pageok
pageok
pageok
Followup on Peck and the Israel Lobby:

Edward Peck has submitted a response to criticism by me and James Taranto of OpinionJournal.com. OpinionJournal has published the piece on its website, and I encourage VC readers to take a look. You can read Taranto's response here.

Most extraordinary is that Peck continues to assert that critics of Mearsheimer and Walt's "Israel Lobby" paper deny (indeed, "shrilly" deny) that an Israel lobby exists. In an email David Theroux of the Independent Institute, which has been publicizing Peck's original piece, sent me, Peck identifies David Gergen and Eliot Cohen as having denied that such a lobby exists. What Cohen actually wrote was

Mearsheimer and Walt conceive of The Lobby as a conspiracy between the Washington Times and the New York Times, the Democratic-leaning Brookings Institution and Republican-leaning American Enterprise Institute, architects of the Oslo accords and their most vigorous opponents. In this world Douglas Feith manipulates Don Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney takes orders from Richard Perle.

This is not a denial that there is a lobby for Israel, nor that it is an effective lobby. This is a denial that the "Israel Lobby" as conceived by M & W is anything more than a figment of a conspiratorial imagination; their idea that every American who supports Israel is part of a "lobby," and that this lobby controls U.S. foreign policy vis a vis, e.g., Iraq, is absurd (Cohen thinks it anti-Semitic; I'm willing to give M & W the benefit of the doubt on that point).

And, as I pointed out previously, Gergen explicitly states that there is an Israel lobby, if not the "Israel Lobby" of M & W's imagination.

The idea that anyonoe would deny that there is a pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. is absurd on its face, given that AIPAC's website trumpets the organization as "America's pro-Israel lobby."

And I'll reiterate that Peck's original piece is dishonest, beyond the allegation that people are denying there is an Israel lobby. For example, Peck writes: "The expected tsunami of rabid responses condemned the [M & W] report, vilified its authors, and denied there is such a lobby—validating both the lobby's existence and aggressive, pervasive presence and obliging Harvard to remove its name." So "The Lobby" was allegedly powerful enough to force Harvard to take its name off a study by one of its professors. But in fact, while the authors did voluntarily add a disclaimer that the views in the paper don't reflect those of their institutions, Harvard's name is still there, right on the cover page, identifying Professor Walt as a Harvard-Kennedy School professor. And the paper's abstract can still be found on the Kennedy School's website, identifying the paper as a Harvard University/Kennedy School of Government working paper.

As for the Independent Institute, I take it that the Institute's interest in Peck's work primarily results from a desire to encourage a more non-interventionist U.S. foreign policy, in line with a strain of libertarian thinking that advocates non-interventionism. However, Peck is affiliated with the Council for the National Interest, which advocates not non-interventionism, but a more "balanced" U.S. foreign poicy in the Middle East. From CNI's website:

Our Mission

CNI seeks to encourage and promote a U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that is consistent with American values, protects our national interests, and contributes to a just solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as to restore a political environment in America in which voters and their elected officials are free from the undue influence and pressure of a foreign country, namely Israel.

Our Goals

*Total withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territory (the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights). * A shared Jerusalem, the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine. * An end to all acts of aggression, provocation, and retaliation by Israel and the end of all violence and attempts to solve the problem by military means. This includes terrorism committed against Israelis as well as the state terrorism committed by Israel against Palestinians. * American recognition of a totally independent state of Palestine. * The elimination of all unaudited U.S. aid to Israel. * Normalized relations with Israel, her neighbors, and regional organizations such as the Arab League.

Peck himself recently went on a CNI Mission to the Mideast, during which he interviewed Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar. Given the opportunity to question one of the great terrorist leaders of our time, whose organization has consistently attempted to scuttle any rapproachment between Israel and the Palestinians, he asked such hardball questions as "How would you be able to -- or what would you do to control those elements in Hamas and elsewhere that tend toward violence?" and "So a coalition would be something you would work towards?"

Frankly, when libertarians start promoting the Middle East policy views of individuals who don't even pretend to be libertarians, and who are friendly with the likes of Hamas, I begin to wonder whether it is really libertarian foreign policy perspective, rather than simply anti-Israel animus, that is motivating them.

Jeremy (mail) (www):
I certainly support Israel. I'm simply a conservative, pro-democracy Christian. I believe the U.S. is obliged to help a democratic friend surrounded on all sides by vicious, totalitarian enemies.

The anti-"Israel lobby" types are conspiracy theorist nuts, in my not-so-humble opinion.
4.18.2006 3:10pm
Taimyoboi:
Seems like the whole debacle can be boiled down to a group of people who are bitter that their point of view has is not as influential as another's.

