Stephen M. Walt

Goldberg’s latest silly sally

Keeping up with Jeffrey Goldberg’s errors is like trying to dam the Gulf Stream, and responding to his repeated smears is a mug’s game. I suppose I could quote a bunch of snarky comments about him too, and we could have a nasty blogosopheric food fight for the entertainment of our readers. But I prefer ...

Keeping up with Jeffrey Goldberg’s errors is like trying to dam the Gulf Stream, and responding to his repeated smears is a mug’s game. I suppose I could quote a bunch of snarky comments about him too, and we could have a nasty blogosopheric food fight for the entertainment of our readers. But I prefer to focus on the issues, instead of the name-calling that is J.G.’s stock-in-trade.

His latest silly sally is to chide me for my saying that there is no meaningful "Arab lobby" in Washington. As evidence, he points out that various Arab states have paid a lot of money to various public relations firms, in a rather transparent attempt to gain some influence in Washington. The question to ask is whether these activities produce "meaningful" influence on key foreign policy issues, especially when you compare them with the lobbying groups on the other side.

Once you ask that question, of course, his case collapses. Let’s look at the vast influence that the "Arab lobby" has wielded in recent years.

1. It is undoubtedly the all-powerful Arab lobby that ensures that Israel gets $3-4 billion in economic and military aid each year, even when it does things that the United States opposes, like building settlements. And were it not for the Arab lobby, the United States would be putting a lot of pressure on Israel to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and come clean about its nuclear arsenal.

2. It was the vaunted Arab lobby that convinced President Bush to delay a U.N. ceasefire resolution during the Lebanon War of 2006, so that Israel could try to finish off Hezbollah and continue bombing civilian areas in Lebanon. Pressure from the Arab lobby also convinced Congress to pass a resolution backing Israel to the hilt, and to remove language from the original draft that called for both sides to "protect civilian life and infrastructure."

3. When Ambassador Charles Freeman was nominated to chair the National Intelligence Council in 2009, the vast Arab lobby promptly launched a successful smear campaign to deny him the post, running roughshod over his outnumbered and powerless defenders at the New Republic, Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Monthly, and Washington Post.

4. When Obama asked Israel to implement a settlement freeze in 2009, the Arab lobby promptly swung into action and drafted open letters warning the President not to put any pressure on Israel. These resolutions passed overwhelmingly in both Houses, another sign of the Arab lobby’s political clout.

5. When Israel attacked Gaza in December 2008, the Arab lobby was there to prevent the U.S. from interfering. And when the Goldstone Report raised the issue of possible Israeli war crimes in that war, the Arab Lobby no doubt called the Obama administration and told it to condemn the report, which it promptly did.

6. Needless to say, the insidious power of the Arab lobby no doubt explains why we have a former employee of the "pro-Israel" Washington Institute for Near East Policy (and former head of the Jewish People’s Policy Planning Institute) in a key role guiding U.S. Middle East policy. Aaron Miller was dead wrong when he said the United States acts as "Israel’s lawyer"; the Arab lobby ensures that U.S. government officials constantly take the Arab side whenever disputes arise.

7. The long arm of the "Arab lobby" also shapes our public discourse, aided by the chorus of pro-Arab, pro-Palestinian, and pro-Muslim columnists and pundits at the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, New Republic, and Atlantic Monthly. And you’d better not say anything critical of an Arab country or of Islam, or the Anti-Defamation League will denounce you and you might even lose your job.

8. And don’t forget to sign up for the Arab Lobby’s annual "Policy Conference" in Washington, where you will see a bevy of politicians from both parties lining up to proclaim their commitment to the "unshakeable" alliance between the United States and the Arab and Muslim world.

Obviously, none of these things happened because of the "Arab lobby," but the Israel lobby played a key role in all of them. In short, Goldberg’s latest assertions don’t even pass the giggle test. And if he wants to talk about money, let’s consider campaign contributions. According to The Economist, between 1990 and 2004 pro-Israel political action committees gave nearly $57 million dollars to candidates and parties, while Arab-American and Muslim PACs gave slightly less than $700,000. Wow: that’s some "Arab lobby!" And that’s just the PAC money, not contributions by individuals.

Or we could discuss the role of Haim Saban, an Israel-American businessman who has said that "I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel." Saban has been the largest single contributor to the Democratic Party in recent years, and according to a profile by Connie Bruck in The New Yorker, Saban told a conference in Israel that there were "three ways to be influential in American politics … make donations to political parties, establish think tanks, and control media outlets." Gee, if I said something like that, Goldberg would probably say I was channeling the Protocols.

In short, despite the money that some Arab countries spend on PR firms, the "Arab lobby" is not a meaningful political force when it comes to the broad thrust of U.S. Middle East policy, and certainly not on issues affecting Israel. But you don’t have to take my word for it. You could ask former President Bill Clinton, who said that AIPAC was "better than anyone at lobbying in this town," or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who called it "the most effective general-interest group … across the entire planet." Former Senator Fritz Hollings (D-SC) said upon his retirement that "you can’t have an Israel policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here," and former Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-IN) who served for 32 years, said "there’s no lobby group that matches it … they’re in a class by themselves." Or consider the words of the late Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) who said "I was never put under greater pressure than by the Israeli lobby, nor has the Senate as a whole. It’s the most influential crowd in Congress and America by far." Even a journalist named Jeffrey Goldberg once referred to AIPAC as a "leviathan among lobbies." The "Arab lobby" is Lilliputian by comparison.

And that’s why the former head of AIPAC, Morris Amitay, once noted that "we rarely see [oil and corporate] interests lobbying on foreign policy issues. … in a sense, we have the field to ourselves." Or as AIPAC’s former legislative director, Douglas Bloomfield, told the BBC in 2003: "AIPAC has one enormous advantage. It really doesn’t have any opposition." Precisely.

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

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