The Israel Lobby Trips and Tilts
Suppose the movers and shakers in the Israel lobby here — Abe Foxman, Alan Dershowitz and the rest of the crew — had simply decided to leave Jimmy Carter’s Palestine Peace Not Apartheid alone. How long before the book would have been gathering dust on the remainder shelves? Suppose even that Dershowitz had rounded up his unacknowledged co-authors in all their tens of thousands and sallied forth to buy up every copy of Carter’s book and toss each one into the Charles River, would not that have been a more successful suppressor than the blitzkrieg strategy they did adopt?
Of course it would. For weeks now the lobby has hurled its legions into battle against Carter. He has been stigmatized as an anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier, a patron of former concentration camp killers, a Christian madman, a pawn of the Arabs who “flatly condones mass murder” of Israeli Jews. (This last was from Murdoch’s New York Post editorial, relayed to its mailing list by the Zionist Organization of America.)
Any day now I expect some janitors at the Carter Center to resign, declaring that they can no longer in all conscience mop bathrooms that might have been used by the former President, their letter of protest duly front-paged by the New York Times, just like the famous fourteen members of the Carter Center’s Board of Councilors. Actually there were, at the time of resignations, 224 people on this board, where membership is mostly a thank you for a financial donation to the center. So the headlines could be saying, “Nearly 95 per cent of Carter Center Board Members Back Former President.”
But the assault on Carter is all to no avail. With each gust of abuse, Carter’s book soars higher and higher on the bestseller lists, reaching number 4 on Amazon itself. This doesn’t prove the lobby has no power. It proves the lobby can be dumb. Adroit lobbying consists in preventing unpleasing material reaching the light of day. Lobbying thrives in furtive darkness: slipping language into a bill at the last moment, threatening to back a campaign opponent, making quiet phone calls to the Polish embassy. Pressure is now being exerted on Farrar, Straus and Giroux to abandon its impending publication of Mearsheimer and Walt’s attack on the lobby.
The Israel lobby retains its grip inside the Beltway, but it’s starting to lose its hold on the broader public debate. Why? You can’t brutalize the Palestinian people in the full light of day, decade after decade, without claims that Israel is a light among the nations getting more than a few serious dents. In the old days, Mearsheimer and Walt’s tract would have been deep-sixed by the University of Chicago and the Kennedy School long before it reached its final draft, and Farrar, Straus and Giroux wouldn’t have considered offering a six-figure advance for it. Simon & Schuster would have told President Carter that his manuscript had run into insurmountable objections from a distinguished board of internal reviewers. But once a book by a former president with weighty humanitarian credentials makes it into bookstores, it’s hard to shoot it down with volleys of wild abuse.
The trouble with the lobby and the Christian zealots who act as its echo chamber is that they believe their own propaganda about Israel’s equitable social arrangements and immaculate political and legal record in its relations with the Palestinians. Use the word apartheid and they howl with indignation. The shock is about thirty years out of date. Israeli writers have used the word apartheid to describe arrangements in the occupied territories for years. Hundreds of prominent South African Jews issued a statement six years ago making the same link.
As in so many things, conventional elite opinion lives in a bubble, believing mere assertion and ranting about anti-Semitism will carry the day. The New York Times featured a spectacularly disingenuous hatchet job by its deputy foreign editor, Ethan Bronner, and another assault by former Clinton-era Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross. The latter rolled out the ritual accusations about Arafat’s rejection of Clinton’s proposals in December 2000, which is nonsense, as Ross surely knows. Clinton himself acknowledged in 2001 what later historians have substantiated, that both sides accepted his proposals in principle, while filing reservations. (Israel’s amounted to 20 single-spaced pages.)
The Times’ attacks were matched in the Washington Post by Jeffrey Goldberg, formerly of the IDF and a notorious trafficker in fictions, such as the supposed terror ties between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. Amazon ran his vulgar ravings under the “Editorial Reviews” heading—a space usually reserved for short blurbs from Publishers Weekly and the like.
But if the lobby is fighting rearguard and increasingly futile actions to suppress all discussion here of what Israel is doing to Palestinians, it continues to exercise very serious clout in such enclaves of timidity as the U.S. Congress. Bush was not foolish in singling out Iran for threats in his January 10 address. The Democratic reaction to Bush’s escalation against Iraq and Iran has mostly been confined to nervous talk of “symbolic votes.” This temperate posture is surely not unconnected to the fact that the lobby’s prime foreign policy task, joined by Israeli hawks like Bibi Netanyahu, has been to rally support for an assault on Iran.
What an irony! Desperate for an end to the war, the voters hand Congress to the Democrats. Barely more than two months later Bush is kidnapping Iranian diplomats from in their consulate in Irbil, Iraq — a calculated provocation arousing scant tumult here. Bush is also deploying a larger naval force to the Persian Gulf, as Israel plants stories about its possible recourse to nuclear weapons. Some provocation, maybe a seizure by the U.S. of an Iranian tanker, is easy to imagine in February. In the Congress, there’s barely a whimper out of the Democrats amid these terrifying prospects. It may have made a mess of its war against Carter’s book, but as a ferryman across the Styx toward Armageddon the lobby is doing a competent job.
Be Fair to Ike!
Date: January 14, 2007 10:21:55 PM PST
Subject: The War and the New York Times
To ALEXANDER COCKBURN:
In the interest of historical accuracy, I would like to make a small correction to your article. At one point you wrote that "Dwight Eisenhower sent the Marines into Lebanon to bolster its local factotum, Lebanese President Camille Chamoun."
This is what I thought at the time. However, it should be noted that Chamoun, who was attempting to change the law to enable him to take a second term in office, had asked for American help in the spring of 1958. This help was not forthcoming until July, after the Iraqi revolution, because Eisenhower mistakenly believed that the coup had been instigated by Gamal Abdel Nasser as part of a plan to take over the entire Middle East.
I had grave misgivings, especially when American troops were posted near the campus of the American University of Beirut. However, Eisenhower wisely used the military only to stabilize the situation, not to keep Chamoun in power. Before long the civil strife in Lebanon ended, and the parliament elected Fuad Chehab as the new president. Chamoun was bitterly disappointed by the American action.
My observations are based on my having lived in Lebanon most of the time from 1951 to 1986 as a professor of mathematics at the American University.
It’s True, I Didn’t Grow up in Grand Rapids
From: Jon Swift <email@example.com>
Date: January 19, 2007 7:07:15 AM PST
To: ALEXANDER COCKBURN <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Sodden thought, if you’ll forgive the Herb Caen reference
Do you think your undue fondness for G. Ford stems
from the fact that you didn’t grow up in this country,
therefore were spared having to deal w/the particular
type of all-American asshole he epitomized?
(Y’know–the jock who’s really a brown-nosing punk,
whether he was in college pouring paint on pinko
demonstrators or in Congress calling for
Justice Douglas’ impeachment). It figures Ford would wimp out on publicly attacking the Iraq war, by comparison Barry Goldwater comes off as a man of real integrity.
To Jon Swift From ALEXANDER COCKBURN
Could be due to the fact I didn’t grow up here. On the other hand it could just be nostalgia for the middle 70s, which I was here to enjoy.
Augustus Saw the Writing on the Wall.
From: dan gorman <email@example.com>
Date: January 17, 2007 7:57:03 AM PST
Subject: re: nomads beware by a.c., jan 12-14
actually, augustus himself knew when enough was enough…….after the annihilation of varus and his 3 legions, he set limits to the empire………keep up the great work at counterpunch…….dan gorman, subscriber.
footnote: A shorter version of the first item in this column ran in the print edition of The Nation that went to press last Wednesday.