The Israel Lobby and Gentile Power
Published on: March 11, 2010
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  • This is all correct, but a couple of wrinkles. Walter, you may underestimate a little the happenstantial role of de facto hofjuden in American politics. There are not just the Bernard Baruchs, but also the Eddie Jacobsens. Also, you need to factor in how Jews have increasingly politicized their identifies (to my dismay) at the expense of their religious heritage, so that what has been true generally is less true today.

    But basically you’re right, and I thought of this recently while looking through a new and apparently terrible book by Geoffrey Wawro, called Quicksand. In this mess of a history, the author digs up the old canard that Truman only supported Zionism because he sought Jewish votes in NY in 1948. This is absurd, of course, as anyone who knows Truman would realize. Truman was a dispensationalist, if not by avowed creed then by the processes of social osmosis that make many if not most American Protestants philo-Semitic. And he was running against the Governor of New York! Truman knew he would not carry New Yorkl Harry was anything but a political naif. And he didn’t carry it, and won the election anyway.

    Finally, it is worth noting that the phenomenon you describe here for the US also applies, with other wrinkles, to 18th, 19th and early 20th century Britain. It is not just an American but an Anglo-American phenomenon. It’s about John Nelson Darby as well as Cyrus Scofield, Lord Shaftesbury as well as Jerry Fallwell.

    It’s all in JEWCENTRICITY…..

  • fw

    Your remarks about conspiracy-minded Jews taking a dim view of the proposition of being deported to the Middle East reminds me of an epigraph at the beginning of one of Ishmael Reed’s novels; it may have been “Reckless Eyeballing.” It’s an old joke Reed cites with caustic irony:

    “The American Dream: one million blacks swimming back to Africa, with a Jew under each arm.”

  • fw

    I would add that, to the extent that Americans are broadly supportive of Israel, it is also in the context of America’s opinion of Israel’s neighbors. For Americans of a certain age, memories remain vivid of mile-long lines at gas stations selling OPEC oil, day after day of news reports beginning each broadcast with a note on how many days the hostages had been held in Teheran, the beginning of insecurities about P.L.O. sponsored airplane hijackings, the attack on the marine barracks in Beirut, etc. 9/11 only reinforced this worldview, as the culmination of a history of attacks on Americans.

  • Dimitry

    Two small points
    1. It is rather strange for you to use “religious nationalism” for Likud, since it is a fully secular party (there are, of course, religious members, but still…) Especially since Likud’s positions today are to the left of Labor at the time that the Oslo process had started. There is a recent article and a book about Rabin’s actual positions at the time

    2. Though the positions of the American Jews on average are to the left of AIPAC (though it isn’t clear to me what positions define AIPAC for you), they are not close to J-Street at all. J-street is today a fringe group (despite their protestations) that attracts vast amounts of anti-zionists to itself. I doubt many american jews stand with such a group.

  • Roy

    Charlie Wilson’s War, by the late George Crile, discusses an episode in which Congressman Charles Wilson, of East Texas, a longtime proponent of support for Israel, informed his contacts there that they should not oppose the sale of AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia, a legislative battle he told them they would not be able to influence in a manner favorable to them. It’s a stark example of the limits of pro-Israel influence, even among staunch, gentile supporters. Wilson himself, notably, saw no contradiction between forging good relationships with Israelis and Arabs, and worked to broker deals between both. He may have been ahead of his time in this regard.

  • Luke Lea

    Mead writes: “AIPAC has the power that it does because it has been in effect deputized by American pro-Israel gentiles to guard the frontiers of our Israel policy. Like the NRA and like the fabled Tobacco lobby of old, it is strong because the public accepts it as the watchdog on an issue it cares about. Lose that bond with the public, as the Tobacco lobby finally did, and the clout bleeds away — even if the lobby has all the money, all the organizers and all the connections that it previously had.”

    I think it is true, and it raises the issue of what the American Jewish community should be doing to maintain that bond over the long term. It would not be prudent to take it for granted or bet the farm on the Evangelical vote. American working families are under enormous and growing financial stress and, at this point, have no effective champions in Washington or on Wall St. Our WASP elites in the past have not card much about them, and, if you are correct, may not care too much about the future of Israel. Need I say more?

  • Luke Lea

    For things American Jews might do to solidify their long-term support in Middle America: (a) a more sympathetic, less stereotypical portrayal of the struggles of white working-class families in Hollywood; (b) a realistic reform of public education to prepare the left three-quarter of the bell curve to make a decent living in tomorrow’s economy; a moratorium on large-scale immigration; a realistic plan to address the inequities of current trade policies, preferably via wage subsidies and a graduated consumption tax as opposed to old-fashioned protectionism.

  • Luke, how do you propose American Jews might accomplish your quite ambitious list?

  • Roy

    As a useful reference, I believe Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s “The Controversy of Zion” also has accounts of early Jewish ambivalence toward the Zionist project.

  • Roy

    I think the United States has been given insufficient credit for its role as a neutral broker between Arabs and Israelis.

