The word “oil,” however, appears in the document exactly seven times–all of them generic or trivial. None of the references relate to the systemic U.S. dependence on foreign crude or, more to the point, to the truly powerful lobby that has worked for many decades to satisfy it through arranging that the producer governments get what they want: mainly protection against radical Muslims or Muslim radicals and against fuel-efficient cars. Israel’s friends–foreign affairs idealists and realists, rightists, leftists, centrists, Christians, Jews, nonbelievers–know the power of this oil lobby, with which they have tangled to ensure that the United States supports an ally against its many unworthy enemies. ~Martin Peretz, The New Republic
It is distasteful to me to cite from Mr. Peretz, but he provides a window onto what is becoming a fairly typical response to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s description of the influence of the Israel Lobby: it is obvious the undue influence of oil lobbyists, not Israel lobbyists that accounts for our policy in the Near East. Yes, of course.
But, just in case the obvious perfidy of the Oil Lobby does not convince a credulous TNR reader, Mr. Peretz offers up this doozy of a statement:
Support for Israel is, deep down, an expression of America’s best view of itself. Mearsheimer and Walt clearly have no clue that U.S. support for the Jewish restoration, rather than a result of Zionist machinations, dates back to the Puritans.
This is becoming something of a standard of pro-Israel apologetics, citing the odd favourable remark of an occasional early president to “prove” the abiding community of values and interest we must have with Israel, right up there with citing Mark Twain’s travel journal (rather than, say, Ottoman tax records) to “prove” that Palestine was an empty country bereft of life before Jewish settlers arrived there. The British do not have this lingering sense of obligation or affinity. Even though they were instrumental in the rise of Zionism in Palestine, and quite a few British Christians were moved to support Zionism out of some sense of religious or civilisational affinity, you could scarcely find a Briton today who can be bothered to get exercised about the interests of Israel (except, perhaps, to criticise and oppose them).
We are also reliably informed that Americans are overwhelmingly pro-Israel. Mr. Peretz reprises this line at several points, including his conclusion:
The “working paper” aims to prove that there is a largely Jewish pro-Israel conspiracy triumphant against U.S. democracy and U.S. interests. But the body politic itself is Israel’s ally–and the body politic determines what U.S. interests are.
This seems to assume that our affinities with Israel are self-evident and did not require the daily drumbeat of pro-Israel editorials, columns, broadcasts and news stories. I’m sorry, but “the demos” generally doesn’t know anything about Israel except what media and politicians tell it about Israel, and they tell “the demos” that Israel is our friend, “reliable ally” and fellow democracy surrounded by maniacal enemies and in desperate need of our support. Would it be any surprise that “the demos” then reaches those same conclusions? Making this claim about popular support for Israel begs the question of who informs the American people about the Near East, what policy alternatives their politicians give them at election-time (which would be between zero and none) and what sort of information they have received in the popular press about Israel. All of that brings us back to the question of the influence of ardently pro-Israel pundits, politicians and activists.
Politics involves two things above all: perception and control of information, and supporters of Israel have managed to dominate both. (That is incidentally why this study, mere working paper that it is, has so horrified supporters of Israel, because it has broken through the many barricades in public discourse they have set up to say things in a “mainstream” forum that are typically forced to the margins because of their politically unacceptable nature.) No other country has such an apparatus of dedicated pro-Israel activists, and not surprisingly no other country on the planet takes as keen an interest in defending the interests of Israel. Regardless of the fruits of this advocacy for America, which I take to be largely if not uniformly bad, this sort of “passionate attachment” to another country is basically unwise and almost sure to draw the United States into conflicts that, properly speaking, have nothing to do with us. Foreign governments will always pursue their interests, and these governments will always have some sympathisers and enthusiasts who believe they the interests of the foreign government and their own country are complementary or the same, but it seems to me that it is an obvious imperative simply on general principle to guard against this sort of influence and enthusiasm for the causes of other nations.
It should be said that it is fundamentally immaterial whether or not there was such a desire for “Jewish restoration” among some or many Americans in early colonial times (very, very doubtful) or more recently, though I am fairly sure that most Protestant claims of representing the New Israel were, as they had been in the past, claims of replacing and displacing the Jews as the Chosen People. Not exactly all together Zionist-friendly, is it? It is difficult to imagine why the Puritans, of all people, who might see themselves in the role of Israel entering the Promised Land, would have given a thought, favourable or otherwise, to “Jewish restoration.” They had, to put it mildly, other things that concerned them a bit more. Using the language of the New Israel, which is sometimes cited as proof of some primordial American identification with the plight of the Jews, is not evidence of sympathy for or affinity with Jewish people. Indeed, the language of New Israel suggests at best an ambiguous attitude towards the claims of the old Israel.
At the very least, Mr. Peretz grants there are indeed supporters of Israel who engage in lobbying, and these supporters wield “some influence,” but not anything like an “Israel Lobby.” Why not call it an “Israel Lobby”? It’s hard to say. Of course, Mearsheimer and Walt’s “Israel Lobby” was used intentionally as a convenient catch-all phrase that does not make any claim to it being a single-minded, coherent organisation. The authors state this perfectly clearly:
We use “the Lobby” as convenient short-hand term for the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to shape U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. Our use of this term is not meant to suggest that “the Lobby” is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues.
In other words, they say little more than what Peretz’s conceded when he said that “there is a pro-Israel lobby–or, to be precise, many pro-Israel lobbies (some of them favoring what others oppose)–and it wields some influence.”
Whatever else Mr. Peretz has to say is mostly hot air aimed at trying to discredit the authors who wrote the first statement, which differs little in any substantial way from Peretz’s own characterisation of the work of pro-Israel activists, because they have concluded that this influence in baneful to U.S. interests in the region and Mr. Peretz believes this influence to be good and the perfectly natural result of age-old American support for “Jewish restoration.” Which, on its face, seems more plausible?