Commentary and the New Republic Say, Repeat After Me: 'There Is No Israel Lobby'

The fallout from Walt and Mearsheimer’s bombshell paper on the Israel lobby includes a loss of credibility to Commentary and the New Republic, two eminent journals (to which I subscribe, thereby emulating my parents, whose house was filled with stacks of Commentary) that have chosen to respond to W/M by denying that there is any such thing as an Israel lobby.

In the January Commentary, Gabriel Schoenfeld returns to his theme, Jewish powerlessness, when he argues that the U.S. government has always supported Israel for its own (goyische) reasons, not through any Jewish prodding. By this analysis, AIPAC should fold up its tent tomorrow, it’s wasting a lot of hardworking people’s money. And the ailing British chemist Chaim Weizmann should never have rushed to the White House to extract a commitment from Harry Truman to a Jewish state in 1948, again, a waste of time, Truman was planning to defy his own State Department and oppose a binational state.

Israeli scholar Benny Morris was the point man for the New Republic in its attack on Walt/Mearsheimer last year. Outraged that the authors had cited his (honorable) investigation of the expulsions of ’48, Morris was shrill, his piece filled with meaningless discussions of his favorite subject, troop strengths in battles long ago. (What is it with these writers who fetishize combat?)

But in his 2001 book Righteous Victims, Morris several times refers to the Zionist and Israel lobby. He says, quite accurately, that Zionist pressure tactics were used on the Truman Administration to bring about American support for partition in ’47 (in defiance of the State Department and the recommendations of the Anglo-American Inquiry Commission, the equivalent of the Iraq Study Group of that time). And Morris honestly describes the Israel lobby as a potent force in U.S. politics when he cites the secretary of state’s threat to cut off “all public and private aid to Israel” to punish Israeli belligerence in the Suez crisis of ’56:

President Eisenhower had just been elected to a second term; he could allow himself to ignore Jewish lobbying.

It just goes to show: Everyone knows there’s an Israel lobby. The journalistic challenge is, what are its dimensions? The New Republic and Commentary have chosen to react angrily to the non-Jewish authors’ statements rather than doing what they should do, telling us how the lobby works. By responding so defensively, these journals have damaged themselves, and the discourse; American readers deserve better.

P.S. Morris’s point re Suez reveals the poverty of Dennis Ross’s analysis of the lobby in the debate at Cooper Union last September. Ross basically said, Sure, AIPAC has the Congress in a half-nelson, but no one controls the presidency. Morris (and Abba Eban) contradict this claim.