1. A Zionist Boy Reads the Prophets—How I came to critique the Israel Lobby
I grew up in the heart of what would eventually become the Israel Lobby in the U.S.
My father and mother were national leaders of the Zionist movement in the U.S. My mother used to talk proudly of how, at five years old, I was standing outside the local bank on Bergen Street in the mostly-Jewish Weequahic section of Newark New Jersey, holding a Jewish National Fund (JNF) box, singing “Hatikvah,” and collecting money to plant trees in Israel. When my mother won election as local chair of Hadassah and my father as chair of the Zionist Council, the elation at home was even greater than when she was appointed the administrative assistant in charge of political affairs for the U.S. Senator she helped elect, or when my father became a judge. All the external political accomplishments, I was led to believe, were really not what counts in the world except to the extent that they allowed my parents to help Israel gain support in the U.S.
To me, this seemed a very noble enterprise, and I’m sure that I learned from my parents that activities for a social movement were really far more important than personal advancement. They were idealistic and motivated by a genuine concern for the Jewish people. Their Zionism emerged in the 1930s and 1940s when Jews were being attacked and discriminated against in the U.S. and eventually murdered in the millions in Europe. The staggering refusal of the U.S. government to allow refugees fleeing Nazism into this country unless, like the atomic scientists and some other well–known Jewish intellectuals, they had special skills that could be “useful” to the government, was only the tip of the iceberg. Country after country around the world shut their doors to the Jews. No wonder, then, that the Zionist movement, which had seemed far-fetched and unrealistic in its first decades, suddenly began to receive majority support from Jews after the Holocaust—Jews felt that the world had shown that the Jewish people could only be safe if we had our own country and our own army. I’m still proud of my parents for their commitment to an ideal outside of themselves. Their idealism and commitment to a larger movement made a big impact on me, even when I later chose different ideals and a different kind of movement with which to identify.
Nobody ever mentioned to me in the years that I was growing up that there had been a major expulsion of Arabs from their homes in 1947–49 and though I heard about it from the Left in the 1960s, I found it hard to take seriously until Benny Morris, an Israeli historian, published in Tikkun a summary of some of his findings gained from the opening of the historical archives in Israel in the late 1980s. But even as a child I knew that there were Palestinian Arabs who had stayed in their homes and who were in the 1950s living under martial law in Israel. And when I began to question this and the purity of the Zionist movement that my parents were leading, I was quickly led to believe that anyone raising questions of this sort would be dismissed as a “self-hating Jew” or a budding anti-Semite. Those terms are not specific to the last two decades—they have been thrown around quite loosely by the leaders of American Zionism for at least the past seventy years (I first heard these epithets being used to describe the American Council for Judaism, a Reform movement based group that dared question the assumption that a Jewish state in Palestine would be the best strategy for Jewish survival). It was taken for granted in my household that anyone who didn’t buy into Zionism was in fact a Jew-hater.
The repression of open discussion about Israel except to talk about how best to get people to support the new State was quite a departure from the norm of family discussions. Every evening my sister Pat (now Trish) and I would be invited to participate in lively discussions of politics, religion, school and television by parents who were liberal supporters of Adlai Stevenson, haters of McCarthy and the anti-communist crusade that dominated the 1950s, and early opponents of the war in Vietnam. While my sister honed her skills as an early stand up comedienne at these daily dinners, I tried to engage with the politics, and was encouraged to take any stance I wanted as long as it did not challenge whatever policies Israel happened to be following at the time. When my parents had Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion and, later, Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban visiting our dinner table, I was given a clear message to keep my mouth shut about anything other than how much I loved Israel. The same message was there at my Conservative synagogue where I was bar mitzvahed and even in the public Weequahic High School where we discussed world affairs from a liberal perspective, led by Jewish history teachers who were later identified as communists by the House Un-American Activities Committee, teachers who never allowed any discussion that might be critical of Israel.
There was only one place where I learned that Jewish nationalism was suspect and could be used in destructive ways: at Camp Ramah (a summer camp run by the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and reflecting the more orthodox wing of Conservative Judaism). At Ramah we read the prophets and commemorated the Jewish Fast of Tisha B’Av, which seeks to explain the many calamities that befell the Jewish people as a product of our own faithlessness to God’s teaching that it was our responsibility as Jews to create a society of love, generosity, justice, and special caring for the most oppressed and for the Other (Heb: ger). When I studied with Abraham Joshua Heschel and Yochanan Muffs at JTS I learned that the prophetic teachings were at the heart of one way of understanding Judaism,but that way was under severe attack from those who sought to build a Judaism that was more compliant with the ethos of the American society into which Holocaust-traumatized Jews were desperately seeking to assimilate, a Judaism that celebrated itself as perfect and the Jewish people as the eternal victim.
The Prophets: “Do not oppress the stranger”
The Prophets were faced with a similarly self-congratulatory Judaism as pervaded the Jewish world in America; a Jewish community that had lost its moral foundations but were nevertheless sure that God would always be on its side. From Moses to Jeremiah and Isaiah, the Prophets taught a very different message: that the Jewish claim on the land of Israel was totally contingent on the moral and spiritual life of the Jews who lived there, and that the land would, as the Torah tells us, “vomit you out” if people did not live according to the highest moral vision of Torah. Over and over again, in one form or another, the Torah repeated its most frequently stated mitzvah (command): “When you enter your land, do not oppress the stranger,” (the Other, the one who is the outsider of your society, the powerless one) and then not only “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” but also (and almost never mentioned in the mainstream—and hence totally Zionist-oriented—synagogues of post-Holocaust America), “you shall love the Other,” the ger.
As I studied the Prophets more deeply at JTS, I began to realize that they were not only criticizing the values of ancient Israel and pointing to the ways that Judaism itself had become distorted by those who were its official spokesmen, but that they also provided a framework to criticize the dominant values of capitalist society.
Orthodoxies Take Over
After starting my study for a PhD in philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, and working for six months on a kibbutz in Israel, I became aware of the unfair treatment of Palestinians within Israeli society, something never discussed at JTS. As an American proud of all the good in this country, I had no choice but to speak out and become an active organizer against American racism and the war in Vietnam. Similarly, when I began to learn the shocking truth about racist treatment of Palestinians by the state that claimed to be the State of the Jewish people, I felt that my deep commitment to Judaism gave me no option but to speak out and critique Israeli policy as a violation of Jewish values and norms. But that wasn’t so easy. Almost all of my Jewish friends in the anti-war movement had had such bad experience in the Jewish communities and families of their childhood that they had totally rejected Judaism. The only time they even wanted to identify as Jewish was at moments of critiquing Israel. So for them, my critique of Israel (based on universalist principles, my love for Judaism, and my commitment to a prophetic movement in Judaism that strongly condemns the “realists”—those who believe that power, not ethics, will redeem us) was too pro-Israel for them. From my perspective, the Left’s critique is frequently articulated with so much one-sidedness and anger at Israel as to make it a distortion of the history and contemporary reality of Israel/Palestine (I tell a more balanced account in my book Healing Israel/Palestine [North Atlantic, 2003]).
