Monday, December 17, 2012

Making Lemons out of Lemonade

This is a very interesting and, in its way, very tragic column by Peter Beinart on the potential nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as Secretary of State. Beinart starts off by observing that AIPAC is not exactly VP of the Chuck Hagel fan club, which is probably true enough. He then predicts that AIPAC will not publicly oppose Hagel's nomination. Why? Because they "can't win." Hagel has too much support amongst both Democrats and Republicans. Well, ring up another for the supposedly indomitable Israel Lobby. And of course, it's possible that AIPAC won't oppose Hagel because they don't think he's worth opposing.

But moving on -- Beinart does predict that some folks will be pretty vociferously anti-Hagel: the putatively "pro-Israel" groups to AIPAC's right. Groups like the Emergency Committee for Israel, or the Republican Jewish Coalition, or the Washington Free Beacon, will hardly share AIPAC's sense of prudence.

Now, what does Beinart take from this? That AIPAC will have been "outflanked", "look[ing] like the loser in a fight it didn’t want to have." Which is strange, because I see it as "AIPAC consciously putting distance between itself and groups to its right," which is an unabashed gain for the good guys. Indeed, the more that AIPAC views entities like the ECI and company as obstacles to its continued influence and Israel's continued security, the better, since AIPAC still does have plenty of influence and I'd love for some of that clout to go towards taking Noah Pollak down a peg.

But Beinart is too excited at seeing AIPAC in a bind that he's missing an opportunity to take back the center. The way Beinart puts it, any time AIPAC doesn't join the far-right on something Israel-related, it's because it can't, not because it doesn't want to. The group is as right-wing as it possibly can be, and any act that seems more centrist is to be cheered not because it signifies that the lodestone of pro-Israel is tacking center, but because it purportedly signifies that the lodestone of pro-Israel is losing its grip.

And I think that's a mistake. The pro-Israel left may not be best buddies with AIPAC, but they're not preordained to be our adversary either. It is those right-wing groups like the ECI that are the real threat from within the "pro-Israel" camp, and if they're dumb enough to actively marginalize themselves from mainstream organization, you have to take that and run with it.