and the lobby are spending so much time scaring everyone.

      In any case, even Naftali Bennet admits Iran does not want a nukes, so it’s a straw man.

    • Patrick
      November 20, 2013, 11:00 pm

      “The thought of a nuclear Iran scares everyone.”

      No, it doesn’t. Russia & China don’t seem particular alarmed about this. And it’s certainly not because they are keen on seeing another war develop in the Middle East. In fact, it would really hurt China if Iran were destroyed which would be outcome of any war.

      The same could be said about most other countries. In fact, the sanctions that the U.S. has developed are directed at such third parties. Their purpose to coerce other countries from conducting commerce with Iran. If it weren’t for such coercion, few countries would comply with sanctions voluntarily.

      • Shingo
        November 20, 2013, 11:19 pm

        The same could be said about most other countries.

        Very true.

        A poll revealed that the majority of the Arab world thinks a nuclear armed Iran would be a stabilizing factor in the Middle East and thus think it would be a positive development.

        122 state of the non aligned movement also support Iran’s nuclear program, so they are not fearful that Iran might develop nukes.

        If it weren’t for such coercion, few countries would comply with sanctions voluntarily.

        Also true. Even if there is no deal in Geneva, the sanctions are going to fall apart – slowly at first – then faster. The sanctions actually imposed by the UN are very mild, because neither Russia nor China would have allowed more severe ones to pass.

        The damaging ones are unilateral US sanctions

  2. Justpassingby
    November 20, 2013, 11:52 am

    Obama is in their pocket. Just look how Kerry have to go to Israel every other day.

  3. traintosiberia
    November 20, 2013, 12:04 pm

    Can Goldberg spell out on what basis he thinks that US makes decision on ME ? Would the sanctions be maintained without the pressure within US and within Eropean countries ?
    It was Congressmen like Dennis Kuchinch and M Cappuano who openly blamed AIPAC ( see counterpunch) for continued threat of attack from US. The aides to John Kerry and now deceased E Kennedy who said same things to the author of this article.
    It was in late 1990s when the Jewish leader announced that the bills and laws against Iran were being run, produced, and given prominence by the Jewish people in US.

  4. traintosiberia
    November 20, 2013, 12:06 pm

    Goldberg forgets what he himself has said or heard from other Jewish figures about Iran and Iraq in the past.

  5. American
    November 20, 2013, 12:32 pm

    The Zio and I-First success has always been MONEY.
    As for the Israel importance in the Jewish ‘vote’ —I think that is an unknowable.
    However in the Israel importance in the Jewish vote one of two things or both things have happened—the Lobby has convinced the politicians that Israel does count in the Jewish vote and/or the politicans have used satisfying their ‘constitutents” (Jewish) in their districts as spin to cover for the Zio bribe money they accept.

    • SQ Debris
      November 21, 2013, 1:47 pm

      American is right that “The Zio and I-First success has always been MONEY.”

      It certainly isn’t the vote. Self identified Jewish Americans make up less than 3% of the electorate and are, in my experience, as politically diverse as the rest of the American electorate. Even if that demographic voted as a block their impact would be negligible. It’s the money that drives the policy, not a fear of losing 3% or less of the vote.

  6. Patrick
    November 20, 2013, 12:33 pm

    Friedman is right, but his emphasis is off. It should be Jewish DONATIONS and votes. The importance of the former easily dwarfs the latter in the vast majority of districts.

  7. doug
    November 20, 2013, 12:42 pm

    The lobby may not win this one. Not because it isn’t extremely powerful, but because the US Jewish community is split as to which, a deal or a war, is the most favorable to Israel. The Palestinians will continue to be largely ignored here while Israel pursues piece.

  8. HarryLaw
    November 20, 2013, 12:56 pm

    Friedman asks “How many Americans or NATO allies will go for bombing Iran after Netanyahu has blocked the best effort to explore a credible diplomatic alternative?” Good question, after the threat of military action against Syria, US citizen’s calls to their members of Congress were of the order of 100 to 1 against military action, and that if they did support it “they had better start clearing out their offices”, because action against Iran would have much more severe consequences, the idea that the US electorate would countenance military action,when a reasonable diplomatic solution was possible, is ludicrous. The Israeli talk of a military strike is just bluster.

    • lysias
      November 20, 2013, 4:34 pm

      I just heard (I think it was on RT television, so take that for what it’s worth) that Americans support diplomatic overtures towards Iran by a margin of two to one.

      • Woody Tanaka
        November 20, 2013, 5:13 pm

        I wouldn’t doubt it. But American politicians have long ignored the interests and desires of the American people on these issues…

  9. David Doppler
    November 20, 2013, 1:08 pm

    It is votes, donations, AND COORDINATED LOBBYING AND MESSAGING. It is highly significant when Tom Friedman, former echo chamber for Neocon Iraq warmongering, publicly acts to break up the coordination of messaging. There needs to be a Congressional leader of consequence who’s prepared to do the same.
    It wouldn’t hurt for J Street to solicit such a leader, support any to step forward.