My friend (and former leader of the Free Speech Movement) Mario Savio (not a Jew), shared that perception about the misguided harshness of Left critiques of Israel and joined with me in creating an organization that would be my first attempt at a “Middle Path” that was both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine and that would support a demilitarized Palestinian state, an international force to provide security for both Israel and Palestine, reparations for Palestinians, and a return of Israel to the pre-1967 borders with minor border changes so that Jews could continue to live in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem and worship at the Kotel (Western Wall)—it was called “The Committee for Peace in the Middle East.”
I was, at the time, chair of the Berkeley chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), and had been part of the more confrontational “action faction” that picketed and held disruptive sit-ins to challenge the CIA and the ROTC when they sought to recruit on campus. I was also a spokesperson for a set of rather militant anti-Vietnam-War demonstrations (e.g. sitting on the train tracks to stop trains bringing new recruits to the war and closing the streets of downtown Oakland with thousands of demonstrators to prevent young people from getting to the Oakland army induction center where many of them were processed and sent to Vietnam). But the moment I extended my voice beyond Vietnam and racism toward Blacks, and got into this position of advocating a middle path on Israel/Palestine, I was dismissed by many of my SDS colleagues as a Zionist whose views (not only on Israel, but on everything including strategies for the anti-war movement) need no longer be taken seriously.
Shortly thereafter the other shoe fell. An article I had written which described the vision of the Committee for Peace in the Middle East was published in the American Jewish Congress-sponsored journal Judaism. The A. J. Congress had been a major Jewish voice for liberalism and free speech, integration, and civil liberties but when I discussed the issue of Israel in a somewhat critical way, the leadership stepped in and fired Stephen Schwarzschild, the magazine’s editor, for publishing this article (an act so outrageous that it generated a news article in The New York Times). So much for civil liberties and free speech if it questioned Israel or the values of the American Jewish community.
I learned this lesson and hoped when I formed Tikkun magazine in 1986 that our call for peace and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine would not undermine our ability to be the voice for Jewish liberalism, challenging the conservative values that had come to the fore in most Jewish institution and national organizations in the Reagan years of the 1980s. Things went well at first. But two years after we began, the Palestinian Intifada made it impossible for us to quiet our voices in critique of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and its response to Palestinian demonstrations (the words of then-Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Yitzhak Rabin: “Break their bones” was meant quite literally as an order to Israeli troops). But the moment we published an editorial critical of Is-rael’s response to the Intifada, I was suddenly labeled a “self-hating Jew,” my invitations to speak at synagogues quickly disappeared, and the many Jewish institutions and donors who had shown interest in Tikkun as a voice of Jewish liberalism lost interest in our enterprise.
Over and over again, authors would tell me that they had been similarly attacked for publishing their articles in Tikkun. Some reported feelings of strong disapproval coming from senior Jewish faculty at the colleges or universities at which they taught, and worried about their own careers. Others told me that the other places that they had previously published were now communicating to them their lack of interest in publishing anyone who had written for that “anti-Israel” publication Tikkun. Our literary editor told me that he had received strong negative messages about his involvement with Tikkun from the outspoken right-wing Zionist Cynthia Ozick. Some of the most famous younger Jewish authors who today represent the mainstream of American Jewish fiction or literary writing admitted to me off the record that they felt reluctant to write for Tikkun because of the vulnerability they felt being associated with a magazine that was willing to publicly voice criticisms of Israel. The small but powerful group of neo-con Jews for whom support of Israel’s expansionist policies was the fulcrum of their worldview on almost all other domestic and international issues had powerful ties that shaped the consciousness of The New York Times op-ed page, culture sections, book review, and magazine and through that managed to intimidate many publishers into a narrow view of “what would sell” which dictated what books they’d publish (though their power now in 2007 only shapes the cultural coverage, the book review, and The New York Times Magazine, but not the editorial pages).
2. What Would The Prophets Say to the Israel Lobby?
Who is the Israel Lobby?
There are two primary organizations that compose the Israel Lobby. Then, as now, the American Jewish leadership was working to promote Israel’s policies to the Jewish world through the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, and to promote Israel’s interests to Congress through the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
When I talk about the Israel Lobby, however, I mean to refer not only to AIPAC or The Conference of Presidents, but to a range of organizations (including the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the World Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Hadassah, the Wiesenthal Center, the Federation, and the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), the various Jewish Community Relations Councils, most of the local Hillel Foundations on college campuses, most of the Hebrew schools and day schools introducing their students to Judaism or Jewish culture, the array of Federation sponsored newspapers that are distributed in almost every Jewish community in America, as well as media like Moment and The Forward which opportunistically respond to the most powerful voices and funding in the Jewish world) and informally affiliated projects, political campaigns, and political action committees (PACs) that work together to advance Israel’s agenda in the U.S. But there are two very important qualifiers here.
First, the Israel Lobby cannot be understood apart from the vast number of Jewish institutions and even individual communities, synagogues, and families that impose on their members a certain discipline that goes well beyond any normal political party or force, challenging the human, ethical, and Jewish identities of anyone who disagrees with its fundamental assumptions. In the broad sense that I’m using the term “Israel Lobby,” I’m referring to everyone who enforces—on the individual or public communal level—what I describe as Jewish Political Correctness.
Second, the Israel Lobby has since the 1980s increasingly developed a politics that is right-wing in its assumptions about the world, taking it, at times, far away from the liberal instincts that still characterize a large majority of American Jews on most other issues. That right-wing bias makes it a good ally for Israel when the Israeli government is being run by right-wingers or Labor Party militarists, but it was not a loyal ally when Yitzhak Rabin decided to pursue a policy of peace and reconciliation (for details on this, read Yossi Beilin, who was Rabin’s representative who negotiated the Oslo Accords, and his account of the ways that AIPAC sought to undermine Rabin’s policies). While the vast majority of members of the organizations affiliated with AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents are more liberal than the core activists and leadership and while most American Jews are far more liberal than the members of these organizations (and hence voted 78% for Kerry in 2004 and 80% for Democrats in Congress in 2006), most of them are unfamiliar with the hard-core right wing spin that led delegates to the recent 2007 AIPAC convention to be cheering on the Bush-Cheney agenda in Iraq and to be pushing the President and the Congress to take military action against Iran.
