Jimmy Carter Can't Say What Jewish Critics of Israel Are Free to Say

The paddling Jimmy Carter is receiving for making criticisms of Israel that are common in Israel demonstrates a law of the Israel conversation: It is one thing for Jews to criticize Israel, but it’s not O.K. for non-Jews to do so. This law is demonstrated by the Hillel chapters I wrote about the other day: it’s OK for Jewish groups to host the Israel veterans Breaking the Silence, but those same groups will criticize Palestinian organizations when they sponsor the very same program—as if the Arab groups are doing so as the first step toward a pogrom.

Jews feel that they can claim this exclusivity as a (historically) persecuted people. In the same way it is O.K. for blacks to use the n-word, but Michael Richards ended his career by using the word.

The law came to mind after I got a small book published by the American Jewish Historical Society, called “Essays on American Zionism.” (1980). There is an essay in this book by Abba Eban, the famously eloquent Israeli Ambassador to the U.N.

Eban’s essay is about Jewish influence on the White House. “Influence” is his word, so is “pressure.” In fact Eban describes as absolutely key to Israel’s emergence the very thing that the Times recently dismissed as an antisemitic delusion—Jewish influence on Harry Truman.

Some statements from Eban:

—”Public influence” by the American Zionist movement leader Rabbi Abba Silver “would have failed if other avenues of pressure and influence had not been brought to bear on presidential decisions.”

—Before the 1944 Democratic Convention, Jewish leaders were told that Senator Harry Truman needed $25,000 for publicity so that he might replace FDR’s then-VP Henry Wallace. “I told Boyle that I didn’t know Senator Truman,’ [Zionist and manufacturer Dewey] Stone later recalled, ‘but… if he wanted me to take a gamble I would make the $25,000 available’… When President Roosevelt died in 1945 Harry S. Truman succeeded him and Dewey Stone was among the few to whom he owed a political debt.”

—In ’48, Truman feared losing, and Stone raised crucial funds, along with his friend Abe Feinberg, another leading Zionist; and they “thereafter had fairly free access to Truman in times of crisis.”

—Also in ’48, when Truman complained of pressure from Zionists, Jewish leaders arranged for the visit to the White House by Truman’s former haberdashery partner Eddie Jacobson in order that Jacobson might become “a lever of influence in the central international predicament of the age.”

—The “need for Israel’s friends to have a permanent link with the White House arose again” in the case of JFK. Stone and other friends of Israel did not trust JFK because of his father’s equivocal views of Nazi Germany. In Aug. 1960, Kennedy came to Feinberg’s apartment at the Hotel Pierre and met with “a group of influential Jewish leaders [who] interrogated Kennedy stringently on matters affecting Jews and Israel.” As a result, Stone had a “close, personal relationship” with Kennedy till he died.

—Indeed, “without the support of American Jewry” Israel would not have been able to emerge from “vulnerability and weakness into sovereignty.” This “extraordinary solidarity and kinship… enlarged Israel’s power beyond the limited dimensions of its space and size.”

God bless him, Eban is merely describing the workings of part of the Israel lobby. For statements less emphatic than Eban’s, Walt and Mearsheimer have been described in the press as antisemites. Keep in mind that one of the key things these influencers were trying to influence was Truman’s decision to support the formation of a Jewish state in ’47 and recognize Israel in ’48. If he hadn’t done so, English control of Mandatory Palestine would have gone over to a United Nations trusteeship of the territory. You have to wonder if a more deliberate process might not have worked out better.