I recently wrote that “talking about the Israel lobby in exactly the same way that everyone talks about the gun lobby is not and never has been ipso facto anti-Semitism.” Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry doesn’t fully disagree but thinks there are good reasons we treat the lobbying groups differently. The core of his post:
Our society, quite reasonably in my view, has developed a taboo against the use of words associated with group hatred, as a way to stigmatize said hatred. White people can’t use the n word in contemporary polite American society because that word is associated with the memory of white people who used that word and bought and sold black people as chattel… So we stigmatize it … Expressions like “Jewish lobby”, which carries the anti-Semitic trope that Jews are a shadowy clique that secretly controls the government have been — for centuries, around the world, to this very day in some places — used as spurs to mass violence.
This is an important point that lays bare the problem. One of the tropes of anti-Semitism has indeed been the notion that secret, powerful cabals of Jews somehow control the world from behind the curtain. That’s why I think Gobry is right to stigmatize a phrase like the “Jewish lobby” and why Chuck Hagel was right to apologize for that phrase. But “Israel lobby”? Or “Greater Israel lobby”, as I prefer to use? Not so much.
That phrase recognizes the existence of a lobby as powerful as the NRA, and just as distortive of rational public policy. It also recognizes that the Israel and Greater Israel lobbies are increasingly Christianist rather than Jewish, as the Christian fundamentalists in America find common cause with the Jewish fundamentalists on the West Bank. The Americans who show up for new settlement openings are increasingly called Huckabee.
But Gobry won’t even allow for such a neutral phrase:
Yes, phrases like “The Israel Lobby” are redolent of anti-Semitism. Yes, using crypto-anti-Semitic language is stigmatized by any decent society worthy of the name.
This is where I think the rhetorical game is rigged. Note the qualifications: phrases “like the ‘Israel Lobby'”; “redolent of”; “crypto-anti-Semitic”. It reminds me of Leon Wieseltier accusing me of “something much darker” than anti-Semitism, in order to be able to state that he never accused me of being an anti-Semite. It’s bullying blather. But it does have the advantage of making the Israel Lobby the only such lobby to be rendered immune from being described as exercizing control over the Congress like the NRA, even if it does.
This blog will avoid such a double standard for the simple purpose of telling the truth, as I can best discern it.