Third, there are a handful of liberal organizations that do not share all of the Israel Lobby’s agenda who joined as affiliates of The Council of Presidents or AIPAC because they imagined they could have some moderating influence from within, but whose actual track record seems more influenced by rather than influencing the actual direction of either AIPAC or the Presidents grouping. So please understand that the Israel Lobby does not refer to one organization, but to a whole group of organizations, many of which have other issues on their agenda, and which work in tandem to put forward a very similar position on anything touching on Israel’s perceived interests.
It is perfectly legitimate for any group in America to decide to form an organization or a lobby to advance its interests, and so also with the Israel Lobby. There is nothing fundamentally illegitimate about the enterprise. But for many of us in the Jewish peace-and-justice community, and in the interfaith Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP), the issue is not whether AIPAC, The Council of Presidents, and the Israel Lobby understood in its broadest sense is legitimate, but rather: is it good for the world, good for the U.S., or good for the Jewish people? And there I side with many who have come to the conclusion that on all three counts the answer is “no.” The National Rifle Association is also legitimate, but it’s not good for the world or for America. Ditto David Duke and his organization or the remnants of the White Citizens’ Councils, or the mosques that foster Islamic extremism or the churches that foster the demeaning of non-Christians. We support their rights and their legal entitlements, but we challenge their wisdom and decency.
Bad for the World
The Israel Lobby has become a major perpetrator of the fear orientation in politics that the NSP believes to be at the heart of many of the problems facing the world. The Israel Lobby sees threats everywhere, and hope nowhere except in Israel retaining military superiority and using American weapons to bolster its capacity to resist reasonable demands for a Palestinian state and for resisting negotiations leading to peace with its neighbors. The Lobby’s solution for Israel is that the country be involved in endless struggle with evil enemies who will always be there, rejecting any more complicated or sophisticated view that might point to the interactive nature of conflict, the way in which conflicts are frequently a product of both sides taking provocative actions. The “security” strategy that results from the Israel Lobby’s fear-orientation is the Strategy of Domination: we must conquer or dominate others before they conquer or dominate us.
Tikkun and the NSP have been engaged in trying to popularize a different worldview—that homeland security can come through generosity and caring for others. So whereas the Israel Lobby people are now trying to push the US. and Europe into a war with Iran, the NSP has been advocating for a Global Marshall Plan to eliminate hunger, homelessness and inadequate health and educational resources, and to repair the global environment. As long as the Israel Lobby has an important impact on public discourse, it will strengthen the political hold of the worldview of fear and domination. It is this worldview which is central to creating the framework within which wars seem rational to the political leadership.
Bad for the United States
The Israel Lobby identifies the best interests of the U.S. with those of the Israeli right-wing, and that right-wing engages in activities against the Palestinian people in particular and against surrounding neighboring states, which have inflamed global public opinion not only against Israel but against the United States which is seen as its puppet. The conspiracy theory about Jewish power in the U.S. is a distortion and mostly a falsehood but the alignment of the U.S. and Israel on foreign policy matters is not a falsehood as long as the U.S. continues to act from the standpoint of the strategy of domination. That strategy finds its most articulate spokespeople in neo-con journals like Commentary and The New Republic, and also in the many policy institutes and think tanks in which Israel-Lobby-aligned thinkers get paid to suggest the kinds of distorted policies that led to the War in Iraq and might yet, if Bush and Cheney get their way, lead to military strikes against Iran. All of this is destructive to the best interests of the U.S., which lie in reconciliation and mutual understanding with the peoples of the world.
Bad for Israel
The Israel Lobby strengthens the hands of the most right-wing forces in Israel while reinforcing the view that the U.S. is going to back their intransigence and militarism and that, hence, they have a blank check to do whatever crazy and self-defeating scheme they come up with, including the war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the dropping of cluster bombs on southern Lebanon, the refusal to give up land of Syria’s conquered in 1967, the holding of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Israeli prisoner camps, the use of torture, the violation of the rights of Israeli citizens who happen to be Arabs, and the refusal to acknowledge any responsibility for the Palestinian refugees.
Israel will some day face a reckoning from Arab states and from the peoples of the world for the gross arrogance and insensitivity of their government’s policies, and people will some day look back at the Israel Lobby in the U.S. and realize that it was destructive to Israel’s long-term survival interests.
Bad for the Jews
Finally, the Israel Lobby is bad for the Jews. For the last two decades many in the organized Jewish community have been agonizing over their inability to keep a large number of the younger generations connected to their Judaism. In the late 1980s and early 1990s I did empirical research and discovered the set of reasons that people alienated from the Jewish community. First and foremost was the spiritual deadness and materialism they encountered in the Jewish world, but second, and almost as important was the anger and frustration that young Jews experienced facing Jewish Political Correctness around Israel and the extraordinary way that the values of the Israel Lobby were permeating every ounce of Jewish life (from the synagogue to the country clubs, from the suburban community centers to the fundraising for the United Jewish Appeal and the Federations), repressing intellectual curiosity and any form of criticism of Israel, and labeling as “self-hating” those young Jews who persisted in questioning. I published this information in my book Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation [Putnam, 1994]. Sadly, the Jewish world simply refused to listen to the evidence: their blind loyalty to the approach of the Israel Lobby was destroying their ability to speak to their own children.
Jewish Political Correctness—Like Any other Kind—Will Backfire
The Israel Lobby’s “Jewish Political Correctness” has put a straitjacket on public conversations about Israel. Reporters and even newspapers that report the complicated and two-sided truth of the Israel/Palestinian struggles are quickly labeled anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Catholics, Protestants, and secular Americans knew that they would face immediate labeling as anti-Semitic if they said what they were seeing in front of their own eyes—that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians seemed to be violating the democratic and human rights norms the upholding of which had been a primary argument for a special relationship between the U.S. and Israel.
