Let's Talk About The Israel Lobby

Yesterday, The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg posted a brief—and (to this Jew) amusing—note about turning down a request to join a discussion on French television about the "how the Israeli Iobby influences American foreign policy."

The amusing part of the post was when he said that he’d misplaced his horns and would have to find them before Rosh Hashana. I actually love jokes like that and make them all the time, often to the horror of my friends.

The less amusing part, however, was that he refused to join the discussion, and likened (in jest? Maybe?) the very request to an act of anti-Semitism.

I’ve read Goldberg for years, and even, many years ago, had the opportunity to give his book Prisoners a very positive review. Sometimes he and I agree on the issues that stand before Israel and the Jewish community. Sometimes we really, really don’t. So it goes.

But I confess to not only disagreeing with, but being genuinely flummoxed by, his reaction here.

In a post that was 127 words long (yes, I counted) and titled "An Offer I Could Refuse," here is all the background information provided about the request he’d received:

I found this note in my in-box earlier this week, from a certain French television network: "Invitation to participate in the english debate to discuss Israel's influence on American vis-a-vis Iran." The text that followed read, in part, "We would love to have your insights on how the Israeli lobby influences American Foreign policy. I look forward to hearing from you."

It is entirely possible that the "certain French television network" is one known for outlandish, provocative and/or anti-Semitic coverage, a place no one who takes themselves seriously should appear or support. It is at least equally possible that the rest of the email gave clear indication of outlandish, provocative and/or anti-Semitic intent.

However, in the absence of more information, what I see here is a straight-forward request to have a conversation about a lobby that was established in order to influence American foreign policy and whether that lobby succeeds or fails at that goal.

I will admit that the use of the word "Israeli" might be a bad sign (the lobby is American, and lobbies in support of what it perceives to be Israel’s interests), but again, in the absence of more information, I would tend to chalk that up to the fact that a foreigner was writing in English. It looks like a mistake, is what I’m saying—though sure, it would be entirely reasonable to clarify that one word before moving on.

But, look. I am not (I rush to mention) a moron. I know that the words "the Israel Lobby” can be code for "ZOMG Jews rule the world!!!"—a sentiment which I think we can all agree is the very essence of anti-Semitism.

But given a chance to talk about that lobby—a lobby which, like the Dairy Board and the tobacco industry and every other lobby in American politics, actually exists in order to have an impact on American policy—why not take the chance to clarify the prickly nature of the issue?

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Why not say something like "Yes, this lobby exists, like every other lobby in American politics, in order to have an impact on American policy, but [fill in the blank with whatever you see to be the truth about the Israel lobby’s relative successes and failures]."

Despite not being a moron, I honestly don’t understand. Truly.

It is not anti-Semitic to say that the Israel lobby exists, and that said lobby has goals toward which it works. It is factual.

How we choose to frame the conversation going forward is then up to us.