Olmert, AIPAC and Western Media

When I read that only two percent if Israeli’s trust their prime minister, I had to double check that it wasn’t a typo, but in fact it was not. Of course, I was not surprised to see that the people of Israel are uncomfortable with the actions of their leaders. Even a casual look at the political debate within Israel shows that critical dialogue of Israeli foreign policy is far more common than here it is in the US. But still, even knowing this, one had to be taken aback by that near unanimity of discontent with Olmert amongst the Israeli people. Two percent is Bush’s approval rating amongst African Americans. Hell, I would not be shocked if two percent of Climatologists think man is not responsible for global warming; and to think that Olmert is running a country has virtually no support for him and his policies shows how little the people are represented in a country that is often praised by the US for its commitment to democracy.

As Steven Maher, a blogger with a strong expertise on Middle East issues, noted recently:

AIPAC does not represent mainstream debate in Israel, and is controlled by the same interests as its government. Both, in fact, represent a small group on the far right of Israeli society, who favor the extreme militarism and expansionism exhibited throughout Israel's history, including the presence of illegal settlements and the construction of the illegal "separation barrier."

The poll -- as eye-opening as it is -- did not really penetrate the Western media. This is a problem. That one of our chief allies, and a country that is supported by the US in ways no other nation could ever dream of, has a leader with virtually no popular support should be page one material in any newspaper that reports on international issues. This is especially true given that we are currently engaged in a a disastrous occupation of a country that was sold as “democracy exportation” and was backed by the Israeli government.

Of course this is hardly surprising. As I and others have noted criticism of Israeli policy comes with consequences in the US. Groups like the Anti-Defamation league, AIPAC and Campus Watch quickly go on the attack when a prominent person dares to suggest that some of US policies as it pertains to Israel is bad for both the US and Israel. When Walt and Mearshiemer -- two well-known realist academics -- wrote the "The Israel Lobby" which gave a measured, and by no means radical critique of these issues, the attacks were cartoonishly vicious. Alan Dershowitz wrote a 44 page response that among other things compared the authors to David Duke, an assertion that is utterly laughable on its face.

But perhaps the Dershowitz types have overplayed their hand. The attacks on Jimmy Carter and his latest book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, did not stick, and probably helped sell his book, which has done quite well. Jimmy Carter is a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a former president, and the absurd claims that he was an anti-Semite, funded by terrorists, are just too silly to be sold to reasonable people, despite the efforts of some.

Moreover, people are occasionally writing critically about this issue. On top of Walt/Mershiemer, and Carter, we have seen sprinkles of debate regarding the ability to talk out about Israel. It is is interesting that most articles are not about Israel policies specifically, but rather, about the importance of feeling free to debate them at all. It’s not perfect, but it’s a start.

Some notable examples are a column by Nick Kristof, which was tame, but relevant since it came from the paper of record. Moreover, a Times Magazine profile of Abe Foxman addressed some of the sensitivity in debating Israeli policy, as did a Globe magazine piece called "Too Hot to Handle." Walt and Mearsheimer are publishing a book this year, and more recently George Soros wrote a piece about Democrats and AIPAC in the New York Review of Books. Of course Marty Peretz quickly condemned it. So did Foreign Policy who used such incomprehensible logic, that I need to quote it.

Just as rock stars and models often hope to parlay their success in one arena into possibly more glamorous careers on the silver screen, so do hyper-rich moguls often come to fancy themselves as policy experts whose undoubted sagacity in matters of business obligates them to dole out advice on matters of state. So it is that we find ourselves treated to a 3,567-word critique of current U.S. policy toward Israel by George Soros in the latest New York Review of Books that could have been accomplished in three or four sentences ...

Soros's sprawling essay is very much a lesson on what money can and cannot buy. Eloquence? Perhaps not. Originality? Not so much. But one thing's for sure: Soros, who happens to be Jewish and happens to be worth a cool $8.5 billion, doesn't have to worry that criticizing AIPAC and U.S. policy toward Israel will destroy his career.

That Foreign Policy wouldn't exist without Andrew Carnegie's money is just one of many reasons to laugh at such a needless comment which does not bother to address Soros points and claims that they are unoriginal and redundant. This is peculiar coming from a publication that repeats the same analysis of virtually everyone else on the issue on the UK/Iran dispute, to name just one of many examples.

As the Soros episode reminds us, one is going to lose some skin if they address Israeli with a hint of criticism. But understanding that the Jewish community is way to the left of the Israel government, and AIPAC, one has to wonder if there is a chance for an alternative to AIPAC, as this editorial in The Nation suggests.

The Great Jewish Hope is that the liberal Jewish money in the political process will separate itself from hawkish Jewish money. Steve Rabinowitz, a Democratic consultant in DC, describes the potential pool: "AIPAC is enormous in terms of influence, in terms of guiding the money. The numbers are gigantic...whether you support them or not, you have to be awed by the success when you see it in action.

Given the latest developments--Olmert's two percent approval rating, the increasing discontent with AIPAC and its influence on debate, the increasing number of dissenting voices, the ever-increasing vitriol of the the Foxman/Dershowitz types, the devastation of Lebanon last summer, and the continued drum beating on Iran--it sure seems as if there is a real vacuum for this Great Jewish Hope.