Edward Tivnan's "The Lobby: Jewish Political Power and American Foreign Policy" is a snide, sometimes bitter, largely trivial and even boring account of the role of the American Jewish community's efforts on behalf of Israel. Not as informed or as thoughtful as other critical accounts of pro-Israeli efforts in this country, Tivnan paints his story in black and white. Worthy of approval are Israeli and American Jewish critics of Israeli government policies, liberals, moderate Arab leaders, especially King Hussein, and American politicians who criticize Israeli policy. Tivnan bears no sympathy for conservatives either in Israel or America, the Likud Party in Israel, vociferous American supporters of Israel, including politicians, Jewish leaders and in particular the organization most closely identified as the pro-Israeli lobby in Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
His argument is both straightforward and simplistic: American and Jewish interests have been subverted by a vocal lobby that suppresses dissent in the Jewish community and prevents American Administrations from pursuing a peace in the Middle East (which would necessarily involve the PLO). Because American Jews are so afraid of diminishing support in the United States for Israel by criticizing her government, their strong proclivities in favor of negotiations for Israeli return of territories occupied in 1967 are hidden. Therefore, American Administrations are unable to pursue Washington's true interests by pressing forward toward a comprehensive Middle East settlement.
In order to justify these positions, Tivnan provides a quick sketch of Zionist history and the early years of American involvement with Israel during the pre-1967 period before concentrating on the Carter and Reagan presidencies, with forays into the deficiencies of the Israeli economy, Israeli politics and organized American Jewish life. Tivnan is a reporter who has worked for Time and ABC's "20/20" and has written for Newsweek and The New York Times. In this manuscript, he buttresses his arguments with references to familiar historical accounts--many of them notable (and some notorious) for their opposition to Israeli policies. He also relies heavily on interviews, many confidential; where identified, they are frequently with either Israeli critics or prominent American Jewish dissenters.
The consequence is a shallow coverage with the reader left questioning the accuracy of controversial material, as when the book on occasion provides novel anecdotes. For example, referring to a 1975 AIPAC-sponsored Senate letter criticizing President Ford's celebrated reassessment of policy toward Israel, the author claims that "a colleague heard Sen. Edward Kennedy say, 'You know, we get picked off one by one. They really beat us over the head with this goddamned letter.' " His source is former Sen. James Abourezk, who has since become heavily engaged in Arab-American political activities.
Gossip does not produce analysis. Worse, the book is strewn with factual errors and misleading references. Just as examples: George Marshall was secretary of state, not defense, in 1948; a U.S. nuclear alert was ordered at the end of the October, 1973, war, not in its early days; Henry Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy began under Nixon, not under Ford; the current American-Israeli strategic cooperation agreement was signed in late 1983, not 1984.
The fundamental problem, however, is that Tivnan's argument is ultimately contradictory, inaccurate and insulting to the American political system. Whenever a political figure or Administration official adopts a position favorable to Israel, Tivnan assumes that he or she has succumbed to political pressure. He does not consider that--right or wrong--many Americans do believe that Israel is deserving of U.S. support for its democracy, its values, its reliability, its military strength and paradoxically also its vulnerability--an isolated island in a mercurial and unstable region. To admit that there is a legitimate and respectable view of Israel as an asset to the United States is to accept the reality that the conflict over Middle East policy in the United States is part of the admirable roug1747804526debate in this country. Tivnan is unwilling to consider that even without the lobby, American officials would have reason to support a country as actively pro-American as Israel. Sadly, his position is more shrill because he maintains that only he and those who agree with him defend the national interest and that his opponents are either special pleaders or their victims.