The most appalling aspect of the Obama administration's inept handling of the upcoming UN vote on Palestinian statehood is the reason for its bumbling. Its moves are dictated by fear of offending 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 is barely mentioned.
That is because the organizations that compose the lobby (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, etc,) 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 in speeches, literature and at its annual conclave which is attended by most of Congress and often the President or 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.
No wonder that the mainstream media treats AIPAC and its subordinate organizations as the lobby whose name dare not be spoken. They are scared, and not without reason.
That may be changing after a bolt of illuminating lightning struck this week.
Writing in the world's most influential daily, the New York Times, 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 specifically to its embarrassing and dangerous sucking up to Netanyahu.
He wrote that the U.S. government is "fed up with Israel's leadership, but is 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., when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interests or America's."
In other words, policy makers are torn between doing what is in our national interest and pleasing a powerful lobby that threatens to withhold funding from any politician that deviates from the AIPAC line.
Again, there is nothing particularly new in what Tom Friedman says about the lobby other than it comes from a consistent friend of Israel, one who says that his motivation in writing the column was that he has "never been more worried about Israel's future." Although the lobby will try 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 Tom Friedman fired? For what: caring about Israel too much. Not to mention his own country.
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 what the cost to Israel, Palestinians or to 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 Prime Minister Netanyahu wants him to do. And, given Netanyahu's choices of late, the outcome will, no doubt, be disastrous.
Like Friedman, I feel terrible about all this. And I'm not alone. Most people who care about Israel understand that it can only survive if it ends the occupation and supports establishment of a Palestinian state. In fact, the only people I know who are 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 which 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 AIPAC and company, it's all a D.C. power game. Too bad that so many lives are at stake. Not to mention a 1900 year old dream.
Background: Here is an article on how AIPAC helped orchestrate the defeat of the late chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Charles Percy, for deviating from the AIPAC line.
Here is a letter from ADL Chairman Abe Foxman attacking the great Bill Moyers as "anti-Semitic" for criticizing the Gaza war. Foxman also organized pressure on PBS for hosting the great progressive journalist.