  10. LeaNder
    November 20, 2013, 1:34 pm

    That means only Israel will have a military option. If Israel uses it, it may set Iran back, but it will also set Iran free to rush to a bomb. Is Israel ready to bomb Iran every six months?

    Israel may have the wish, but it doesn’t have the military capabilities. In other words it cannot set back Iran a couple of month. The issue was discussed at length on Pat Lang’s blog quite a few years ago by “informed circles”. The rest is hot air, maybe Friedman knows but does not tell us? Keep that in mind when reading headlines in all their variations about the issue.

  11. pabelmont
    November 20, 2013, 2:28 pm

    Obama could just distance himself from electoral concerns. Let the Dems and Reps toe the Israeli/AIPAC line, as they do have electoral concerns.

    Of course, as someone wisely said, PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARIES are an invention to keep ex-presidents “in line” — the darn things cost a lot of money. and then there are the speaking engagements.

    Now you’d think that if Obama cut the ties that bind and went on a solo path on foreign policy (say refusing to use the UNSC veto for Israel any more), that as an ex-president, later, he’d get lots of remunerative speaking engagements from all those “realists” and “antisemites” who, each for his own reasons, wants to stop following the Israeli line.

    Maybe there aren’t enough of them. Or maybe he still has a legislative agenda — like fixing Obamacare.

  12. lysias
    November 20, 2013, 4:14 pm

    OT, looks like Israel has Hollande and France in the bag. Hollande’s remarks just made in Israel, as translated and taken from Moon of Alabama:

    France knows what it owes to Israel, the Jews of France know, .. culturally, scientifically, economically, intellectually.. France knows what it owes Israel, that (wonderful) reference, the combat from generation to generation to create this State, that you will celebrate the …(stumbles err-hem) some years anniversary. I will go to Yad Vashem with a very important delegation, we will recall the human bonds that unite us. (…)

    Not just the past valiant xyz .. one needs to look to the future … I have come to promote a new impulse, economic and cultural, Israel is admired world-wide, technological (etc.) advances, great dynamism, that even attracts US capital investment, my wish is that Israel and France pursue economic and scientific cooperation at the highest level. (…)

    I confirm the engagement of *my* country, France, to Peace and Security in Israel. I have great hopes for your negotiations with Palestine, your courage, which you enduringly possess, which will lead to definitive, durable, peace and will not be questioned.

    We – we! – will need constancy and obstinacy, nothing is ever set in stone. You will need support from outside, that of France will be ../ infallible, enduring?/

    On Iran, France considers that nuke proliferation is a menace, a danger, particularly to Israel, but also to the Whole World. The planet’s future is in jeopardy. When France defends its position it is that we take into account your position but also for the whole planet so France will not **capitulate**… until Iran has given up. We will maintain all our demands and sanctions.

    On chemical WMD, France has the same attitude. We found ourselves alone, yet responsible, .. but it is better to be alone on a ‘right, correct’ position than numerous on a bad one. On Syria we insisted on destruction of chem arms and prevailed.

    You (Isr) are a great democracy of which you can be proud, thru your trials and tribulations you have never ceded on that point, pluralism rights, the right of law. You do us an honor when you quote the principles of the French revolution…we share them, they are universal, as are the principles and values of Judaism. ((??))

    (….) I salute the ppl of Israel so tightly tied to France! Your elegance permitted me to speak French … now I will speak in hebrew…

    /end paraphrase quote.

    original, youtube, 9 mins. In French.

  13. lysias
    November 20, 2013, 4:31 pm

    What is it about our politicians that they put being re-elected above every other consideration?

    I fear the problem is the whole system of electing representatives. Elections tend to choose people who are pathetically dependent on winning approval and on winning elections that they think represent popular approval. We ought to give serious consideration to adopting the ancient Athenian system of choosing representatives by lot from the whole citizen body for at least some part(s) of government. I would suggest the lower houses of our legislatures, including the U.S. House of Representatives, which are supposed to be particularly representative of the people. In that way, a body made up of average citizens would at least have veto power over what the other parts of the government try to do.

    • James Canning
      November 20, 2013, 6:52 pm

      lysias – – Another factor in this, apart from money, is the avoidance of problems that those who cater to Aipac tend to enjoy, when failure to cater to Aipac (et al.) can cause problems.

