More on Andrew Sullivan, Rick Sanchez, the Jewish Lobby, Etc.

Andrew Sullivan, about whom I have mainly not been blogging lately, in part to keep my sanity and in part because, really, how much time can a blogger devote to fighting with other bloggers (answer: a lot!), e-mailed me earlier today, while I was traveling, to tell me that I obviously missed, or at least misread, part of one of his posts. He was right that I missed, and misread, some of it so I want to amend (partially) what I wrote earlier (The truth is, I'm not even sure I understand the post in question, but I'll get to that).

But first, I want to tell the many Goldbloggers out there who wrote me with some surprise, asking why I was back on Andrew patrol after ceding that role to others these past several months, exactly what I think of Andrew's blogging, and why I'm apparently (though who knows what the future, meaning next week, entails?) jumping back in to this argument. Generally, I love Andrew's blog, and I agree with most of what he writes, including on torture, Afghanistan, gay marriage (though I could always do with less on the issue of bears and their role in the environment).  On Israel, and on the power of the Jewish lobby, of course, I think he is wrong wrong wrong (except on those occasions -- infrequent -- when he is right), and I also think he does not understand the corrosive power of his words, and of the public venting of his unmediated emotions. I think the things he writes excoriating Israel often give aid and comfort to people who truly want to hurt Jews and hurt the Jewish state. Rather than ignoring his posting on the subject, as I have been doing, I'm going to point out, whenever I can, the ways in which his intemperate language and one-sided understanding of Middle East politics and history can be used to create real damage. One of the things I don't think Andrew understands is that Jews (and Israel) are simultaneously powerful and vulnerable. And by "vulnerable," I don't mean vulnerable emotionally; I mean, actually physically vulnerable to violence and discrimination. I think that singling out Israel and its Jewish supporters for special scorn aids and abets the very dark forces lining up to deny the Jewish state its legitimacy.

All that said, I don't think he is personally antisemitic. Quite the opposite: He passes the Anne Frank test, in my mind, without a doubt. (For those of you who don't know what the Anne Frank test is, think about it for a minute.) I expect many angry e-mails from Andrew's critics for writing what I have just written, but I know him well, and I know that not only is he repelled by unfairness, he is the sort of person who goes out of his way to help those he thinks are oppressed or treated unfairly.

Well, that was some sort of throat-clearing. In any case, I think I jumped to conclusions about a previous post of his, because I thought he was downplaying the words of Rick Sanchez, when he had said in an earlier post that Sanchez was full of shit, and again said it, a bit too passively, (in sentence construction) in a later post, in which he wrote, in reference to a less-than-compelling Hitch piece in Slate (are you completely lost yet?) that grappled with the subject of Jewish power. Andrew:

So why the fuss over Rick Sanchez? Surely the tone and generalities about media ownership, as Hitch notes, and as I posted. But this statement on its own seems completely banal to me:
Do not underestimate the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill. That is the best-organized lobby, you shouldn't underestimate the grip it has on American politics--no matter whether it's Republicans or Democrats.
Hitch is right to argue that this cannot empirically be in dispute among sane people in Washington - although the Belgian who said it, like Sanchez, draped it in self-evident anti-Semitic hooey. Sigh. Maybe that connection tells us something. But maybe it doesn't necessarily.

More on this later, but I think the connection between an obsession with the power of the "Jewish lobby," on the one hand, and "self-evident anti-Semitic hooey," on the other, is very often quite strong. For what it's worth -- and I'm straying somewhat afield here -- I think that critics of the "Jewish lobby" not only demonize Jewish participation in the democratic process, they fundamentally misunderstand the way powerful lobbies succeed: Lobbies succeed (and AIPAC people will tell you this privately) when they push on open doors. The NRA (which is a more powerful lobby than AIPAC, IMHO) succeeds in large part because the majority of Americans believes in gun rights as the NRA frames the issue. Similarly, I believe that AIPAC is pushing on open doors in Congress because the majority of Americans, polls show, are intuitively more sympathetic to Israel than to Israel's enemies. I don't believe, as AIPAC's critics do, that AIPAC creates pro-Israel legislation; I believe that pro-Israel feeling creates pro-Israel legislation. AIPAC organizes the feeling, buttresses the feeling, rewards the feeling, but I think it is obviously true that if Israel were truly unpopular in America, it would be unpopular in Congress. But more on that another time.

Andrew goes on to write:

Maybe it's bizarre that it remains close to taboo for anyone to say anything like this in Washington and not be branded an anti-Semite - or "something much darker" - while no one would feel similarly constrained about, say, the Cuba lobby. (Or maybe Hitch is hereby proving that thesis wrong. If so, hooray!) And yes, yes, I know all about anti-Semitic tropes, about the overtones of talking about shadowy lobbies working the halls of Congress etc etc. And one should indeed be careful not to unwittingly give aid and comfort to genuine bigots.

The "taboo" is a taboo that won't shut up. It's time to retire the idea that it is taboo to talk about AIPAC's power. Everyone talks about it. Goldblog even talks about it. Andrew goes on:

But please, walking the halls of Congress and quietly exercising pressure is what all lobbies do. And if calling a very powerful lobby a very powerful lobby is inherently anti-Semitic when we're talking about the pro-Israel lobby, then how on earth can we accurately report what's going on? More to the point, how can we effectively push back against the bizarre insistence, for example, that demanding a mere freeze on West Bank settlement construction is some new "war on Israel", rather than the minimum a self-confident US government should demand of an ally in pursuit of US interests in the region and the world?

This requires some unpacking, which I'll try to do later (sorry, I'm tired from a day of travel). But let me just say that I don't know many people who believe that "demanding a mere freeze on West Bank settlement construction is some new `war on Israel.'" I know that AIPAC doesn't believe this, and I know that Israel's ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, doesn't believe this. I think, in this case, that Andrew is a building a straw man, something he often does when arguing against Israel. He also -- and this is something you read quite often on his blog -- pathologizes the U.S. relationship with Israel, and singles out Israel for committing a supposed sin -- not ceding to an American demand -- that all American allies do, with regularity. I agree with Aaron David Miller, who recently wrote:

The idea that the United States can pummel a close ally into accepting a deal that undermines its security or political interests is flat-out wrong. The Middle East is littered with the failed schemes of great powers that tried to impose their will on small tribes.

Pressuring Israel (and the Arabs, too) has been an inevitable part of every successful negotiation in which the United States has been involved. But that fight must occur within a relationship of trust and confidence, and with U.S. willingness to offer not just the prospect of pain but the prospect for gain.

It might be emotionally satisfying for Andrew to beat-up on Israel (just as it is emotionally satisfying for some of Israel's partisans to beat-up on the Palestinian Authority), but these beatings don't actually achieve anything. The goal is a two-state solution. If the U.S. needs to hold Israel's hand (in the form, say, of offering inducements to extend the settlement freeze) to get the Middle East to the goal, then it should do what it needs to do. But now I'm going very far afield, and I have a headache, so I'll continue tomorrow, or on Sunday.