Commentary Magazine


Topic: Israel Lobby thesis

Carter Blames Jews for Obama’s Snubs

Former President Jimmy Carter is back in the news this week publicizing a new book about women’s rights. But, as is often the case with Carter, he drew more interest for comments he made about Israel and its supporters. When asked on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday by Andrea Mitchell why it was that Barack Obama never called upon him for advice, he made it clear that the Jewish state was the reason he has been treated like a pariah:

I—that’s a hard question– for me to answer—you know, with complete candor. I think the problem was that– that in dealing with the issue of peace in– between Israel and Egypt– the Carter Center has taken a very strong and public position of equal treatment between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I think this was a sensitive area in which the president didn’t want to be involved.

When he first came out with his speech in Cairo calling for the end of all settlements and when he later said that the ’67 borders would prevail, he and I were looking at it from the same perspective. But I can understand those sensitivities. And I don’t have any criticism of him.

Lest anyone think this was a slip of the tongue, he repeated the assertion in more stark terms this morning during a fawning interview with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on the same network’s Morning Joe program:

I think that sometimes an incumbent president doesn’t want to be very friendly with me because it might looked upon as more friendly toward the Palestinians instead of the Israelis. So we try to be balanced. That’s the only issue that separates me from Obama anyway. And I was very proud of him when he made a speech in Cairo and said no more settlements when he said the 67 borders would prevail except for minor modifications. Those things are very compatible with what I believe.

Carter might consider that the reason a successor wouldn’t wish to be burdened with a relationship with him was, at least in part, due to the Georgian’s insufferable personality and chronic self-righteousness. But there may be some truth to his assertion that his stands on the Middle East are at the root of the problem. Far from being an innocent victim of political influence for being “even-handed,” however, his lack of influence is due to the fact that his bias and slanders against the Jewish state have effectively marginalized him.

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Former President Jimmy Carter is back in the news this week publicizing a new book about women’s rights. But, as is often the case with Carter, he drew more interest for comments he made about Israel and its supporters. When asked on NBC’s Meet the Press yesterday by Andrea Mitchell why it was that Barack Obama never called upon him for advice, he made it clear that the Jewish state was the reason he has been treated like a pariah:

I—that’s a hard question– for me to answer—you know, with complete candor. I think the problem was that– that in dealing with the issue of peace in– between Israel and Egypt– the Carter Center has taken a very strong and public position of equal treatment between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I think this was a sensitive area in which the president didn’t want to be involved.

When he first came out with his speech in Cairo calling for the end of all settlements and when he later said that the ’67 borders would prevail, he and I were looking at it from the same perspective. But I can understand those sensitivities. And I don’t have any criticism of him.

Lest anyone think this was a slip of the tongue, he repeated the assertion in more stark terms this morning during a fawning interview with Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough on the same network’s Morning Joe program:

I think that sometimes an incumbent president doesn’t want to be very friendly with me because it might looked upon as more friendly toward the Palestinians instead of the Israelis. So we try to be balanced. That’s the only issue that separates me from Obama anyway. And I was very proud of him when he made a speech in Cairo and said no more settlements when he said the 67 borders would prevail except for minor modifications. Those things are very compatible with what I believe.

Carter might consider that the reason a successor wouldn’t wish to be burdened with a relationship with him was, at least in part, due to the Georgian’s insufferable personality and chronic self-righteousness. But there may be some truth to his assertion that his stands on the Middle East are at the root of the problem. Far from being an innocent victim of political influence for being “even-handed,” however, his lack of influence is due to the fact that his bias and slanders against the Jewish state have effectively marginalized him.