This Jewish Political Correctness, like every other form of political correctness, will eventually backfire. The millions of people who have felt constrained and resentful that on this one topic they were not allowed to say what they thought will some day find their voice, and, when they do, the legitimate support that Israel does deserve from the Western countries will quickly dissolve and irrational anger will be expressed at all Jews, not just those who supported Israeli policies. The coming outbreak of anti-Semitism in the next decades will be totally illegitimate and must be fought. But it will happen primarily because of the legacy of the Israel Lobby and the Jewish Political Correctness it has fostered, not because the growing numbers of people who are angry with Jews for having repressed public discourse are people who were born racist and were just waiting for the opportunity to hurt Jews. And part of the fault will lie with many liberal Jews who, feeling the harsh responses to criticism from the Israel Lobby, have walked away from the Jewish community entirely rather than joining and supporting the organizations (and magazines) that are trying to change all this and provide a different kind of leadership.
21st Century Idolatry
The most decisive reason the Israel Lobby is bad for the Jews is that it strengthens idolatry in the Jewish world by reinforcing our tendencies to believe in power and domination rather than in love, generosity, compassion and open-heartedness. As such, the Israel Lobby is the direct inheritor of the power-worship ideology that can be traced from Thrasymachus’ position in Plato’s Republic to Machiavelli’s Prince to the forms of fascism that thrived under Franco in Spain, Mussolini in Italy, Stalin in Russia, and Kissinger/Nixon/Cheney/Bush in the U.S.: the legacy that thinks that “the real world is governed only by military power, and might makes right.” This message is the opposite of the Judaism I support. While there is in each one of us a voice of fear that believes that fascistic message, our task is to support the other message that we also all hear; a message of love and generosity, a message of hope and non-violence. Our message, what I call a “global Judaism” and “liberation spirituality” rejects contemporary visions of what is or is not “realistic” and, instead, embraces the vision of the Prophets, Jesus, and Gandhi for a world in which we not only love our neighbor but also love the stranger, the Other.
It pains me deeply to see the Israel Lobby so successful in turning many of the Jews who are supposedly religious into worshipers of power; people who believe that the will of God can be read by the outcome of military struggles like the 1967 Six-Day War. This is straightforward idolatry—the worship of power and the betrayal of the God of Israel.
3. The Latest: Foxman and the Israel Lobby vs. Walt and Mearsheimer
On March 23, 2006, Professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt published an article entitled “The Israel Lobby.” In it, they argued that unconditional U.S. support for Israel could not be justified on either strategic or moral grounds and that it was primarily due to the political effectiveness of Israel Lobby. They also argued that the Lobby had encouraged the United States to adopt policies that were neither in the American national interest nor in Israel’s long-term interest. In December 2006 they issued a response to critics of their original article in a long piece called “Setting the Record Straight” from which I will be referencing frequently with their permission. In September 2007 their book on the Israel Lobby will be published.
The day before the Walt/Mearsheimer book is published in September, Palgrave/Macmillan will publish a response by Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the ADL, entitled The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control. Foxman’s book is a high-level recapitulation of the major response that the Israel Lobby always gives to those who critique Israeli policy or the actions of the Lobby: it attempts to discredit the critics by suggesting that the real problem lies with them as anti-Semites, self-hating Jews, or, in the slightly more refined version that Foxman perpetrates, as(possibly unintentionally) giving support to the anti-Semites.
Foxman sets the stage by telling us that the receptivity to the idea that there is something deeply wrong with the Israel Lobby is in part a reflection of the anti-Semitism in American society. He then says that not all disposition toward criticizing Israel is attributable to actual hatred of Jews. Some arises from a more subtle bigotry, a double standard which leads some Americans to question the special relationship between Jews’ special concern for the state of Israel, while they do not similarly question the Italian-American’s love for the food of Italy, the Brazilian American’s pride in the triumphs on the soccer field, or the Chinese American’s interest in the economic and social development of contemporary China! Foxman’s argument here is irrelevant since the prominent critics of the Israel Lobby do not criticize American Jews for having a special connection or love for the State of Israel but, rather, criticize how that love gets translated into politics in ways that harm Israel, the United States, and the Jews. When nationalist Chinese sought to push the U.S. into conflict with the communist Chinese in the 1950s, people on the Left criticized these Chinese and pointed out that their struggle with Chaing Kai Shek was playing a bad role in American politics by preventing us from creating an alliance with the Chinese that might have moderated their extremists and jump started the process of democratization that we still hope will emerge in China.
Foxman argues that the “closest parallel” to the Israel Lobby is the Cuban Lobby in its attempt to seek “freedom from Communist rule.” But few American Jews will find that a reassuring comparison. As the recent revelations of CIA attempts to enlist the Mafia to murder Fidel Castro show, this Cuban Lobby has been a distorting element in U.S. foreign policy. Many who criticize the Israel Lobby would certainly want to see the Cuban Lobby change its tactics and directions so that it no longer conflicted so heavily with American values and American interests. Tikkun has been very critical of the specific policies of Fidel Castro toward homosexuals and his undermining of civil liberties. Nevertheless we see that these policies might have liberalized considerably had the Cuban people not lived under constant threat of invasion and constant harassment from Cuban refugees, their destabilization-oriented CIA friends, and the economically crippling impact of the U.S. boycott. Of course, Tikkun and many other critics of the Israel Lobby also acknowledge the threats to Israel’s existence, and for that reason want to ensure that it always has the military capacity to withstand the attacks from hostile neighbors, thus we have been labeled as “sophisticated apologists for Zionism” by those on the anti-Israel Left, and simultaneously ignored by the Israel Lobby, which frequently identifies anyone with strong criticisms as necessarily “anti-Israel.”
Foxman takes the next step: the anti-Semites of the world, he assures us, are delighted with the Mearsheimer and Walt thesis “and see in it support for much of what they believe.”
Then, suddenly he retreats and says “I’m not calling Mearsheimer and Walt anti-Semites… But I am saying that their article repeats and supports myths and belief that anti-Semites have peddled for centuries, thereby giving aid and comfort to some of the most despicable people in our society.” This is the same way McCarthyists smeared anti-Communist liberals in the 1950s and anti-Stalinist Vietnam War protesters in the 1960s as supporters of Communism. If we were to stoop to that level of argument we could say “the Israel Lobby has made alliance with the Christian Right in support of Israel, and has thus given aid and comfort to the most reactionary…” etc.
Foxman goes on to ridicule two other claims that he attributes to Walt and Mearsheimer: that the Lobby has huge power in the Congress and that it has huge influence in the media. Foxman denies both of these, though he is unable to account for how it could be that a Congress which is divided on almost every other issue consistently turns out votes like 400-30 for resolutions shaped by AIPAC supporting the Israel Lobby’s latest demand.
