The Iran Deal Highlights the Crackup of the Israel Lobby


Jonathan Chait writes that AIPAC’s failure to stop the Iran deal shows that “there is no more ‘Israel lobby’; there is a red Israel lobby and a blue one.” And that matters a lot:

As a simple matter of political mechanics, acquiring a veto-proof majority in both houses of Congress meant hawks needed liberal Democrats to take their side. But they did not have arguments that could appeal to liberals — even liberals with a deep emotional connection to Israel.

….This underscores the most important tectonic forces moving beneath the Israel lobby’s feet. Over the last 15 years, the foreign-policy debate in Israel has moved steadily rightward….[This] has pushed the American Jewish establishment to the right of American Jewry as a whole.

….But there is more at work than simple pigheadedness or habitual aggression. Many conservative supporters of Israel do not necessarily regard the crack-up of American Jewish opinion as a problem. In their view, diplomacy with Iran is the prelude to Israel’s annihilation, and support for Netanyahu’s permanent occupation is the sine qua non of genuine support for Israel. It follows that the Iran debate essentially succeeded, by smoking out the fake Israel supporters. An almost giddy Jennifer Rubin concludes that the deal’s victory destroys “the myth of bipartisan support for Israel.” The crack-up of the Israel lobby is, for its most conservative members, not a failure at all but the fulfillment of a longtime dream.

Benjamin Netanyahu no longer even tries to appeal to both liberal and conservative American Jews. As Gershom Gorenberg points out, he has all but turned his government into an overseas arm of the Republican Party, apparently in the hope that this would eventually work out for the best:

Netanyahu’s imagined America is one in which Mitt Romney was sure to win in 2012, as can be seen from the prime minister’s behavior back then. Like the Republicans to whom he is close, he treats Obama’s presidency as a historical glitch. Like many Jewish Republicans, he expects American Jews to place Israel at the top of their voting priorities, to agree with his policies, and to wake up at last to the need to vote Republican. After all, that’s how the American Jews he knows best see things. To these misreadings, add his irrepressible impulse to jump into American politics.

The consequence is that Netanyahu has done more than anyone else to identify Israel—that is, the Israel shaped by his policies—with the Republican Party. Nancy Pelosi’s bitter, brilliant reproach after his speech to Congress last March was the clearest possible warning that his alliance with the GOP against Obama would free, or push, Democrats to break with him. He ignored the warning.

Like nearly everything else in American politics, Israel has become a dreary partisan issue. Conservatives might be thrilled with this because they think it will hurt liberals, but the evidence suggests just the opposite: it will hurt Israel instead.