Oh, those loony Jewish lobby fantasies

By David Aaronovitch, May 17, 2012

Somehow I missed it. Three days after 9/11, the former Private Eye editor, Richard Ingram, wrote in the Observer condemning coverage for missing what he considered to be a crucial point. "Noticeable was the reluctance," he wrote, "to contemplate the undeniable and central fact behind the disaster that Israel is now and has been for some time an American colony, sustained by billions of American dollars and armed with American missiles, helicopters and tanks."

This "fact" was only undeniable and central to Ingram and a small handful of similarly minded people. But it being so to him, he had to account for why it was that the world's media (except perhaps for that of Iran), insisted on seeing the attack in terms of fundamentalist Islam or American foreign policy, or even oil. To Ingram, the explanation was the influence of the Israeli/Jewish lobby, which had also got its tentacles (this one piece had to do a lot of work) wrapped around Tony Blair, in the shape of Lord Levy and other fundraisers. In various forms, extreme and less so, qualified and strident, this notion has been repeated for the last decade.

The "lobby" in America and to a lesser extent here, used its devices to twist foreign policy to serve Israel's purposes. The academics, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer averred, more or less, that pro-Israel lobbying had been behind the decision to invade Iraq. Here, a Channel 4 documentary fronted by the professionally enraged Peter Oborne, appeared to suggest that there was something more to this lobby stuff than met the eye. Meanwhile Antony Lerman wrote, after the inevitable overreaction to the Oborne documentary, that "the pro-Israel lobby is inextricably linked to wealthy Jews, payment of large sums of money to politicians, power and influence. This is simply factual observation. Twisted, maliciously exaggerated and deployed by antisemites to prove Jews plot conspiratorially to control the world, these facts can be dangerous."

It wasn't quite clear to me what work antisemites had to do, given Lerman's first sentence. Lobbies seek to influence, Israeli ones and pro-Fijian lobbies. The question is whether they are so powerful - out of all proportion to their support among voters - that they can pervert the course of policy. The default answer in parts of the British intelligentsia appears to have become "yes".

I was thinking about this in two recent elections - Bradford West and the London mayoral contest. In Bradford, naked appeal was made to the religious sensibilities of the large Muslim population. The appeal worked. It wasn't the only factor, but it was a big one. In London, Ken Livingstone had long before spotted the fact that there are many Muslim voters. He embraced the cleric al Qaradawi, rejecting criticism of the man's utterances as Israeli propaganda, gave support to a non-Labour candidate, Lutfur Rahman, as mayor of Tower Hamlets and told a Muslim audience that he wanted to make London a beacon of understanding Islam.

Jews seemed to have something to do with Ken losing

Put together, these emanations suggested a bigger truth. That in a democracy it's votes that count, that there are many more Muslim voters than there are Jewish ones and that some of them may vote more communally than British Jews tend to do. And then came the election. In no part of London was the difference between Labour's vote and Ken's vote bigger than in Barnet and Camden, a seat in which a large number of Jews live. Though it wasn't the Jews what won it for Boris, they certainly seemed to have something to do with Ken losing.

What this tells us can be summed up as lobby-shmobby. It's not dosh and secret meetings but votes and sentiment that count in a democracy. And we must never forget it.

Last updated: 1:36pm, May 22 2012