The Israel Lobby and American Muslims
by Stephen Schwartz
Through most of this year, much of the American policy elite have been shaken by allegations that a powerful Jewish and pro-Israel lobby dictates strategic decisions that are dangerous to U.S. interests in the Mideast. The uproar began with an anti-Israel polemic by two political scientists, John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.
The claim that the current intervention in Iraq was forced on the U.S. by a cabal of pro-Israel neoconservatives is central to the Mearsheimer-Walt argument. But its foundation is a "realist" argument for American isolationism and disengagement from the world – especially from the global campaign for democracy envisioned by President George W. Bush. Some leading American Muslim groups, aligned with Palestinian radical interests, were quick to endorse this posture. As the controversy has widened, liberal and leftist Jewish intellectuals have demonstrated an unanticipated enthusiasm for criticism of "the lobby."
American Muslims would do well to thoroughly examine their options before letting themselves be lashed to the cart of a revived isolationism. Many of the most strident advocates for a new "America First" movement are barely-disguised neofascists, who sow panic and fear of action overseas to promote their own disreputable agendas. It is tragic to see liberal and especially Jewish public figures in a de facto alliance with such agents of confusion.
Counter-intuitive as it may seem, I believe American Muslims should defend the Jewish and pro-Israel leadership in the U.S. against irrationalism, conspiracy theories, and challenges to their Americanism. Such demagogy is good for nobody except those who profit from it by stirring hatred and collecting donations from haters. Those who accuse American Jews of a superior loyalty to Israel can just as easily accuse American Muslims of a superior loyalty to the global Islamic community, or umma. Since too many American Muslim representatives already declare that their affiliation to the umma supersedes their American allegiance, the danger to the Muslims should be obvious.
But there are numerous other reasons for American Muslims to break from their now-habitual anti-Jewish attitudes and create new relations with the American Jewish and pro-Israel leadership groups.
First, there is incremental but increasing evidence of a sea change among Arab Sunni Muslims, on the question of Israel. For example, although it has received almost no news in the West, the gulf state of Qatar has reopened relations with the Jewish state, and Israel's female foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, is scheduled to visit there at the end of this month.
In addition, rumors continue to circulate in Saudi Arabia and Israel regarding meetings between representatives of their two governments.
Israel's supporters in the U.S. have repeatedly been left behind, in an obsolete paradigm, when Israel adopts new and innovative policies. American Muslims should learn how to anticipate events rather than following after them – failing to predict a major change in the Arab stance toward Israel could leave American Muslims isolated in a labyrinth of political narcissism. Muslims would gain more by seriously engaging with Israel's supporters than by continuing to attack them.
American Muslims should further avoid the stereotyping that, in the past, led them and others to assume that Israelis, the American Jewish leaders, and the neoconservatives, Jewish and Gentile, all coordinate to drive American policy in the Muslim and Arab world. The diversity and differences between pro-Israel, domestic Jewish, and neoconservative opinions are described in my new book Is It Good For the Jews? The Crisis of America's Israel Lobby, issued by Doubleday.
American Muslims should also remember that American and other Western Jewish leaders have repeatedly stood up for the legitimate rights of those who follow the religion of Islam. On October 15, The Sunday Times of London included an angry column by India Knight, an author of mixed origin, proclaiming "Muslims are the New Jews" in their struggle for acceptance as a non-Christian minority in the West. Muslims can learn much from the experience of Jews in gaining common respect as a community of "others."
Indeed, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, it should be kept in mind that, as I have repeatedly pointed out, the American Muslim community establishment or "Wahhabi lobby" – groups like the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) – clearly borrowed their organizational model from the American Jewish leadership. Obviously, the extreme ideology put forward by ISNA, CAIR, and MPAC makes them very different from the Jewish groups, which are moderate to a point some consider excessive.
American Muslims should not forget that American Jews comprised the leading force in the West pressing for the rescue of the Bosnians and Albanians – most of them Muslim – during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s.
Finally, Arabs and Muslims everywhere should recognize that the democratization program put forward by the Bush administration, notwithstanding its immediate obstacles, represents the only meaningful perspective for a prosperous, secure, and free future for the whole globe. Arabs and Muslims in the West must break through the thick layers of disinformation and negative conditioning applied by mainstream media and the corrupt Arab and Muslim academic "experts" who act as gatekeepers for Islam to the Western elites, and, incidentally, cover for the brutal and oppressive rulers that claim to represent Islam. There is no doubt that the masses of Arabs and Muslims throughout the umma themselves favor the democratic promise.
Five months ago, Bashy Quraishy, an Indian Muslim minority-rights monitor who lives in Denmark, proposed in a UK meeting that European Muslims commence a new and frank dialogue with European Jews, leaving their past differences behind, in the interest of the general continental welfare. The same message needs to be heard among American Muslims.