4. How the Israel Lobby Exercises Power
To take an example from these past few months of the Israel Lobby exercising its power, liberals in the House of Representatives in the spring of 2007 sought to include in the defense-funding budget an amendment that would require specific authorization from Congress before the Administration could use the defense budget monies for a military strike at Iran. The amendment failed. Most liberals in the U.S. today oppose preventive wars in general and a military strike against Iran in particular. So who supports such a move? The answer is: the right wing government of Israel and its champion in the U.S., the Israel Lobby.
We asked Congressman Jim Moran, Democrat of Virginia, why this had happened. See that interview at the bottom of this article.
Don’t be surprised that Jim Moran was pushed from his office as one of the leaders of the Democrats in Congress by AIPAC and other elements of the Israel Lobby. Here is how it happened: Congressman Moran was asked at a constituents’ meeting by a woman identified with the Jewish community why we had gotten into the war in Iraq. Moran responded provocatively “If the Jewish community had organized against it, we wouldn’t be in this war.” It’s the kind of statement I would have made to any religious community, or to any labor movement audience, citing their own failures to act as a critical factor in why we had gotten involved. In the case of the Jewish community there is the added factor that leading people in the Israel Lobby actively supported and still support the war in Iraq and that some of the strong supporters of the Israel Lobby played central roles in the effort to push the Iraq war inside the Bush Administration.
In Tikkun we’ve also had a strong analysis by Stephen Zunes showing that the primary force pushing for the Iraq war was not the supporters of Israel, but the faction of the American ruling class that has supported Bush (what President Eisenhower referred to as the military/industrial complex, aligned with the oil industry). We at Tikkun neither wish to minimize the role of the Israel Lobby and some of its key intellectual and political contributions to creating the context for broad acceptance of the legitimacy of responding to the understandable anger at 9/11 by attacking the unrelated issues raised by the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, nor do we wish to disregard the reality that American foreign policy is first and foremost a response to the interests of America’s economic elites and the powerful interests of Western multinationals.
But Moran did not assert or believe that Israel or the Israel Lobby was the decisive factor, nor did he suggest that. What he implied, and I believe to be true, is that had the Jewish community organized strongly against the war in Iraq it would have been far less likely that we would have entered the war in the first place, because that kind of mobilization in the Jewish world would have certainly stimulated a similar mobilization in the Christian majority in the U.S. as it has on other issues. The Israel Lobby had been seeking a way to challenge Moran because he is aligned with the middle path view that Tikkun has been advocating for many years. So they used this one remark out of context and battered Congressional Democrats until they purged Moran from the leadership of the (then minority) Democratic Caucus of the House.
How AIPAC has Democratic Congresspeople Scared
Is Moran’s case an isolated incident? Not at all. When Tikkun held its 2004 conference in Washington to ask Congress to support our Resolution for Middle East Peace, we brought hundreds of people from around the U.S. to speak to their elected officials. Through the intervention of one Democratic Congressperson (not Moran) I was able to meet with about eight “Members” in a private meeting in which I was told that people would only sit there if their names were guaranteed confidentiality. They had all read the story in The Washington Post that day about the Tikkun Community/NSP and its efforts to present a “Progressive Middle Path” that would be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, based in large part on the Geneva Accord that had recently been signed by Yossi Beilin and Yassir Abed Rabbo. Tikkun had also raised money to pay for a full-page ad in The New York Times, signed by thousands of people, calling on the U.S. to support this path. Tikkun Community members had had meetings that day with hundreds of Congresspeople, and almost all of them had said the same thing: “We agree with your perspective, but we are not going to fight the Jewish community on this topic. As long as they feel the way they do, we are not going to make this our issue.”
Sitting in that room I heard a clearer articulation of what our Tikkun people were hearing in these other meetings: A pronounced fear of AIPAC and what it could do to them. At the meeting I was at, every Member of Congress tried to explain why Nancy Pelosi would never let me address the Democratic Caucus of the House (at that time, the minority caucus): House Democrats are too fearful of what AIPAC might do in response. I told these Members of Congress that I didn’t believe them; that I thought that House of Representative liberals were just pretending to be fearful of AIPAC in order to avoid a battle and stand up publicly for Tikkun’s middle path position. But then they began to tell me specific stories from their own experience of the threats they had received from the Israel Lobby people about being labeled as “anti-Israel.” They told me stories of it being impossible to convene a private meeting of Democrats who would want to challenge the Israel Lobby because when they had tried that they had found that every name of the attendees was in the hands of AIPAC lobbyists within an hour of the conclusion of that meeting and many of the attendees had been subject to immediate and intense pressure as though they had decided to abandon Israel (which they had not, nor is that what Tikkun calls for). And what they told me rang true: that AIPAC and the Israel Lobby had a large constituency of single-issue voters who would support a challenge to them in their next primaries, or possibly even in the general elections, should they not retain AIPAC’s approval. A perfectly legitimate tactic by AIPAC, but used in this instance to support very bad policies.
5. Why the “Liberal” Media is Illiberal on Israel
I’ve had similar experiences with the Israel Lobby and the media. For the first few years of Tikkun’s existence Tikkun’s perspective was covered on many topics in American politics. But once we got on AIPAC’s radar screen, this began to change. I finally got the op-ed editor of The San Francisco Chronicle to tell me the story. He had been approached by the Executive Editor, Dick German and told by German in no uncertain terms to stop publishing op-eds from American Jews critical of Israel, because Israel had “too many enemies.” This is what he told me.
A similar thing happened to me at The New York Times. I was asked by The Times to do a review of a book on Israeli settlers. Without any shame, my editor insisted that I change what I had written so that it would accord with his politics. I was never again given a chance to write a review for The Times. Hundreds of other liberal Jews have had similar experiences trying to write for The Times op-ed or book review—the voices of those of us who are seriously and intensely critical of Israeli policy but still lovers of Israel and proudly committed to Judaism are rarely part of the acceptable discourse.
This reality is reflected as well in the news coverage. The vast majority of media reports on the Middle East that seek to include the response of American Jews rarely include any voices that are not part of the Israel Lobby or cheerleaders for its perspective. Every single poll done of American Jewish attitudes toward Israel, and particularly of the attitudes of Jews under the age of sixty, indicates that Tikkun’s perspective and that of the Israeli peace movement (e.g. that of the Israeli party Meretz or the peaceniks in Labor) has far more support than the blind knee-jerk support of every action of the Israeli government that characterizes the Israel Lobby. Yet our perspective (and by “our” I mean to include not only Tikkun and the Network of Spiritual Progressives, but also that of Jewish Voices for Peace, Brit Tzedeck v’Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights, Meretz USA and the Israel Peace Forum) is almost never quoted. Instead, the media always goes to the Israel Lobby and its cheerleaders in the American Jewish Committee, the ADL, the American Jewish Congress, the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, and the like. True, these organizations have far better funding than do the voices of the peace movement, but they do not even vaguely represent the powerful divisions within the American Jewish community. Similarly, when seeking out voices of commentary on news stories in Israel, it is rarely the Israeli peace movement that is consulted or quoted.
