The “A-Word”—Three weeks before Israeli Defense Force fighters began bombing the Gaza Strip in late December, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel William Harrop advanced a familiar argument. “Isn’t the very power of the Israel lobby its ability to make any criticism of Israel, any criticism of the settlement movement, or any discussion of a policy not sympathetic to the national right wing in Israel appear to be anti-Zionist or even anti-Semitic?” Harrop asked foreign-policy scholar Walter Russell Mead. Mead responded with an elegant metaphor about a well-designed and well-crewed sailing ship that wouldn’t move without the wind. The wind, in this case, is American public opinion, which Mead rightly described as being intractably pro-Israel. (It blows with hurricane force, as scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt learned when they explored the Israel lobby in an essay in the London Review of Books, followed by their book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.) More interesting was the response of Daniel Levy, a fellow at the New America Foundation, where the discussion took place. “Part of the conversation that I have with the mainstream Jewish Lobby is ‘be careful,'” Levy said. “This is what [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert said. If we can’t do the two-state solution, and I’m almost quoting him exactly here, we begin to look like South Africa. And once that happens, even our Jewish supporters in the United States won’t be with us any longer.” Levy, an Israeli who has served on several delegations in negotiations with the Palestinians, predicts hard times for Israel and its supporters in the United States if “Israel is locked in and can’t do a two-state solution and the Palestinians start to run a pretty competent give-us-our-democratic-rights campaign. That’s why I support the J Street position.” Middle East scholar and Michigan professor Juan Cole makes a similar argument. “The big long-term problem Israel has is that its assiduous colonization of the West Bank has made a two-state solution almost impossible, turning it into an Apartheid state. And if you go on practicing Apartheid long enough, that begins to attract boycotts and sanctions,” Cole writes at www.juancole.com.
J Street Position?—”The ‘J Street’ position” that Daniel Levy advocates is an argument for “strong and immediate American diplomatic leadership to end the violence [in Gaza] through an immediate ceasefire.” J Street’s broader position on Israel-Palestine advocates a robust U.S. diplomatic effort to push Israel and Palestine toward a two-state solution. The moderate Israel lobby is not yet a year old and lacks the financial footings of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). As a counterbalance to the omnipotent AIPAC, J Street opposes West Bank settlements and is critical of the occupation of Palestinian territory. Its political action committee raised $570,000 (chump change for AIPAC) for 41 candidates (33 winners) in the 2008 elections—including $91,000 for Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), who defeated Republican incumbent Gordon Smith.
An American War—Some of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s reporting, which generated a firestorm of protest on the part of the U.S.-Israel lobby suggests that more than the 37 percent of Americans identified by Rasmussen pollsters as “paying close attention” to Israel’s incursions in Gaza should get engaged—if only because Israel’s military adventures would be far more difficult without American support. In 2006 the two professors wrote that Israel is “the largest annual recipient of direct [U.S] economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War Two, to the tune of well over $140 billion (in 2004 dollars). Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli.”
Death of a Mud Salesman—A Republican legislator who has held office for fewer than two legislative sessions has toppled the autocratic Republican speaker of the Texas House of Representatives—lining up the support of fifteen Republican and seventy Democratic legislators in a body in which Republicans hold a 76-74 majority. San Antonio Republican Joe Straus has unseated Midland Republican Tom Craddick, who was running for his third term as speaker. Craddick was elected speaker in 2003, three years after George W. Bush was elected president. He was the first Republican speaker of the House since Reconstruction. The oilfield-mud salesman from Midland stripped away the fig leaf of bipartisan comity on which Bush ran for president, revealing a statehouse that looked very much like the fiercely partisan U.S. House under Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay.