Last week South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham suggested that the Israel lobby group AIPAC might need to register as a foreign agent because it speaks up for Israel and has many contacts in that country. Such registration would be a blow to AIPAC. Its rationale to US politicians is that it is an American group that speaks for American interests — even though its goal is to make sure there is “no daylight” between the U.S. government and the Israeli government.
Here is further evidence of the confusion of interests between the United States and Israel represented by American Zionist organizations. Yuval Steinitz, a minister in the Netanyahu government of Israel, two years ago heaped praise on David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, at an AJC global forum.
Actually you know currently we don’t have a foreign minister in Israel, but the Jewish people have a foreign minister, an accident foreign minister and this is David Harris, and I am confident David, that although you are the foreign minister of the American Jewish Committee and actually of the Jewish people, you are also serving a little bit as the foreign minister of the Jewish state. Jewish people, Jewish state– some linkage.
Steinitz was not engaging in hyperbole. Harris is a ferocious advocate for Israel who at the time was lobbying politicians to try to stop President Obama’s Iran deal.
When Netanyahu took the extraordinary step of coming to Congress to oppose the U.S. president on the deal, Harris spoke up for Netanyahu:
I met with him two weeks ago in his office in Jerusalem, and he felt that the deal, as he understood it, would be catastrophic, indeed life-threatening, for the state of Israel. And he felt that he had the obligation to come.
And Harris justified everything Israel did in the Gaza onslaught of 2014— when it killed over 500 Palestinian children.
When the Polish consulate in New York scheduled a talk in 2006 by the late great Tony Judt on the “Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy,” David Harris called the Polish consul general as a “friend of Poland” and said the lecture “was going to be entirely contrary to the entire spirit of Polish foreign policy.” The lecture was cancelled. (Per the book The Israel Lobby, by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer).
Harris bragged of his global influence in this speech in 2015. He said he was a longtime friend of then deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken, held up a letter from the prime minister of France, and ran down a list of all the diplomats who had come to address the American Jewish Committee:
When you have an organization where the prime minister [of France] speaks of his relationship with your Paris director and when the German chancellor on screen speaks of her relationship with our Berlin director, you know there’s something special about the organization… It’s the world’s leaders telling you we do important work…. The Jewish world has never seen such a political-diplomatic tour de force as we’ve just seen in the last 48 hours [of the AJC forum]. 36 separate dinners with diplomats. The chancellor of Germany, the Prime Minister of Japan, the Prime Minister of Israel, the prime minister of the Ukraine… The principal negotiator on Iran coming to speak to you here. The foreign minister of Bulgaria coming to meet you here. Organizations would give their eye teeth for one of them, if they were lucky. We had them all.
It is plain that a big part of Harris’s job description is to provide Israel with diplomatic protection and global economic support. He really ought to have to register as a foreign agent. But doing so is anathema to the Israel lobby, because it would undermine its claim to be Americans helping Americans sort out our foreign policy. A few years back, John Judis argued that the problem of dual loyalty was inherent in the work of David Harris and other officials of Israel lobby organizations.
AIPAC’s staff and officials claim there is no contradiction between representing the interests of Israel and those of the United States, but that’s at best an arguable point. Certainly, AIPAC has found itself defending Israeli policies–such as the invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and the rapid expansion of settlements in the West Bank in the late 1980s, or the 1993 Oslo Accords, or even the most recent Israeli offensive in Lebanon–that, in the opinion of many Americans and Jewish-Americans, were not in the interest of the United States….
They make dual loyalty an inescapable part of being Jewish in a world in which a Jewish state exists…. By ignoring this dilemma–and, worse still, by charging those who acknowledge its existence with anti-Semitism–the critics of the new anti-Semitism are engaged in a flight from their own political selves. They are guilty of a certain kind of bad faith.
Last month another Israeli government official acknowledged the vital role that the American Jewish Committee performs for Israel. Tzipi Livni, a former foreign minister, thanked American Jews gathered at the AJC conference:
First I would like just to start with something that we Israelis sometimes we are not saying enough. I want to say to you all, Thank you, toda raba. Thank you for standing with Israel, thank you for helping Israel, thank you for advocating for Israel. I know that it’s not easy sometimes. Now I’m in the opposition in Israel, but Toda, I’m saying on behalf of the state of Israel and the people of Israel.
Very much like what Dennis Ross, a former White House negotiator, told American Jews at a New York synagogue last year. “We need to be advocates for Israel”, and not for Palestinians.
The good news is that these job descriptions were elaborated by people in their 60s and 70s. Young Jews will transform the Israel lobby, but it won’t be easy.