Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bill De Blasio and the Israel Lobby: A Partial Dissent

Understandably, Andrew Sullivan, Phil Weiss, M.J. Rosenberg, and others have seized on De Blasio’s unbelievably fawning speech before AIPAC as still further proof of the power of the Israel Lobby, or at least of its central institution. My own view is that this is an oversimplification, because it essentially dismisses two other additional or perhaps even more important possible explanations.

The first is that De Blasio—and, by extension, other uncritical public figures (Obama comes to mind)—may genuinely believe what they say. This doesn’t make them right, of course: in fact their love and unconditional support of Israel, to the extent that it is genuine, can only be explained by their ignorance of the Israeli realities.

The second explanation is a bit more complicated. Even if there were no AIPAC, even if there were no larger organized lobby, there would still be a Jewish vote that in some places could be decisive, elections in New York being the obvious but by no means the only example. And it remains very much the case that the Jewish vote is overwhelmingly “pro-Israel.” For that matter, even if there were no Israel lobby, it is reasonable to assume that there would still be Jewish financial contributions to favored politicians, who would be quite aware of why their bread was being buttered.

This is by no means to deny the obvious: there certainly is an organized Israel Lobby, and it has a lot of political power. At the same time, its power should not be exaggerated—not only does it sometimes lose big battles (on Iran, let us hope), but even when it appears to either influence or cow politicians—in De Blasio’s case, one is tempted to say, effectively own them—there are additional factors that work in the same direction. And in some cases these additional factors would be likely to produce the same political outcomes, even in the absence of organized interest group pressures


Anonymous said...

Hi Jerry,

I don't usually disagree with you, but do on this piece of yours. To say the Israel Lobby has "a lot of" political power seems a bit of an understatement in view of the avoidance of the MSM and almost all of our elected representatives to talk about its influence. Moreover, we have former politicians who have written of the Lobby's corrupting effect upon our so-called "representative" government. Yes, we can explain New Yorkers' support for Israel without the appeals to a lobby, but how do we understand the support for Israel of most of our elected officials to even mention the Lobby? I think Phil Weiss et al. are right on this point. Thoughts?

Brent Riley said...

Don't overlook the Christians who see Israel as God's will unfolding. Am reminded when Reagan asked Florida Senator Paula Hawkins for her vote to overcome AIPAC's opposition to his sale of F15's to Saudia Arabia, "But Mr. President, I'd have a telegram from every fundamentalist minister on my desk Monday morning telling me I'd be going to Hell!"

Then, there's the fundamental ignorance of Americans on the Palestine Question. Public Television and NPR have selectively omitted stories that would enable insights to be developed. Corporate media use public broadcasting as a yardstick.

Two narratives have been absorbed by most Americans.... its so complicated (why pay attention) and they have been fighting all through time (so while we don't always agree with the Israelis, we won't be going against them.... why pay attention).

I don't believe politicians are fundamentally ignorant, though a few are, as they've had informed activists meeting with their FP staff and passing information that has informed them. Appearing not well informed is an effective tactic. Buying into their ignorance can waste serious time.

Then, there's the case Palestinians don't work well together, don't develop PR strategies.... Arafat saw PR as below his dignity. The basic failure of Palestinians to see America as a system of competing interests has undermined their welfare... and ours.