Is the US coming to its senses over Israel?

Maybe at long last the Israeli lobby’s stranglehold over Congress is starting to get up the noses of ‘thinking Americans’ – and Jewish thinking Americans at that.

No less a person than Thomas Friedman, the New York Times foreign affairs correspondent has accused American leaders of betraying the country by “outsourcing foreign policy to Israel”. He went on to say that the standing ovation given to Netanyahu by Congress last year was “bought and paid for by the Israeli lobby” – which it clearly was. This was powerful stuff coming from a three times Pulitzer prize winner and recognised authority on the Middle East.

As you can imagine the Israeli lobby thought police went ballistic. One of their own betraying ‘the cause’ – against which no ill shall be spoken – was just too much. Gales of condemnation followed. Friedman was pilloried by the Israeli ambassador, the American Jewish Committee and the Jerusalem Post – even toadying Congressmen joined in – presumably in an effort  to collect more brownie points and keep their paymasters happy.

Friedman went on to say that the “powerful pro-Israel lobby in an election season can force the administration to defend Israel at the U.N., even when it knows Israel is pursuing policies not in its own interest or America’s.” A more damning critique of Israel and the Israeli lobby would be difficult to make.

Friedman is not alone in being critical of Israel and America’s pro-Netanyahu stance. Roger Cohen has called the opposing Israeli oppression of the Palestinians the most important task currently facing diaspora Jews. He believes that ‘new conversations’ are now taking place amongst many American Jews, and particularly those involved in the ‘J Street’, an organisation devoted to lobbying for Israel from a more liberal point of view. But he admits that the conversation about Israel in the US is far from even handed – although much more than it used to be.

The late Tony Judt, for whom I have nothing but the greatest admiration, would have been pleased that America appears to be coming to its senses – albeit slowly. He, and others, deserve a lot of credit for expanding the permissible. They endured opprobrium and ostracism, to state the obvious: The unconditional US-Israeli relationship is good for neither the US nor Israel. Change is in the air.

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