Two Israeli journalists wrote that Colin Powell understood and feared the power of the lobby.
In an op-ed column critical of his Harvard colleagues, ludicrously titled “There Is No Israel ‘Lobby’” the well-known political consultant David Gergen proclaimed, “Over the course of four tours in the White House, I never once saw a decision in the Oval Office to tilt U.S. foreign policy in favor of Israel at the expense of America's interest.” America’s massive financial support of Israel’s territorial expansion in the West Bank is very much contrary to its own interests, his two colleagues would respond. Gergen’s blanket denial is one of the most preposterous statements in the ongoing media reporting that impugn the motivations of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, two political scientists who recently published the “Israel Lobby.” Their essay described what the writers understand to be the many deleterious effects of pro-Israel activists upon the formulation of American foreign policy. In his critique of the essay, Gergen displays a level of chutzpah which would astound even the most blindly loyal devotee of the Israeli cause, when he excoriates Walt and Mearsheimer for “impugn[ing] the unstinting service to America's national security by public figures like Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk …”
The truth is that Ross and Indyk are two government officials that best illustrate the presence of pro-Israel advocates in the US government. Ross, who was the lead negotiator at the Camp David Peace talks, was publicly criticized for his lack of objectivity by his own deputy Aaron Miller. Miller in a Washington Post op-ed called “Israel’s Lawyer” wrote that during the negotiations Ross and his team, instead of facilitating compromise, which would have been in America’s best interest, chose to act as an advocate for the Israelis. Dennis Ross is currently the director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), a pro-Israel think-tank which is funded by the American Israel Policy Action Committee (AIPAC). Martin Indyk, who founded WINEP and served as its first executive director, was later both US Ambassador to Israel and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs. He is a long time uncritical supporter of Israeli government policy.
In their recent best-selling book, Boomerang: The Failure of Leadership In the Second Intifada, presently only available in Hebrew, Raviv Drucker and Ofer Shelah, two respected Israeli journalists, described a meeting between the then Secretary of State Colin Powell, who the lobby considered to be the “weak link” in the chain of more Israel-friendly Bush Administration officials, and Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai Brith, who is a prominent member of what in Israel is called the Jewish lobby. The following selection indicates in a dramatic way that Gergen’s view of the influence of the Israel lobby may not be shared by all ex-government officials.
In his [Powell’s] own State Department there was a keen awareness of the strength of the Jewish lobbyists. Secretaries of State did not usually meet with lobbyists, but both Jewish officials and Jews that did not officially represent specific groups from Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League to Ronald Lauder, could meet with Powell on short notice… At the State Department, Foxman had an aura of omnipotence. He was held responsible for the appointment of Indyk as Undersecretary of State under Clinton, and was thought to have played a role in the appointments of Secretaries of State Christopher and Albright. Powell related to Foxman almost as if he were someone to whom he must capitulate. Once Foxman told one of his deputies that Powell was the weak link. When the Secretary of State heard this he began to worry. He knew that in Washington a confrontation with the Jewish lobby would make his life difficult. Once he arranged a meeting with Foxman, but the busy Foxman postponed the meeting three times. When they eventually met, the head of the Anti-Defamation League apologized to the Secretary of State [for the postponements]. “You call, we come,” replied Powell, paraphrasing a well known advertisement for a freight company. That statement had much more meaning than just a humorous polite reply. (Drucker, Raviv and Shelah, Ofer, Boomerang…, Keter, 2005, p. 132-133. Translation and text emphasized or enclosed in brackets, mine.)
Unfortunately, the American press has thus far been largely complicit in the unwarranted attacks on two professors who have written a generally well-argued essay on the disadvantages of the current American/Israeli relationship. Most press accounts of the article feature the negative criticism, but tend to ignore or downplay positive comment. In the present political climate it is not a surprise that there is not a groundswell of support for the two embattled scholars. Abe Foxman called the essay “a classic conspiratorial anti-Semitic analysis invoking the canards of Jewish power and Jewish control.” I, as a Jew, agree with the Jewish editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, who published the article. She feels, as paraphrased in The Observer, “that the most angry denunciations of anti-Semitism -- while designed to serve the purpose of censorship by those attempting to forestall criticism of Israel -- may actually encourage anti-Semitism in the long run.”
The American media does no favor to the many American Jews and Israelis who are critical of Israel’s self-defeating expansionism and its suppression of the Palestinian right of self-determination. The Israel lobby in the United States does not represent the opinions of many American Jews. The pressure it exerts on government officials to blindly and unconditionally support present Israeli policies, in the end will help neither the United States nor Israel itself.
Ira Glunts first visited the Middle East in 1972, where he taught English and physical education in a small rural community in Israel. He was a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces in 1992. Mr. Glunts lives in Madison, New York where he operates a used and rare book business. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other Articles by Ira Gluntz
Critical of Israel Lobby Unjustly Lambasted