Praise The Washington Post. It Lifts Up Walt/Mearsheimer (Then Tries to Bash Them)

The Washington Post today today has the courage to run a cover article in its magazine with the question, “Does the Israel Lobby Have Too Much Power?” Hats off to the Post! It has done what real journalists should have been doing for the last 20 years, and confronted the question head on. The achievement of course is not fully the Post’s: the newspaper can tee up the question only because of the bravery of Walt and Mearsheimer in publishing their bombshell paper. Which they did overseas of course, three months ago. In London. After it was killed here. The refugee issue is finally being allowed to visit. Not to move home, though.

Unfortunately, the Post’s article by Glenn Frankel is defensive and scattered, at times disgraceful. To its credit, it states that President George H.W. Bush lost his presidency in 1992 in part because of his opposition to the Israel lobby. And revisits some other scalps claimed by the lobby. Back when. It is always much easier to talk about power grabs of 15 years ago!

But when it comes to the neoconservative putsch in the George W. Bush administration and the concerns for Israel’s security as a motivator for the Iraq War plans, the article is shameless. It allows someone to call these assertions “preposterous”—”associating Israel with the noeconservatives on [Iraq] is preposterous.” The article does not consider even one link in the intellectual chain of events between Saddam’s aggression against Israel in 1991 and the neocons’ rejection of the peace process in the 90s and the neocons’ identification of Saddam as a new Hitler by ’98 and their burgeoning (and horrendously-misguided) belief that peace in Palestine required democratizing the Mideast, starting in Baghdad. It does not explore for an instant Doug Feith’s personal commitment to Israel. Or Bush aide Elliott Abrams’s—Abrams who says that Jews are strangers in every land but in Israel. Those are mere facts. Whether they play a large role in the war policymaking, or a negligible role, is a judgment question. Still, they must be acknowledged. The article meantime shows its hand by repeatedly describing Walt and Mearsheimer’s assertions as “claims” and allowing their critics to hint that they are anti-Semites.

In that connection, the emotional one, Frankel’s article does one very fine thing. It brings up the “psychological” aspect of the lobby, its false understanding of the Jewish community as powerless. Frankel quotes the great Henry Siegman on this fascinating question:

“There’s a certain dynamic to organized Jewish life as to all so-called defense organizations created to protect a supposedly vulnerable group,” says Henry Siegman, who once served as executive director of the American Jewish Congress and now directs the U.S./Middle East project at the Council of Foreign Relations. “It creates a culture of victimhood, and it often attracts people who feel like they’re victims as well.”

That is a real journalistic achievement. (And that sense of victimization explains the smears of Walt and Mearsheimer.)

This ball won’t stop rolling. Just now on C-Span’s Washington Journal the Israel Ambassador, Daniel Ayalon, was shown the Post article and asked to comment.

He said that the Israel lobby was just like countless other lobbies. “The gun lobby… the Italian lobby.” But singling out the Israel lobby as somehow important “smacks of something else.” I.e., antisemitism.

That fearsome Italian lobby! When even Alan Dershowitz calls the lobby, “perhaps the most effective lobbying and fund-raising effort in the history of democracy.”

The exciting thing about this moment in American politics is that the issue of the power of the Israel lobby has been raised too urgently by events in too many quarters to be suppressed. It’s in the Lamont-Lieberman race, it’s in the Iran standoff, it’s in the White House’s support of Israel’s refusal to talk to Hamas, it’s in Iraq, it’s in 9/11. The lobby’s response to the question of its power has been defensive and often insulting to American intelligence: let’s talk about the Italian lobby. Or dissembling, as when the Forward reported that rightwing Jewish leaders ADL%20on%20Iran%20from%20Forward”>privately told the White House to stop talking about Israel’s interest when it discussed Iran’s nuclear weapons. We have enough trouble with people blaming Iraq on us! These things should be openly discussed: maybe the American people will conclude that American and Israel interests actually are congruent on Iran…

The truth is that the lobby fears discussing this. They fear, per Siegman’s victimization analysis, that the American people will abandon Israel. They fear that Americans will reach the conclusion that Chris Matthews reached a few weeks back, dismissing the special relationship with Israel:

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.

The alternative to discussion is lying about the Israel lobby’s power—let’s talk about the Italian lobby!—and it is dangerous. I learned this years ago from the political seer/troublemaker Lucianne Goldberg, when we were briefly wearing the same uniforms during the Clinton scandals. Lucianne liked to say that when Clinton lied about the Monica Lewinsky question in January ’98 (the I did not have sex with that woman moment), “he drank the Strontium 90.” He could go along looking healthy and great for a while, but the damage had been done. The process might take years to unfold, she said, but it would do him in. The question was too important (at that buoyant time, anyway), the lie too big. And she’s right: the word “impeachment” will be in the first paragraph of Bill’s obituary, and Monica’s going down in history.

Calling Walt and Mearsheimer antisemites, saying they’ve destroyed their careers, saying neocons had no Israel interest in pushing the Iraq war, saying that the lobby is no more powerful than the Italian lobby: these are falsehoods designed to mislead and baffle. But as the Post demonstrated today, the question is not going away.