Anyone who writes anything critical of Israel in a public forum can expect pushback from members of what has come to be known as ‘the Israel lobby’, those individuals and groups that seek to silence any honest discussion of the Middle East.
In their book The Israel Lobby and U. S. Foreign Policy (2007), John J. Mearsheimer and Steven M. Walt said that the Israel lobby, like all the other lobbies that operate in US politics, is not a single entity nor a cabal or a secretive organization, but a loose collection of individuals and groups that share a common policy goal. In this case the group comprises those who think that the interests of Israel (especially those of a particular right-wing expansionist segment of the Israeli political spectrum) and the interests of the US are synonymous, and that the US should use its economic, military and political clout to uncritically and unhesitatingly support and advance those interests. In particular this requires that the US treat as an enemy any nation or group that Israel sees as an enemy, which is what we see now with Iran and earlier with Iraq.
Walt and Mearshiemer emphasize that the lobby is not comprised exclusively of Jews nor even of the majority of Jews, many of whom are opposed to the policies being pursued by the lobby. Some of its most ardent members are neoconservatives and evangelical Christian groups like Christians United For Israel (CUFI) led by John Hagee that, because of their weird end-times eschatology, see the complete occupation of the occupied territories by Israel as the necessary trigger for Jesus to come again, and so urge warlike and destabilizing policies, because the Bible foretells that Jesus will come when that region of the world is engulfed in war. These members of the lobby actually look forward to the Rapture when Jews and other non-saved people will be slaughtered. Stranger bedfellows than those in the lobby have rarely been seen.
In the third part of my three-part review of the book written back in 2007, I described how the lobby operates.
As Georgetown University law professor Rosa Brooks says “[W]hat’s most troubling about the vitriol directed at Roth and his organization isn’t that it’s savage, unfounded and fantastical. What’s most troubling is that it’s typical. Typical, that is, of what anyone rash enough to criticize Israel can expect to encounter. In the United States today, it just isn’t possible to have a civil debate about Israel, because any serious criticism of its policies is instantly countered with charges of anti-Semitism.” (p. 329)
Mearsheimer and Walt argue that the reason for this swift and almost hysterical response to criticisms of the policies advocated by the lobby is because those policies cannot really withstand open scrutiny. The only way those policies can be implemented is if there is no debate at all either of the policies themselves or of the lobby that is agitating for them. This silencing strategy takes the form of alleging that those who raise such issues are either anti-Semitic or resurrecting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or perpetuating the ‘blood libel’. The point of making such allegations is not because they are credible but to shift the debate from the merits of the policies to the motives of the critics of the policy.
The purpose of such criticisms is so that the people at the receiving end of them are them supposed to then spend time and energy defending themselves from these bogus charges, and the hope is that they get tired of having to do so over and over again, and decide that the easiest thing to do is avoid criticisms of Israeli policies altogether.
But that tactic is increasingly failing. More and more political analysts are not only not following that script, they are turning the tables on the lobby. They are simply ignoring these charges (because they are without merit and their critics are not interested in the facts anyway) and instead using them to point out that this is exactly how the lobby operates. As a result the lobby is increasingly being exposed as a paper tiger. The only place the lobby still holds sway, unfortunately, is in the halls of the US Congress, and in the top levels of US government teams involved in Middle East diplomacy, and this constitutes a significant reason why those ‘peace talks’ never seem to go anywhere but keep allowing more settlements to be built.
In my case, for example, I can say what I believe about anything and I don’t give a damn what the lobby or anyone else thinks, because they cannot do anything to deter me. Whenever I write something critical of Israeli policies, I can predict with certainty that I will get responses implying that I am some sort of quasi-Nazi, and find it highly amusing when those comments appear right on cue. These efforts at deterrence and to derail the discussion into other channels are so transparent as to be laughable and easily ignored. In a perverse way, such criticisms are stimulating because they serve as evidence that the criticisms of Israeli policies are hitting a nerve.
The only problem is that since I am basically a C-list blogger, I attract only C-list members of the lobby and their responses tend to lack originality, substance, and gravitas, essentially consisting of variations of the cliché that I am “throwing Israel under the bus”. My ambition is to one day attract people like Alan Dershowitz or John Bolton or Bill Kristol or (dare I dream?) John Hagee. Then I will know that I have arrived as a political commentator. Until then, I can only watch in envy as Mearsheimer, Walt, Glenn Greenwald, Noam Chomsky, Philip Weiss, M. J. Rosenberg, draw the ire of the cream of the lobby. But as the number and quality of the critics of current Israeli policies are increasing, I fear that I will never reach the top tier.