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Milton Viorst on ‘The Israel Lobby’
Posted on Oct 4, 2007
Yet, even taking money and organization into account, there remains something of a mystery about the influence that AIPAC and its allies wield. In contrast to AIPAC, the gun lobby is routinely called upon to defend itself. But AIPAC’s task, it seems, is easier, because non-Jews, no less than Jews, unquestioningly accept its marching orders. Why, when it comes to AIPAC, do so many Americans abandon the skepticism they apply to other interests within the political spectrum? Europe is much less accommodating to Israel. AIPAC, naturally, blames the difference on Europe’s anti-Semitism, though—apart from Europe’s Muslims, who start with political grievances against Israel—there is little evidence to support its theory. Mearsheimer and Walt credit AIPAC’s skillful manipulation of the system, but the search for an answer needs more.
Perhaps the answer has something to do with America’s being the most religious, the most Christian, the most church-going society in the Western world. Once upon a time, deeply held Christian faith could be taken as a measure of hostility to Jews; that certainly is the case no longer. If anything, American Christianity—led by but not exclusive to evangelicals—seems to take the biblical promise of a homeland for the Jews as a test of its beliefs and a commitment of its own. This commitment goes beyond guaranteeing Israel’s existence. It provides a body of sympathy for Israel’s hard line, and for the economic aid and weaponry that the United States dispatches to support it.
The Israel Lobby
By John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 496 pages
The Deadliest Lies
By Abraham H. Foxman
Palgrave Macmillan, 256 pages
Unfortunately, the pro-peace segment of the American Jewish community does not have a parallel lobby. It has a few organizations, with dedicated adherents. Its members try to persuade the American Jewish community that reaching out to the Arab world, and particularly to the Palestinians, is better for Israel than perpetual war. AIPAC does its best to de-legitimize them, but they hang in stubbornly, though they are barely a whisper in the debate over Israel’s course. Despite the polls suggesting that many Jews agree with them, the influence of the peace groups is no threat to AIPAC’s pre-eminence. It is ironic that without Foxman and the like-minded critics who echo him, the Mearsheimer-Walt book might well have vanished with barely a ripple. Instead, their shrill voices have propelled it onto best-seller lists. Whether the book’s success means, however, that the American people and the politicians who lead them are readier than before to seriously consider the issues that it raises is still far from clear.
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