Carter’s grudge against the pro-Israel community goes back to his defeat for reelection at the hands of Ronald Reagan in 1980. Carter thought he would reap the applause of supporters of the Jewish state because of his role in the Camp David Accords that brokered peace between Israel and Egypt. But Reagan gained a record percentage of the Jewish vote for a Republican due in no small measure to the contrast between his support for Israel and Carter’s open antagonism toward the Israeli government led by Menachem Begin. Once out of office, Carter has spent the years since nursing this grudge and becoming an increasingly bitter opponent of Israel and those who support it. This reached a crescendo in 2007 with the publication of his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The book, a compendium of vicious slurs hurled against the Jewish state, lent the imprimatur of the former president and the Carter Center for Peace to the canard that Israel was imposing apartheid on the Arabs. In Carter’s world, Israelis have always been the obstacles to peace while Palestinian terrorism and refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn is always ignored.

Carter can always count on a sympathetic hearing in the mainstream media (and especially on the show where the daughter of his former National Security Advisor is the co-host) and has carefully cultivated a low-key do-gooder image because of charity projects with which he has associated himself. But his animus against Israel puts him outside the American political mainstream. That is not because supporters of Israel don’t believe in fairness but due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans in both major political parties want no part of Carter’s hostility to the Jewish state. If he has become politically toxic even during the administration of the president whose foreign policy and predilection for picking fights with Israel most resembles his own, it is due to his own intemperate and indefensible views on the Middle East and his not-so-subtle echoes of the anti-Semitic Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis. Obama’s snubs in the wake of Carter’s “apartheid” slurs are simply a matter of political awareness that it wasn’t possible to align oneself with such a discredited figure. That the 39th president would blame the Jews, rather than himself, for this predicament is as vile as it is predictable.

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Slurs Won’t Silence Iran Deal’s Critics

The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo reported yesterday evening that prominent foreign-policy reporter Laura Rozen had some choice words for a think tank analyst who was saying something she didn’t like about Iran. Rozen, who currently writes for Al Monitor and has earned a considerable following for solid work and good sources, apparently doesn’t like it when people cast doubt on the wisdom of the Obama administration’s current policy aimed at signing a deal with Iran that would allow the Islamist regime to retain its nuclear infrastructure and “right” to enrich uranium. So when she heard the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Mark Dubowitz speak, she tweeted the following:

I do not think Israel is being well served by people they have picked on U.S. side to promote their talking points.”

She followed up that tweet by stating: “Israel notbbeing [sic] well served by folks they picked to push their talking points.” Both tweets were quickly deleted.

Rozen subsequently deleted the tweets and refused comment about what she meant but, as Kredo noted, her support for a deal with Iran and generally critically attitude toward Israel isn’t exactly a secret. But rather than this being just a minor incident in which a reporter showed, at least for a while, a willingness to expose her opinions about the story she’s covering, there is a broader and more important issue at stake here: the extent to which those who are skeptical about the administration are being subjected to traditional slurs about dual loyalty.

No one who supports Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself or who views Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons as a threat that cannot be ignored need apologize for expressing those views. But the notion that the only reason why someone would oppose administration policy on Iran is that they were “picked” by Israel to “promote their talking points” is one that is dangerously close to the toxic Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that also sought to delegitimize supporters of the Jewish state.

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The Washington Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo reported yesterday evening that prominent foreign-policy reporter Laura Rozen had some choice words for a think tank analyst who was saying something she didn’t like about Iran. Rozen, who currently writes for Al Monitor and has earned a considerable following for solid work and good sources, apparently doesn’t like it when people cast doubt on the wisdom of the Obama administration’s current policy aimed at signing a deal with Iran that would allow the Islamist regime to retain its nuclear infrastructure and “right” to enrich uranium. So when she heard the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Mark Dubowitz speak, she tweeted the following:

I do not think Israel is being well served by people they have picked on U.S. side to promote their talking points.”

She followed up that tweet by stating: “Israel notbbeing [sic] well served by folks they picked to push their talking points.” Both tweets were quickly deleted.

Rozen subsequently deleted the tweets and refused comment about what she meant but, as Kredo noted, her support for a deal with Iran and generally critically attitude toward Israel isn’t exactly a secret. But rather than this being just a minor incident in which a reporter showed, at least for a while, a willingness to expose her opinions about the story she’s covering, there is a broader and more important issue at stake here: the extent to which those who are skeptical about the administration are being subjected to traditional slurs about dual loyalty.

