Obama versus the Israel Lobby, Act 2

Jim Lobe reports that senior White House officials have leaked information that Chuck Hagel “was likely” to be the Obama Administration’s nominee for Secretary of Defense when Leon Panetta leaves. What’s not surprising is that the neocons have gone into full-on attack mode, including charges of anti-Semitism. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens complains because Hagel once said “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people [in Congress].”

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Now I suppose that the polite thing for Hagel to have said would be to refer to the Israel Lobby rather than the Jewish Lobby because, as Stephens notes, not all Jews support the Israel Lobby, and because there are plenty of useful idiots, cowards and opportunists who are not Jews but support the Lobby (believe it or not, those are not Stephens’ words). But the intimidating power of money, as well as the organization and the media influence of the Israel Lobby certainly come from Jews. And the vast majority of American Jews either support the Israel Lobby or do nothing to oppose it. To suggest that the Israel Lobby is only marginally connected to the American Jewish community is a far greater distortion than what Hagel said.

Stephens also complains that Hagel actually believes that there is an Israel Lobby with real power:

The word “intimidates” ascribes to the so-called Jewish lobby powers that are at once vast, invisible and malevolent; and because it suggests that legislators who adopt positions friendly to that lobby are doing so not from political conviction but out of personal fear.

I don’t see how talking of intimidation implies invisibility. In fact, the power of the Israel Lobby is far from invisible. And it is vast and it is malevolent. Why else, for example, would the U.S. be virtually the only country in the world voting against the recent UN resolution upgrading the status of the Palestinians? Why else would the stridently liberal U.S. government officially dedicated to human rights and democracy as a rationale for changing governments support a state that is dedicated to apartheid and ethnic cleansing?  Israel just announced the approval of 1500 more settler homes in East Jerusalem, after previously announcing 3000 new settler homes on the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the wake of the UN vote. The U.S. will oppose this but, as usual, nothing will be done to prevent it. Yes, the Lobby is powerful and it does support evil. So yes, it is malevolent.

Stephens is also upset because Hagel seems to have more loyalty to the USA than to Israel:

Mr. Hagel’s Jewish lobby remark was well in keeping with the broader pattern of his thinking. “I’m a United States Senator, not an Israeli Senator,” Mr. Hagel told retired U.S. diplomat Aaron David Miller in 2006. “I’m a United States Senator. I support Israel. But my first interest is I take an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States. Not to a president. Not a party. Not to Israel. If I go run for Senate in Israel, I’ll do that.”

Read these staccato utterances again to better appreciate their insipid and insinuating qualities, all combining to cast the usual slur on Jewish-Americans: Dual loyalty. Nobody questions Mr. Hagel’s loyalty. He is only making those assertions to question the loyalty of others.

Well, if the shoe fits, … In fact, the loyalty issue is completely reasonable:

Given that the American Jewish community is galvanized around doing the bidding of a foreign government, that dissent within the Jewish community has been effectively silenced, and that the most energized, radical elements of the Jewish community determine the direction of the entire community, it is certainly not surprising that issues of loyalty would be raised. (see here , p. 40ff)

The only reason that Jewish loyalty is not an entirely mainstream issue among Americans is power of the Israel Lobby to intimidate. Bret Stephens is entirely within that tradition.

The good news is that the anti-Semitism charge is falling on a lot of deaf ears. The Atlantic‘s James Fallows (“The bogus case against Chuck Hagel” ) writes “What is poisonous, and should be resisted, is the effort to rule out Hagel through the bogus charge that he is anti-Israel or, worse, anti-Semitic.” And he cites quite several others with the same view.

Despite the continuing influence of the Israel Lobby as indicated by the recent UN vote, it seems quite possible that Israel has overplayed its hand with the Obama Administration. Floating Hagel’s name was sure to produce a hostile reaction by the neocons and at least tacit disapproval by AIPAC. But it is the logical conclusion of the frosty relationship between Netanyahu and Obama, culminating in Netanyahu’s campaign pressuring Obama for a war with Iran during the presidential election and more or less open support of Romney.

Whether or not Hagel is nominated as the Secretary of Defense, floating his name is a good indication that the Obama Administration has no intention of war with Iran and is quite comfortable with someone who is not a mindless foot soldier on behalf of the Israel Lobby.

It was always obvious that Obama was a better candidate than Romney when it came to war with Iran and the politics of the Middle East. Now, without having to worry about another election, Obama’s gut instincts as an honest leftist are coming into play. It’s hard to believe that Obama is comfortable with the fact that Israel is dominated by the ethnonationalist right committed to settling the West Bank, oppressing the Palestinians, and completely uninterested in peace or a two-state solution. These policies put Israel at odds with virtually the entire world. The U.S. alliance with Israel makes a mockery of the U.S. commitment to democracy and human rights.

But Israel can’t go back. The fanatics are in charge and these trends will continue and even worsen into the future because of the fertility of the most radical elements of Israel.  The Israel Lobby has little choice but to play along.

Sometimes critics of Jews are prone to exaggerate Jewish power and influence. The Israel Lobby has certainly dominated U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, with disastrous results—particularly the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we may be seeing the beginnings of a real change. Of course, other presidents have tried to stand up to the Lobby and ended up paying a very high price:

It must concentrate the minds of the Obama administration to realize that [Jimmy] Carter and [George H. W.] Bush were one-term presidents who were heavily criticized by the Israel Lobby. Jimmy Carter was widely viewed as hostile to Israel during the 1980 election, and his policy toward Israel was the main impetus to the migration of neoconservatives to the Republican Party. Many believe that George H. W. Bush’s loss in 1992 stemmed from his attempt to rein in the settlements. (George W. Bush apparently got the message and decided not to alienate the Lobby on the settlement issue. This resulted, among other things, in his administration becoming bogged down in a needless and costly war in Iraq.)

The advantage Obama has is that he is into his second term. I’m thinking that at least for the next four years, the U.S. will be spared some of the more egregious consequences of Jewish influence on U.S. foreign policy such as yet another war in the Middle East on behalf of Israel. The Israel Lobby will doubtless mount a furious campaign for war, but floating Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense is a good sign indeed.

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