Fortunately, I would think, the people who are bitter also happen to be the people who are wrong.
4.18.2006 3:11pm
Taimyoboi:
Bleh. Should read "...point of view is not as influential as another's."
4.18.2006 3:15pm
Glenn Bridgman (mail):
"I begin to wonder whether it is really libertarian foreign policy perspective, rather than simply anti-Israel animus, that is motivating them."

Concluding that (overall reasonable) post with this just may be the definition of irony.
4.18.2006 3:33pm
Gordo:
The "Israel Lobby" in the U.S. is nothing more or less than yet another example of an American ethnic/religious/racial group trying to influence U.S. foreign policy. Other recent examples include: Irish-American support for the IRA in Northern Ireland, African-American opposition to the former apartheid regime in South Africa, Cuban-American opposition to the Castro regime. The list is long.

The effectiveness of such lobbying is dependent upon two factors; 1) the justice of the cause advocated abroad, and 2) the effectiveness and numbers of the lobbyists in the U.S. On both factors, the Israel Lobby scores high. Israel is a democratic state with strong historical interests, as compared to the dictatorial and fundamentalist rabble that surround it. And American Jews are numerous, educated, and influential (though not the web of conspirators hinted at by M &W).

There are only two things that can change this, both remote possibilities: 1) Israel could succumb to fanatical messianism (fortunately remote), or 2) the Arab states and peoples around Israel could renounce fundamentalism and violence (unfortunately remote).
4.18.2006 4:02pm
Christopher Cooke:
Having read Dershowitz's response to the Walt &Mearsheimer article, I am inclined to agree with most of his criticisms of their paper. That said, of course there is an Israeli lobby, and it is influential, probably the most influential lobbying group on foreign policy issues in the US (AARP is probably the most influential group, period).

Peck's point is more that, because of the influence of this lobby, the US media frequently do not report stories critical of Israel. He cites two examples: (1) the story of 4 US citizens tortured in Israeli jails, and CNN's decision to not sell tapes of the story, and (2) the decision not to stage a play in NY based on the words of the peace activist (Rachel Corrie) who was killed by Israeli bulldozers, even though the play was "successful" in London. I notice neither you nor Taranto offer a response to these examples, and choose, instead, only to attack the easily rebutted argument: i.e., no one denies the existence of an Israel lobby, so Peck is wrong. While appealing as a debating tactic, I hardly find it persuasive.
4.19.2006 3:14am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Glenn B,

As a former Libertarian you gave me the laugh of the day.
4.19.2006 4:37am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
Christopher C.,

Can't speak to the American citizens tortured by Israel. Don't know the full story.

However the Sister Pancake Play may have been cancelled for merely capitalist reasons. There may not be the market for it in New York that there is in London. Afer all New York is known coloquially as Jew York and London is Londonstan.

i.e. it was a market based decision.
4.19.2006 5:47am
M. Simon (mail) (www):
It seems that the Israelis detain and "torture" Americans of Arab origins.

The jihad playbook says "whenever incarcerated claim torture". This is unfortunate because it makes it more difficult to tell real cases of abuse from manufactured ones.
4.19.2006 5:54am
davidbernstein (mail):
The allegations, promoted by CNI (and vigorously disputed by others, see comments in my previous Peck post), that Israel has tortured American citizens, can still be found on CNN's website. Is it plausible that the "Israel Lobby" would force CNN to stop selling tapes of the relevant report, but would allow CNN to keep a synopsis of the report on its website?
http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,54379,00.html

As for the play, I don't have time to research every allegation Peck's makes in the piece. Having established that the piece is dishonest, however, I have a presumption against believing any particular detail in it.
4.19.2006 6:43am
David in DC (mail):
I did a bit of research into the play earlier when someone else brought it up. The theater's story is:

"As the artistic director of New York Theatre Workshop for 18 years, I have worked to help our audiences and our community engage in an open and civil discourse on issues of our time. Our purpose for being is to create the most conducive place for these conversations; we have chosen the artists who lead these conversations with great care," NYTW artistic director James C. Nicola told Playbill.com in a statement.

"We always try to minimize the distractions around the production so our constituency can hear the artist's voice. This takes a great deal of planning and listening to accomplish. In the less than two months we had to mount the proposed production of the Royal Court's My Name Is Rachel Corrie, we found that there was a strong possibility that a number of factions, on all sides of a political conflict, could use the production as a platform for their own agendas. We were not confident that we had the time to create an environment where the art could be heard independent of the political issues associated with it."

