Suppose the movers and shakers in the Israel lobby here–Abe Foxman, Alan Dershowitz and the rest of the crew–had simply decided to leave Jimmy Carter’s Palestine Peace Not Apartheid alone. How long before the book would have been gathering dust on the remainder shelves? Suppose even that Dershowitz had rounded up his unacknowledged co-authors in all their tens of thousands and sallied forth to buy up every copy of Carter’s book and toss each one into the Charles River. Would that have not been a more successful suppressor than the blitzkrieg strategy they did adopt?
Of course it would. For weeks now the lobby has hurled its legions into battle against Carter. He has been stigmatized as an anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier, a patron of former concentration camp killers, a Christian madman, a pawn of the Arabs who “flatly condones mass murder” of Israeli Jews. This last was from Murdoch’s New York Post editorial, relayed to its mailing list by the Zionist Organization of America.
Any day now I expect some janitors at the Carter Center to resign, declaring that they can no longer in all conscience mop bathrooms that might have been used by the former President, their letter of protest duly front-paged by the New York Times, just like the famous fourteen members of the Carter Center’s Board of Councilors. Actually there were 224 people on this board, where membership is mostly a thank-you for a financial donation to the center. So the headlines could be saying, More Than 90 Percent of Carter Center Board Members Back Former President.
But the assault on Carter is all to no avail. With each gust of abuse, Carter’s book soars higher and higher on the bestseller lists, reaching number four on Amazon itself. This doesn’t prove the lobby has no power. It proves the lobby can be dumb. Adroit lobbying consists in preventing unpleasing material from reaching the light of day. Lobbying thrives in furtive darkness: slipping language into a bill at the last moment, threatening to back a campaign opponent, making quiet phone calls to the Polish Embassy. Pressure is now being exerted on Farrar, Straus & Giroux to abandon its impending publication of Mearsheimer and Walt’s attack on the lobby.
The Israel lobby retains its grip inside the Beltway, but it’s starting to lose its hold on the broader public debate. Why? You can’t brutalize the Palestinian people in the full light of day, decade after decade, without claims that Israel is a beacon among the nations getting more than a few serious dents. In the old days, Mearsheimer and Walt’s tract would have been deep-sixed by the University of Chicago and the Kennedy School long before it reached its final draft, and Farrar, Straus & Giroux wouldn’t have considered offering a six-figure advance for it. Simon & Schuster would have told President Carter that his manuscript had run into insurmountable objections from a distinguished board of internal reviewers. But once a book by a former President with weighty humanitarian credentials makes it into bookstores, it’s hard to shoot it down with volleys of wild abuse.