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