No wonder, then, that most Americans have never once heard a coherent analysis (as distinct from quotes out of context) of the Israel/Palestine conflict from the standpoint of the Israeli peace movement or those of us who are their allies in the U.S. Americans have never seen a Palestinian version of a Hollywood movie like Exodus, one that would tell the story from the standpoint of Palestinians who found themselves forcibly removed from their homes and made into refugees by the Israel army in 1948. Nor have they heard the standpoint of Jews like Martin Buber who advocated for peaceful reconciliation rather than military domination. While Americans have been subjected to endless teachings by the media and their elected officials on how to think of these issues in ways that are validated by the Israel Lobby, they have no clue as to what we in the peace movement would say. This fact makes particularly absurd Abraham Foxman’s advice to Walt and Mearsheimer: “If Walt and Mearsheimer can propose a new set of Middle East policies that they think will bring peace to the region and protect U.S. interests more effectively than current policies, they should lay out their ideas and present cogent arguments on their behalf. If their arguments are convincing, they will surely attract supporters, both in the general population, in academic and journalistic circles, and ultimately among elected officials.” The peace forces have been doing this for decades and our perspectives have never been given an airing in the media. Even when the media recognizes our existence, they never carry any information about the reasoning behind what we stand for.
The very person who was negotiating for Israel with the Palestinians at Taba in 2000, the former Justice Minister of the State of Israel, Yossi Beilin, reached an accord with a key representative of the Palestinian Authority. Yet the details of that Geneva Accord (which today most people in the peace movement believe to be the terms of any solution that could possibly work) has never been presented in the media of the U.S. (Tikkun finally had to print it ourselves as a book entitled The Geneva Accord and other strategies for Middle East Peace [North Atlantic Books, 2004] so that people in the U.S. could see the specifics). So to whom isn’t the peace movement convincing? The Israel Lobby and its followers, including the U.S.media and the Congress? How would you expect most Americans to agree to a more balanced position when they’ve never heard it presented in a coherent way by an articulate advocate of a Middle Path that is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine.
6. The Work of Mearsheimer and Walt
But why is the U.S. so tied to Israel? Here’s Foxman: “The U.S. has a proud history of serving as the sponsors of democracy around the world” and hence is “drawn to supporting Israel in its quest to maintain democracy in a dangerous part of the world.” This is not the place to show Foxman all the historical literature which challenges this interpretation of American history and current reality. This is America viewed from the far right of the political spectrum, though it is a view which is so often validated as ‘centrist’ or merely ‘conservative’ in the media in the years since Reagan won power in 1980 that today most people in the U.S. don’t even recognize how wildly this view contrasts with that of most serious scholars or people who have ever been exposed to the facts of U.S. involvement in the world post-1945. The way the U.S. played a central role in overthrowing democratically elected regimes (in Iran, the Dominican Republic, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and dozens of other countries) or sought to bolster dictatorial regimes against democratic movements that might have threatened U.S. corporate interests, has been well documented.
It’s fascinating to compare this Fox-man screed to the often careful and thoughtful work of Mearsheimer & Walt. They insist, for example, that there is a strong moral case for supporting Israel’s existence. “There is no question that Jews suffered greatly from the despicable legacy of anti-Semitism and that Israel’s creation was an appropriate response to a long record of crimes.” and again “Europe’s crimes against the Jews provide a clear moral justification for Israel’s right to exist.” They also praise Israeli patriotism, organizational ability, and military prowess, and spoke admiringly of the work of courageous Israeli historians and human rights groups. As they put it, “There should be no doubt that we admire many aspects of Israeli society.”
So what do they believe? Well, they are critical of Israeli policies toward Palestinians and believe that Israel has been the principal obstacle to achieving a Palestinian state. “We do not suggest that Israel’s behavior is especially egregious; we only suggest that its past conduct could not justify unconditional U.S. support. Indeed, we noted that Israel “may not have acted worse than many other countries [including the United States], but it clearly has no acted any better.”
So then what’s the fuss about? This: “We are also critical of the present relationship between the United States and Israel. We believe it is time for the U.S. to treat Israel as a normal country. In other words, the U.S. should support Israeli policies when it is in the American national interest to do so, but not support them when those policies hurt the United States. This is not an ‘anti-Israel’ position; rather it conveys our sense that Israel is a legitimate state in the international system and should be treated no differently than other fully legitimate regimes.”
I take exception to Mearsheimer and Walt on this point because of the way they seem to identify “American national interests” with the current realities of power and economic organization in the U.S. We at Tikkun believe that the status quo of economic and political power in the U.S. has proven to be destructive to the best interests of the American people, Israel and the world. So whereas Walt and Mearsheimer may believe that what this existing order really needs as part of “political realism” is for the oil of the Middle East to be available for as long possible to serve the current economic order, we believe that it would be far better for the U.S. to radically restructure its energy policies in ways that create crash programs for alternative energy sources and that preserve the natural environment of the planet. Similarly, we don’t think it’s a good idea for the U.S. to continue to play the role of policeman for the Middle East, even in a more restricted way than it did in Iraq, say to locate its forces offshore and make airstrikes or limited interventions when it deemed doing so necessary for its own national interest.
We share with Mearsheimer and Walt the desire for a strong America. But we believe that that strength will be achieved only when the U.S. gives up its dream of imposing its will on others through a Strategy of Domination (regardless of whether that domination is achieved in hard military terms or through softer diplomatic methods). To put it in a way that Mearsheimer and Walt do not, the notion of “national interest” in the 21st century must include the understanding that our well being as Americans depends on the well being of every other human being on the planet, and on the environmental well-being of the planet itself. It is this expanded vision of “national interest” that makes us strong supporters of the Global Marshall Plan and the Strategy of Generosity, and strong supporters of democracy and human rights around the world. It would be better for Israel to become identified with this Strategy of Generosity, both in how it deals with Palestinians and in regard to which U.S. policies it supports.
One of the arguments made by critics of opponents of the Israel Lobby is that we overestimate the actual power of the lobby. But except for the actual anti-Semites who sometimes do make these kinds of wild claims, most of us who are critical of the Israel Lobby do not believe that it gets its way on every single issue or that the Lobby has total control over every aspect of U.S. Middle East policy.