No one who supports Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself or who views Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons as a threat that cannot be ignored need apologize for expressing those views. But the notion that the only reason why someone would oppose administration policy on Iran is that they were “picked” by Israel to “promote their talking points” is one that is dangerously close to the toxic Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that also sought to delegitimize supporters of the Jewish state.

Let’s understand that there are reasonable arguments to be made pro and con the Obama administration’s zeal for a deal with Iran. In the wake of the new Iranian charm offensive and the warm response it generated in Washington, we have seen, as Seth noted yesterday, the revival of support for containment of a nuclear Iran, something that indicates that some of those urging diplomacy understand that sooner or later Tehran will talk or cheat its way to a bomb or nuclear capability.

But instead of trying to make the not terribly reasonable case that this is something that is not dangerous, what we seem to be hearing lately is resentment about Israeli complaints about the direction of U.S. policy rather than a coherent refutation of their concerns.

This is outrageous on two counts.

First, the idea that Israel is trying to manipulate American policy for its own purposes and against the best interests of the United States or the West flies in the face of President Obama’s own repeated statements about the dangers from a nuclear Iran. It was the president who has specifically ruled out containment of Iran and said their acquisition of a weapon was unacceptable from the point of view of U.S. security. It should also be pointed out to those who wish to defend an apparent U.S. acceptance of Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium or to hold onto its nuclear plants that the president specifically pledged the contrary during the presidential debates in 2012. At the presidential debate on foreign policy with Mitt Romney, Obama said the following:

So the work that we’ve done with respect to sanctions now offers Iran a choice. They can take the diplomatic route and end their nuclear program or they will have to face a united world and a United States president, me, who said we’re not going to take any options off the table.

That does not seem consistent with the Iran deal Secretary of State John Kerry has been promoting.

Second, treating those who speak out about the danger from Iran as Israeli hirelings spouting their “talking points” is an all-too-familiar revival of the old dual loyalty slur against American Jews. The point here is that those who support appeasement or acceptance of a nuclear Iran don’t seem to be able to make their arguments without first attempting to delegitimize opponents.

The existential threat that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel justifies that country’s concerns about diplomacy that seems to be predicated on an abandonment of the president’s promises. But this problem isn’t just about Israel. As the president has stated, it is a threat to the U.S. and the West too. If he is backing away from that stand, he should say so. Those who support this move should be just as honest and also refrain from using slurs aimed at silencing opponents. The administration would like Congress and the American people to ignore their critics, but slamming them as Israeli agents doesn’t pass the smell test.

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Nothing Legitimate About Anti-Semitic Slur

Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is pleading innocent. Called out for comments made during a Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum held at the House of Commons last week, Straw insists that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about raising points that he says are merely matters of genuine concern. As the Times of Israel reports, former Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf, who took part in the debate, described Straw’s presentation in the following manner:

Wilf participated in the debate and posted some of what she said were Straw’s comments on her Facebook page, saying she nearly fell off her chair when she heard them: “Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s ‘obsession’ with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media….”

The British politician is right when he says criticizing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic. But, like many others who want to bash Israel without being branded as Jew-haters, he crossed a very important line when he injected traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish money and insidious attempts to control the policy discussion into the question of how best to advance the cause of peace. That’s why someone like Wilf, who opposes the Netanyahu government, was so outraged. In doing so, he not only demonstrated ignorance of how American politics works as well as insensitivity to Israel’s position, but also showed the way disagreements with the Jewish state quickly morph into conspiracy theories that are thinly veiled new versions of traditional myths about Jews. While Straw is neither the first nor the last member of Parliament or prominent Briton to play this game, the fact that someone who was a former foreign minister would not only feel free to vent this nasty stuff, but also think there’s nothing wrong with it, tells you all you need to know about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

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Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is pleading innocent. Called out for comments made during a Round Table Global Diplomatic Forum held at the House of Commons last week, Straw insists that there’s nothing anti-Semitic about raising points that he says are merely matters of genuine concern. As the Times of Israel reports, former Labor Party Knesset member Einat Wilf, who took part in the debate, described Straw’s presentation in the following manner:

Wilf participated in the debate and posted some of what she said were Straw’s comments on her Facebook page, saying she nearly fell off her chair when she heard them: “Listing the greatest obstacles to peace, he said ‘unlimited’ funds available to Jewish organizations and AIPAC in the US are used to control and divert American policy in the region and that Germany’s ‘obsession’ with defending Israel were the problem. I guess he neglected to mention Jewish control of the media….”

