Here are three fresh items about the power of the Israel lobby in United States politics.
1. On Thursday night at the New America Foundation in NY– a liberal Democratic space, I’d emphasize– a spillover crowd of more than 100 heard a Palestinian photographer and an Israeli human rights activist describe atrocities in Gaza last summer, and a woman with friends in Israel rose to ask if we are approaching a “tipping point” in which American Jews finally get it and don’t “drink the Koolaid” anymore.
Moderator Peter Beinart responded pessimistically:
“We don’t have our own Sheldon Adelson. And a lot of people can change their minds, but given the dominance of money in American politics, a small number of people’s voices can drown out even a majority.”
2. The New York Times ran two pieces in the last two days about the gay NY hotelier couple who got in hot water for hosting a gathering for Texas senator and presidential hopeful Ted Cruz, who opposes LGBT civil rights. The couple’s bad decision was motivated by Israel; but each article in the NYT mentions Israel only once. Here are the two references:
–“A Dinner with Ted Cruz Shines Unwelcome Spotlight on…” by Jacob Bernstein:
“[Ian Reisner] said the dinner with Mr. Cruz was not a fund-raiser, but a chance for the senator to meet their business partner Sam Domb, a holocaust survivor who has raised considerable funds for pro-Israel politicians.”
–“Gay Hotelier Who Hosted Ted Cruz Made a Campaign Donation, too,” by Maggie Haberman and Jacob Bernstein
“Reisner told the New York Times in a statement that he wrote the $2,700 check to Cruz to ‘show my support for his work on behalf of Israel.’ The gay hotelier noted he asked the campaign to return his money once he ‘realized his donation could be misconstrued as supporting his anti-gay marriage agenda.’”
(By the way, here is more about the book Reisner’s friend Sam Domb is holding, and his story, from dishwasher-to-hotelier and friend of Israel.)
3. The indefatigable Eli Clifton dug up video of a wild performance that Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens made last year. I think he pours lighter fluid over his guitar at the end and lights it up, I didn’t get that far, but there’s this riff from Stephens about Israel and US support for it:
Thank God I was born a Jew because otherwise I’d be a raging anti-Semite… [be]cause I tear my hair out all the time at my fellow Jews. But rare is it in history that we’ve been blessed to live in a country where we can say anything we want and actually get away with it. And it is a scandal, it seems to me, if we fail to live up to the promise of our American citizenship to do all we can to assure the survival of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.
Clifton then comments that, per Beinart and his questioner in item 1, most American Jews support President Obama over Israeli Premier Netanyahu, and Stephens is engaging an anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty:
Stephens isn’t just comparing his anger and frustration with Jewish liberals (who comprise the mainstream of American Jewry) to the bigotry of anti-Semites. He’s also stoking an anti-Semitic trope that Jews can never be entirely loyal to their country of citizenship because they should dedicate themselves at least as much to Israel’s security. Which of course begs the question of what U.S. Jews should do in the event that U.S. security interests (or values) conflict with those of Israel (presumably as defined by Stephens or Netanyahu).
I have a different take from Clifton and Beinart.
The lobby is systemic and reflects a consensus. The problem goes beyond Sheldon Adelson’s billions to a general Jewish community passivity with respect to Israel’s human rights abuses, a passivity that only Jewish Voice for Peace is really battling, though New Israel Fund and Americans for Peace Now and J Street help out sometimes. And the New America Foundation is hosting some excellent events to smash the consensus.
That consensus is totalitarian. Last week in Detroit, the Jewish leadership shut out two Zionist organizations, Americans for Peace Now and Partners for a Progressive Israel, from the annual Israel Walk because they’re critical of Israel. Beinart himself has repeatedly attacked the American Jewish leadership for being more concerned about the rightwing Israeli government’s concerns than the views of the American Jewish rank and file.
Blindness is fostered. Clifton wonders what US Jews would do in the event US security interests and values conflict with Israel’s. But they have conflicted for decades. When Harry Truman said I believe in the separation of church and state as a fundamental principle of democracy, and then signed off on the creation of Israel, he was having his arm twisted in a way that the Jewish community here has denied forever.
Of course the consensus has a lot to do with the Jewish response to Sam Domb’s experience of the Holocaust. But issues of American Jewish identification with Israel’s interests are now deeply embedded in Jewish education and the very structure of the American Jewish community. This is a crisis because as Sam Molnar said on that Detroit-area panel, the only way American Jews know how to be Jewish is by supporting Israel; while Tova Perlmutter said she lost a prospective job at a major Jewish organization just for saying she was against the occupation.
And as Bret Stephens commands, with less and less success, this is the job of being Jewish today, supporting Israel. Clifton bashes Stephens for an anti-Semitic trope, but the fact is that at least since Louis Brandeis’s declaration 100 years ago that Jews could be good Americans by being Zionists– a declaration made specifically to exonerate Jews of the dual loyalty charge, which was often vicious and anti-semitic — there has existed some confusion about whose side we need to be on in the crunch. This website actually grew out of that confusion: my own brother told me that his Jewish newspaper had written that the Iraq war could be good for Israel. And soon after I started blogging, John Judis wrote that the American Jewish leadership cultivated this confusion: “Many Jews now suffer from dual loyalty.” Sheldon Adelson has said that he regrets serving in the U.S. military and not Israel’s, and even a liberal Democrat, Eric Alterman, professed his dual loyalty and said he has no problem with a conflict of interests:
I was raised dually loyal my whole life… I think that bin Laden and 9/11 were to some degree inspired by U.S. support of Israel. I think a great deal of the terrorist attacks and the sort of pool of potential terrorists who want to attack the United States are inspired by the United States support for Israel. I’m not saying we shouldn’t support Israel for that reason. I’m saying, Dammit if that’s the price we have to pay, then I’m willing to pay it.