I wasted a little time before writing this article, to see if I could produce a satire or a parody. This would have consisted of a fundraising letter from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to a potential donor. “Dear Leo,” it might begin. “We are asking you, even in these straitened times, to make the largest contribution you can afford. The security of the state of Israel is threatened as never before, and your help is urgently required. Alas, we can offer you nothing in return for your donation. Our representatives are still treated with scorn and contempt in the halls of Congress and by the White House. The news media remain deaf to our entreaties. If you choose to attend our annual conference, we can offer you nothing by way of ‘access.’ As usual, the secretaries of state and defense and the leadership of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will find plausible reasons to be absent. So will the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader. Try to think of your contribution as a mitzvah: a private good deed that may not even go unpunished.”
I had to give the thing up. It just didn’t have that ring of near-truth that a successful satire or parody demands. You may conceivably wonder what provoked this folly in the first place. Two separate fusses, one in Europe and one in the United States, have raised the awkward question of Jewish influence. Recently, the European Union commissioner for trade, Karel de Gucht, a Belgian, made some remarks about the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Washington, in the course of which he said:
Do not underestimate the Jewish lobby on Capitol Hill. That is the best-organized lobby, you shouldn’t underestimate the grip it has on American politics—no matter whether it’s Republicans or Democrats.
In the ensuing uproar, this statement was described by the editor of the British magazine Standpoint (a monthly that ingeniously manages to unite both Zionist and Roman Catholic conservatives) as “blatant anti-Semitism” and a voice “from Europe’s unspeakable past.”
Then, last week, Cuban-American TV anchor Rick Sanchez, apparently maddened by the taunts of Jon Stewart, made some rather heavily sarcastic remarks about the power of the American Jewish minority and the sharing of its liberal assumptions by many at the networks. He was fired from CNN almost before he had finished getting this off his chest.
Now, of course, some Jews will detect the usual anti-Semitic “fork” here: the followers of the ancient faith being simultaneously indicted for being too conservative and establishment-oriented and too liberal and left-wing. But what has to strike the eye about both sets of remarks is how uncontroversial they are.
To take an example near to hand: A few months ago, I wrote here that the recent sharp deterioration in Israeli-Turkish relations was at least partially explicable by a single fact: This year, a key House committee voted to refer to the Turkish massacre of the Armenians in 1915 as genocide. In previous years, that vote had gone the other way. The difference, I pointed out, was this: Until recently, the Israel lobby on the Hill had worked to protect Turkey from such condemnation. But after the public quarrel between Turkey’s prime minister and Israel’s president at Davos, the lobby was in no mood to do any more favors. In other words, a vote with major implications for U.S. foreign policy—positive ones in my opinion—was determined by the supporters of a single power. I did not receive a single letter of complaint for making this observation, and I know nobody in Washington who would have quarreled with its obviousness.
It’s not that long since the late Yitzhak Rabin was complaining that groups like AIPAC had too much influence on Israeli policy. Is there any other lobby that exerts a comparable influence? Perhaps the National Rifle Association. And, of course, on the single issue of the maintenance of a failed embargo, the Cuban-American caucus and its funding base in Florida and New Jersey. (I wonder if Rick Sanchez would offer me an argument there.)
Coming to Sanchez, then, I ask myself if the world in which I have worked for so many decades—the intersecting and overlapping world of the news media, publishing, the academy, and the think-tank industry—is even imaginable without the presence of liberal American Jews. The answer is plainly no. Moreover, I can’t think of any other “minority” of which this is remotely true, unless it were to be the other minority from which I can claim descent: people of British or Anglophile provenance.
So why the fuss? I think it has to do with the tone of voice in which these facts are stated. Karel de Gucht, for example, prefaced his comments by saying: “There is indeed a belief—it’s difficult to describe it otherwise—among most Jews that they are right.” How untrue is this? Self-criticism among Jews, on matters of religion and statecraft, is actually rather noticeable. But anyone who has ever had a dispute with some of the spokesmen for the holy state may possibly have detected a whiff of righteousness here and there. (I pause to ask myself what it’s like to be a Belgian, if there is such a thing. Too proud? Too masochistic? Difficult to decide. Like the mule, it seems to be a country without pride in paternity or hope of posterity.)
In the manner in which Sanchez spoke, also, there was something like a buried resentment. He didn’t descend into saying that there was Jewish control of the media, but he did imply that liberalism was linked to a single ethnicity. Still, there is nothing criminal about this, and the speed of his firing, like the other recent abrupt disappearances of Laura Schlessinger and Octavia Nasr, seems to suggest a network system that cares only about playing safe and avoiding “offense.” The best way to demonstrate the hidden influence of the chosen people would be for Jon Stewart and others to join me in calling for Rick Sanchez’s reinstatement. If it then didn’t happen, it would help us understand who really pulls the strings around here.