Small Lies, Big Lies, and the Israel Lobby (Part II)

This is a response to the large number of comments elicited by my October 4, 2007 posting ("Small Lies, Big Lies, and the Israeli Lobby").

1. Is it anti-Semitic to criticize Israel?

If by this one means criticize the policies of the Israeli government, it is no more anti-Semitic to do so than it is anti-American to criticize the Bush administration. Criticisms are part of what makes us free. Indeed few people are as harshly critical of their government as the Israelis themselves. Please don't tell me all these Semites are anti-Semitic.

2. Is it wrong for a foreign power to lobby our government?

Several commentators held that Israel should not lobby Congress, nor should other foreign powers. Some even believe that other foreign powers do not lobby Washington. Actually, numerous nations are lobbying in the good sense of the term: presenting their viewpoints, openly, to the legislators of other nations. The United States often besieges nations to release prisoners, to allow free trade, to stop the shipment of nuclear arms and so on and on. Taiwan is a major player in Washington in all matters concerning our policy towards China. Latin American nations lobby for free trade and foreign aid. The same holds for endless non-governmental foreign groups; from those who seek independence for Kurds to those who lobby for Palestinian statehood.

In the case at hand, the authors of the widely debated book, The Israel Lobby, openly state that the label is a misnomer. The lobby is not run by Israelis but by Americans who are supportive of Israel. In a chapter dedicated to the "definition of the Israel lobby," they write: "Using the term 'Israel lobby' is itself somewhat misleading...One might more accurately dub this the 'pro-Israel community'..." composed of Americans. The two authors are the ones who unleashed a barrage of criticism of the "Israel lobby." Whatever bias they have, it ain't pro Israel. If they say that the lobby is not composed of Israelis, maybe this matter can be put to rest.

3. Does money pass hands?

Several commentators expressed their dismay about the fact that lobbies make campaign contributions to bolster their influence on Congress. I could not agree more. If it were up to me, all such contributions would be banned. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that "money is speech," protecting such contributions under the First Amendment. Until this decision is reversed the flood of cash to the pockets of those who legislate will continue, as sadly as it is. Finally, no data show that the donations made by the pro-Israel community is higher than that of many other lobbies, especially those of the oil companies, the banks, real estate interests and those of arms manufacturers.

4. The essence of prejudice:

Prejudice is defined as assigning to all members of a group attributes that only some members of a group have. Name a group and put in an adjective -- say ALL members of group x are lazy because some members are -- and you get my drift. To generalize about what Congress or Washington or any other group holds on the basis of what is true for one out of seven of their members, is deceptive, especially when one hides the fact that the data come from a small minority and pretends that is based on a study of the whole group. It is at this point that the authors of The Israel Lobby took leave of their scholarship and became agents of their prejudices.


Amitai Etzioni is Professor of International Relations at The George Washington University and the author of Security First: For A Muscular, Moral Foreign Policy (Yale, 2007).