Tom Friedman’s weird throwaway ‘lobby’ line, and Elliott Abrams’ weird liberty with it


 In today’s New York Times, Tom Friedman lists a litany of concerns he believes he shares with a hefty portion of American Jews, and with some Israelis as well:

–Avigdor Lieberman’s embrace not just of Vladimir Putin, but of Putin’s less than salutary disregard of and impatience for democratic norms;

–A slate of proposed Knesset laws that seek to limit the influence of groups sharply critical of Israel’s government;

–The excesses of an extremist stream among settlers that brutalizes not only Palestinians but has now taken on revered Israeli institutions, including the army;

–The officially sanctioned segregation of Haredi women from men in public areas like buses.

Friedman says "he’d never claim to speak for American Jews" (although he kind of goes on to do so), but the truth is that — from my own anecdotal experience, dealing with Jewish officialdom and speaking to Jewish groups — he’s on to something.

I just spent a week and a half in Israel, and anecdotally my impression is — Friedman is on to something there, too. Reaction to Lieberman’s endorsement of the Russian elections was especially non-plussed, both in the media and among people I chatted with.

Friedman self-sabotages, though, with this throwaway line:


I sure hope that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, understands that the standing ovation he got in Congress this year was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby.

Um, no. I mean yes, the folks hopping to their feet and applauding would likely have had at the back of their minds that the cheers would please an important base for both parties, but to suggest the these were "bought and paid for" belies a real ignorance of how Israel is perceived in Congress, especially on the right.

And for this I don’t need my gut, or anecdotal evidence. Covering this beat, you see repeated instances of Congress outflanking the mainstream Israel lobby — and that includes AIPAC. Most recently, consider the adamancy of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), the powerful chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in insisting on keeping money from being transferred to the Palestinians, despite objections not just from Israel but from its friends in Washington.

Elliott Abrams, at his Council on Foreign Relations blog, gets at this:

Now, it is a fact that Americans remain extremely supportive of the State of Israel, as poll after poll has shown year after year and decade after decade. That support is near an all time high. Here is what the Gallup Poll found this year:

"In recent years, with no major breakthroughs in the Mideast peace process and no resolution to the Hamas vs. Fatah political rift in the Palestinian Territories, Americans’ sympathies toward the conflict’s players have leaned heavily toward the Israelis. In fact, with more than 60% of Americans sympathizing with Israel since 2010, public support for the Jewish state has been stronger than at any time other than in 1991, when Israel was hit by Iraqi Scud missiles during the Gulf War."

Of course, that support is suspect to Mr. Friedman, for Gallup also found that it is higher among Republicans than among Democrats and higher among conservatives than among liberals. But what in the world except prejudice can lead Mr. Friedman to make the ugly charge that support for Israel in Congress, need support for Mr. Netanyahu in Congress, is “bought and paid for by the Israel lobby?”

Succinctly put. But then Abrams engages — in his final graf — in a bit of his own self-sabotage:

Many of those standing and cheering were from districts where there are no Jews or a handful of Jews, and where Evangelical churches form the strongest base of support for the Jewish state. Now perhaps Mr. Friedman means those churches when he refers so nastily to the “Jewish Lobby,” but I doubt it. I think we all know what he means, and that is why he should withdraw the ugly remark fast. 

Friedman never uses the term "Jewish lobby." Commenters on the blog take Abrams to task for this, and he flounders a little in explaining why he placed in quotes something Friedman never said: 

Mr. Friedman used the term Israel Lobby, but his reference is pretty clear.

What’s clear is that Friedman believes that what he calls the "Israel lobby" does not represent American Jews. 

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