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Vivian Salama

USA/Middle East

Vivian Salama is an award winning reporter, producer and blogger. Currently based in Lahore, Pakistan, she has reported for various publications from across the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, the United States and North and South Korea. She has also appeared as a commentator on the BBC, France24, South African Broadcasting Corp., TVNZ, NPR and as a reporter for Voice of America radio. Her byline has appeared in numerous publications including Newsweek, USA Today, the International Herald Tribune, the National, Jerusalem Post, and the Daily Star. Salama has an MA in Islamic Politics from Columbia University and she previously worked as a lecturer of international journalism at Rutgers University. Close.

Vivian Salama

USA/Middle East

Vivian Salama is an award-winning reporter, producer and blogger. Currently based in Lahore, Pakistan, she has reported for various publications from across the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, the United States and North and South Korea. more »

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Who Can Match Israel's Lobby?

The day after I returned from a three-year stint reporting in the Middle East, while war raged between Israel and Hezbollah militants, I turned on the news back here at home. It was eye-opening.

At the time I was jet-lagged, culture-shocked, and feeling seriously withdrawn from the controversy from which I had so suddenly removed myself. It was a difficult time to return. The first story I saw on TV was a pro-Israel war rally taking place here in New York. Would-be presidential candidate Hillary Clinton gave the keynote address. She told the crowd of thousands, "We will stand with Israel because Israel is standing for American values as well as Israeli ones."

A day or two later, still glued to the television set, I caught one of Pat Buchanan’s several MSNBC appearances. With the blunt candor he is known for, Buchanan said, with regard to presidential hopefuls and the Israel-Hezbollah war, "Let's face it: there are more people in America who will vote for you because you are pro-Israel than those who will vote for you because you are pro-Arab."

According to Mearsheimer and Walt, authors of the controversial Israel Lobby, "we use 'the Lobby' as a convenient short-hand term for the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to shape U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction." Of course, this should not be blurred with the Jewish lobby. The Israel Lobby has more influence on U.S. foreign policy because it has the support of many conservative Christian groups, which the mainstream media dubbed "Christian Zionists" in the days following September 11th. Certainly it is worth noting that Israel receives the most U.S. foreign aid per year ($2.5 billion in 2006, according to Reuters), though I hesitate to say that this is directly the result of the lobby – especially since Egypt and Colombia, the second and third highest recipients, respectfully, do not have nearly the same lobbying support as does Israel.

Rather than question the power and/or influence of the Israel lobby, I'd like to pose a related question: Is there any lobby that is nearly as influential as Israel’s? The recent decision by a U.S. Congressional panel to recognize the Armenian genocide in Ottoman Turkey was a major success for the Armenian Lobby in America – though it came after many years of lobbying. After a countermeasure supported by the Turkish Lobby, as many as eleven House members later withdrew their support for the genocide resolution. Of course, this is likely due to America's reliance on Turkey as a strategic regional partner rather than the Turkish lobby's pull in Washington. The Indian Lobby has been gaining ground in the U.S., particularly in light of the somewhat recent nuclear deal between the U.S. and India.

Still, none have mobilized in the way the Israel Lobby has since the days of World War II. (An interesting book documenting the earlier days of the Israel/Jewish Lobby is Arieh J. Kochavi's "Post-Holocaust Politics").

What about the Arab lobby? There is no cohesive Arab lobby in the U.S. Groups such as the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Arab American Institute (AAI) and a few Islamic groups pose as lobbyists, but it is really the oil companies (or their respective Gulf monarchs) and various donors who serve as the true supplicants. The problem is that they do not truly represent the Arab people.

There's no telling whether recent developments, including Condoleezza Rice's comments about the imminence of a Palestinian state or AIPAC’s legal troubles, will eventually level the lobbying playing field. For now, however, it is hard to imagine that any group will surpass the Israel lobby's ability to win hearts and minds in Washington.

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