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The Economist on AIPAC

The Economist magazine reports on the recent AIPAC meeting. AIPAC got every politician who counts to come kiss its feet. Cheney was particularly prominent in paying obeisance. Its violently right wing attitudes opposing Middle East peace on any basis expect complete surrender to Israel are its most identifiable characteristic, but The Economist points out that many American Jews are considerably less hawkish. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, many Israelis are less hawkish. Nevertheless, it says this is the best of times and the worst of times for AIPAC. Because of AIPAC’s predominant position in Washington, it appears to be the spokesman for all American Jews. The article says that George Soros is considering starting up a liberal counterpoint organization to AIPAC, but so far he hasn’t done so. He has written an excellent article in the Financial Times calling on the US and Israel to deal with Hamas. The Economist says:

The lobbyists had every reason to feel proud of their work. Congress has more Jewish members than ever before: 30 in the House and a remarkable 13 in the Senate. (There are now more Jews in Congress than Episcopalians.) Both parties are competing with each other to be the “soundest” on Israel. About two-thirds of Americans hold a favourable view of the place.

Yet they have reason to feel a bit nervous, too. The Iraq debacle has produced a fierce backlash against pro-war hawks, of which AIPAC was certainly one. It has also encouraged serious people to ask awkward questions about America’s alliance with Israel. And a growing number of people want to push against AIPAC. One pressure group, the Council for the National Interest—run by two retired congressmen, Paul Findley, a Republican, and James Abourezk, a Democrat—even bills itself as the anti-AIPAC. The Leviathan may be mightier than ever, but there are more and more Captain Ahabs trying to get their harpoons in….

But the growing activism of liberal Jewish groups underlines a worrying fact for AIPAC: most Jews are fairly left-wing. Fully 77% of them think that the Iraq war was a mistake compared with 52% of all Americans. Eighty-seven per cent of Jews voted for the Democrats in 2006, and all but four of the Jews in Congress are Democrats.

An even bigger threat to AIPAC comes from the general climate of opinion. It is suddenly becoming possible for serious people—politicians and policymakers as well as academics—to ask hard questions about America’s relationship with Israel. Is America pursuing its own interests in the Middle East, or Israel’s? Should America tie itself so closely to the Israeli government’s policies or should it forge other alliances?

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national security adviser, worries that America is seen in the Middle East as “acting increasingly on behalf of Israel”. Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, has compared the situation in Palestine to segregation, and argued that there could “be no greater legacy for America than to help bring into being a Palestinian state”. Philip Zelikow, her former counsellor, argues, in diplomatic language, that the only way to create a viable coalition against terrorists that includes Europeans, moderate Arabs and Israelis, is a “sense that Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed”.

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