Alan Rickman had other obligations shortly after that. I don't know if he is following up for when his schedule frees up or is trying to get it presented somewhere else.

In searching I found this Times of London review. The review closes with this passage. Which is not to say that an exploration of Rachel Corrie's thoughts and feelings via her e-mails is inappropriate (that's what the play is about), but which is to say that the writer seems to be using this as propaganda by putting this out there and letting it stand. It's clearly false, and if he was doing an honest exploration of the real Rachel Corrie rather than trying to sanctify her, the author would have noted that she was either trying to deceive or was deluded by sending something so obviously untrue.
As she jots down thoughts in her notebook and fires off e-mails to her parents, she declares that "the vast majority of Palestinians right now, as far as I can tell, are engaging in Gandhian non-violent resistance". Even the late Yassir Arafat might have blushed at that one.

http://www.playbill.com/news/article/98213.html

It should be pointed out that there don't seem to be any plays about Israeli victims of Palestinian suicide bombings to cancel at all! If there are, "the Lobby" has done a pitiful job of promoting them because I have never heard of one.

Finally, everyone should think to themselves how many (purported) victims of the IDF they can identify by name. I can name three, and I am almost certain that everyone reading this can come up with two. I can't name any victims of Palestinian militants. Point being, "the Lobby" has done a woeful job of putting a human face on the Israeli side and failed to stop the same for the Palestinian side.

What's the point of being a puppet-master if the puppets don't respond to your commands? ;o)
4.19.2006 11:00am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
Prof. Bernstein,

Ok, you established that he's dishonest because he said people have shrilly denied the lobby, but really they haven't, they've just shrilly denied the lobby described in the paper. That's the best you can come up with?

You made this statement above:
...their idea that every American who supports Israel is part of a "lobby," and that this lobby controls U.S. foreign policy vis a vis, e.g., Iraq, is absurd (Cohen thinks it anti-Semitic; I'm willing to give M &W the benefit of the doubt on that point).


Ok, there are a lot of funny things about this statement, but let's look at your direct accusation: that W&M have said the lobby "controls" U.S. foreign policy vis a vis Iraq. Did they say that? If they did, I didn't find it. I see this: "Moreover, the Bush Administration's ambitious strategy to trasnform the Middle East -- beginning with the invasion of Iraq -- is at least partly intended to improve Israel's strategic situation." And this, "Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element." They then point out that Iraq obviously wasn't going to invade the U.S., but that an attack on Israel was considered the bigger threat.

I'd like to see where they said the lobby controls U.S. foreign policy. Or maybe you just have a definition of control by which everybody "controls" our foreign policy in their own way.

By comparison, your statement seems a much greater distortion of what they said. While it's certainly true that you admit a lobby at the same time as you deny a lobby, I'm not sure that makes Peck dishonest. Shall we say that your dishonesty creates a presumption against believing anything you say?

(To the extent my pointed comment makes me sound anti-Israel, I'm not; I simply find these hasty resorts to ad hominem offensive, on both sides of the debate. Incidentally, I don't think your comment was particularly "dishonest," but I don't think his was either. Mainly my criticism would be that you're inflammatory, hyper-partisan and hypocritical, the result being that many reasonable people will be disuaded from taking your side.).
4.19.2006 11:38am
Shake-N-Bake (www):
"Alan Rickman had other obligations shortly after that."

I think it had something to do with a job at the Nakatomi Tower in LA.
4.19.2006 12:20pm
David in DC (mail):
Marcus,

W&M say that AIPAC has a "stranglehold" on Congress. Which is a particularly indelicate way of putting it.

The bottom line is that AIPAC, a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress, with the result that US policy towards Israel is not debated there, even though that policy has important consequences for the entire world. In other words, one of the three main branches of the government is firmly committed to supporting Israel. As one former Democratic senator, Ernest Hollings, noted on leaving office, 'you can't have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.' Or as Ariel Sharon once told an American audience, 'when people ask me how they can help Israel, I tell them: "Help AIPAC."'

http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/mear01_.html


If you read the entire article, you will see that W&M seem to contradict themselves a number of times:

a) This example here.

b) Their definition of "the Lobby", which is given as a loose coalition of people and organizations who differ on many things, yet is given unity of thought and action (eg. "The Lobby doesn't want an open debate, of course...")

c) Their statement: "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."

Nothing wrong with that, except that they explicitly state that "the Lobby" is putting another country's interests ahead of ours. (See their first footnote: "1 Indeed, the mere existence of the Lobby suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organized special interest group to bring it about. But because Israel is a strategic and moral liability, it takes relentless political pressure to keep U.S. support intact.") There is something wrong with that.

