It is hard to believe that the lobby (call it the Israel Lobby, the Jewish Lobby or whatever) is going to oppose President Obama’s choice of former Senator Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense in the name of Jews.

And don’t kid yourself, when the lobby speaks, it is in the name of all of us.

I worked at AIPAC for four years. I worked in the House and Senate for 20. And at the State Department for three.

And I can tell you that when AIPAC (and its satellites like the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council Of Public Affairs, and the Conference of Presidents Of Major Jewish Organizations) lobby Congress and the White House, it is in the name of Jews. In fact, when AIPAC testifies before Congress, it states that it is speaking for all major Jewish organizations i.e, the Jewish community.

That is why the lobby has the power it does. And the ability to intimidate the government, the media, etc. The lobby claims to speak for the Jews.

And it’s a lie. Most Jews are not represented by the lobby at all. Most Jews are not members of any of the groups that constitute the lobby. Only about half are even members of synagogues.

The lobby does, however, speak for a few thousand single-issue Israel advocates with lots of money. It is those people Congress is catering to when it passes all those AIPAC-drafted bills bashing the Palestinians, sanctioning Iran, or cheering Israel’s attacks on Gazans. And it is those people, and only those people, that legislators and media hacks are sucking up to when they issue their denunciations of Chuck Hagel for not toeing the line.

None of this is new. This is who the lobby is and how it operates. And, thus far, as damaging as its efforts have been to Israel, to Palestine, and to America’s standing in the world, the image of American Jews at large has not been tarnished.

That could change if the lobby, speaking in our name, challenges the right of the President of the United States to choose a Secretary of Defense without the lobby’s interference. How, in God’s name, can any group dedicated to the interests of any foreign country tell a President who can be in charge of American security? The American Israel Public Affairs Committee shouldn’t. Nor should all those other organizations which take their cues from AIPAC and the Netanyahu government.

To put it mildly, the lobby’s opposition to Hagel is utterly inappropriate. And it endangers the standing of Jews in the best homeland we have ever had: the United States.

It needs to stand down. Yes, it has the theoretical “right” to lobby against Hagel. And it has the right to line up GLBT and other groups to oppose Hagel so it does not look like it is just Israel’s cutouts who are trying to block a war hero from leading the Pentagon.

But that “right” should not be exercised unless the lobby and its acolytes and flunkies (particularly in Congress) make clear that they are acting not for the benefit of American Jews or even Israel but to serve a few thousand millionaires and billionaires whose continued campaign contributions they seek.

It may be the Jewish Lobby, but only in the sense that it is composed of the Jewish organizations (with their tiny memberships) and some Jewish millionaires. But it does not represent us, the Jews, who are overwhelmingly liberal, dovish on foreign policy issues including Israel, and not particularly Israel-centered.

According to every poll,only a few thousand Jews vote or give money based on Israel. And they certainly are not opposed to Chuck Hagel; in fact, he is the kind of Republican Jews like, in contrast to the evangelical types and right-wingers who rush to the barricades every time AIPAC or Netanyahu sound their trumpet. Unlike the lobby, most American Jews wants peace for Israel, support a Palestinian state and are not, in any way, loyal to Binyamin Netanyahu. If we were 70% of us would not have voted for President Obama’s re-election when it was clear that Netanyahu and the lobby big shots wanted Mitt Romney to win. (The last Israeli prime minister American Jews were devoted to was Yitzhak Rabin and it was precisely because he sought peace with the Palestinians. For the record, the lobby despised Rabin and he told AIPAC that he felt the same about them).

The bottom line is that the lobby should let the President have the Secretary of Defense he wants. A few thousand rich reactionaries (the Jewish 1%) does not have the right to make all of us look like members of Team Netanyahu. The lobby’s opposition to Hagel is bad for Jews. Period. It should back off.

POSTSCRIPT: I spoke to an Israeli friend on Sunday night. He told me (1) that the left in Israel really looks forward to the Kerry/Hagel combination as empowering Israel’s peace forces and (2) he said that even the right-wing Israeli government isn’t unhinged about Hagel like the neocons in U.S. He reminded me that Israel is not the lobby.

 

 


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