Who Does the Israel Lobby Represent?

I got some great comment on a post I did on the taboo liberal journalists experience when tempted to talk about Israel. Anonymous grapples smartly (if casuistically) on to the point that the lobby has actually worked against Israel’s best interests by hamstringing the independence of U.S. policymakers:

If the Lobby is bad for Israel, and bad for America, and not so good for American Jews, who is it good for, who does it work for? We have here a strange lobby, apparently without a constituency, a lobby that mobilizes quite extraordinary resources to the benefit of nobody — less an Israel Lobby, more a Nihilist Lobby.

Mike responds, per Walt and Mearsheimer, that it serves “conservative Jews with direct links to the Likud party. AIPAC.”

It’s a fascinating question. Mike Massing got at it in his searching NYRB piece on the lobby. If American Jews are statistically for a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine and against the Iraq war, then how come hawks who press for more settlements/colonies are driving the train? Jewish opinion is misrepresented by the lobbyists.

My answer is that there’s an old guard that controls the thrust of the lobby and that, like the gun lobby, the great tapestry of Jewish opinion simply gives way passively to that Old Guard. Lets them handle it. Says these issues are too complex and they know them. I did this for years myself, when I did nothing to challenge Eric Breindel, a neoconservative I knew, saying to myself, He knows this stuff, and cares the most, let him have the issue.

The key to understanding the Old Guard is that it’s highly neurotic. It is swept by fears. This is what Henry Siegman was telling the Washington Post two weeks ago—

“There’s a certain dynamic to organized Jewish life as to all so-called defense organizations created to protect a supposedly vulnerable group…It creates a culture of victimhood, and it often attracts people who feel like they’re victims as well.”

It is the same thing that Texas A&M prof Michael Desch says in his new paper on the Holocaust: that we have allowed people to use the fears generated by the Holocaust, and the west’s alleged abandonment of the Jews to the Nazis, to manipulate policymakers re Israel.

One of my commenters makes the point himself:

No the risk is that too many of us learned our lessons from WWII and the abandonment of Czechoslovakia and the Jews of Europe. Never again actually means something to those of us not devoted to Marx and the class war.

The answer to this commenter is that we have to see human history as larger than the Holocaust, and not see a rocket attack as an existentialist threat to a state that possesses nuclear weapons. History contains many present terrors, including the destruction of great Arab cities, allegedly to save them. I think there’s a new guard of Jewish opinion that may actually help defang the pro-Israel lobby, as it understands that the Holocaust was 60 years ago, and manages to emerge from the victim-neurosis and see that we are singularly privileged in America. Privilege should translate into largeness, not selfishness.