This is fascinating. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations about the Iran deal on July 24 (video below). CFR president Richard Haass opened the discussion by asking:
Help us understand, from your point of view, what you believe we have gained by this agreement, as opposed to what we believe Iran has gained, or, to put another way, we have given up?
And after a few seconds of polite throat-clearing, Kerry got to the heart of the matter. Boldface mine.
Look, I’ve been around this thing for a long time, 29 years in the Senate, and I’m very proud of the 100 percent voting record for Israel in the course of that time. And nobody, I think, has worked harder to try to bring peace to the Middle East or to Israel than I did over the last few years. I think I’ve had more meetings with an Israeli prime minister and more visits than any secretary of State in history. And I consider Bibi a friend, and we talk still. And we disagree on this, obviously, and I’ve told him my feelings. But I feel them very strongly.
I really believe that what we are doing—Richard says, what are we gaining here? We’re gaining a safety and security, I believe, for Israel and the region that no alternative presents.
Jim Traub of Foreign Policy leaped on to the glaring issue here two days ago:
I found it astonishing that Kerry had answered a question about the most consequential diplomatic agreement the United States has signed over the last four decades as if he were the foreign minister of another country. Wasn’t the “we” in question “the American people”? Of course, Kerry’s political instincts were perfectly accurate. He knows that he and President Barack Obama don’t need to persuade the Democratic left of the deal’s merits and needn’t bother trying to convert Republican conservatives. He needs to reach the people who view American national security as not just inextricable but indistinguishable from Israeli security.
Traub, who is Jewish, recognizes that this is where the power is, and he’s offended by it:
I find it offensive that Kerry had to indulge in such contortions in order to demonstrate his bona fides toward Israel. Meanwhile, his “friend” Netanyahu has received the administration’s endless stream of entreaties with contempt — a fact that Kerry not very obliquely acknowledged by referring in his speech to unnamed “people” who “rant and rave” about the agreement, including “the prime minister with a cartoon of a bomb at the U.N.”
Yet Kerry and Obama must continue trying to reach Americans who defer to Netanyahu as the arbiter of American national security. Those who say, “I will never choose between Israel and the United States” are being disingenuous. They are choosing.
Traub is undoubtedly correct about the power balance here. His piece is an argument that the two countries’ interests don’t align, and we shouldn’t pretend they do; and the Israelis’ conception of their interest actually hurts the U.S.
His criticism speaks to an issue inherent in Zionism, the confusion of interests. English Jews expressed that criticism to Theodor Herzl in the 1890s when he called on them for support; they said his scheme had the potential to undermine their reputation for loyalty to their country. And now it’s 120 years later and Herzl’s scheme has borne fruit and so has the Londoners’ concerns. Israel has never made real peace with its neighbors, no, it just slags them all the times as “bad” neighbors; and so it has depended upon the support of the imperial power, and therefore the institutionalization of the Israel lobby inside the U.S. to maintain that support. And American Jews have been called on to shut up about the lobby, or pretend that it doesn’t exist, so that a pillar of support for Jewish nationalism in the Middle East would not be broken. It’s no coincidence that Richard Haass is Jewish. That fact surely worked unconsciously on John Kerry; and caused him to tee up his Jewish pitch.
Traub’s piece is a sign that the establishment omerta about the lobby is ending; and that the lobby’s power is now in eclipse. The elites are now walking the Walt and Mearsheimer road. The problem that the realist scholars said was important ten years ago, the confusion of interests, is now widely seen as important, thanks to Benjamin Netanyahu’s overreach (and Michael Oren’s demand that American Jews show “gratitude” to Israel for offering us an inspiring vision of Jewishness: Jews with guns). Expect more and more criticisms of Israeli demands from mainstream voices, leading to a wide-open debate in the 2016 campaign. Or a debate, anyway.
BTW, Traub’s irritation over Kerry’s contortions surely echoed Foreign Policy editor David Rothkopf’s anger about what Jewish nationalism has done to a liberal understanding of history. Zionism is “exactly the wrong” response to history, he said last year:
The best protection (as the United States has demonstrated) is to institutionalize the concept of tolerance and diversity and to work tirelessly to ensure that the powerful impulses to segregate and divide are quashed. It is not easy. But it has made the United States the most successful experiment in cultural diversity in history.