The Independent: Jewish Lobbies and Grovelling American Presidents

25 Mar 2010 by CST

Last year on 14 March 2009 I had a letter published in the Independent newspaper concerning the failure of its commentator, Rupert Cornwell, to distinguish between Israelis, pro-Israelis and Jews when writing of the supposedly oh-so-powerful Lobby. (You know the one, its not really American but it works out of Congress and the White House).

Three months later on 11 June 2009 I had another one published on exactly the same subject, only this time it was the paper's Washington correspondent David Usborne who had written that President Obama's "chiding" of Benjamin Netanyahu had risked  

the wrath of the Jewish lobby in the US...Mr Obama showed he is willing, perhaps more than any US president before him, to ignore the Jewish lobby by getting firm with Israel.

My March 09 letter had been sparked by Rupert Cornwell’s description of the pro-Israel lobby group, AIPAC as “the Jewish lobby”. Guess what? One year later, another AIPAC conference: and Cornwell is at it again, writing on 24 March of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Washington

Mr Netanyahu’s address to the Jewish lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)

Of course, publishing news about pro-Israel lobbyists is not in itself antisemitic; and it is hardly the fault of Rupert Cornwell or his Independent editors that the notion of the all-powerful Jew lies at the heart of antisemitism. Nevertheless, that is the reality that faces Jews, journalists and editors: particularly when it concerns newspapers that take as passionate an interest in Israel as the Independent does.  This is why my March 09 letter said (in part)

…[The article] was headlined, “Israel lobby blamed as Obama’s choice for intelligence chief quits”. The opening sentence, however, stated, “Fears over the Jewish lobby’s excess influence on US foreign policy flared anew”.

At root, the failure to distinguish between Israelis, pro-Israelis and Jews is the same analytical meltdown that occurs in the minds of those who physically attack and threaten British Jews every time there is a flare-up in the cycle of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. The Independent really ought to do better.

This year, however, neither Cornwell nor the Independent has done any better.

On 18 March 2010, Cornwell alleged that President Obama was failing to stand up to Israel on the subject of construction in disputed Jerusalem. The Independent headlined it as

Rupert Cornwell: Obama won't restrain Israel - he can't

His error has been not to think through the clout of America's pro-Israel lobby

So, President Obama is unable to “restrain Israel”  because he has not reckoned upon “the clout of America’s pro-Israel lobby”. Six days later, Cornwell described AIPAC as “the Jewish lobby group”. (AIPAC being the strongest part of the “pro-Israel lobby” that Obama can't "restrain".)   

Cornwell did not buy the excuse that President Obama had a lot of competing matters on his plate right now. Rather, it was because the President had been defeated by the lobby. So much so, in fact, that he would be on the other side of the world – and just as well, perhaps, because as Cornwell concludes

Grovels, even the most elegant grovels, are not an edifying spectacle.

This is the context that Cornwell placed the predicted "grovel" in

…Mr Obama's defenders now say that if he misplayed his hand, it was because he had too much on his plate…In fact, his greatest error was not to think through the clout of America's pro-Israel lobby.

When the university professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy in 2007, some intitial reaction was scornful. Critics dismissed the book's thesis as exaggeration at best, sheer fantasy at worst. There was no sinister lobby, only the instinctive collective sympathy felt towards Israel by ordinary Americans.

But power lies in the perception of power, and no organisation in Washington is perceived to wield more power than AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee. For proof, look no further than January 2009, when most of the rest of the world was horrified at the Israeli offensive in Gaza. At that moment the US House of Representatives, by a vote of 390 to five, chose to blame the entire crisis on Hamas.

Now the lobby is working to defuse the present row, naturally on Israel's terms…

…And there we have it. The settlements in East Jerusalem will go ahead whatever the US week AIPAC holds here what it bills as the largest policy conference in its history. The Israeli Prime Minister will be in town to address it, so will Ms Clinton.

President Obama however will be about as far away as possible, on a long-planned visit to Indonesia and Australia. And probably just as well. Grovels, even the most elegant grovels, are not an edifying spectacle.

One week is of course a long time in politics: so six days must be quite a long time also and as we now know, President Obama never made it to Australasia. Instead, witnesses report that he has been repeatedly sighted in Washington, signing health care bills and the like.

The question of President Obama’s “grovelling” to Prime Minister Netanyahu remains less clear, however, because as Cornwell notes in his article, “unusually, the White House session was closed to reporters”

Finally, anybody contemplating why the theme of Jewish power is so embedded in antisemitism could do worse than read the web address on the T-shirts worn by these protestors - photographed outside the 2010 AIPAC conference. 


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Former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police