The British politician is right when he says criticizing Israel’s policies is not anti-Semitic. But, like many others who want to bash Israel without being branded as Jew-haters, he crossed a very important line when he injected traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jewish money and insidious attempts to control the policy discussion into the question of how best to advance the cause of peace. That’s why someone like Wilf, who opposes the Netanyahu government, was so outraged. In doing so, he not only demonstrated ignorance of how American politics works as well as insensitivity to Israel’s position, but also showed the way disagreements with the Jewish state quickly morph into conspiracy theories that are thinly veiled new versions of traditional myths about Jews. While Straw is neither the first nor the last member of Parliament or prominent Briton to play this game, the fact that someone who was a former foreign minister would not only feel free to vent this nasty stuff, but also think there’s nothing wrong with it, tells you all you need to know about the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe.

As for Straw’s charges, they are easily dismissed. Contrary to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” conspiracy theory thesis, the vast, wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition that supports the Jewish state is a function of American public opinion, not Jewish money. As frustrating as it may be for Israel’s critics, support for Zionism is baked into the DNA of American politics and is primarily the function of religious attitudes as well as the shared values of democracy that unite the U.S. and Israel. Other lobbies (such as the one that promotes the oil interests or pharmaceuticals) have far more money. Hard as it is for some people to accept, the reason why American politicians back Israel’s democratically elected government is because opposing them is bad politics as well as bad policy.

Making such accusations is offensive rather than just wrong because, as Straw knows very well, talking about Jewish money buying government policy is straight out of the anti-Semitic playbook of the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The purpose of such claims is not to argue that Israel’s supporters are misguided so much as that they are illegitimate.

That Straw is similarly frustrated with German refusals to try and hammer the Israelis is equally appalling. While Germany’s government has, contrary to Straw’s comment, often been highly critical of Israel, if Berlin has some sensitivity to Israel’s position as a small, besieged nation, it is because they understand that the underlying factor that drives hostility to Zionism is the same anti-Semitism that drove the Holocaust.

But the main point to be gleaned from this story is the way Straw has illustrated just how mainstream anti-Semitic attitudes have become in contemporary Britain. It is entirely possible that Straw thinks himself free from prejudice. But that is only possible because in the intellectual and political circles in which he and other members of the European elite move, these ideas have gone mainstream rather than being kept on the margins as they are in the United States. The ease with which Western European politicians invoke these tired clichés about Jewish power and money is a reflection of the way attitudes have changed in the last generation as the memory of the Holocaust fades and people feel empowered to revive old hate. Chalk it up to the prejudices of intellectuals, especially on the left, as well as to the growing influence of Muslim immigrants who have brought the Jew-hatred of their home countries with them.

Straw may not be alone in not liking the Netanyahu government, but he can’t get out off the hook for the anti-Semitic rationale for his views that he put forward. The pity is, he’s speaking for all too many Europeans when he speaks in this manner.

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Syria and Israel Lobby Conspiracy Theories

Israelis were lining up for gas masks and dusting out their air raid shelters today as the prospect of U.S. attacks on Syrian targets this week provoked threats of retaliation against the Jewish state. That Israelis as well as their neighbors seem to take the idea that they should be attacked because Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians as nothing out of the ordinary. This is par for the course in the Middle East where Israelis have always served as the all-purpose scapegoats for everything that happens. But though Americans may not be quite as jaded to this sort of thing, some in our nation’s capital also seem to subscribe in some ways to the Arab world’s conspiratorial view of Israel. That was evident in a Politico story published last night that pondered why it was that the so-called “Israel lobby” was “silent on Syria.”

