Do We Need a Pro-Israel Lobby?
Six prominent thinkers and activists make their case—and their answers may surprise you
It Sustains Jewish Peoplehood
By Martin Kramer
Back in 2006, in response to the “Israel Lobby” thesis of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, I wrote this: “Israel does not need the whole array of organizations that claim to work on its behalf. The rationale for keeping Israel strong is hardwired in the realities of the Middle East. The United States does not have an alternative ally of comparable power. And if the institutions of the lobby were to disappear tomorrow, it is quite likely that American and other Western support would continue unabated.”
Mearsheimer and Walt doubted that I believed this to be true: “If he is correct, then the people who bankroll AIPAC and The Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy and other like-minded organizations are wasting their money, and Kramer himself is wasting his time. Kramer claims that all this effort is unnecessary, but his own behavior suggests otherwise.”
I never responded: I didn’t want friends to think they were “wasting their money” by supporting organizations that do fulfill a role, but that role is vastly different from the one assigned to them by Mearsheimer and Walt. They believe the “lobby” is all that prevents Israel from being exposed as a liability. The opposite is true: The “lobby” is fueled by Israel’s value as a strategic asset in an unstable region. The professors confuse cause and effect.
But if Israel doesn’t depend on pro-Israel advocacy (from which I exclude the coolly analytical Washington Institute), what purpose do such organizations serve? They energize some substantial number of American Jews to stay affiliated with the Jewish people at a time when traditional forms of affiliation are waning. Israel’s batteries charge them. Businessmen and dentists come to Washington to advocate for Israel, and they feel like players on the world stage. Those who do are far more likely to visit Israel and embrace an Israeli cause. Younger ones might even make the decision made by myself (and many of my colleagues at Shalem College) to settle in Israel. Yes, I’m a classic Zionist, who believes that the ingathering of the Jews is their preferred destiny.
So, the measure of the “lobby” isn’t its ability to change U.S. policy on Iran or stop the nomination of Chuck Hagel. The State of Israel and its resilient people will decide how and when Iran will be stopped, and Hagel’s appointment won’t stand in their way. I measure pro-Israel advocacy by the degree to which it sustains Jewish peoplehood outside Israel and draws Jews into a deeper commitment to Israel than an annual visit to Capitol Hill.
And here is a revelation for Walt and Mearsheimer. I’m not so delusional as to believe that my writing and speaking on Israel’s behalf make a difference. If Israel is strong, the United States will value it. If it is weak, nothing anyone says will redeem it. So, why do we bother? It’s something the two “experts” can’t possibly fathom: Ahavat Yisrael, love for the people of Israel. And expressions of love are their own reward.
Martin Kramer is president of Shalem College in Jerusalem.
Medicine Against a Communicable Disease
By Steven J. Rosen
The pro-Israel lobby in the United States remains a vital line of defense against the systematic campaign under way to drive a wedge between the Jewish state and its principal allies. The campaign against Israel brings together a loose coalition of Palestinian support groups, left-wing European intellectuals, veterans of the shrunken Israeli peace movement, and others who just dislike Israel. The Israel they depict is a state led by drunks at the wheel, a serial violator of human rights and international law. Their Israel is the obstacle to peace in the Middle East, a strategic liability rather than an ally, an unjust and militaristic society, and a country filled with atavistic and dislikable people.
The real Israel is a tiny state facing the largest aggregation of offensive weaponry (combat aircraft, tanks, artillery, surface-to-surface missiles and rockets, and unconventional weapons) that has ever been arrayed against a single country. Yet, to the global militant left and its American acolytes, Israel is the villain du jour. Six million Jews, in a world of one and a half billion Muslims, 400 million Arabs, and the so-called “Non-Aligned Movement” (120 states all too aligned against Israel at the United Nations General Assembly), are the new imperial Goliath against which a new generation of the righteously indignant is rising.
Most insidious inside the United States is the energetic campaign mounted by Jewish critics of Israel to kosher the key themes of the global delegitimization campaign in order to mainstream them into the left wing of the Democratic Party.
Against all this, you ask, is a pro-Israel lobby needed? Is medicine needed against communicable disease?
Steven J. Rosen was AIPAC’s director of foreign-policy issues from 1982 until 2005. He is now the director of the Washington Project of the Middle East Forum.
AIPAC Fosters Islamophobia and Elevates Power Over Justice
By Rebecca Vilkomerson
My children are Israeli citizens. As I work every day to fulfill the mission of Jewish Voice for Peace—striving for equality, human rights, and freedom for all the people of Israel and Palestine—I often think of what I do in terms of my hope that Israel will someday be a place where I’d be happy for my children to live.
Unfortunately, I see the so-called pro-Israel lobby as trying its collective best to do just the opposite—condemning the people of Israel to endless military escalation, ugly ethno-nationalism, and constant warmongering, to say nothing of the system of permanent control, oppression, and dispossession it strives to maintain over the Palestinian people—all in the name of protecting Israel.
From the perspective of my Jewish values, too, I see the pro-Israel lobby doing much more harm than good. In all its component parts, it encourages Islamophobia, fundamentalist Christian apocalyptic anti-Semitism, and the elevation of power over justice. It does tremendous harm to the Jewish community in the United States when it equates criticism of a state’s actions to anti-Semitism, thus de-valuing actual anti-Semitism. And when the lobby pushes positions, as AIPAC is planning to do this week, such as exempting Israel from cuts while all kinds of crucial domestic programs are being downsized, it potentially harms all Americans.
The pro-Israel lobby can continue to pursue its dangerous agenda, but it cannot claim to do so in our names. That’s why I am so proud to be represented in these 100 ads that will appear in Metro stations all over Washington, D.C., as of this week. They read: “Jewish and Proud and AIPAC doesn’t speak for me.”
Rebecca Vilkomerson is the executive director of the Jewish Voice for Peace.
AIPAC’s Influence Waning? That’s Bunk.
By Lenny Ben-David
Since Chuck Hagel’s confirmation as secretary of defense, some—including Tablet columnist Lee Smith—have argued that failing to prevent Hagel’s appointment was a crushing defeat for the pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill.
I was in charge of public relations for AIPAC during another time when the organization was accused of such a failure. Ronald Reagan was in the White House and was poised to sell AWACS planes to Saudi Arabia. AIPAC had a “4-D” strategy to “debate, delay, delink (from the sale of weapons to Israel) and, if all else failed, defeat.”
With the president and the prime minister otherwise occupied, will this year’s AIPAC confab bring any results?