    During the 1973 war, in which Israel had been taken by surprise on Yom Kippur, Henry Kissinger advised Nixon to come to Israel’s aid ultimately, but to “let them bleed a little.” That is as “realist” a stance as could be wished for, and from a Jewish Secretary of State no less.

    In Madrid, after the first Iraq War, the one Stephen Walt supported, the U.S. played the role of neutral mediator between Israelis and Palestinians, notwithstanding the fact that Yasir Arafat had thrown his support to Saddam Hussein in the conflict, against the United States. Yet despite backing Saddam Hussein, the U.S. didn’t treat him as an enemy or adversary, but rather as the legitimate leader of the Palestinians with a justified claim to sovereignty. The U.S. elevated Arafat’s stature, brought him to the White House and then Camp David, and then brokered a deal with him that even critics of Israel concede offered him 95% of the territory under negotiation.

  • Peter

    In total agreement with Luke Lea’s 1:29PM post.

  • RS

    I think you’re over-emphasizing the role of non-Jews in deciding pro-Israel/Zionist policies within the U.S. government. Of course, most American non-Jews support or sympathize with Israel, but this is usually not shown through political activism. They may not agree with an anti-Israel politician and find him or her distasteful, but it is mainly through the activism of Jewish community that votes are garnered against him or her.

    Also, I would disagree with the characterizations that most Jews sympathize with a group like J Street more than AIPAC. If you look at a poll done by the American Jewish Committee some months back, a clear majority supports the Netanyahu government and disagrees with the Obama administration’s increased pressure on and criticism of Israel. This, despite the fact that 78% of American Jews voted for Obama in 2008. What this tells you is that most American Jews (obviously more so for older or more involved members of the community) are solidly “pro-Israel” in the traditional sense, but that that stance does not usually translate into voting behavior.

    So, frankly, Israel isn’t a voting issue for the vast majority of Jewish and non-Jewish Americans. What gets pro-Israel policies decided is the disciplined activism of groups like AIPAC – who, as you pointed out, take stances that won’t alienate large swathes of Americans. The sympathy and support for Israel would be there regardless of whether AIPAC existed or not, but the reason for particular policies being implemented is Jewish community activism in the form of such groups. And, as you point out, AIPAC is successful, because most Americans agree with its basic goals. It’s a weird cause-and-effect thing, but one shouldn’t diminish the influence of a well-functioning organization in an attempt to refute more pernicious arguments about the source and nature of its power.

  • fw

    This is a quotation from Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine, in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg:

    “The other thing that they’ve missed completely, and this is sort of the amazing thing, is the total transformation in American official policy toward the Palestinians over the past 20 years. Twenty-one years ago, there was no contact ever between the U.S. and the PLO. No contact, zero, and no Palestinian statehood is the consensus American foreign policy and it is a national security priority under Obama. People in the House, key positions like the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East, Gary Ackerman, Nita Lowey on Appropriations – all of them Jewish American members of Congress, stalwart supporters of Israel, and all of them committed to peace based on two states. And all of them, by the way, who were on the host committee of the American Task Force on Palestine gala last week.”

    So, as Ibish, a forceful advocate for Palestine points out, there has been a sea change in attitudes in Washington toward Palestine in the last two decades, embodied in part by Jewish legislators. Now if the most retrograde members of AIPAC had the clout commonly ascribed to them, would they have permitted a consensus supporting the creation of a Palestinian state to emerge in Congress? Again, there are, as Walter suggests real limitations to AIPAC’s influence.

  • Luke Lea

    Norwegian Shooter asks, “Luke, how do you propose American Jews might accomplish your quite ambitious list?”

    Answer: that is what Jewish genius is for. Seriously. We need help.

  • fw

    Luke, to quote Sollazzo, from the Godfather, “You think too much of me, kid. I am not that clever.”

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  • Steven Solomon

    Adam Garfinkle noted that this was an Anglo-American phenomenon and I’d have to agree. The British affinity with Zionism goes back hundreds of years, but was most critical following WWI. One of the most important British Christian Zionists was the Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Lloyd George was committed to Zionism as a matter of his own religious convictions. He once said “I was taught in school far more about the history of the Jews than about the history of my own land”. He also said “I could tell you all the kings of Israel. But I doubt whether I could have named half a dozen of the kings of England!” It was his faith that compelled him to gain control of Palestine and to thwart any efforts by the French to interfere, and in doing so, he saw himself to be doing God’s work. This is what motivated him to launch a full-scale offensive to seize Palestine at great risk to British lives and treasure.


    utterly specious…a) the majority of gentiles do not really care one way or the other about Israel, b) Jews who don’t take the Likud hard line still do care very much about Israel and want us intertwined in its politics, and c) it is the establishment elite that enforces the current narrow spectrum of debate vis-a-vis Israel

    and who dominates this establishment elite by virtue of its higher IQ? GOOD QUESTION!

