March 19, 2006

Engage on that LRB article

I've just been reading some opinions on the Engage website about the article on America's Israel Lobby that appeared in the latest London Review of Books. They have three Engage opinions, a link to another one and 6 comments.

Here's a little chunk of the Engage intro to the article.
They discuss all the possible reasons why Israel gets favourably singled out by America, and discard them one by one. The only explanation left is that there must be some sort of secret, a shadowy influence being exercised somewhere.
And here's what the article actually says:
In its basic operations, the Israel Lobby is no different from the farm lobby, steel or textile workers’ unions, or other ethnic lobbies. There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy: the Lobby’s activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise it are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better. By contrast, pro-Arab interest groups, in so far as they exist at all, are weak, which makes the Israel Lobby’s task even easier.
Here's Jeff Weintraub:
"Yes, I saw that article yesterday, and I found it appalling... but also significant. This is a far more respectable and academically credible version of the Buchananite line - or, to put it another way, an academically heavyweight restatement of the "realist" critique of the US-Israeli alliance and the "Jewish lobby" that used to be associated mostly with people like George Ball, State Department Arabists, and big-business Republicans (with the additional wrinkle of blaming the Iraq war on the Jews)."
Here's what the article actually says:
Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical.
Is that "blaming the Iraq war on the Jews?"

Here's a bit of Shalom Lappin's offering:
the seductive skillfulness of the article consists largely in its packaging a traditional Zionist conspiracy view of American foreign policy, long a cornerstone of the far left and the far right, in a relaxed foreign policy analyist's idiom that detaches it from anti-Jewish diatribes. This is the source of its appeal and its danger.
He seems to be complaining that the article isn't anti-semitic which I would have to agree with since it's not but he also uses the c-word - conspiracy that is, to which we return to what the article actually said:
the Lobby’s activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
He also says that the "Zionist conspiracy view of American foreign policy," has long been a "cornerstone of the far left." No it hasn't. The far left position tends to be that Israel is a useful tool in America's imperialist armoury. But what's also curious here is that for an academic site Engage offers no explanation of why America does support Israel. America supports almost every Israeli move including the occupation which Engage claims to oppose. So why don't they tolerate criticism of American support for Israel. Anyway, the one article that does seek to explain why America supports Israel is linked to on the Engage site but not posted there. The writer is Martin Kramer:
But let's enter Walt's World, and accept its presumptions, for argument's sake—and for the sake of an argument about Israel. Let's set aside the claim that Israel and the U.S. share democratic values, rooted in a common tradition. Let's set aside the fact that the American public has a genuine regard for Israel, shown in poll after poll, which prevents it from ever seeing Israel as one more Norway. (Walt: if Israel tries to impose an "unjust solution" on the Palestinians, the United States should reduce its support for Israel to "the same way that we support a Norwegian state.") Let's just ask his simple question: is Israel a strategic asset or a strategic liability for the United States?

To recap: Walt thinks that by any objective measure, U.S. support for Israel is a liability. It causes Arabs and Muslims to hate America. Since he thinks the United States should disengage from the Middle East, and follow a policy of "offshore balancing," he believes America needs to cultivate a sense of shared purpose with Arabs and Muslims, many of whom detest Israel or its policies or both. The less the United States is identified as a supporter and friend of Israel's five million Jews, the easier it will be for the United States to find local proxies and clients to keep order among the billion or so Muslims. And the only thing that has prevented the United States from seeing this clearly is the pro-Israel lobby, operating through fronts as diverse as AIPAC, The Washington Institute, and—yes—even the Brookings Institution. Have I simplified Walt's argument? Probably not as much as you might think.

To answer Walt's simple argument, I'll respond with a simple question. If you need an ally somewhere, don't you want it to be the smartest, most powerful, and most resourceful guy on the block, who also happens to admire you? And what is the point of having an ally who's backward, weak, irresolute, and thinks in his heart of hearts that you're his enemy? That's the choice the United States faces in the Middle East.
Leaving aside the offensive language, this isn't a million miles from the left perspective. It still begs the question: if Israel acts in America's interests why does the lobby spend so much money on American politicians?

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