It's also not enough to say this is not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in Protocols...and then go on to describe exactly that*.

Finally, it is disturbing the way they single out "American Jews and their Christian allies" (i.e. those who are of like mind with those Jews). They have gone from talking about people with a particular point of view to people of a particular religion and their allies.

*Which is not to say this is anti-Semitic. I don't think it is, and that there are other motivators here. Edit: After reading what I wrote, I am not so sure about this anymore. I still don't think they are anti-Semites, but something can be anti-Semitic or racist or bigoted even if the speaker didn't intend it. I now think an argument can be made both ways. But I would be hard pressed to come up with an argument accusing a Lobby, described in this paragraph as "American Jews and their Christian allies", of putting the interests of another country first and causing the U.S. to act outside of its own interests in a way that is not anti-Semitic. I think one could if they jiggled some of the definitions the way W&M try to. But looking at it more generally (divorced from the W&M paper), if one describes something in racist way and then again in a non-racist way in the same paper, is it enough to point to the non-racist description and say the paper isn't racist?
4.19.2006 1:05pm
Seamus (mail):

Glenn B,

As a former Libertarian you gave me the laugh of the day.



How did you know that Glenn B was a former libertarian?
4.19.2006 2:10pm
Thom:
M. Simon is the former Libertarian. Duh!
4.19.2006 3:03pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
David,

Saying AIPAC has a stranglehold on Congress, of course, is not saying that the Lobby controls our foreign policy. The latter suggestion would be patently ridiculous, to say that a Lobby "controlled" our decision to go to Iraq. Indeed, Bernstein is capitalizing on the ridiculousness of that assertion. The former strikes me as perhaps strongly worded, but nonetheless as a potentially valid, if hyperbolized, characterization.

But of course, they have a good reason for using strong words. They are, after all, taking a strong position. You certainly can't tell me that Prof. Bernstein doesn't use strong language.

And really, it raises an interesting point: Are they right? Is it possible to have open debate in Congress about our support for Israel? I'm no expert, but if Prof. Bernstein's rhetoric is what I'm going by, I'm guessing a Congressperson would face some sharp personal accusations.

As far as the argument that the existence of the Lobby indicates that it is pushing for something negative, I agree that it's generally a poor argument. It's not THAT poor, though, and I don't see that they really intended it to prove THAT much, and it's not an uncommon argument in regard to lobyists. Indeed, they said it "suggests" that the Lobby is pushing for something not in our national interests, not that it "proves," it, and in that regard, I think they're basically right. When I see a big powerful lobby group pushing for something, I say it's cause for skepticism. Particularly, one has to say, when their methods are aggressive.

At worst, though, that was simply a silly argument. And even so, not THAT silly. This is a general disagreement between liberals and conservatives, on whether there is anything really wrong or suspicious lobbying. In my view, in fact, Bernstein trying to turn this argument into some big thing represents some lack of candor on his own part.
It's also not enough to say this is not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in Protocols...and then go on to describe exactly that.
Which is kind of funny, because that's exactly what I took from Bernstein saying that although Cohen thinks they're anti-semitic, he's been as kind as to withhold judgment, and then he goes on to say that he suspects CNI to be acting on anti-Israel "animus."

I guess our impressions differ with our perspectives. I drew something different from the comment on the Protocols. I saw them as trying to be even handed, and pointing out that they're alleging something very different from the anti-semitic conspiracy theories. Of course, then suspicious individuals will accuse them of being underhanded, but unfortunately, I'm not sure how they avoid that. The fact is, they know they are treading on dangerous ground which could easily be seen as anti-semitic. Is it not then appropriate to distinguish themselves from those views? I'm not sure how they could have done this more tactfully.

In sum, I think you should ask yourself 1. Can you say without doubt that W&M's general argument is entirely invalid and without any merit, and that no person could have such beliefs in good faith? And if they could, then 2. How delicate can you really expect them to be? It looks to me like they were trying to be delicate. Nonetheless, people like Bernstein find some little supposed error, and then try to exploit it into a reason to completely dismiss the entire paper, arguments and all. This is ad hominem argumentation, and I find it very suspicious. I wonder why Bernstein can't address their actual arguments. My feeling is that whether or not his position ultimately has merit, his methods of argumenation are hyper-partisan and highly tactical, which is another way of saying they lack substance, and I think he knows it, or at least he should.
4.19.2006 3:59pm
David in DC:
Markus,

I was not addressing your comments about Bernstein, that is between you and him. You asked about control of our foreign policy and I showed you the passage where they said "the Lobby" controlled Congress. I recognized I only showed half of the case (the Legislative branch) but I really didn't want to make a relatively long post longer. The specific language they use to describe the executive branch is "the Lobby also has significant leverage over the executive branch."

