In a tweet this morning linking to this article, Glenn Greenwald wrote, ”Only a conspiratorial hatemonger would suggest that the Israel Lobby has immense influence in Congress.”
It’s sometimes difficult to read sarcasm into a tweet, but not in this case. Greenwald intends for us to understand that anyone should be able to recognize the influence on American politics of the powerful Israel Lobby, especially when we think about the circus-like atmosphere that we’ve seen since Obama’s Middle East speech.
The problem, however, is that contrary to Greenwald’s sarcastic tweet, there isn’t actually anything in the article to suggest a powerful “Israel Lobby” that has damaged Obama in the aftermath of his speech or caused him to change his position to be more supportive of Israel. Indeed, the picture that emerges in the article is significantly more complex and involves domestic political considerations (like the divide on the Left regarding Israel and the Right’s long-standing and undivided focus on Israel):
The political uproar, coming as Netanyahu received a bipartisan hero’s welcome Tuesday for a speech to Congress, underscored the careful calculations being made by leaders in both parties.
Democrats and Obama must balance the need to pursue delicate international diplomacy while retaining the party’s traditional support among Jewish campaign donors and voters, particularly in competitive states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. The party’s liberal base, however, is divided, with many on the left urging more concessions by Israel.
Republicans increasingly consider Israel a core issue that can unify sometimes disparate party factions, with evangelical voters and foreign policy hawks alike emerging as some of the Jewish state’s most vocal U.S. backers.
And then there’s this part of the article, which effectively does the opposite of bolstering claims about a unified “Israel Lobby” driving the Congressional bus:
Among the prominent Israel supporters upon whom Obama has relied for advice are Lee Rosenberg, president of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Alan Solow, who will leave his post as chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations next month. Both have been key behind-the-scenes advocates for Obama in reassuring skeptical backers.
This week, the president’s newly chosen national Democratic Party chairman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, signaled that she, too, will serve as an emissary. Her South Florida district is home to one of the country’s biggest Jewish populations, a place where Obama’s 2008 campaign tapped prominent Jewish lawmakers and local elected officials to visit synagogues and community centers and debunk rumors that Obama is a Muslim and anti-Israel.
What we’re learning, here, is not that the “Israel Lobby” is forcing Obama to change his position to one that’s more sympathetic toward Israel. The position doesn’t seem to be changing, even as Obama has sought to clarify that his position is not anti-Israel or out of step with the position that American leaders have held for quite some time. Instead, it seems that, with an election on the horizon, candidates all want to impress upon Jewish and Christian donors and voters — who care about our long-standing relationship with an ally in a region we regard as important to our strategic interests — that their party also cares about that relationship.
I have argued that it is possible — and, indeed, preferable — to support Israel and to hold the position about Palestinian statehood sketched out in Obama’s Middle East speech. This seems to be what Obama is attempting to demonstrate to the American electorate now.
But what Greenwald — and all those who think the so-called “Israel Lobby” has some sort of controlling influence on America — would need to demonstrate is that politicians want to do something, namely better support Palestinians or stop supporting Israel, but feel themselves unable to do so because doing so would mean running afoul of the “Israel Lobby.” The article to which Greenwald links does not demonstrate that conclusion and, I think, seems to support a very different conclusion, namely that politicians understand American voters and donors to be supportive of Israel and thus attempt to make a case to these voters and donors that they share this position.
This is not surprising and it isn’t evidence that AIPAC is somehow able to determine American foreign policy. If you want to see a conspiracy here, I have no doubt you’ll find one. But my sense is that, if you look more carefully, you might realize that what we’re really seeing is political maneuvering in an election season.