Reflections of a Sometime Israel Lobbyist

Reflections of a Sometime Israel Lobbyist

Here’s a secret, the kind we hardly acknowledge to ourselves.

But first, you may be wondering who this “we” is, on whose behalf I am writing. In truth, I am not sure. Maybe it is the Jews. But the problem with “Jews” is—well, not all Jews are in on the secret. Or maybe it is the Zionists. But the problem with “Zionists” is that the word has come to seem musty, at best, and in these last several decades it has been appropriated by exclusivist fanatics. So let me spell it out: the “we” here means old-fashioned liberal Zionists, people who intuitively endorse the idea of a Jewish state, people who acknowledge that to secure the safety of that state and to ennoble its character are the compelling Jewish projects of our time, hence people who these days suffer considerable anxiety and are not strangers to disappointment. Things are not going very well, or even just average well.

And what is the secret we hardly acknowledge? We are all for a two-state solution, we are eager to call a halt to Israel’s expansion, to put an end to the settlement movement, to restore Israel’s good name, to make almost any compromise consistent with the preservation of Israel’s character as a Jewish state and its commitment to democracy. We are, in a word, “doves.” But we don’t trust the Palestinians; we worry about Iran; we haven’t a clue about how you get from here to peace; we don’t take America’s support for granted; and even if we did, we are not exactly proud to have to depend on that support. We worry that Israel has taken multiple wrong turns, not only on the big question, its peace policy, but on a range of domestic issues as well—most notably, its increasingly inegalitarian economy (where it now ranks with the United States on disparities in income distribution); its corrupting entanglement of religion and state; the decline in the quality of its educational system; its manner of dealing with the 20 percent of its citizens who are Palestinian. We are dismayed by the extent of public corruption. In short, we fear that Israel is at risk both domestically and internationally.

Now, none of that is secret. Psychic dissonance is hardly an unknown phenomenon. The secret is that because we are apprehensive, we are not entirely upset that “out there,” in the public square, those who speak authoritatively on Israel’s behalf—meaning, principally, AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations—are considerably more rigid, more hawkish, if you will, than we are.

Which brings me, of course, to the curious case of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who make a repeated point in their controversial book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, of the discrepancy between “official” Jewish pronouncements regarding American policy toward Israel and the consistent finding of public opinion surveys, which show that Americ...