Saying AIPAC has a stranglehold on Congress, of course, is not saying that the Lobby controls our foreign policy.

So, given what I said above, W&M say that Lobby controls Congress and has significant leverage over the executive branch (using the word control in place of the hyperbolized stranglehold). Now, this is with regard to Israel, and I assumed that was implied in all of the writing so far. One can argue that they don't "control" other aspects of our foreign policy because they don't get involved in it, but obviously this doesn't address the point.

And really, it raises an interesting point: Are they right? Is it possible to have open debate in Congress about our support for Israel?

Literally and otherwise, the answer is yes. For instance, Congress at some point in this recent war (between the Israelis and the Palestinians) made a statement expressing solidarity with Israel. It passed by a huge margin but not unanimously. Presumably nobody gagged those who didn't agree. Point being, just because the large majority of people don't agree with you doesn't mean it is impossible to express your views. I'm surprised you even voiced this. Not because of any lurking Lobby, but because it is patently ridiculous. (Which is not to say you are ridiculous, you express yourself well and honestly. It is to say that perhaps you put too much credence in some of the ideas of those whose papers we are debating.)

It's not THAT poor, though...

Yes, it is. Bringing the scale down, you can say to me..."Just because you are arguing about this is evidence that you are wrong. Your point should be obvious and you shouldn't have to try to convince people of it." The fact is, there are competing ideas out there and we are debating them. There are also competing lobbies out there, and they are competing with each other for influence. The fact that one is so overwhelmingly successful (against the powerful oil producers, at that) could also be an indication that their point of view is shared by the large majority of Americans and legislators. Come to think of it, you can point to the oil producing nations, which wield their influence in ways other than powerful lobby, and say that AIPAC is aggressive out of necessity.

I have to run, I'll write more later.
4.19.2006 5:16pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
David,

>One can argue that they don't "control" other aspects of our foreign policy because they don't get involved in it, but obviously this doesn't address the point.<

Well, it's kind of the point. Saying Israel controls our foreign policy is a pretty broad statement. I think it suggests more than simply that one can't question our direct financial support for Israel. For one thing, Bernstein suggested that W&M claimed the Lobby controlled our decision to go to Iraq. It looks to me like W&M specifically disavowed that, and simply said it was a factor. Personally, I agree that it's a factor. Do you disagree? In fact, I bet Bernstein would ordinarily admit that it was a factor too, and even that it should be. He'd probably argue further, though, that an Iraqi nuclear attack on Israel directly implicates American interests, not just our interest in Israel.

So yes, I still think it's highly misrepresentative to say their claim was that the Lobby controls our foreign policy. Their theory was not nearly so absurd.

>Point being, just because the large majority of people don't agree with you doesn't mean it is impossible to express your views.<

Well, that's true enough. It begs the question, though, of whether our public discourse on Israel truly reflects the majority view. And, if it reflects purely the majority view, then why is that the majority view?

W&M seem to go out of their way to say they don't blame the Lobby that they describe. They simply think that it should be recognized, as they argue that its agenda is actually quite strongly at odds with America's. In that sense, it seems they're simply trying to raise awareness of the extent of and the power that the Lobby wields.

Back to majorities, W&M make their argument for why they think the congressional debate is indeed influenced by this Lobby, and that this Lobby has a dampening effect on open debate, such that the result is not ultimately as majoritarian as we might like. Of course, there may be certain members of Congress who are in a position to say whatever they want. To me, however, W&M's suggestion seems right. I would bet that in the absence of the Lobby they describe -- disregarding the question of whether it is more aggressive than it should be (by which I mean whether the people said to comprise it tend to be more aggressive than they should be)-- we would see a different kind of debate regarding American support for Israel in Congress. I don't know whether that would be good or bad, but I suspect that on a factual level they're right.

As to the argument that I conceded wasn't so great, I concede that it's not so great. Certainly there are good reasons for lobbying, which don't mean you're trying to do anything bad. At a basic level, though, I think it's worth considering why a lobby would have to be so aggressive. Why would a group be so quick to resort to ad hominem attacks? There may be perfectly valid reasons, and one certainly can't jump to conclusions (for instance, we generally don't dignify certain arguments that are patently racist, for what I think are valid reasons) but I think it's a valid issue to consider. So I maintain that there suggestion wasn't that outlandish, and is very insignificant and weak evidence that W&M have illicit motives. It was, I think, a pretty run-of-the-mill argument that they threw out as food for thought.
4.20.2006 1:52am
David in DC (mail):
Marcus,

We are starting to cover a lot of ground and the posts are getting longer, but I am game if you are :-).

