Obama and the Israel lobby

Israel Palestinians
US President Barack Obama (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk during the funeral of former Israeli president and prime minister Shimon Perse at the Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem on September 30, 2016.  (photo: AFP / POOL / Menahem Kahana)
In his new memoir, Obama subtly reveals how AIPAC stymied his administration.

By Peter Beinart | Jewish Currents  |  Nov 25, 2020

‘. . .[t]here wasn’t much Abbas could give the Israelis that the Israelis couldn’t already take on their own . . . I thought it was reasonable to ask the stronger party to take a bigger first step in the direction of peace.’
— Barack Obama, former President of the United States

Israel/Palestine isn’t an easy subject for Washington autobiographers. Samantha Power’s criticism of the Jewish state became a central issue in her 2013 confirmation hearings to become US ambassador to the United Nations. Yet in the index of Power’s 2019 memoir, The Education of an Idealist, the word “Israel” does not appear. It probably seemed safest to omit the subject altogether.

In his new autobiography, A Promised Land, her former boss, Barack Obama, tries a different tack. He gives the reader enough information to glimpse what Washington policymaking on Israel/Palestine is really like. He details the political realities that constrained his ability to challenge Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and will likely constrain Joe Biden’s, too. But he doesn’t spell out the implications of his narrative, perhaps because it so closely resembles the argument of one of the most incendiary foreign policy books of the last two decades: Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby.

In 2006, Walt, a political scientist at Harvard, and Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, published an essay—which then became a book—claiming that “the real reason why American politicians are so deferential” to the Israeli government “is the political power of the Israel lobby.” That deference, they argued, “jeopardize[s] U.S. national security.” The book sparked a furious backlash. Abraham Foxman, then the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote his own book devoted to proving that arguments like Walt and Mearsheimer’s were antisemitic. Harvard and the University of Chicago declared that Walt and Mearsheimer’s “article should not be interpreted or portrayed as reflecting the official position of either institution.”

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