In response to my article today, a long-time reader commented as follows:
“What’s needed is an Eliot-Ness-type figure to bring down this AIPAC mafia. But where is one to be found in this post-heroic era?”
I thought it was worth bringing my response over here, because I think this sort of thinking, while certainly based on being well-informed and thoughtful, is ultimately self-defeating and unnecessary.
I don’t think that’s what’s needed. in fact, I think that approach is part of the problem. Sure, AIPAC has done some shady things in its history. That’s also true of other lobbying groups, incidentally. But the bulk of their success is due to things that are perfectly legal–propagandizing, badgering their opponents, and directing campaign funds. Most of all, straightforward lobbying of elected officials.
Even if AIPAC was less connected to the Israeli government per se, they’d still have a lot of the effect they do. In part, that is due to the fact that they capitalize on the sorts of things I describe in the article above–American idealization, almost deification, of Israel as a military power, American anti-Muslim/anti-Arab bigotry, and the stability of Israel as a country and an ally. While Israel often spits in the face of US desires, the Israeli government knows exactly when it needs to stand by the US–usually when no one else will.
All of that has a great deal of value, and AIPAC and other groups like CUFI capitalize on it. And for the most part, what they do, while often contemptible, is not only legal, it is very much in line with the way things are done in Washington. There are, granted, some incidents that are exceptions to that, but for the most part, that is the case, and frankly, it is the legal stuff they do, not the criminal or questionable activities, that presents us with the greatest challenge.
We who want different policies must ask ourselves why AIPAC can do this. They represent a minority of the American Jewish community, and are generally pushing policies that US diplomats and military leaders oppose. Yes, they can mobilize a lot of money, but most Jewish money is not based on Israel and is overwhelmingly Democratic no matter what goes on with Israel, while a lot of really big donors give to the Republicans; and, even beyond that, the amount of money the Israel Lobby can mobilize is big in terms of special interests, but is far, far less than what is raised by major industries like insurance and pharmaceuticals, and is also dwarfed by what is garnered by special interest groups like NRA and the AARP. So why are they so impactful?
In the end, as is so often true in life, we need to look at ourselves. It is we who allow AIPAC to wield that kind of power, we who consider ourselves progressives in the US. Where are the masses calling their representatives about an issue of importance to the Palestinians or the Israeli peace movement? The phones in DC do not ring with such calls almost at all. Where are the PACs for peace? J Street PAC is actually the top single PAC on Israel. So the potential seems to be there. But the left generally prefers to complain about the evils inherent in the system, so we abdicate any change to that system and allow right-wing activists to rule the day.
AIPAC can do what it does because they act virtually unopposed. That is why a dollar from the Israel Lobby is worth more than a dollar from the NRA–because there is no dollar on the other side.
There’s plenty of potential today for change. Lots of articles in mainstream media tell much more of the truth than they used to. And I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard from congressional staffers (and once or twice, even from a Congress member) that they would do things differently on this issue if they weren’t getting close 100% of both constituent messages and campaign money from the other side of this issue.
We don’t need Elliot Ness. We need more J Street PACs, particularly some that will actually represent Palestinian issues, as opposed to the quislings at the so-called American Task Force on Palestine. We need money coming in for a just peace and for freedom for Palestinians. We need media activists working directly with editors, not just howling about media bias in left-wing outlets, to correct the messages from hasbaraniks like Michael Oren. We need to put real effort and real money into this.
Most of us do not. For most Americans who even understand that there’s a 45-year old occupation going on, it’s one among many issues. The other side doesn’t approach it that way. They are passionate and motivated and they put both their money and their time and energy where their mouths are. Our side does not. That doesn’t make AIPAC evil. It makes us failures. And that is something we can address…if we choose to.