The lobby under fire

At long last, Jews around the world are starting to speak out against the short-sighted policies of the Zionist lobby. A feature in Salon explains:

”¦In the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq war, that all changed dramatically. 9/11, and the Bush administration’s response to it, made it inescapably clear that America’s Mideast policies affect everyone in the country: They are literally a matter of life and death. The Bush administration’s neoconservative Mideast policy is essentially indistinguishable from AIPAC’s. And so it is no longer possible to ignore it — even though it is a notoriously touchy and divisive subject.

The touchiest aspect of all is the role played by pro-Israel neoconservatives in laying the groundwork for the Iraq war. Much of the media has been loath to go near this, for obvious and in some ways honorable reasons: It feels a little like “blame the Jews.” But that taboo has faded as it has become clearer that “the Jews” are not the ones being blamed for helping pave the way to war, but a group of powerful neoconservatives, some but not all of them Jewish, who subscribe to the hard-right views of Israel’s Likud Party. This group no more represents “the Jews” than the Shining Path represents “the Peruvians.”

Logic and forthrightness has traditionally taken a back seat to timorous self-censorship when it comes to discussing these matters. But in addition to the war debate, several other watershed events have helped erode the taboo against discussing the power of the Israel lobby. The most important were the publications of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s “The Israel Lobby,” and Jimmy Carter’s “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.” The overwrought reaction to Mearsheimer and Walt’s piece, ironically, only supported its thesis. Similarly, the opprobrium heaped on Carter only succeeded in making it clear how little room there is for open discussion of these issues in America.

For all these reasons, a powerful spotlight has been turned on the pro-Israel lobby. And there are signs that increasing numbers of Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, are willing to openly question whether it is in America’s national interest for AIPAC, whose positions are well to the right of those held by most American Jews, to wield such disproportionate power over America’s Mideast policies.

It appears that the disaster of the Iraq war – opposed by the vast majority of American Jews – has galvanised public opinion. Of course, the Likudniks won’t go down without a fight (or ideally in their view, a bombing campaign against Iran) and Congress is still utterly petrified of turning against both Jewish money and influence, but as ever, the public is far ahead of the game.

In Australia, after the recent launch of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, the Sydney Morning Herald today examines the inability of many Jews here to feel free in their criticism of Israel. Fear and intimidation are the order of the day. Though, like in the US, the once-scared Jew is awakening.