Well, it's kind of the point. Saying Israel controls our foreign policy is a pretty broad statement. I think it suggests more than simply that one can't question our direct financial support for Israel. For one thing, Bernstein suggested that W&M claimed the Lobby controlled our decision to go to Iraq.

I think you mean "the Lobby" controlling our foreign policy. The neo-cons are defined as part of the Lobby by W&M, and the neo-cons pressed for an attack on Iraq, so this was an aspect of our foreign policy they were involved in. It's not only financial support I am talking about.

I was responding to this statement from you:

I'd to see where they said the lobby controls U.S. foreign policy. Or maybe you just have a definition of control by which everybody "controls" our foreign policy in their own way.

So, what I showed was that W&M said the Lobby had a stranglehold on Congress significant leverage over the executive branch. It's not exactly saying that they control foreign policy, what it is saying is that of the branches of our government that determine our foreign policy, they control one and exert "significant leverage" the other. Frankly, if someone referred to that generally as control, I don't have a problem with it, but it is not literally true.

Do you disagree?

I agree with you, but this brings us to one of the biggest problems with W&M's paper. The definition of the Lobby. To them, I am part of the Lobby just for writing these posts (and W&M say that the Lobby tries to stifle debate about itself...ha! :-)). The neo-cons, taking a policy position consistent with positions they have always taken, get named as part of "the Lobby" because this time the position they take is interpreted by W&M as being good for Israel and because they are Jewish. As far as I know, and I specifically checked their website in the runup to war, AIPAC (the real lobby) did not push the Iraq war, or at least didn't do so on their website. A fairly large majority of American Jews were against the war, but for sure some of them would find themselves defined as "the Lobby" by W&M.

So it comes to the fact that by defining "the Lobby" broadly enough W&M can attribute to it all sorts of things. But it becomes meaningless. The minority of American Jews supported the war, but some did...so the Lobby supported the war. A small minority would like to stifle debate (I am assuming that some would)...so the Lobby tries to stifle debate as one of its main tactics. A minority of all Americans are hateful racists...so Americans are hateful racists? It doesn't make sense.

I would like to see this subject get an honest treatment rather than the one W&M gave it. Talk about AIPAC itself or stick to the definition they gave. They flip-flop back and forth as it suits their argument.

W&M seem to go out of their way to say they don't blame the Lobby that they describe.

I strongly disagree and I wonder if we are reading the same paper. I take their point to be - if the Lobby didn't exist than our relationship with Israel would be entirely different. Their point of view is that the arguments they make against that relationship are so obvious that without the Lobby obfuscating things, stifling debate, controlling Congress, etc, most Americans would see that it is to our detriment.

Well, that's true enough. It begs the question, though, of whether our public discourse on Israel truly reflects the majority view. And, if it reflects purely the majority view, then why is that the majority view?

The answer to the first is yes, it does reflect the majority view. The second question is a valid one, but it quite separate as to whether you can discuss the subject in Congress.

Why would a group be so quick to resort to ad hominem attacks?

Again, we are back to the definition of "the Lobby". Some members of a broadly defined group did this. Does this mean "the Lobby" did this? For one, I don't think AIPAC did. Would it be an honest argument for me to go and find the most shrill, illogical and, indeed, truly anti-Semitic rant from a member of the "anti-Lobby", and use that to generalize to the opponents of the Lobby? Of course not.

It is not making an honest argument to define the Lobby as broadly as W&M do...

The explanation is the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby. We use 'the Lobby' as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that 'the Lobby' is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them. In a 2004 survey, for example, roughly 36 per cent of American Jews said they were either 'not very' or 'not at all' emotionally attached to Israel.

Jewish Americans also differ on specific Israeli policies. Many of the key organisations in the Lobby, such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations, are run by hardliners who generally support the Likud Party's expansionist policies, including its hostility to the Oslo peace process. The bulk of US Jewry, meanwhile, is more inclined to make concessions to the Palestinians, and a few groups -- such as Jewish Voice for Peace -- strongly advocate such steps. Despite these differences, moderates and hardliners both favour giving steadfast support to Israel.


...or even...

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


...or even...

Thanks in part to the influence Jewish voters have on presidential elections, the Lobby also has significant leverage over the executive branch. Although they make up fewer than 3 per cent of the population, they make large campaign donations to candidates from both parties. The Washington Post once estimated that Democratic presidential candidates 'depend on Jewish supporters to supply as much as 60 per cent of the money'. And because Jewish voters have high turn-out rates and are concentrated in key states like California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania, presidential candidates go to great lengths not to antagonise them.