Here, Mearsheimer and Walt are clear: “We recognize that the lobby was unable to prevent the U.S. from selling arms to key U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia or Egypt, although these defeats date from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Its efforts to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem have failed as well, but that is a secondary issue that does not affect the continued provision of material aid or diplomatic backing. Indeed, it is an issue that the Israeli government has never pushed strongly. More importantly, the Lobby has grown increasingly powerful with time and it rarely loses on important issues nowadays. Although the Lobby could not prevent the Clinton Administration from presenting a peace proposal on Jerusalem that Israeli leaders did not like, the Lobby made it difficult for Clinton to pressure Israel to accept his proposal, which eventually died a quiet death.
“Although the Lobby does not always get its way, anyone familiar with U.S. Middle East policy knows it wields great influence. Just take AIPAC, which former President Clinton described as ‘stunningly effective’ and ‘better than anyone else lobbying in this town.’ Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich called AIPAC ‘the most effective general interest group…across the entire planet.’ Former Senator Ernest Hollings noted on leaving office that ‘you can’t have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.’ Readers who are still in doubt should consult Michael Massing’s article in the May 20, 2006 issue of the New York Review of Books, which offers additional evidence of AIPAC’s operations and reach.”
And not infrequently the Lobby makes deals with the devil, for example its willingness to go along with a $30 billion arms sales to Saudi Arabia in order to win a $20 billion arms sale of (supposedly even more sophisticated) military hardware for Israel.
David Gergen is cited by Foxman and others because, reflecting on his years as a White House advisor, he now says that he “can’t remember” any president mentioning an Israel Lobby and “never once saw a decision in the Oval Office to tilt US foreign policy in favor of Israel at the expense of America’ interest.” But Gergen was not an important shaper of Middle East policies, and that’s why his memoir barely mentions Middle East issues of any sort. As Mearsheimer and Walt say, “We can easily believe that Presidents and their advisers do not sit around saying: ‘Let’s do something that we believe is not in the U.S. national interest in order to accommodate some special interest group.’ Instead, interest groups achieve their ends by constraining what Presidents are willing to contemplate, forcing them to take steps they might otherwise avoid (but will then pretend to favor), making it harder for them to sustain initiatives that these groups oppose, and shaping perceptions so that key officials will willingly favor the policies that these interest groups are pushing.”
I know from my own personal experience with the Clintons that AIPAC played a shaping role in their thinking (which, as Hillary personally told me in 1993, was totally aligned at that time with Tikkun and our perspective on Israel/Palestine issues). Hillary had nevertheless empowered as one of her close personal assistants a woman who had previously been a lobbyist for AIPAC and whose presence in the White House on a daily basis provided AIPAC with a powerful voice in Hillary’s thinking. It’s true that Hillary’s opportunism was a major factor in her turning to the most right-wing elements in the Jewish world and playing to their worldview in order to become a “serious” candidate for the U.S. Senate. But Hillary has enough internal moral conscience to have not been able to make that shift without having a plausible way of interpreting the world from the standpoint of “Israel is always right,” and that was provided by the Israel Lobby and its hold over public discourse, the media, and the key figures in the Democratic Party.
O.K. But what about the Reagan years? Here we might note the testimony of former Secretary of State George Shultz: “In early December  I got word that a supplement was moving through the lame-duck session of Congress to provide a $250 million increase in the amount of U.S. military assistance to be granted to Israel: this in the face of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, its use of cluster bombs, and its complicity in the Sabra and Shatila massacres! We fought the supplement and fought it hard. President Reagan and I weighed in personally, making numerous calls to senators and congressmen. On December 9, I added a formal letter of opposition saying that the supplement appeared to endorse and reward Israel’s policies’. Foreign Minister Shamir called President Reagan’s opposition ‘an unfriendly act’ and said that “it endangers the peace process.”
Shultz continues: “The supplement sailed right by us and was approved by Congress as though President Reagan and I had not even been there. I was astonished and disheartened. This brought home to me vividly Israel’s leverage in our Congress. I saw that I must work carefully with the Israelis if I was to have any handle on Congressional action that might affect Israel and if I was to maintain congressional support for my efforts to make progress in the Middle East.”
“But so what?” one might argue. “Support for Israel’s policies is good for the U.S.”
“Not so,” say Mearsheimer and Walt. Only sometimes is it good for the U.S. It was arguably true during the Cold War, but almost twenty years later this claim no longer seems so plausible. “U.S. support for Israel expansionism has driven America’s popularity in the region to unprecedented lows and helped fuel the rise of militant terrorist groups like al Qaeda.” Moreover, while the U.S. expresses considerable concern about Iran’s possible development of nuclear weapons, “Israel’s own refusal to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and it sizeable nuclear arsenal both encourages states like Iran to want nukes of their own and makes the U.S. look hypocritical when it presses Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions.” Of course it would be foolish to think that the challenges the U.S. faces in the Middle East would disappear if it were less closely tied to Israel, but, “U.S. policy would be more flexible and effective and our capacity to protect U.S. interests would increase.”
Moreover, according to Mearsheimer and Walt, there is “abundant evidence that since the time bin Laden was a young man, he was deeply committed to the Palestinian cause and that he was also angry at the United States for backing Israel to the hilt.” They go on to quote an interview in March 1997 in which CNN reporter Peter Arnett asked him why he declared jihad against the U.S., and bin Laden replied, “We declared jihad against the US government, because the US government is unjust, criminal and tyrannical. It has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous and criminal, whether directly or through its support of the Israeli occupation of the Land of the Prophet’s Night Journey [Palestine]. And we believe the U.S. is directly responsible for those who were killed in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq.”
Payback for injustices to Palestinians has been a central and abiding theme of those who have been willing to sacrifice their lives in acts of terror against the U.S. or Israel.
And this anger at Israel has been an effective tool in recruiting for bin Laden and other terrorist groups. As I have argued before, people who are themselves upset about the effects of globalization on their own lives and their own communities may nevertheless not feel entitled to struggle for their own liberation from the impact of global capital, particularly if they are personally well off. But those feelings can be projected onto another group whose suffering is so obvious and so extreme that they evoke strong sympathies and allow others to act on the behalf of the worse off group. That’s why it has always seemed particularly bogus to claim that well-off Muslims in other parts of the Arab or Iranian world couldn’t be genuine in their identification with Palestinians since these well-off people were not suffering so badly or were even prospering. In my experience as part of the anti-war movement, many many people risked (and some lost) their lives to challenge the U.S. segregationist policies in the South of the U.S. and then to challenge the U.S. genocide that killed three million Vietnamese. I was not the only one to go to prison as a result of my opposition to the war, and many of us who did were not doing so because we were being deprived of any money or privilege, but only because the ethical and spiritual pain of watching this suffering of others and our own commitment to justice and peace made doing anything less than taking significant personal risks seemed wrong.
