Public Comment

Commentary: AIPAC’s Legion of Supporters

By John Gertz
Friday April 27, 2007

Becky O’Malley begins her latest foray into the Middle East with noble sentiments. She endorses Pelosi’s and Lantos’ recent peace mission to Syria, and condemns the Bush administration for obstructing it. Then, as usual, our local editor severely strays. She starts by calling Israeli Prime Minister “clueless” for denying that Pelosi was bringing a peace message from him to Syrian President Assad, when everyone knows that Olmert is quite anxious to make peace with Syria, has said so often, and yes, of course Pelosi was bearing a message of peace to the Syrians from Olmert. No one has ever seriously called Olmert “clueless.” What a clueless insult. O’Malley, herself, concedes that, in order to send a peace message to Syria through Pelosi, Olmert had to disregard an explicit order from Bush not to do so. Olmert was in a tough position, since defying a bully like Bush cannot be a good thing for little Israel. Then O’Malley incoherently tries to tie AIPAC into this, as though somehow AIPAC is standing in the way of peace with Syria, citing Soros’ recent criticism of that organization. O’Malley quotes Soros as saying that he is “not sufficiently engaged in Jewish affairs,” and yet O’Malley nevertheless touts Soros as “a strong supporter of Israel.” Soros is right and O’Malley wrong. Soros has never been identified with Jewish causes or with Israel. He does not have much of a history of either support or detraction. His main focus of activity has been Eastern Europe. As for AIPAC, it did not in this case, and never would lift a finger to obstruct an Israeli peace initiative, but, more typically, in a case like this its role would be to help smooth over any bad feelings created between Olmert and Bush on his matter. O’Malley offers not a shred of evidence that AIPAC played or plays any obstructive role in the peace process, or in any way works against the interests of either the United States or Israel. Because AIPAC serves America’s interests as well as Israel’s, it is so highly regarded by politicians across the political spectrum, from Tom Bates to Tom Delay, and almost every politician in between, including Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Lee and Tom Lantos.  

Let me readily concede to O’Malley that AIPAC is an influential lobby. So are lots of other lobbies, some of whom I may agree with (Sierra Club, Americans for the American Way, MADD, etc.), and some with whom I may not (e.g., NRA). From where does AIPAC’s influence derive? Since, by law, AIPAC can neither raise money for candidates nor endorse them, it must be something else. First, polls consistently show that Americans support Israel over its Arab neighbors by very wide margins. It is never hard to be an effective lobby when you represent a majority viewpoint. Second, AIPAC is a vital resource of information. Let me offer an example. I once published an op-ed in the SF Chronicle. Two hours before going to press on the piece, the editor called me saying that he was going to challenge the veracity of one sentence in my piece. If I could not bring forth supporting sources before press time, the sentence would be struck (sadly, this kind of fact checking would never happen at the DP, at least when it comes to the Middle East). I told him that the factoid in question came from AIPAC. His response startled me: “If you got it from AIPAC, then it must be correct.” This is just one reason why AIPAC is so popular in Washington. Every member of the House and Senate knows that when they need information about the Middle East, they can get it fast, accurate, and unvarnished from AIPAC. Third (let’s get it out there), AIPAC members are largely Jewish, and Jews are, on average, more educated and politically involved than the overall population. This applies to Jews who are hypercritical of Israel as well. However, since nationwide (though not in Berkeley) such Jews are as rare as hens’ teeth, these hypercritical Jews have little effect nationally. I once met the head of AIPAC’s political division and asked him how much influence our locally vocal critics of Israel such as A Jewish Voice for Peace and the Tikkun Community had in Washington. His surprising response was that he had never heard of either group, and stressed that since he had been on the job for 20 years, that if these groups had even the slightest influence in Congress he would know of them. 

So, Ms. O’Malley let’s admit it, Jews have influence. What do you propose? Since influence largely derives from education, perhaps we can go back to the system, popular in the first half of the last century, of placing quotas on the number of Jews who could be accepted to the best colleges. It may be that Jews are more civically involved per capita. For example, there are currently eleven Jewish senators (i.e., 11 percent of senate seats), when only about 2% Americans are Jews. Perhaps we should then ban Jews from elective office. Perhaps we should dust off those good ol’ Nuremberg Laws. Maybe the DP should bring back that “Iranian living in India” pundit for his deep wisdom on the matter. 


John Gertz is a Berkeley resident and owner of the Zorro trademark.