...and then to ascribe to the entire Lobby the actions of a few in it. You can see that they actually define the Lobby at various times as American Jews (and their allies).

Peck does the same thing. I agree with Bernstein that his argument is dishonest without agreeing on all of the specifics.
4.20.2006 11:22am
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
David,

I think I see the paper as having a completely different objective than you do. My impression is not that they are trying to define a group so that they can then smear it. In fact, I don't think they even particularly care who exactly can be said to belong to the Lobby that they describe.

My impression is that they are trying to raise awareness of a few things: 1. There is a powerful lobby pushing us in a particular foreign policy direction, and 2. If we don't pay close attention, we won't even see its impact, because in fact much of its effectiveness -- like with any good lobbying group -- comes from not letting us know that we're even being lobbied, and 3. The reason we need to know this and pay attention to it is that the Lobby's agenda is in fact adverse to our national interest, and its impact is thus harmful.

I think that's the basic idea. I think that's why they have such a broad and general definition, because the point here isn't to say who is in the lobby and who is not. In fact, they seem to say pretty clearly, the problem isn't the Lobby at all, but rather the inability of Americans to see the extent to which our policies result from being lobbied, as opposed to our actual national interest.

So I don't think they're trying to ascribe the views of extremists to anybody else. I'm sure they would agree that most members of the Lobby are very nice people with no ill motives at all. As they say, "There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy." I think you're mistaken to take that as an attempt to say something negative about those Jews and Christians. As I said, I think the intent was actually the opposite.

Of course, their argument does perhaps imply that the Lobby should be recognized largely as an ethnic and religious lobby, which gets to why their interests are not necessarily representative of broader America. Perhaps this what is really considered controversial. If it is, however, that may itself be suggestive of the lack of open public debate. I would have little concern, for instance, ascribing almost anything to a Christian lobby, whether that was banning Howard Stern, banning abortion, or trying to teach creationism in schools. Talking about a Jewish lobby, though, of course, is a veritable minefield.

So maybe that's what is really behind the whole controversy: the attempt to somehow navigate the minefield of discussing a Jewish/Israeli lobby which refuses to be described by the conventional terms. Perhaps W&M are simply looking for a way to talk about it, and complaining about the aggressive attempts not to allow such discussion. I'm not sure what I can really say about that, but I think Bernstein's suggestion that W&M's "dishonesty" regarding a small point precludes having to address the content of their paper gives credence to the idea that open debate is at least to an extent being stifled.

It suggests that opponents of this lobby, to the extent it exists, are often marginalized rather than controverted on the merits of their arguments. Which might be a fair way of describing their complaint.
4.20.2006 4:47pm
David in DC:
Marcus,

For the most part, we will have to agree to disagree.

In fact, I don't think they even particularly care who exactly can be said to belong to the Lobby that they describe.

Clearly, as it seems to change over the course of their paper.

W&M fall far short of making any kind of case.

What they need to first do is to actually make a case that the relationship with Israel is detrimental to our country's interest. They fall way short. They pay lip service to the competing case and some of the points they make in their favor are questionable (e.g. Israel as a strategic liability in the first Gulf war??). Furthermore, even though they claim the facts they present are not in dispute, some of them are actually false, and easily proven to be so.

Then, after making a case that this relationship is harmful to our interests, they need to show that it is actually the Lobby that is the cause. At this point W&M would probably just define the cause, whatever it is, as "the Lobby" and be done with it (this is basically what they did in their paper). But if you really want to understand what is going on you will have to show probable cause and effect. Is it the actual lobbying money doing it? Is it because Americans are not getting the full story? Is it because of a few highly placed individuals friendly to Israel? W&M have glommed together disparate groups into some ephemeral "Lobby".

I'm not sure what I can really say about that, but I think Bernstein's suggestion that W&M's "dishonesty" regarding a small point precludes having to address the content of their paper gives credence to the idea that open debate is at least to an extent being stifled.

Absolutely ludicrous. Someone refusing to engage on the facts is certainly not stifling debate. They are simply refusing to substantively enter the debate themselves. I mean, come on, there wasn't enough response to the article for you :-).

And I think you might mean Peck's article? I went back and in the comments to the entry on this subject previous to this one Bernstein said that. As I said, he is right that the article is thoroughly dishonest. It starts with a big strawman and goes downhill from there. I will give it a full fisking if you care.

