The Israel Lobby


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On Easter Sunday, during lunch, the richest woman in Israel, Irithe Landeau, suddenly burst into my house and began to harangue my friends and family about Adam Shapiro. Despite the fact she's one of my wife's oldest friends and was invited to drop in after lunch, I was extremely annoyed. I reminded Irithe that my house was not Israeli occupied territory, that it was Easter, and knowing how I feel about the plight of the Palestinians, she should change the subject. Which she did, turning on the press, instead, and how they gave publicity to that godawful traitor Adam Shapiro. So I did the next best thing: I left my own house and went for a walk.


What I found extraordinary was the anger Irithe, an otherwise sensible woman, showed at what she called the unfairness of the New York newspapers in reporting the facts about Shapiro. After all, he was trapped in Arafat's headquarters, and he was there on a humanitarian mission. His were peaceful actions, trying to treat the injured, and not in any way prompted against Israel. Then, of course, came the death threats and the name-calling, which showed the corrosive hatred that's spilled over to these shores. Andrea Peyser, also an otherwise sensible soul, led the traitor charge in the New York Post, which I guess places her among the crazies who think like the rest of the terrorist crazies on both sides of the conflict in the Middle East.


Shapiro has condemned all violence and insists that his efforts were for civilians' well-being. How that makes him a traitor is beyond me. John Walker Lindh's parents have not been threatened, and that miserable Taliban had effectively borne arms against America. Throughout all conflicts, even during vicious civil wars, humanitarian actions have been respected by combatants. Not, it seems, when it comes to helping Palestinians trapped in the fighting in their own backyard.


Be that as it may, in America it is not the plight of the Palestinians that dominates, but that of Israel. My wife's friend's anger over Shapiro illustrates the point. How dare the papers accord him equal coverage? The fact that Israel enjoys a disproportionate amount of favorable coverage is immaterial. As Eric Alterman, an MSNBC contributor, wrote, "Europeans and other Palestinian partisans point to the fact that the Israel lobby in America is one of the strongest anywhere, and Jewish individuals and organizations give millions of dollars to political candidates in order to reward pro-Israel policies and punish those who support the Palestinians. Another reason, however, is the near-complete domination by pro-Israel partisans of the punditocracy discourse."


He then went on to list those columnists and commentators who can be counted upon to support Israel reflexively and without qualification. Space prohibits me from listing them all, but here's a sample: George Will, William Safire, A.M. Rosenthal, Charles Krauthammer, Michael Kelly, Martin Peretz, Daniel Pipes, William Kristol, Mort Zuckerman, John Podhoretz, Norman Podhoretz, Mona Charen, Fred Barnes, Jonah Goldberg, Rich Lowry, Andrew Sullivan, Irving Kristol, John Leo, Tony Snow, Peggy Noonan, Thomas Sowell, Emmett Tyrrell, William F. Buckley, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Cal Thomas, Oliver North...and so on. Those likely to oppose Israel and be pro-Palestinian regardless of circumstances came to five, including our very own Alexander Cockburn, Christopher Hitchens, Edward Said, Robert Novak and Pat Buchanan.


As one can see from this list of pro-Israel pundits, it is not even close to complete. What is to be seen is whether this unqualified support for any action Israel takes is a good thing in the long run. "Sometime the bravest and most valuable advice a trusted friend can give is: 'STOP,'" said Alterman. In Europe, where coverage of the Middle East is far more balanced, it is the plight of the Palestinian dispossessed that is raised time and again. Israel, needless to say, blames anti-Semitism, a charge that countries like France and Germany cannot deny being part of their past.


Over on these shores, it is not unusual to charge anti-Semitism against those who oppose the brutality of Israeli occupation. Norman Podhoretz is among the first to do so, an act I find not only unfair, but obnoxious and abhorrent. In fact it's the oldest trick in the book. Israel's interests and those of the United States are not necessarily one and the same. Also, in Henry Kissinger's words, as long as there are 3.5 million Palestinian refugees, they will always have a vested interest in the destruction of Israel. And taking into account what Bill Buckley called "inherited distinctive immunities" about Israel and the Jews, I nevertheless believe that Sharon has been a disaster for Israel and the region, that his plan of "Eretz Israel" means to cleanse it of the local population and to cover it with settlements, and that although Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, depriving people of the right to equality and freedom, and keeping them under occupation, is hardly a democratic act.


Although Israel cannot look like it's giving in to terrorism, it also cannot kill every Palestinian. The unqualified support it gets from the punditocracy for Sharon's provocative gambles will only exasperate matters. Just as the harassment of certain individuals like myself from some Jewish groups will only make me more determined to write the truth the way I see it.


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