Earlier this week, former British foreign secretary Jack Straw made news when he said that unlimited AIPAC money in the US political system is an obstacle to peace. He told Israeli media that he based his critique on Walt and Mearsheimer’s classic book on the subject of the lobby.
Straw, responding Monday in an e-mail to The Jerusalem Post’s Henry Rome, noted that his comments about AIPAC ’s influence on US policy are essentially based on Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s book. Straw also notes that in his 2012 memoir Last Man Standing he quotes in pages 445- 447 from these two men’s “critical study of AIPAC .”
Some Israelis regarded Straw’s comments as anti-Semitic, Anschel Pfeffer reports in Haaretz.
on Sunday, a number of Israeli newspapers and websites… published stories on the former foreign minister’s “anti-Semitic tirade,” saying that he had accused “Jewish money” of perverting American foreign policy.
Straw probably didn’t believe his ears when he was told what Israeli newspapers were writing about him; no British paper thought there was anything worth reporting. Finally on Monday, his office released a statement where Straw insisted: “I am not remotely anti-Semitic. Quite the reverse. I have all my life strongly supported the state of Israel, and its right to live in peace and security,” and reiterated the points he had made in the debate. In conclusion he wrote, “none of this is ‘anti-Semitic.’ There are plenty of people in Israel who take a similar view to me – not least (as I do) because they believe that the current approach of the Government of Israel will weaken the position of the state of Israel in the medium and long-term.”
Straw’s comments were first reported by an Israeli politician, Einat Wilf, who participated in a British roundtable then went on Facebook in anger. Pfeffer asked Wilf what was anti-Semitic about Straw’s statement.
I asked, did Straw say the words “Jewish money”? She confirmed that he did not and said she was not responsible for the newspapers writing it.
Pfeffer: But what is the problem with AIPAC and other Jewish organizations donating large sums of money to pro-Israeli candidates? I asked her. … Israeli newspapers talk very freely of Israel’s influence in the U.S., and I have even heard advisors to Israel’s prime minister talk about it off the record, so why is Straw in your opinion peddling a classic image of anti-Semitism? “That’s different,” she said. “It’s like two black men calling each other ‘nigger’ which is not right but it’s not racism.”
So apparently, according to Wilf, only Jews are allowed to speak of the effect lobbying and political donations have on U.S. policy in the Middle East.
Others have used that term, Jewish money; Seymour Hersh for example. Because, as I noted earlier today, Jewish wealth is widely confused with pro-Israel wealth– because the two communities overlap so broadly, and because Israel supporters brag on Jewish wealth. Shmuley Boteach talks about Cory Booker meeting “wealthy donors” at his events; a Jewish cultural festival shuts out participants who are critical of Birthright/Israel because its “funders” support Birthright; a Jewish stage in Washington cancels a Nakba play because of donors’ pressure. It’s hard to say where the Jewish community stops and Zionism begins. (And Tom Friedman says that with AIPAC’s support, a candidate need only make three phone calls to raise the amount of money it would take 50,000 calls to raise.)
More on the lobby from foreign-policy blogger Max Fisher in the Washington Post. Fisher pooh-poohs the power of the lobby, saying that when AIPAC supported an unpopular cause, bombing Syria, it lost. Its power derives from the fact that its cause, Israel, is usually popular, Fisher alleges.
Critics of the right-leaning, pro-Israel group often refer to it simply as “The Lobby,” as if it were so powerful that other lobbyist organizations hardly even mattered. It’s not considered especially controversial to suggest that the group plays a major role in shaping U.S. policy toward the Middle East.
AIPAC’s influence is thought to be strongest in Congress, where support for pro-Israeli policies is indeed bipartisan and passionately held. Its membership is thought to include lots of Washington power-brokers and heavy-hitters, the types who, in the common telling, pull all the hidden levers of American governance and foreign policy. So when AIPAC began lobbying on behalf of Obama’s Syria strike plan, many assumed it was a done deal, particularly since the administration most needed help in Congress, turf AIPAC knows well…
Typically, though, AIPAC has public opinion on its side; in this case, it very much did not.
The problems with Max Fisher’s claims are first, the lobby isn’t covered openly by the media. As Jack Straw is discovering in England, it’s been considered anti-Semitic to speak of anything that seems to raise the issue of Jewish influence. The Washington Post hasn’t covered Walt and Mearsheimer’s thesis in any depth and it rarely refers to the lobby. If “AIPAC [is] typically portrayed as the most shadowy and powerful” of all lobbies, as Fisher says, why isn’t the Post doing stories on it every day?
He is right that in this instance, the papers did at last cover AIPAC on Syria, because Obama called on AIPAC to work for him against the popular will. But Democrats were coming out against AIPAC on the question, and it did not touch on Israel per se. The matter was alot like Republican Steve Largent and Democrat Bill Clinton joining forces against the Cuba lobby on the Elian Gonzalez case: the facts were so extreme (a boy taken from his father), they knew they could get the American public’s support.
But settlements in the West Bank have been disastrous policy for decades, and the press doesn’t cover AIPAC’s work in that case. Because it’s treated as a matter of Israel’s security.
This case marked a new terrain for AIPAC, and that’s a great thing. Maybe Americans will finally get to debate whether they want to support racially-based apartheid?