One of the standard defenses against criticisms of the so-called Israel lobby hinges on portraying its detractors as alleging that Washington's pro-Israel groups are "all-powerful." It's of course a caricature of most critics' position: no doubt some true conspiracy theorists buy into this (and should be ridiculed for it), but the criticisms of pro-Israel groups percolating in Washington don't. Dan Luban, a friend and former colleague, has persuasively described mainstream criticisms of the Israel lobby based only on the very reasonable contentions that the groups have "significant influence on U.S. foreign policy" and that this influence is often "pernicious." I use the term "Israel lobby" advisedly, because that's the term Max Boot used—with skeptical quotes—on Sunday in Commentary to attack the straw-man of a lobby that "insidiously controls American foreign policy." But Boot's post is hilariously off-base: its argument can't even be reconciled with the very information he presents. Let's start with his opening paragraph:
If there is any message to come out of Chuck Hagel’s confirmation, perhaps it is a refutation of the commonly heard charge, made most infamously by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer and echoed by Hagel himself, that the dread “Jewish lobby” insidiously controls American foreign policy. How strong can this lobby be if it failed to block the appointment as defense secretary of someone who was widely seen (rightly or wrongly) as inimical to Israeli interests?
Of course, neither Walt and Mearsheimer nor Hagel ever made the charge that the Israel lobby "controls American foreign policy"—and I challenge Boot to proffer an example stating otherwise—but that's not the funny part. In the next sentence, Boot writes, with my emphasis: "AIPAC—the most powerful pro-Israel group in Washington—actually sat out the whole fight ostensibly because it wants to affect policy, not personnel decisions." So let me get this straight: Hagel's confirmation proves that groups which didn't oppose Hagel are not all-powerful because they couldn't stop him? Wrap your feeble minds around that one, children; never you mind that even powerful lobbies sometimes lose. It's worth noting that the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League—two other centrist pro-Israel groups—raised concerns about Hagel, but didn't oppose his confirmation. And even though Josh Block, the head of the increasingly right-wing group The Israel Project, was one of the most visible opponents of Hagel in the press, the group's Jerusalem office dodged when asked if the organization's official position was to oppose the nomination. It's precisely the emergence of groups on the right and on the left that have made speaking of the pro-Israel lobby as a monolith more and more hollow: noting the distinctions between different pro-Israel groups would have rendered Boot's point on Hagel moot because no centrist or liberal group actually opposed confirmation.
What was most amazing, though, about Boot's post was the other subject on which he said the pro-Israel lobby had failed: Iran. Boot himself has advocated for a strike and (perhaps) projects this on pro-Israel groups, calling Iran's nuke program "their (and Israel’s) top issue." (Actually, AIPAC's perennial top priority is aid for Israel, which Hagel voted for at every instance, perhaps explaining why the group sat out the fight.) Noting that the U.S. just participated in another round of talks with Iran, Boot writes: "This is a far cry from what Israel—and for that matter America’s Gulf Arab allies—would like to see, which is American air strikes to cripple the Iranian nuclear program." He then keeps digging, adding that "if the 'Zionist Lobby' actually ran American foreign policy—as so many seem to imagine—it is puzzling why such strikes have not yet been undertaken." I'm old enough to remember when saying that pro-Israel groups (and indeed Israel itself) want war with Iran was enough to get right-wingers to accuse you of anti-Semitism. Of course, AIPAC is busy itself pushing (non-binding) hawkish resolutions on Iran, but it's always helpful to have Max Boot clarifying the pro-Israel lobby's goals for us.