JWR Schticks and groans

Jewish World Review Oct. 3, 2002 / 27 Tishrei, 5763

Where do I sign up for the "Zionist Lobby"?

By Michael Freund

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | Fifteen years ago, as a sophomore at Princeton, I found myself rooming with a religious Lutheran from America's Midwest.

Although he was fairly intelligent and worldly, my roommate's previous exposure to Jews had been quite limited, so when I asked him one day just how many Jews he thought lived in the United States, his answer caught me completely by surprise.

"I don't know," he said, proceeding to offer a rough guess of "between 50 and 60 million." That is nearly ten times the actual number.

Asked to explain how he arrived at this estimate, he said it was simple - Jews played such a prominent role in American life that there just had to be lots of them out there.

I thought of this story the other day while reading some recent comments from Arab and Islamic leaders, who seem convinced that Jews control the United States and its political institutions. But whereas my former roommate was speaking out of na´ve ignorance, these Arab statesmen are doing so out of malice and hate.

Pick an issue, any issue, and the Arab world will find a reason to pin the blame on what they term the all-powerful "Zionist lobby".

The coming US war on Baghdad? It's the Jews' fault, of course. Just ask Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, who said this past Saturday that "Zionist circles" in Britain and the US were pushing the two countries into war against Iraq to serve Israel and its interests (AP, September 28).

How about the deterioration in US-Iranian relations? You guessed it: it's the Jews again. In a September 12 interview with ABC News, Hassan Rohani, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, complained that, "after September 11, the hardliners, especially the Zionist lobby, became more active and, unfortunately, influenced Mr. Bush" to view Iran in a negative light.

Then there are the Saudis, whose image in the West has suffered since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Rather than taking stock and asking themselves why 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, they prefer instead to pin their troubles on the Jews.

Last Friday, Saudi Interior Minister Prince Naif said that Western media reports highlighting Saudi support for terrorism are "orchestrated by the Zionist lobby which works against the American people's interests."

"The most powerful nation in the world," he asserted in all seriousness, "is hostile to Arabs and Muslims as a result of the influence the Zionist lobby wields in the United States" (Arab News, September 27).

Even America's ostensible Arab and Moslem allies, such as Egypt and Pakistan, share these ridiculous views. Recently, in the official Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly (August 7), the paper's chairman Ibrahim Nafie wrote that Western criticism of Egypt had been "unleashed by the US Zionist lobby in coordination with Zionist groups in Europe".

The influential Pakistani daily The Dawn also attributes great clout to the Jews. Last Thursday, after the UN Security Council passed a resolution sharply critical of Israel, the paper editorialized that the Jewish state would have little trouble ignoring the decision thanks to the "power and influence the Zionist lobby enjoys in the US."

As someone who was involved politically in America before making aliyah, I must say that I am deeply insulted. No one ever invited me to join the "Zionist lobby" or take part in its meetings. Had I known just how powerful it is, I would certainly have wanted to become a member.

Indeed, the crazy thing about this whole "Zionist lobby" argument is not so much that there are some people out there who believe it, but that so many leading Arab officials and decision-makers profess this point of view.

If, as they maintain, the "Zionist lobby" controls America, then why do the US and Israel often disagree on major policy issues? From Jewish settlements in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, to Israeli control over eastern Jerusalem, to the blockade of Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah this past week, the US frequently criticizes Israeli actions and forces Israel to make concessions it would otherwise not countenance.

In fact, the suggestion that there is an invincible "Zionist lobby" at work in Washington says far more about those who believe in it than it does about the reality on the ground.

It indicates just how little understanding there is of democracy and freedom in much of the Arab and Islamic world today. They confuse the effective exercise of basic democratic rights with the sinister control of a nation's institutions. And that is because people in their own countries remain largely deprived of those very same fundamental rights.

Moreover, pinning the blame on the "Zionists" enables Arab leaders to deflect attention from their own failings, both domestic and foreign.

Thankfully, at least one Arab leader now seems to have realized this. Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who can hardly be accused of being a follower of Theodor Herzl, said on Saturday that Arabs should stop blaming Israel for their woes. "It is easy to hold others responsible and blame Israel and the Zionist lobby," he said, adding, "but if we really want to influence American policy, we should be strong in our country, plan our ambitions and decide what we want from others."

I couldn't have said it any better myself.

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JWR contributor Michael Freund served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Israeli Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Michael Freund<