    • David Doppler
      November 20, 2013, 7:19 pm

      It would be impractical and unnecessary to revise the Constitution to do as you say, lysias. The legislators regard crossing the Lobby as an existential threat (to the continued existence of their political careers). And there are specific examples waved about to support and incite that fear. What is needed is for someone to make political hay FROM taking on the Lobby, demonstrating that the fear is no longer well-founded. Walt & Mearsheimer showed you could take on the Lobby in academia, appear to have weathered the “storm” of criticism with reputations (if not op-ed opportunities in the NYTimes) largely intact and enhanced on certain fronts, as willing to speak truth to power. Those who have trashed them them have sacrificed some of their credibility. Unlike Chas Freeman who got dumped for his blunt criticism of Israel, Hagel got through the nomination process, although he had to publicly fellate Netanyahu’s donkey along the way, diminishing both himself and the Lobby. Obama and Kerry are demonstrating, in their own somewhat pathetic ways, but maybe Judo-master ways, that administration leaders can chart a course with daylight between them and Likud.

      The strings and hammers of the Lobby’s influence are increasingly, inevitably (given Netanyahu’s ham-handedness) exposed to the light of day, and more and more people are expressing distaste, more and more forcefully and eloquently.

      As some wise person has previously observed, the US system is designed to withstand monumental levels of incompetence and corruption, and yet still right itself eventually, sloughing off the old guard like so much garbage left at the dump. Trash day is coming. Likud’s days are numbered.

      • American
        November 20, 2013, 9:00 pm

        “”What is needed is for someone to make political hay FROM taking on the Lobby, “…David

        Exactly. Someone will sooner or later. Someone will catch onto the disgust and discontent of Americans—the feeling among them that they come last with their government and turn that into a America-First campaign.
        When that someone comes along he/she wont do tirades on foreign aid or Israel or the lobby—-what will happen is in some debate his opponant or the host will question him on Israel—-he’ll make a statement about how the US has supported Israel in the past, talk about a few (big) things we have done for them, maybe the money and wish Israel well——but stress that Israel is not the US and the time has come for Americans to put their own interest ahead of Israel or he might say just any ‘foreign’ country’s interest.
        He or she will get a standing ovation—and thereafter every candidate that starts with the Israel loyalty pledges and accusing their opponant of not being partial to Israel will be compared to the guy who said he would put America and Americans first.
        All it would take is a guy who has access to enough campaign money to
        overcome the zio money and I -First media.

      • Citizen
        November 21, 2013, 8:44 am

        So how does the experience of Ron and Rand Paul, both POTUS contenders (at least they think, or did once) fit into your POV here? Both have spoken in behalf less involvement in foreign affairs and across the board cuts to US foreign aid?

        And, remember when Hagel was asked to name just one congressman who did something stupid or against American interests–because of fear of the Israel Lobby? Deer in the aged headlights?

      • American
        November 21, 2013, 2:12 pm

        @ Citizen

        It will take the right ‘person’ to do it. The one who can ‘slide’ between the fringes and extremes. It can be done, the right person and one with the money to beat the media and lobby just hasnt come along yet.

      • chet
        November 21, 2013, 2:31 pm

        The one eventuality that would bring an American politician to take on AIPAC and the pro-Israel media is for the lives of US servicemen to be lost in a conflict instigated by Israel.

      • James Canning
        November 21, 2013, 3:21 pm

        Israel lobby was essential element in setting up the idiotic and illegal US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

  14. James Canning
    November 20, 2013, 6:51 pm

    Tom Friedman clearly is quite right to think the huge financial clout of American Jews, in financing national political campaigns, does a great deal to explain the power of Aipac et al.

  15. James Canning
    November 20, 2013, 6:55 pm

    I think there was room for one to urge that the deal with Iran and P5+1, ensure Iran not get closer to ability to build nukes quickly.

    But Israel in fact wants no deal at all.

  16. lobewyper
    November 20, 2013, 7:05 pm

    I agree that Tom Friedman deserves a great deal of credit for publishing this piece. He has come a very long way from his orginal positions re: I-P. The fact that he has means that it is possible for most people to eventually acknowledge the truth of the matter, which to me is most encouraging. John Mearsheimer once said that the American people’s support for Israel is broad but not deep. Continued and even accelerated recognition of the ugliness of Israeli policy will further and further erode the Israeli position. If the POTUS had the guts to tell the truth about the occupation, the people’s support for Israel would drop like a feather in a vacuum!

    • James Canning
      November 20, 2013, 7:39 pm

      I think Tom Friedman in fact does Israel a favor, by writing columns such as the one under discussion. But he clearly does the American people a favor, to tell the truth.

      • Citizen
        November 21, 2013, 8:52 am

        @ James Canning
        Considering the pivotal, influential, very public OP-ED slot Friedman holds in our main media, I wonder why his article basically saying W & M were right about the lobby, naming it for what it is–was not taken up by others in the media and government so as to drag it more into the klieg lights that would actually reach Dick and Jane, sitting as usual, way back in the back row of the American stadium.

      • James Canning
        November 21, 2013, 2:04 pm

        @Citizen – – Good question. I think a number of US newspapers etc are quite possibly still taking aboard what Tom Friedman is telling them. And watching for counter-attacks.

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