Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Complaints of Suzanne Merkelson

In the wake of the AIPAC conference over the weekend the Huffington Post was cranking out blog posts on the subject about all sorts of topics like Iran, AIPAC and Israel. In the spirit of that they have recruited a brand new blogger named Suzanne Merkelson to (you guessed it) bash AIPAC and Israel some more. Ms. Merkelson has an extensive background in many different magazines and journals, but there's no surprise that the Huffington Post only brings her in when she has something nasty to say about AIPAC. In a lot of articles by other AIPAC critics like Steven Clemons and MJ Rosenberg, I am often sympathetic to their point of view. They think AIPAC is too right wing or too hawkish. That's fine. What I am less sympathetic toward are folks like Merkselson who's complaint is as such:
"One of the keys to AIPAC's success is its education arm, the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF). AIEF sponsors trips to Israel for Members of Congress and their staffs, and uses these trips generally relay Likud's view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict....None of the AIEF trips have featured extensive visits to the occupied West Bank that would reveal human rights abuses against Palestinians. Israeli human rights groups, too, are not part of these trips. There are also no visits to the Palestinian-operated Gaza Strip, which has been under a crippling embargo for years. The Palestinian narrative of the conflict seems to be almost completely disregarded."
Wow. That is shocking. I am shocked. Who would have thought that a pro-Israel lobby would promote a pro-Israel point of view? I always thought that every political group presented both sides of the issue at every turn. You mean that the NRA doesn't sponsor screenings of "Bowling for Columbine" and that CAIR doesn't bring in Nonie Darwish to speak at their conferences? I can't imagine why they wouldn't do such things!

So Suzanne Merkelson's first complaint: A pro-Israel lobby doesn't try to make people anti-Israel.

Let' check out her second:
"In all, AIEF spent $2,035,233 sponsoring congressional trips to Israel in 2011, according to data my blog, Republic Report, [nice self-promotion there Suzanne] gathered through the Legistorm database. In contrast, the more moderate Israel lobby J Street -- which launched in 2008 to provide an alternative to AIPAC's hawkish advocacy -- spent only $45,954  on congressional trips to Israel. J Street's trips, included more extensive meetings with Palestinians and Israeli human rights groups.  Which means that J Street was, in this area, outspent by a factor of 44: 1 in 2011."
And her second complaint is that AIPAC has more money than J Street.  Again, cry me a river. If the American people (Jewish and otherwise) think that J Street's point of view matches what they believe more than AIPAC does, they will vote with their feet and their dollars and switch allegiances. But they haven't because AIPAC is closer to what they believe. Whining and complaining about how unfair it is won't change the reality on the ground, especially when almost everyone on the Huffington Post is either J Street or anti-Israel already. Ms. Merkelson follows up this paragraph with a biased picture:

Just in case we weren't clear on her alliance to J Street and her antipathy toward AIPAC. Be sure to note the more subtle bias of the AIPAC "plane" being a fighter jet as opposed to the J Street "plane" being a 747. On the other hand, the outline of Israel does include the West Bank and Golan so we can thank her for that.

So let's review her second complaint: That the pro-Israel lobby she doesn't like is more successful than the "pro-Israel" lobby she does like. 

This is somehow worthy of a long article on the Huffington Post. Let's wrap this up with an analysis of her conclusion:
"AIPAC is certainly entitled to its point of view. But the enormous resources it marshals in pursuit of its goals, including for extensive overseas trips for legislators, drown out other voices and make it difficult for Members of Congress to hear and be receptive to other points of view about how to foster a peaceful Middle East and protect U.S. security."
I hear this argument a lot and it has always confused me. So maybe someone can explain it to me better. How does AIPAC having a lot of money "drown out other voices?" It's very common for other anti-AIPAC bloggers to accuse "the Lobby" of silencing pro-Arab voices, but Ms. Merkelson didn't, all she did was contrast AIPAC's power with J Street's power (or lack thereof). So it seems to me that it is not AIPAC's success that makes it hard for Congress to hear "other points of view," but rather the failure of those other points of view to galvanize the American people and make their case in the way that AIPAC did.

In other words, your side is losing and you're upset about it. So you write a column in the Huffington Post complaining and looking for sympathy. Well guess what: In the world of politics there's no prize for second place. Don't hate the player, Ms. Merkelson, hate the game.

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