Maybe you haven’t noticed, but something great is happening right under the headlines: both U.S. political parties are having open fights about Israel.
In the Democratic Party, senators are going home to town halls and getting hammered by progressives over their signing on to bill served up by the Israel lobby group AIPAC that could make it a crime to go on social media to support boycott against Israel. Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren have walked away from the legislation. At Ron Wyden’s town hall, the issue came up more than health care.
If one thing is for sure, AIPAC overplayed its hand, and the bill is helping our side of this discussion.
Meantime, in the Republican Party, a coalition of Israel-firsters led by Sheldon Adelson is trying to force out National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster because he is “insufficiently supportive of Israel and insufficiently tough toward Iran”. President Trump had to issue a statement of support for McMaster: “He is a good man and very pro-Israel.”
If one thing is for sure from this fight, it’s that extremist mega-donor Adelson and hothead journalist Caroline Glick have way too much clout inside the Republican Party.
Adelson who once said of himself and his wife Miri:
“All we care about is being… good citizens of Israel, because even though I am not Israeli born, Israel is in my heart.”
Imagine if he were speaking about Russia that way…
I’m a relentless optimist so I believe it is only a matter of time before Chris Matthews and other mainstream commentators are forced to talk about how much influence AIPAC and Sheldon Adelson and other members of the Israel lobby have over our foreign policy. We’ll finally have a real conversation about whether being joined at the hip to an apartheid state is good for America. Chris Hayes, Jake Tapper, and Rachel Maddow will have to air the debates they have at their dinner parties: Is Zionism an anachronism in the modern west? (Yes.) And, Are AIPAC and their buddies serving as agents for a foreign government? (Yes.)
I’ve been wrong about the timing before. In 2006, the London Review of Books published the paper, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, in which two big-deal professors said the Israel lobby had helped get us into the Iraq disaster, and I ran around my house shooting off imaginary six-guns. “It’s high noon for the Israel lobby!”
I was wrong. A star had appeared in the night sky but it wasn’t enough to change our politics. The mainstream worked overtime to suppress the knowledge produced by the realist authors. David Remnick said they were crackpots, riffing in the New Yorker that if it weren’t for the Israel lobby, Osama bin Laden would still be in the construction business.
The problem with the Israel lobby theory was that it was at some level a theory of Jewish influence. Jewish Zionist influence, but influence just the same. And it is impossible to have a discussion of Jewish influence at this time, for a bunch of reasons.
That is the progress from 2006 till now: Jews have separated themselves from Zionism. Ten years ago the organized Jewish community was a monolith in support of Jim Crow on the Jordan. The claim was that “We are one!” — American Jews and Israel. Today that claim is over. Even big Jews who give to the Federations have stepped away from Israel. Maybe it was embarrassment over Netanyahu and the occupation, or shame over Iraq, or increasing intermarriage, or because of Israel’s massacres in Gaza and the rise of BDS: but a lot of American Jews have decided that they are not represented by the Jewish state. We’ve seen the rapid growth of Jewish Voice for Peace and IfNotNow, Jewish groups that can genuinely say that they oppose Israeli policies and the “American Jewish establishment.”
Ten years ago Jews suppressed disputes over Israel. Today that’s no longer the case. “The issue about which American Jews fight more than anything else is now Israel, in ways that certainly wasn’t the case 30 or 40 years ago, Rabbi Yehuda Kurtzer, a liberal Zionist, said in June. “And even that notion that in the privacy of a closed room we can fight, but in public we don’t– American Jews fight publicly about Israel more than anything else as well.”
The Jewish divisions are licensing American mainstream divisions. (Non-Jews aren’t allowed to call out the American Jewish establishment. But when Jewish groups do, that’s a whole other story.) The fracturing of the Jewish monolith has allowed some politicians to take positions the lobby doesn’t like. Not that they’ve backed off the $3.8 billion a year in aid…
There’s a long way to go. Israel is still an exception in our politics. The American media still refuse to report the real conditions in the occupied territories, or the actual extremism of Israeli political culture. Sheldon Adelson is routinely referred to as a casino mogul, thereby downplaying his main interest. The media don’t characterize Caroline Glick as a religious nut, when that’s what she is: she moved from Chicago to Jerusalem out of the extremist belief that the “legal right to sovereignty over the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people alone.” And she has sway in the Republican party! Kirstin Gillibrand has sought to reassure Jews that she adores Israel and hates BDS, and PS she might be running for president in 2020.
American policy won’t run clear on this issue till the beliefs and power of the lobby are fully exposed. The recent political battles show that it may not be high noon for the lobby, but it is daybreak.