The New York Review of Magazines

The American Conservative Devotes Space to Israel

By Ali Gharib

For my piece in this year’s New York Review of Magazines “In Review” section, I discuss the topic that initially brought The American Conservative to my attention: Israel. TAC delivers the sort of badly lacking attention to U.S.-Israel relations anyone yearning for a good, honest and critical debate would hope to see. And they ain’t backing down anytime soon.

The May issue of TAC (a magazine founded by Pat Buchanan to promote his “old right” — aka paleoconservative — agenda) has two feature articles on Israel. The cover shows U.S. President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu standing nose to nose, looking determined, with the words “Will He Blink?” between the two. It’s referencing Obama’s challenge to Netanyahu for a halt to settlement construction, which contravenes international law and U.S. policy.

But the articles, by Philip Weiss and Scott McConnell, two of my interview subjects for the magazine review, are not about Israeli colonies. Rather, in keeping with the name of the magazine, they focus on the U.S. angle.

McConnell, a Buchanan acolyte, offers bits of history in the U.S.-Israel relationship — including a precedent for the tough task of confronting Israel — and recounts some of the changing debate in Washington. He includes a shift in the mainstream media, until recently a dependable ally willing to affix a fig leaf to Israel’s more nefarious policies, or ignore them altogether. McConnell writes of a new set of critics that, “far too diffuse to be called a coalition, includes some anti-Zionists, but its vast majority favors a two-state solution. It is composed of Christians and Jews and an increasing number of Muslims.” McConnell goes on:

“Whereas informed skepticism about Israeli claims was once limited largely to American diplomats who served in the region, today its base may be ten times larger. For the first time in U.S. history, the pro-Palestinian side has a competitive voice in the public discourse—far smaller than the Israel lobby’s but growing every day.”

The so-called Israel lobby is exactly what Weiss takes aim at in his piece, helpfully titled: “Out From the Shadows: AIPAC Confronts its Worst Fear: Daylight.” AIPAC, of course, is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the flagship of the lobby — considered one of the most powerful groups in Washington. The daylight theme is a double entendre referring to both the lobby meme that there should be “no daylight” between the U.S. and Israel and the notion, articulated by longtime AIPAC official Steve Rosen (no longer), that “A lobby is a nightflower/ It thrives in the dark/ And dies in sunlight.” Though Weiss unfortunately declines to make the second reference clear, he heaps the sunlight on AIPAC, something he’s done before for TAC.

Weiss, a friend who runs the blog Mondoweiss (which — full disclosure — I’ve contributed to), comes at these issues from a left/liberal perspective. His website, filled with his thoughtful anti-Zionist musings about Jewish identity and Israel, has become a clearing house for progressive news and opinion on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Israel lobby is a common foil for Weiss. The topic was once taboo — even as recently as 2005, when The Atlantic refused to run an article it had commissioned by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer (who is quoted in Weiss’s latest TAC piece), international relations professors at Harvard and the University of Chicago, respectively. “We believe they rejected it because they came to believe the subject was too controversial and would cause problems,” Mearsheimer told CounterPunch. They had to take it off-shore to the London Review of Books. And here’s Phil Weiss, well to the left of these center-right realist scholars, taking their reasoned arguments to the pages of a conservative magazine just three years later.

You still won’t see much of this sort of frank talk, even in major left-leaning magazines. The ostensibly liberal New Republic’s foreign policy veers hard-right under its neocon publisher Marty Peretz. McConnell discusses longtime TNR literary editor Leon Wieseltier’s assault on The Atlantic blogger Andrew Sullivan, who’s been more and more critical of Israel recently. But The Atlantic also publishes Jeffrey Goldberg, a former Israel Defense Force prison guard who is a both nuanced critic of, say, settlement policy and nonetheless a reflexive defender of Israel who tends to dismiss her critics as anti-Semites. (On the pages of TNR, Goldberg compared Walt and Mearsheimer to the 1930’s fascist-friendly anti-Semite Father Coughlin, later accusing their book of making an “anti-Jewish argument” and comparing it to Charles Lindbergh, another fascist sympathizer.)

TAC, in this sense, stands as a tower of intellectual honesty looming over other conservative magazines. As mentioned in McConnell’s piece, National Review long ago gave in to neoconservative (in lock step with Israeli right-wing) positions on Israel. The Weekly Standard and Commentary are that movement’s flagship publications.

Make no mistake, though. TAC is a conservative magazine. My politics make me averse to many of the views put forward by paleocons who contribute to TAC. But I’m encouraged that it’s not a magazine so obsessed with ideological rigidity that it’s unwilling to publish progressives — side by side with paleos like McConnell himself — on complex issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where progressives and paleos agree that the status quo is untenable.

One Response to “The American Conservative Devotes Space to Israel”

  1. Salut, merci pour cet article vraiment instructif, continue comme ça, au plaisir de te lire!

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