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Guest Column

The Zionist Lobby: What's the big deal? by Steve Apfel
By Steve Apfel
Feb 13, 2014 - 5:35:02 AM

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The time cannot be far off when the Zionist lobby will stagger under the weight of recrimination for spoiling negotiations that were doomed to fail. (Designed to fail?)

At this moment pundits and politicians will be honing their blades. The open hunting season kicked off when Negotiator-in-Chief, Foreign Secretary John Kerry, browbeat Israel to take it or leave it. Or else.

Conspiracy wannabes will be preparing their bogeyman for public desecration.

When the time comes the Zionist lobby will be wheeled out in full regalia. 'Omnipotent' and 'spoiler' will clothe verdicts from Washington to Brussels and back again. The Jewish collective will be condemned for holding European--American foreign policy to ransom.

Why not, if not so long ago Europe's elect blamed the Jews even for climate change? (Member of the European Parliament Clare Short claimed that Israel, "undermined the international community's reaction to global warming.")

How on earth did Israel manage that? "Israel prevents [European leaders] from attending to the threat of carbon that, if left unregulated, will end the human race."

So there we are: when the human race ends it will be the fault of the Zionists.

The lobby is widely perceived, even by the best brains in the land, in conspiratorial terms. Zionists are hatching their plots, again.

"The situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security, and that of many of its allies, in order to advance the interests of Israel?" So wrote Professors Mearsheimer and Walt in their essay-turned book, 'The Israel lobby.'

There are unmistakable signs, looking at Kerry's hardline dealings with Israel, that Obama has taken the two academics on board.

Are they correct? Has the Zionist lobby been a de facto American policy maker? Is it underhand for Zionists to sway public policy and opinion favourably towards Israel? To call a spade a spade, is the Jewish lobby not doing what other lobbies do, sometimes better, sometimes worse, sometimes not at all?

Conducted in the open, as in a democratic system it should be, lobbying is nothing new or inherently sinister. After all what is it but an act of advocacy to swing the political climate in favour of, in this matter, Israel?

Given that the Middle East conflict dominates world agendas, and has done for a long time, lobbies -- pro, anti and powerful -- are bound to be active volcanoes. In the American context everyone knows about AIPAC.

"There is a big bad lobby that distorts US foreign policy...way out of proportion to its actual support by the American public. But the offending lobby is not AIPAC but rather the Arab lobby, which opposes the Jewish state." So wrote Mitchell Bard in a book titled, 'The Arab lobby: the invisible alliance...'

Looking today at John Kerry and his unequal treatment of the parties in the negotiating process, at the way he forced Israel to make concessions, and allowed the Palestinians to make demands, it is not difficult to hazard which of the lobby groups wields the greater power in America.

How they wield power is a different matter. An unhealthy lobby, Bard says, is one that tries with unlimited money to buy what it cannot win on the merits of its case.

Is the Zionist lobby all powerful? Far from it, according to Walter Russell Mead, writing in the American Interest.

When pro-Israel policies are popular, as they usually are, lobbies that advocate for them appear unstoppable. But when the Israel lobby gets on the wrong side of public opinion, the magic goes away.

And Mead goes on to describe how AIPAC, the Israel lobby, is smart enough to know not to start fights it can't win. It stayed out of fights like the Hagel confirmation battle and the Jonathan Pollard scandal, both of which it understood were hopeless cases. "It would do the lobby no good at all to wage a battle on lost causes and suffer humiliating and disempowering defeat."

Unfortunately for AIPAC, the uncanny touch lately deserted it on two big Washington divides. One involved the case for America to attack Syria, the other was AIPAC's support for the Iran sanctions bill.

Misjudging the fights as winnable, it suffered major setbacks on both counts. Betting on the losing horse twice means that AIPAC's aura of invincible power may never recover.

Arm-twisting the powers that be is therefore perfectly legitimate. How a lobby goes about twisting arms is another matter. Is it more open than covert? Does it respect human rights and liberties?

No lobby will have a perfect scorecard. Just because it operates in a democratic system, don't expect a lobby to be democratic. The Zionist lobby is no exception.

In the West two monolith lobby groups, one pro the other anti-Israel, vie to sway government policy and public opinion. The Anti-Zionist boycott lobby, under the umbrella of BDS, vies with a pro-Zionist lobby under the umbrella of Jewish communal bodies. Both lobby groups are legitimate.

Why then pillory the Zionist lobby and not its pro-boycott adversary? A small but economically powerful Jewish minority has a perfect right to try its hand at some arm-twisting.

On the battlefield of Europe how effective is the lobby's record?

In twisting the government's arm to do the bidding of pro-Zionists, the jury is well and truly unanimous: the pro-boycott lobby has outgunned and outplayed the Zionists.

Take product labelling from so-called Palestinian territories. The boycotters won that battle without having to draw weapons. Given the non-too subtle backing of the European Union, the outcome was inevitable. Indeed taxpayers' money helps to oil the wheels of the anti-Zionist lobby.

And why not? The Muslim component of Europe is massive and vocal; trade with the Arab world is gigantic; the threat of terrorism hovers over Europe like the sword of Damocles.

And that, surely, is what lobbying is all about: asking policy makers to pay a price by confronting them with a credible threat.

Steve Apfel
First published in thecommentator.com


Steve Apfel
is director of the School of Management Accounting, Johannesburg. He is the author of the book,'Hadrian's Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel's critics' (2012) and a contributor to, "War by other means." (Israel Affairs, July 2012). His new work: 'Bilaam's Curse'' is due out this year. Steve blogs on the Jerusalem Post and his articles regularly appear in foreign journals. His most recent published articles are:


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