March 4, 2010
Of the several Jewish-oriented pro-Palestinian websites and blogs to achieve some notoriety over the past several years, that of journalist Philip Weiss seems to have found a secure niche and a loyal following. I commend Weiss for providing a news service that covers the suffering and heroism of the Palestinians, and a forum for many serious voices and views.
Nevertheless, I find profoundly disturbing the conventional and often condescending perspectives that seem to dominate this blog: The Lobby, according to Mearsheimer/Walt and Jeffrey Blankfort; the "dual loyalty" of prominent Jewish-American supporters of Israel, according to Weiss; and one-state and boycott, divestment, sanctions as strategy and tactics for the Palestinian rights movement. This analysis marginalizes leftist principles and, more important, pragmatic political action. I’m not referring to leftist doctrine, but rather a cogent leftist analysis that is dismissed by those who profess to a doctrinaire "realism."
A political program based on the premise that the Lobby determines U.S. foreign policy "against our vital national interests" starts off badly and gets worse. It is misguided not only in the assertion that Israel’s interests have undermined U.S. interests, but in the realist manner in which "national interests" are understood from the perspective of economic elites rather than the population at large.
Our "national interests," a realist euphemism for hegemony, have indeed shaped the Palestinians’ plight in relation to both the U.S. and Israel. Lobby-mongers claim that the Palestinians’ salvation will be U.S. assertion of its "true" interests, but they fail to define, clarify, or abandon the term. For four decades, our "national interests," as defined from Carter to Obama, have been identical with the neoliberal agenda, to the detriment not only of Palestinians but the popular will in every Arab nation. "Stability," enforced by U.S.-supported authoritarian Arab regimes that inevitably provoke resistance and "instability," is always preferred by American elites to the threat of a good example, which may result in what our leaders well understand—in terms of "national interests" and hegemony—to be the wrong kind of stability: that based on self-determination and popular support.
Also misguided is Weiss’s persistent claim that recognizing and exposing the "dual loyalty" of influential Jewish-Americans is somehow key for an effective analysis and counter to the Lobby, conflicting interests, etc. Weiss repeatedly implies that we need to have some sort of an epiphany in order to sort out our guys from Israel’s guys and get on with the promotion of "U.S. interests." But American politicians and pundits are loyal to themselves, their wealth and status, their class of people, and the neoliberal world order so long as it benefits them—which it has, to say the least. The problem, both for non-collaborationist Palestinians and non-ruling class Americans, is the whole notion of state loyalty in contrast to solidarity and self-determination, as the basis for a Palestinian liberation movement.
The consequence of flawed analysis is bad politics (if you can even call it politics) and an untoward fascination with bad actors who in their actions demonstrate little concern for the Palestinians. Weiss allows Jeremy Ben-Ami of JStreet to present himself as the left wing of the Israel Lobby, while JStreet triangulates the authentic Palestinian rights movement and extends the Lobby in the direction of liberal cynics like Thomas Friedman. Similarly, Weiss accords undeserved credibility to the Nation’s ridiculous Eric Alterman:
"Sometimes I’m going to go with Israel," Alterman said. Why? Because the U.S. can take a lot of hits, but Israel can’t. And when the moderator asked in what instances the countries’ interests diverge, Alterman said that terrorist attacks on the US were motivated in some degree by the U.S.-Israel relationship. "Dammit, if that’s the price we have to pay [for the special relationship], let’s pay it… But let’s be honest about it."
There is nothing honest or principled in this "confession," from Alterman, whose career has been built entirely on liberal posturing and triangulation under the guise of "media criticism." He’s a self-promoter of the worst order, without a principle to his name, clearly uninterested in serious perspectives on the Middle East or anything else. In any event, the notion of "dual loyalty," like the power of the Lobby to undermine "U.S. interests," is no more than a realist and liberal distraction from understanding the consistent source of U.S. support for Israel since 1967, and challenging it. Those accused of "dual loyalty," such as Jeffrey Goldberg and Robert Kaplan, see Israel as an extension of American power in the clash of civilizations.
These over-estimations of the Lobby and "dual loyalty" lead to complicated and convoluted discussions of, for example, whether Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory over George H.W. Bush was due to the Lobby’s opposition to Bush’s challenges to Israeli settlements; and the effect of this episode on the policies of George W. Bush. But there isn’t a shred of evidence that this was the case. All one has to do is look at the election map, the electoral college totals, and the states in question to dismiss this notion out of hand. Moreover, there is no attempt—in this case or any other—to verify the motivations of the significant numbers of Jewish voters who are alleged to have voted on the basis of their support for Israel. But instead of being discredited on the basis of blatant disregard for the rules of evidence and logic, people like Jeffrey Blankfort and Mearsheimer/Walt are seen by Weiss as courageous truth-tellers about the influence of the Lobby.
In Blankfort’s pamphlet "The Israel Lobby and the Left: Uneasy Questions," published by the If Americans Knew website, he accurately recalls the egregious lack of support on the left for the Palestinians up through the 1980s. He does not, however, acknowledge heightened awareness over the past decade or more, resulting from the failure of Oslo, the 2nd Intifada, 9/11, the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the rise of the internet. The 2008-09 Israeli massacres in Gaza have only accelerated these changes. But Blankfort continues to beat the drum of the Lobby, and to settle old scores. It’s dated, inaccurate, counter-productive, and outrageous; and it’s delivered with a condescending and bullying tone in order to compensate for the huge problems with the argument.
Meanwhile, Weiss represents one example of heightened Jewish-American consciousness regarding Israeli depredations. But an ecumenical American movement for the rights of Palestinians is better served by efforts to challenge the Lobby’s rhetoric rather than to become obsessed with its influence—which indeed is exactly what the Lobby hopes to achieve. Even less promising is the coalition of JStreet with other liberal triangulators like Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek, and the collaborationist American Task Force on Palestine.
Instead, we need a movement that recognizes that its enemies are at the heart of American power and "interests," and plans accordingly. Both the Lobby and the doctrinaire anti-Lobby stand in the way.