M.J. Rosenberg on Tom Friedman on Netanyahu

M.J. Rosenberg, who worked for AIPAC some 25 years ago and now works for Media Matters, is always a pleasure to read both for his perspective and his directness. You can find his posts on Foreign Policy matters here.

His latest on Tom Friedman’s uncharacteristically direct critique of where Netanyahu is leading Israel was particularly compelling, and, hopefully with M.J. permission, I’m posting it below. As others have noted, it seems that Friedman has joined the Walt/Mearsheimer school of why U.S. Middle East policy is so dangerously skewed.

If Tom Friedman Can Say It, You Can, Too

September 20, 2011 3:14 pm ET by MJ Rosenberg

The most appalling aspect of the Obama administration’s inept handling of the upcoming U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood is the reason for the administration’s bumbling. Its moves are dictated by fear of offending Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, his lobby and, especially, the campaign donors who take direction from the lobby.

One can respond: So what else is new? But that is only if you get your information from some place other than the electronic or print mainstream media. There, due to a decades-long campaign of intimidation, the lobby’s actions are rarely reported.

That is because the organizations that compose the lobby — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League — have demonstrated that even mentioning the lobby’s excessive power will lead to being smeared with the label of “anti-Israel” or “anti-Semitic.”

No matter that the lobby’s most powerful component, AIPAC, brags about its power over Washington policymakers in speeches, literature and at its annual conclave, which is attended by most of Congress and often the president and the secretary of state. No matter that AIPAC’s eight-story headquarters overlooking the Capitol testifies to its wealth. No matter that members of Congress themselves — occasionally publicly and often privately — discuss the bluntness of AIPAC’s threats.

No, those who dare cite its huge influence are accused of indulging in myth, much like the authors of the fantastical forgery, “The Protocols Of The Elders of Zion.”

That may be changing after a bolt of illuminating lightning struck this week.

Writing in the New York Times, influential foreign policy columnist Thomas Friedman came right out and said that the lobby is the cause of America’s seemingly incoherent policy toward Israel and Palestine and for the embarrassing and dangerous sucking up to Netanyahu.

The U.S. government, he explains, is “fed up with Israel’s leadership but a hostage to its ineptitude, because the powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s.”

In other words, policymakers are torn between doing what is in our national interest (and consistent with our democratic values) and pleasing a powerful lobby that threatens to withhold funding from any politician that deviates from the line.

There is nothing particularly new in what Friedman says about the lobby other than that it comes from a consistent friend of Israel, who says that his motivation in writing the column was that he has “never been more worried about Israel’s future.”

Although the lobby would like to smear Friedman, it can’t lay a glove on him. What are they going to do? Call him an anti-Semite? Try to get him fired? For what? Because he cares about Israel too much to let a right-wing politician sacrifice its future?

Nonetheless, it is unlikely that Friedman’s column will impress President Obama as much as it will infuriate Binyamin Netanyahu. This administration made its decision back when it repeatedly retreated on the matter of Israeli settlements. It will support Netanyahu no matter the cost to Israel, the Palestinians, or to the standing of the United States.

And Netanyahu knows it. In fact, Friedman writes that, contrary to the common view that Bibi is just a bumbler, he actually has a strategy not just for Palestine but for all the areas in which he has made such a colossal mess. And it is predicated on the power of the lobby:

O.K., Mr. Netanyahu has a strategy: Do nothing vis-à-vis the Palestinians or Turkey that will require him to go against his base, compromise his ideology or antagonize his key coalition partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an extreme right-winger. Then, call on the U.S. to stop Iran’s nuclear program and help Israel out of every pickle, but make sure that President Obama can’t ask for anything in return — like halting Israeli settlements — by mobilizing Republicans in Congress to box in Obama and by encouraging Jewish leaders to suggest that Obama is hostile to Israel and is losing the Jewish vote. And meanwhile, get the Israel lobby to hammer anyone in the administration or Congress who says aloud that maybe Bibi has made some mistakes, not just Barack. There, who says Mr. Netanyahu doesn’t have a strategy?

I don’t know what this all means in terms of this week’s vote at the U.N. except for this: The U.S. position, whatever it turns out to be, will be dictated by people whose sole goal is to defend Netanyahu and the status quo. I expect the president to do exactly what Netanyahu wants him to do. And, given Netanyahu’s choices of late, the outcome will be disastrous.

I feel terrible about all this. And I’m not alone. Many people who care about Israel understand that it can only survive if it ends the occupation and supports the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. In fact, the people I know who are most happy about the course Netanyahu and Obama will likely adopt at the U.N. are either robotic supporters of the lobby (“if Netanyahu says it, it must be right”) and those who would like to see Israel replaced by one state, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, dominated by the Palestinian majority.

Two things are terribly wrong here. Most significantly, our foreign policy is being dominated by a lobby that takes its orders from an inept leader of a country that is the largest recipient of U.S. aid, but that never does anything to make life easier for the United States. The other is that the lobby in question calls itself “pro-Israel” but repeatedly and consistently promotes policies that endanger the very survival of Israel. For the lobby, it’s all a D.C. power game. Too bad that so many lives are at stake. Not to mention a 1,900-year-old dream.

Jim Lobe

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.



  1. Great piece by Rosenberg. But it doesn’t matter, in the end, what tactics AIPAC, or Israel, or America may use. The “1,900 year-old-dream” is dying and nothing can save it. Neither I, nor Rosenberg, nor Lobe will likely be around when it happens, but the Jewish state in Palestine will disappear. The Palestinians will never agree to a two-state solution, or if they do it will be merely a tactical maneuver. Time is on their side. Israeli (and American) Jews should recognize this, and accept a Palestine in which Arabs and Jews and Christians and others live together democratically. This is the best hope for the continuance of Jewish culture into the far future. Unfortunately, they won’t do it — and indeed, it may already be too late.

  2. Thank goodness that the nefarious effects of the Israel lobby is clearly out in the open.

    If a handful of crazed, wealthy Jews can take control of American foreign policy, imagine what systematic lobbying efforts by the captains of finance and industry can do to government policy!

    Isn’t it now time for Friedman to out the nefarious influence of the military lobby, the banking lobby, the energy lobby, etc.?

  3. —“The most appalling aspect of the Obama administration’s inept handling of the upcoming U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood is the reason for the administration’s bumbling. Its moves are dictated by fear of offending Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, his lobby and, especially, the campaign donors who take direction from the lobby.’—

    excellent bit of sophistry from Rosenberg there.

    there’s not a thing in the world to back up the idea that the Obama administration gives a s**t about offending Netanyahu a fair bit of evidence indicating otherwise, so the shifty little dissembler tries working out a conjunction

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