  • Sophie


    Many are still unaware of the eccentric, 180-year-old British theory underlying the politics of American evangelicals and Christian Zionists.
    Journalist and historian Dave MacPherson has spent more than 40 years focusing on the origin and spread of what is known as the apocalyptic “pretribulation rapture” – the inspiration behind Hal Lindsey’s bestsellers of the 1970s and Tim LaHaye’s today.
    Although promoters of this endtime evacuation from earth constantly repeat their slogan that “it’s imminent and always has been” (which critics view more as a sales pitch than a scriptural statement), it was unknown in all official theology and organized religion before 1830.
    And MacPherson’s research also reveals how hostile the pretrib rapture view has been to other faiths:
    It is anti-Islam. TV preacher John Hagee has been advocating “a pre-emptive military strike against Iran.” (Google “Roots of Warlike Christian Zionism.”)
    It is anti-Jewish. MacPherson’s book “The Rapture Plot” (see Armageddon Books etc.) exposes hypocritical anti-Jewishness in even the theory’s foundation.
    It is anti-Catholic. Lindsey and C. I. Scofield are two of many leaders who claim that the final Antichrist will be a Roman Catholic. (Google “Pretrib Hypocrisy.”)
    It is anti-Protestant. For this reason no major Protestant denomination has ever adopted this escapist view.
    It even has some anti-evangelical aspects. The first publication promoting this novel endtime view spoke degradingly of “the name by which the mixed multitude of modern Moabites love to be distinguished, – the Evangelical World.” (MacPherson’s “Plot,” p. 85)
    Despite the above, MacPherson proves that the “glue” that holds constantly in-fighting evangelicals together long enough to be victorious voting blocs in elections is the same “fly away” view. He notes that Jerry Falwell, when giving political speeches just before an election, would unfailingly state: “We believe in the pretribulational rapture!”
    In addition to “The Rapture Plot,” MacPherson’s many internet articles include “Famous Rapture Watchers,” “Pretrib Rapture Diehards,” “Edward Irving is Unnerving,” “America’s Pretrib Rapture Traffickers,” “Thomas Ice (Bloopers),” “Pretrib Rapture Secrecy” and “Pretrib Rapture Dishonesty” (massive plagiarism, phony doctorates, changing of early “rapture” documents in order to falsely credit John Darby with this view, etc.!).
    Because of his devastating discoveries, MacPherson is now No. 1 on the “hate” list of pretrib rapture leaders!
    There’s no question that the leading promoters of this bizarre 19th century end-of-the-world doctrine are solidly pro-Israel and necessarily anti-Palestinian. In light of recently uncovered facts about this fringe-British-invented belief which has always been riddled with dishonesty, many are wondering why it should ever have any influence on Middle East affairs.
    This Johnny-come-lately view raises millions of dollars for political agendas. Only when scholars of all faiths begin to look deeply at it and widely air its “dirty linen” will it cease to be a power. It is the one theological view no one needs!
    With apologies to Winston Churchill – never has so much deception been foisted on so many by so few!

    [Also Google “David Letterman’s Hate, Etc.”]

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  • Handy article, thank you very much 🙂

  • Andrew Allison

    For many, Europe means the failure of social democracy writ large.

  • free_agent

    In the US, there is a lot of fear about what may happen to the US, but the idea of American exceptionalism (or the virtues which the US should exemplify) remains. And the concept that there should be an over-arching political entity as an instrument of those ideas remains. And so all the protesters agree that a central way to reclaim America as it ought to be is through political/state action. Europe has a strong sense of exceptionalism (quite reasonably, given their neighbors) but has no solid tradition of Europe as a *political* entity. But that lack of a political concept makes it unclear how “Europe” might correct any flaws in the reality of Europe.

    • Corlyss

      “Europe has a strong sense of exceptionalism”
      Not in any meaningful way, and most certainly not in the way Americans think, or use to think, of America as exceptional. French think the French are exceptional because their nation’s modern roots are in a Revolution fueled by ideas vaguely similar to those that motivated the American Revolution. But the rest certainly don’t have that common idea. Except for Germany and Italy, they’re all perpetuations of very ancient tribal associations.

  • Anthony

    “But what, if anything, do the countries of Europe share? …what is Europe.” The legacy of the civil state may be a good place to start as organizing principle – rule of law and civil liberties orienting societal governance if not solely European idea flowered under humanitarian revolution and remains civilizing contribution. To my mind, Europe’s legacy of Enlightenment Humanism provides basis to preclude ceding terrain to “alternating fantasies of market freedoms or technocratic administration” – and worth the risk cited by essay’s author.

  • Corlyss

    The silly gits never should have attempted to do away with the nation-state in the wrong-headed idea that the nation-state was the reason for 20th Century wars. They’ve already run hard up against the reality that there is no law without the state. They delude themselves that apparatchiks beavering away in Brussels because they will never decided enough is enough are creating a superstate that various nationalities will defend in any meaningful way. Europe qua Europe is already one of the most anti-democratic places on the planet, not in terms of human rights abuses (Lord knows they find human rights to uphold everywhere), but in terms of having a scintilla of legitimacy from the people they allege to govern.

  • Jim__L

    States require their citizens to buy into positive stereotypes of their fellow citizens, then?

  • El Gringo

    A shared vision of being the world’s largest retirement community.

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