The Israel Lobby’s Elian Gonzales Moment

Let’s face it: the Israel lobby may be looking at what the Cuba lobby faced six years ago: that moment when its interest ceases to be a special interest, when ordinary Americans see their own interest at stake in the policy, and take that policy away.

For the Cuba lobby, it was the Elian Gonzales case. You remember the six-year-old, or was he eight? It doesn’t matter. The kid whose mother drowned and he ended up with anti-Castro fanatics in Miami, who didn’t want to give him back to his father. Castro was filling the streets of Havana with demonstrators, but this was another opportunity to stick it to Fidel. Then two great things happened. Steve Largent, a conservative Republican congressman (and former NFL star receiver, I think he set a receptions record) from Oklahoma came out strongly and plainly for returning Gonzales to his dad. And Bill Clinton did one of his few heroic turns as President, and said the same thing, and stuck to it. The return of Elian Gonzales was a great moment in American moral history. I imagine the Cuba lobby is still suffering from its political misstep.

The Israel lobby has asserted again and again that hewing to Israel’s policies thru thick and thin is in our best interest. But it’s not, and there are any number of signs that Americans are now turning on that policy. The moment that changed everything was surely 9/11, but the penny is dropping now. I’d cite the Walt-Mearsheimer paper, Tony Judt’s warning to Israelis yesterday in Ha’aretz (cited in yesterday’s post) that the climate was changing, and this bit from Chris Matthews of a few weeks back—

MATTHEWS: What had [Saddam] done against us?

VIN WEBER: He invaded Kuwait. He attacked Israel. They’re our friends, our allies.

MATTHEWS: So we go to war with countries in the Middle East because they fight with each other. We’ll have war forever. We will never be out of fighting wars.

Notice how Matthews severs American interests from Israel’s interests. Or distinguishes them, anyway. This is an important, symbolic exchange. And, by the way, it doesn’t mean that America will abandon Israel. But force it into line? That would be a good thing.