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Jewish World Review
June 3, 2009
/ 11 Sivan 5769
The Israel Lobby: Missing in Action
In their 2007 book The Israel Lobby, Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued that there exists a loose coalition of groups that attempts to steer American policy in a pro-Israel direction at a high cost to American national interests. Mearsheimer and Walt's definition of pro-Israel was so broad and their sense of how injurious Israel's existence is to America so deep that, in their telling, the "Israel Lobby" is both all-powerful and all-inclusive. Nevertheless, at the center of Mearsheimer and Walt's "Israel Lobby" are American Jews the villainous neo-cons and the pro-Israel lobbying organization AIPAC chief among them.
The sad truth, however, is that if an Israeli Lobby exists, American Jews have failed to enlist. American Jews are demonstrably innocent of putting Israel's interests first, or even high, on their list of concerns at least if Israel's interests have anything to do with how they are defined by the overwhelming consensus of Jews living in Israel.
A vast majority of Israeli Jews would be prepared to cede a good deal of the West Bank in return for peace. But the experience of the last fifteen years has convinced them that peace cannot be obtained without a dramatic reformation of Palestinian society. From the standpoint of the Israeli consensus, the Obama administration's obsessive mantra about the necessity of Israel declaring its support for the "two-state solution" is misguided, for it sends the wrong messages to both Israelis and Palestinians.
By focusing on what Israel must do, that mantra ignores what it has already done, and the lessons learned from its past actions. Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank, southern Lebannon, and Gaza, resulted in their becoming launching pads for suicide bombers and rockets aimed at Israeli civilians. Those withdrawals did not even improve Israel's international standing.
The focus on Israel's next step ignores those never taken by the Palestinians i.e., moving one iota from any of their positions as of the outset of Oslo. And it conveys the message that nothing is expected of the Palestinians in the future, unlike the Road Map, which made the Palestinians oft-promised end to incitement and terrorism preconditions for further negotiations.
Palestinian statehood, not peace, has become the watchword of American policy. And to that end, the Obama administration has indicated a willingness to impose a solution. National Security Advisor James Jones recently conveyed to a senior European official that "an endgame solution" would be formulated by the U.S., EU, and moderate Arab states, with Israel and the Palestinians relegated to the role of bystanders. On a happy note, he allowed that Israel would "not be thrown under the bus." That same week the chief U.S. arms negotiator called for Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty a clear break with a forty year understanding between the U.S. and Israel on the issue, and an equally clear indication of how nasty the pressure on Israel might get.
The theory of an imposed solution is that the final contours of a settlement are already well known so it might as well be now. Even if the former proposition were true, the intention of the parties and their ability to perform would still be relevant. The Palestinians cannot run a state certainly not one that Hamas would not quickly take over nor do they seek to. Palestinian human rights activist Bassam Eid declared after the Hamas-Fatah civil war in Gaza, "We do not deserve a state." Fatah prefers the present kleptocracy to a state. Statelessness allows Palestinians to attack Israel without being held responsible, as would a state, and to remain the world's favorite mendicants.
Meanwhile the contrast between the Obama administration's urgency with respect to the Palestinian-Israel tract and its lackadaisical approach to Iran's nuclear ambitions could not be starker. The linkage of Iran to progress on the former is backwards. No more than a year likely remains to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions. Peace will not in that period to a region in which there is still no Palestinian leader who can even recognize Israel's right to be a Jewish state.
The Sunni states fear a nuclear Iran much more than Israel, and they are saying so. They will support an alliance against Iran because it is their interests to do so, as long as they believe America will act decisively and not leave them to Iran's tender mercies.
What has been the response of American Jewry and the vaunted Israel Lobby to the mounting threats to Israel abetted by Washington? Silence. President Obama"s popularity among American Jews remains sky high and rising. Delegates at the recent AIPAC convention dutifully lobbied Congress for the two-state solution. Whom, one wonders, was this feared group lobbying against?
The overwhelming American Jewish support for President Obama demonstrates how far the perspectives of Israeli and American Jews have diverged. For Israeli Jews survival remains the primary desideratum. For American Jews the simulacrum of peace, in the form of a treaty, any treaty, is primary.
For many American Jews, an Israel without peace is misbegotten, not worth the scorn it engenders in The New York Times and on Ivy League campuses. Daniel Gordis records, in his important new book How Israel Can Win a War That May Never End , being asked by an American Jewish friend: "Why has Israel given up hope?" And with no genuine chance for peace, why forge on?"
It is left to Gordis's teenage daughter Talia to set their visitor straight: The purpose of Israel is not to achieve peace with the Arabs, however devoutly such peace might be wished for. Israelis have not given up hope, just hope for peace in the near future.
American Jews remained largely quiescent during the Holocaust, in part because of their adulation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who could do no wrong in their eyes. Stephen Wise, the most influential voice in American Jewry, could not overcome his worship of FDR to challenge the latter's position that nothing could be done to save Jews other than win the War. (David Wyman's The Abandonment of the Jews seeringly details how much could have been done.)
To avoid embarrassing or pressuring the President, Wise sat on a telegram from Gerhard Riegner of the World Jewish Congress in August 1942, detailing plans to exterminate three to four million Jews in German-controlled Europe, until pressured by the Orthodox and Revisionist Zionists to do something.
American Jews are besotted again. This time the object of their affections is President Barack Obama, who has consciously fashioned himself the new FDR. And a little matter like Israel will not cool their ardor. President Obama, like President Clinton before him, has proven that a Democratic president can sell American Jewry any policy to Israel, as long as it is packaged in sufficient expressions of concern for Israel's well-being.
The Israel Lobby of Walt and Mearsheimers febrile imaginations never existed. And never has that been so obvious as today.
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JWR contributor Jonathan Rosenblum is founder of Jewish Media Resources and a widely-read columnist for the Jerusalem Post's domestic and international editions and for the Hebrew daily Maariv. He is also a respected commentator on Israeli politics, society, culture and the Israeli legal system, who speaks frequently on these topics in the United States, Europe, and Israel. His articles appear regularly in numerous Jewish periodicals in the United States and Israel. Rosenblum is the author of seven biographies of major modern Jewish figures. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Yale Law School. Rosenblum lives in Jerusalem with his wife and eight children.
© 2007, Jonathan Rosenblum