There are two ways that supporters of Israel have so far successfully limited the discussion about their influence on American policy. One is by saying the critics are antisemites. Scary. I don’t want to be an antisemite! The other is to say that it is a conspiracy theory. Bill Kristol said it at the Yivo event I’ve blogged about, as have countless other supporters of Israel.
I don’t want to be a conspiracy theorist either! To allege a conspiracy means you are paranoid and unbalanced, or that you are alleging a sinister and criminal activity. I’ve always thought that the Israel lobby is more of a devotional expression than a conspiratorial one, a special interest not a racket.
Today John O’Keeffe suggested that I look at Federalist#10, in which Madison talks about the dangers of "faction." Madison says:
The latent causes of faction are… sown in the nature
of man; and we see them everywhere brought into different degrees of activity,
according to the different circumstances of civil society. A zeal for different
opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points… have,
in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and
rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to
co-operate for their common good… A religious sect may degenerate into a
political faction in a part of the Confederacy…[my emphasis]
So the Israel lobby is as American as cherry pie, a normal political expression, though not a good one in my view. Madison said the cure was not to limit a faction’s political freedom:
Liberty is to faction what air is to
fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less
folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it
nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is
essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.
No, the answer, Madison said, was a republican government with very wide constituencies, so that other interests and factions could contend with a strong faction.
Extend the sphere, and you take in a greater
variety of parties and interests; you make it less probable that a majority of
the whole will have a common motive to invade the rights of other citizens; or
if such a common motive exists, it will be more difficult for all who feel it to
discover their own strength, and to act in unison with each other.
Walt and Mearsheimer were saying something of the same thing, when they said that they wouldn’t limit the freedom of the Israel lobby, just make sure the same freedoms exist for others. Right now our politics are broken because the faction–the Israel lobby–seeks to deprive others of even First Amendment rights by insisting that they are engaging in hate speech. E.g., People want to put an ad for Walt and Mearsheimer’s book on Obama’s website. Obama is compelled to take the ad down. That’s not right. Madison was calling for vigorous public discussion and contention.
O’Keeffe echoes my feeling that the strength of the lobby comes out of financial strength, the Jewish presence in the establishment and in American wealth-production. He speculates that the growth of SWFs, or sovereign wealth funds, overseas investments in the U.S. economy, may help curb the Israel lobby. He writes, "Even the Chinese may demand changes in US foreign policy declaring " dont make our investments a target for attack!" At the moment one Arab SWF wont go above 5% in Citibank lest it trigger greater scrutiny….they seem reluctant at this point to become too visible….yet it may not matter….as I mentioned previously, Arab investment in News Corp caused Fox "News" to rename the Paris Muslim riots as civil disturbances….look, when you have that much money how loud do you need to speak?"