Of course, in our peace movement, just as among those who today are fighting against the U.S. presence in Iraq and among any kind of terrorist groups, there are multiple levels of motivation, and just as there were personal pathologies that also played a role in our activism, so those pathologies may play a role elsewhere. The resort to violence is, in our view, almost always a pathological response, whether by Israeli or Palestinian extremists. And the willingness to resort to violence against each other by Sunni and Shia Muslims in Iraq demonstrates that there are some people within the Islamic world who are as indifferent to the fate of their own Muslim brothers and sisters and President Bush and Vice President Cheney seem to the fate of their own young people being sent to kill and die in a pointless war.
7. Conclusion: No, the Israel Lobby does not run the world, but we do need a counterbalancing voice
Does the attack on the Israel Lobby over-estimate its power to shape major decisions like the decision to go to war in Iraq? It depends on which critique you are talking about. I have been to gatherings of the largest anti-war coalition, the United for Peace and Justice, and heard people talk as though the Israel Lobby was single-handedly involved in getting the U.S. into the war in Iraq or in otherwise defining America’s global foreign policy. These claims are a slippery slope into the anti-Semitic charge that Jews run the U.S. or run the world. No one who makes these charges can ever explain how these powerful Jews managed to allow one out of every three Jews to be murdered in the twentieth century or to fail to get the U.S. or the English-run pre-1948 Palestine to open their gates to Jewish refugees, or how it was possible for the first President Bush to deny loan guarantees to Israel as a way to challenge its settlement policies in 1991. There is a willed ignorance that, in my view, reflects a deeper (and often unconscious) anti-Semitism in the Left (and especially among Jews on the Left) that allows anti-war activists to suddenly forget the entire analysis of America’s ruling class that has been developed in countless left wing books and periodicals over the course of the past forty years, and to instead jump to an assumption that it is really Zionism which is running the show.
A far more nuanced picture is offered by Mearsheimer and Walt in regard to Iraq. They argue that the Israel Lobby, and especially the neo-conservatives who play a central shaping role in how that Israel Lobby articulates its larger world-view, “had been pushing for a war against Iraq from early 1998 on. But the neo-conservatives were unable to convince the Clinton Administration to use military force to topple Saddam. They were also unable to sell the case for war to the Bush Administration in its first few months in office. After September 11, however, President Bush and Vice President Cheney fundamentally altered their thinking about Iraq and concluded that war made good strategic sense. The neo-conservatives certainly helped push Bush and Cheney to that conclusion, as they had a well-developed set of arguments to justify the war—even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with September 11… The Lobby by itself could not push the U.S. to attack Iraq. It needed help, and September 11 provided the catalyst that helped convince Bush and Cheney. Thus, the Lobby’s efforts were a necessary but not sufficient condition for war. Absent the Lobby, it would have been much less likely, but absent September 11, the neo-conservatives might never have persuaded President Bush to order an invasion.”
I believe that Mearsheimer and Walt are underestimating the impact of the more militaristic elements in the U.S. military-industrial complex, and particularly the concerns of Big Oil to stabilize their relationship with Middle Eastern oil sources by creating an ongoing U.S. military presence. But until we have a Congress with the backbone to not only subpoena all records related to 9/11 and to the path to war in Iraq but to back that up by credible threats of impeachment if the President and the Vice President continue to use executive privilege to block such investigations it will be impossible to know the full story. Those who give importance to the role of the Israel Lobby are, in my view, certainly correct, while those who give it excessive importance have no conception of the complex layers of decision making even in the Bush Administration. Yet what is certain to me is that one of the most important elements in shaping public policy is the shaping of public discourse, and in that, the Israel Lobby and in particular its neo-conservative members played a major role in promoting the worldviews that would make an assault on Iraq seem plausible when it was actually insane.
The terms of this debate are much more complex than we can deal with in a single (even long) article in Tikkun. But we welcome that debate because the Israel Lobby is not good for the world, the U.S., or the Jews. I’m sure that the instinctive reaction of a large section of the American Jewish community affiliated with the Israel Lobby will be the predictable assault on Mearsheimer and Walt, and on Tikkun and any one else who speaks up in criticism of the Israel Lobby. This fall will be a moment when political courage will be needed by all those who consider themselves aligned in any way with the peace movement. Please note carefully how much organizations like the American branch of Peace Now, the Brit Tzedeck v’Shalom, the Israel Peace Forum, and the Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement respond to this debate or merely keep silent and let those who are raising the issues be hung out to dry after what will likely be intense and vicious attacks. Solidarity with those who raise critical analyses of the Israel Lobby has not yet been a characteristic of many groups that claim they seek peace. On the other hand, please also note how many of the more extreme left groups use this debate to demonize Israel rather than to advance the “Progressive Middle Path” that we’ve been advocating in Tikkun.
What is most needed is a new voice that can provide an alternative to the Israel Lobby, yet be committed to Israel’s survival as a Jewish State within the pre-1967 borders as modified in the terms of the Geneva Accord. That would require all the various peace groups to work cooperatively, and for anyone who is familiar with the Left, that may be the most utopian vision of all.
Tikkun and its Network of Spiritual Progressives (NSP) will renew our efforts to build an interfaith alternative to the Israel Lobby, and we invite all who agree with our Middle Path perspective (both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine) as defined on the back cover of this issue of Tikkun to join in that effort. On the back cover we explain why the only effective voice must be interfaith—both Jews and non-Jews who understand that the best interests of the U.S., Israel and the world lies with us all understanding that our well-being depends on the well-being of everyone else, including those we previously thought of as enemies. Instead, unless the influence of the Lobby is quickly and effectively countered, we may soon find ourselves in a war with Iran with consequences that will be bad for the U.S. and bad for the Jews for decades to come.
Our major task is to spread the Generosity Strategy (exemplified by the Global Marshall Plan) and Tikkun’s plan for Middle East peace as the most effective way to achieve security. Unless we succeed in popularizing this new way of thinking, every attempt to build peace, whether in the Middle East or in the U.S., will always seem “unrealistic” to those who have learned to think about reality through the distorted lens that the Israel Lobby did not invent but helps popularize and enforce in contemporary politics. Please join us at www.spiritualprogressives.org.