One would be very hard pressed to prove this "stifling debate" allegation. "Stifling debate" is not someone making cogent arguments against your case, it is not someone making non-sensical arguments against your case, it isn't someone calling you names (even, gasp!, anti-Semite), it isn't you not wanting to stand up and engage on the facts (see: Dershowitz's challenge to W&M to a public debate, W&M's refusal to address any of the valid criticisms, Peck setting up and attacking strawmen), it isn't other people refusing to engage you on the facts, and it isn't even most people disagreeing with you and saying so. For the record, a named member of the Lobby, the NY Times, stifled debate recently by publishing Tony Judt's op-ed defending W&M's paper. There's irony for you.

You say they wanted to raise awareness of this. So...why haven't they taken the opportunity to do so! If this subject needs to be aired, let them accept the debate challenge and air it. A debate between Harvard chairs on this topic would certainly get attention, and a lot of it. I can't imagine a better opportunity to reach a wide audience and get the discussion started. (Just my opinion - they know their paper is crap and that Dershowitz will humiliate them in public. One would think that if they knew the shitstorm they were going to kick up, and they did predict it in their paper, they wouldn't have published such an amazingly sub-par piece of work.)

For that matter, just let them address the cogent criticisms based on the merits. Let them address the factual errors in their paper, the quotes taken way out of context, the omissions, the logical errors, etc. that have been pointed out.

Occam's Razor suggests that the simplest explanation is the most compelling. Rather than all of the contradictory definitions W&M need to make their case, how about this instead - people don't agree with them, and are vocal about it. The "anti-Lobby" has the exact same opportunity as "the Lobby". Let them spread their lobbying money around and debate their point of view in the marketplace of ideas. In my opinion they have tried that, found that it isn't enough, and so resort to these "they are trying to stifle debate"/"you called me an anti-Semite" tactics. If they aren't anti-Semites, ignore the morons calling them such, address the valid criticisms of their work, and the best ideas will win the day.

And if you agree with W&M, defend their work on the merits. Picking and choosing the obviously misplaced criticisms, as you are doing here with Bernstein, doesn't even start to do that. Which is not to say that there's anything wrong with that. I just addressed your general question about the paper at first and continued to discuss the paper and Peck's defense of it. IMO, the people who are doing all of the talking about this subject getting stifled should stop complaining about being stifled (in newspaper op-eds at that, oh the irony!) and instead address the arguments on their merits. They have a soapbox and choose to self-stifle, so to speak.
4.20.2006 8:40pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
David,

I started to respond yesterday, but then got distracted. I might not be able to before the commenting closes.

As to one thing: I criticized Bernstein's rhetoric solely as a criticism of his rhetoric, not as a way of defending the paper. I find his resort to ad hominems offensive, so I decided to comment on it.

As to the paper, I don't know enough to debate the individaul factual points. There could well be errors. Regardless of the errors, though, I think there is a general point which is fair, which is that America's position toward Israel reflects the impact of a very strong and effective lobby. To the extent this lobbying has swayed us away from analyzing our own self interest, I think it's an issue worth discussing. And I think that aggressive lobbying can do this, without actually "silencing" people in a legal way. It does so, for instance, through an itchy trigger finger for making personal insults and impugning motives (ad hominems) in order to intimidate (or at least resulting in intimidation).

Both sides do this, and I criticize them both in my bloggy way. I think it's relevant here, however, that the Israel lobby is much more effective in America. In that regard, it's perhaps worth recognizing their impact, and the extent to which it drives us from what we would do in the absence of this lobby. I suspect they're right that we would act differently in the absence of the lobby -- not the absence of that point of view, or that interest, but merely in the absence of the aggressive lobby.

I was also going to say, I find it interesting that Bernstein is willing to say inflammatory things in regard to minority rights, which probably results in many people calling him a racist. I guess he doesn't mind this, and he makes his commentary regardless without appologies. So perhaps he, and you (not that you share those views), feel that individuals should not be able to complain about ad hominem attacks. My feeling is the opposite, that ad hominem attacks stifle the debate in virtually all contexts, and this is a problem. So I appreciate Bernstein's minority commentary, even where I disagree with it. But in this context, I think he's actually too quick to play the "race card," and that many others are too.

The ad hominems are just a small part of it, though, in the end. The point isn't that the Lobby derives its power from illegitimate means (although I find this playing of the "race card" objectionable), but simply that it exists, and that it is powerful, and that this raises the question of what it is causing us to do. I agree with W&M and with Peck up to that point (you're right, I mixed the two of them up earlier). As to the rest, of whether the Lobby's interests actually diverge from our own, I really don't know.
4.21.2006 12:39pm