The defeat of the Israel lobby on the Iran Deal is leading to inevitable bleating: the Israel lobby is over, and the Israel lobby wasn’t very powerful anyway. Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post and Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine are making these arguments. They are both wrong. These two writers actually personify the split in the lobby, between those who want no daylight between the U.S. and Israel (Rubin) and those who want a little (Chait).
Rubin says that the Iran Deal shows that the Israel lobby isn’t Godzilla: it couldn’t deliver for Israel when Israel wanted support badly. From now on the Democratic Party will be a hotbed of anti-Israel sentiment and only the Republicans will stand up for Israel.
This is pure horse feathers. Rubin is conflating her crowd, the Neoconservatives, with the Israel lobby. The Israel lobby is alive and well. J Street and Americans for Peace Now both supported the Iran Deal and both of them believe in the special relationship with Israel. Just watch as the Obama administration comes under huge pressure in weeks to come to give a lot more arms to Israel so it can raid Palestinian homes in the middle of the night and take on Hezbollah and threaten Iran. Cory Booker and Jeremy Ben-Ami will both insist on this. Bob Casey, Hakeem Jeffries, Chris Coons, Joe Donnelly and Jerrold Nadler will all go along, to try and fend off a well-financed primary opponent.
The actual objection to the Israel lobby comes from those who don’t want a special relationship with any country in the Middle East. We don’t want to support the Israeli occupation in any form. Some of us are anti-Zionists; we don’t believe in supporting a religious state. But we are still outsiders in the capital and in the Democratic Party too. The Democratic Party supports Jewish control of Jerusalem, a recipe for endless conflict.
Chait’s argument is related. He says the Israel lobby is not very powerful. It can’t start wars, which it is accused of doing. Look what a pathetic job it did on the Iran Deal. He correctly anatomizes all the ways that AIPAC blew it on the Iran Deal and how out of touch the rightwing Israeli leadership is with the spirit of American Jewry.
The problem with Chait’s argument is that he leaves out Chait himself. Chait is going to continue to support Israel for a long time, because as he instructs us, Zionism is the civil rights movement for Jews (leaving out what a disaster it was for Palestinians and how empowered we are in the west). Chait spoke at J Street and Chait will continue to support the special relationship with Israel, inside the Democratic Party. Rubin is wrong: these pro-Israel Democratic Jews aren’t going anywhere for a while!
Chait also conveniently leaves out his support for the Iraq war when he goes after the Israel lobby theorists for saying the lobby got us into the Iraq war. That is the part of the Israel lobby theory that ticks off Israel supporters the most. Like a lot of liberal and centrist Zionists, Chait thinks that supporting the Iran Deal is a way of making people forget that he supported the Iraq war. But I still want to know how much of Chait’s support for that disastrous war (and that of Ken Pollack, the URJ, David Remnick and Tom Friedman too) came out of his belief in the Zionist dream. That’s the contention of the Israel lobby re the neoconservatives: that a good part of their addlepated theory of remaking the Middle East by overthrowing the Iraq regime grew out of concern for Israel’s security, out of Zionist delusions about transforming Israel’s neighbors. In fact it was this accusation against the Israel lobby vis-a-vis Iraq (demonstrated by Eli Clifton re AIPAC and by John Kerry blaming Netanyahu) that helped shore up support for the Iran Deal among Jewish groups that didn’t want to make that kind of mistake.
So where is the Israel lobby today?
The rightwing lobby has taken a huge defeat on the Iran Deal. The Sheldon Adelsons and Norman Bramans will be supporting Republicans and trying to keep the evangelical Christian lobby bubbling away. And let’s not forget, they still have about 60 Senators. They may not be able to get a war with Iran but they will keep sending guns and bombs to Israeli bases.
Jennifer Rubin will try to drag more Jews into the Republican Party, and she’ll fail. Jews will keep voting Democratic by close to 70 percent, and most Jews will back the Iran Deal, because they don’t care about Israel that much.
What the Iran Deal portends is an open battle inside the Democratic Party between the lobby and the people who don’t like the lobby. Sanctions for Israeli settlement policy will become a live issue inside the Democratic Party. Consequences for Israeli massacres will become an issue. And big Jewish contributors who love Israel and rank-and-file Jews who don’t really care about Israel will argue angrily over these policy positions. I can’t wait! Jimmy Carter will be restored!
That is the best thing about the Iran Deal politics. The monolith of Jewish organizational opinion has been broken. Jews who want no daylight between the US government and Israel are now in the Republican camp, and Jews who want daylight are in the Democratic camp. That’s the real split, between daylighters and no-daylighters.
Then the Democrats will argue about how much daylight; and liberal Zionists will be forced into the role of the new AIPAC, with all that happy baggage. Many of them will stop being Zionists. Come in, the water’s fine.