Analysis & Opinions - Foreign Policy

How (and How Not) to Talk About the Israel Lobby

| Feb. 15, 2019

The recent uproar over Rep. Ilhan Omar's tweets criticizing the conduct of Israel's government and its U.S. supporters, especially the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), makes one thing clear: U.S.-Israel relations (and U.S. Middle East policy more broadly) remains a third rail that one touches at one's peril. The harsh responses to Omar are hardly surprising, and unfortunately—as in the past—this latest furor has generated considerably more heat than light. But the breadth and vehemence of the reaction are still instructive.

Let's start with some obvious but vital points. Anti-Semitism has a long and loathsome history dating back centuries, and the vicious killings at a Pittsburgh synagogue last year remind us that it remains a threat today. Anti-Semites have fanned the flames with bizarre conspiracy theories about secret cabals (e.g., the Protocols of the Elders of Zion) and sinister claims about the influence of "Jewish money," along with divisive accusations of national disloyalty (as in the notorious Dreyfus affair in France). Such hateful beliefs and tropes have had fatal consequences, most notably the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust, but it's important to recognize (as Omar has acknowledged learning recently) that the history of anti-Semitism and its current expression are more widespread than that particular horror.

Given all that, Jews are understandably alarmed and angry when similar ideas or tropes are invoked today. Indeed, everyone should be. We should all be outraged when a world leader such as Hungary's Viktor Orban directs classic anti-Semitic accusations at someone like George Soros or when Republican politicians use similar themes in campaigns and fail to denounce anti-Semitic chants at political rallies....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Walt, Stephen M.“How (and How Not) to Talk About the Israel Lobby.” Foreign Policy, February 15, 2019.

The Author

Stephen Walt