The assumption behind the story and the headline seems to be that anything that happens in the Middle East or any foreign policy initiative undertaken by the United States has to be in some way the result of machinations by supporters of Israel even if the conflict in question is one on which they have no rooting interest. That Jerusalem doesn’t have a favorite in a fight between a genocidal maniac dictator and an opposition that is heavily infiltrated by people related to Al Qaeda is a given. But the fact that backers of Israel are as divided about what the U.S. should do about Assad’s atrocities as the rest of the country is seen as somehow anomalous. But, like the Iraq War, which was, contrary to the anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers, not fought at Israel’s behest, there seems to be no stopping those who subscribe to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that claims the Jewish state and the wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition that supports it somehow manipulates U.S. foreign policy against the best interests of the nation. However, in this case the slow march of the Obama administration to act on Syria gives the lie to the idea that Israel is the tail that wags the dog in Washington.

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Israelis were lining up for gas masks and dusting out their air raid shelters today as the prospect of U.S. attacks on Syrian targets this week provoked threats of retaliation against the Jewish state. That Israelis as well as their neighbors seem to take the idea that they should be attacked because Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians as nothing out of the ordinary. This is par for the course in the Middle East where Israelis have always served as the all-purpose scapegoats for everything that happens. But though Americans may not be quite as jaded to this sort of thing, some in our nation’s capital also seem to subscribe in some ways to the Arab world’s conspiratorial view of Israel. That was evident in a Politico story published last night that pondered why it was that the so-called “Israel lobby” was “silent on Syria.”

The assumption behind the story and the headline seems to be that anything that happens in the Middle East or any foreign policy initiative undertaken by the United States has to be in some way the result of machinations by supporters of Israel even if the conflict in question is one on which they have no rooting interest. That Jerusalem doesn’t have a favorite in a fight between a genocidal maniac dictator and an opposition that is heavily infiltrated by people related to Al Qaeda is a given. But the fact that backers of Israel are as divided about what the U.S. should do about Assad’s atrocities as the rest of the country is seen as somehow anomalous. But, like the Iraq War, which was, contrary to the anti-Semitic conspiracy mongers, not fought at Israel’s behest, there seems to be no stopping those who subscribe to the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that claims the Jewish state and the wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition that supports it somehow manipulates U.S. foreign policy against the best interests of the nation. However, in this case the slow march of the Obama administration to act on Syria gives the lie to the idea that Israel is the tail that wags the dog in Washington.

Apparently for the editors of Politico, the lack of a concerted effort on the part of pro-Israel groups either in favor of or against intervention in Syria is like the dog that doesn’t bark in Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. If you start thinking in Walt-Mearsheimer terms in which everything revolves around Israel, then the absence of pro-Israel groups in a debate must seem suspicious or at least odd. But there’s nothing unusual about neutrality on Syria, especially since the Jewish state has good reason to distrust both sides in the civil war and will probably suffer if the U.S. attacks.

It may be a shock to some to think that Israel’s friends don’t have a vested interest in every issue on the table. Groups like AIPAC do speak out on topics like aid to Egypt (which is directly related to maintenance of the peace treaty with Israel) or strengthening ties to moderate Arab nations like Jordan. But Israel doesn’t directly figure in calculations about Syria or most questions between the U.S. and Arab and Muslim nations.

If anything, events of the last few years in which Arab Spring protests and rebellions have debunked the long-cherished view of Israel’s critics that holds that the conflict with the Palestinians is the central issue around which all conflicts revolve in the Middle East. That’s a concept that those heavily influenced by the Walt-Mearsheimer canard have a tough time wrapping their brains around. But those willing to subscribe to conspiracy theories in which Israel provides the explanation for every mystery and misery on the planet now find themselves searching for an Israel angle about Syria. But other than the fact that Israel will be blamed for the outcome no matter what happens, there is none. Conspiracy theorists and their journalistic enablers need to move on.

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