Why Critics of the Israel Lobby Are Politically Homeless

A week or so back on Democracy Now, Amy Goodman brought together author Norman G. Finkelstein and AIPAC’s Josh Block to talk about the Gaza troubles.

Block, the spokesman for the Israel lobby, made a point of flashing his credentials:

Look, Amy and Juan, as a Liberal Democrat who is a long-time listener of this program, I fundamentally believe that the audience and you are in a position to understand that liberal fundamental values, which are celebrated in Israel — freedom of the press, women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion — are denied to those living in Palestinian areas and throughout the rest of the Arab world… Israel… is based on fundamental free values, that [are] not replicated in the Arab world, where education systems inculcate children with hatred and teach them that martyrdom and death is preferred over science and math and education.

Block was saying that the Democratic Party base is pro-Israel country. He’s hardly alone. Alan Dershowitz has also described himself as a Kennedy liberal, David Brooks describes Iraq hawk Joseph Lieberman as a traditional, anti-Vietnam-war liberal Democrat.

They do so with some justice. Open Secrets has figures on what it calls pro-Israel PAC’s contributions to political candidates that show that these groups give overwhelmingly to the Democratic party. Or consider Bruce Kovner, neocon majordomo, underwriter of the American Enterprise Institute and the New York Sun; he gave lavishly to Iraq war hawk Charles Schumer, another echt-Democrat politician who refuses to apologize for Israel.

This is the fascination of the Walt Mearsheimer criticism of the Israel lobby. No one can deny that this paper has had great political resonance. It has a real constituency: it has galvanized the realist opposition to the Iraq war, been passed around among military officers, been read hungrily by the rational and sensible and patriotic (as well as yes, by antisemites) to try and explain the mess the Bush Administration has gotten us into (by its deluded decision to occupy Arab lands and participate in a brutalized cycle of violence, the spinoffs of which will land on our shores). The critique of the Israel lobby’s role, and specifically of the mis-identification of American interests with Israel’s, will continue to resonate for years to come, as the paper is more fully disseminated and debated. Brian Lamb says he tried to get the authors on C-Span for three months, then bragged that his was their first broadcast appearance (apparently he had not yet talked with Dershowitz, and learned that the two men had “destroyed their professional reputations.”). How long before the Nightly News beams them up?

I’m saying these ideas are too important not to ripple through electoral politics. But so far they are orphaned. The issue did not come up in the debate between Lamont and Lieberman, for the reasons Block states above. Walt and Mearsheimer have repeatedly been denounced in the New Republic, which speaks for the Gore-Summers-meritocratic Democratic braintrust. But as I have argued, these strains are just under the surface, and may well be dividing the Democratic base.