By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
Nigel Farage, former head of UKIP, is accused of suggesting “Jews control America” on his October 31 radio show at LBC. When I read the headlines I was shocked. Yair Rosenberg at Tablet writes “The architect of Brexit indulged the suggestion that Jews control America on behalf of Israel on his daily radio show.” Nicole Goodkind at Newsweek‘s headline is “Jews should concern Americans more than Russian influence, Nigel Farage says.” The Anti-Defamation League has waded in. “Nigel Farage’s comments about the role of a power ‘Jewish lobby’ in America plays into deep-seated anti-semitic tropes about supposed Jewish control of government,” Jonathan Greenblatt told Newsweek. He then tweeted the article and added “this is fuel for white supremacists who exploit and spread conspiracy theories.”
Like several recent cases of claims of “anti-semitism,” the story about Farage needs closer inspection. Let’s start with what he actually said.
Ahmed: How come there is such an issue with Russian involvement and no one really highlights AIPAC and the Israelis lobby and involvement in American elections?
Farage: Well the Israel lobby, that’s a reasonable point, because there are about 6 million Jewish people living in American, as a percentage that’s quite small, but in terms of influence it’s quite big but I don’t think anybody [pause], they have a voice within American politics as indeed do the Hindu groups and many other groups, but I don’t think anybody is suggesting that the Israeli government tried to affect the result of the American elections, what it comes down to in my view is that Russia is seen to be the enemy…
Ahmed: I would say what’s the big deal [with Russia]? With Israel they affect both Democrats and Republicans, they have them both in their pocket.
Farage: Well in terms of money and influence they are a powerful lobby and America has interfered elections all over the world for decades, there is a degree of hypocrisy…[Farage ends the call]…he makes the point that there are powerful foreign lobbies in the US, and the Jewish lobby with its links to the Israeli government is one of those strong voices.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism has called on Farage to apologize. They claim “it was not merely alleged that Israel conducts lobbying, but that it is carried out by the entire Jewish population of the United States and that in doing so American politics are subverted. Counting all American Jews as lobbyists with disproportionate, subversive power and both major political parties in their financial grips is the stuff of antisemitic conspiracy theories.” The CAA goes on to say “Mr Farage should immediately withdraw his deplorable comments and apologise for them, or LBC should relieve him of his duties. We await Mr Farage’s urgent apology and in the meantime we will be asking Ofcom [Office of Communications] to open an investigation.”
Farage should clarify his comments, but listening to the whole discussion with the caller one is left wondering if what he said is anti-semitic or whether it has been wildly exaggerated. Part of this hinges on whether one thinks he was “suggesting” that “Jews control America on behalf of Israel.” What Farage actually said was that Jews “have a voice within American politics as indeed do the Hindu groups and many other groups.” That doesn’t sound like he’s saying anything anti-semitic. Farage notes that no one is suggesting the Israeli government seeks to affect the result of US elections. Nothing about “control.” Farage is suggesting the opposite of what he is accused of. In his second reply to the caller he mentions “money and influence” and acknowledges that “they” are a powerful lobby, which either refers to AIPAC, which the caller was alleging, or more broadly American Jews. It is the latter suggestion that wades into anti-semitism. Farage then ends the call but sums it up as “he makes the point that there are powerful foreign lobbies in the US, and the Jewish lobby with its links to the Israeli government is one of those strong voices.” Strong voices doesn’t indicate “control.”
Farage is castigated for using the term “Jewish lobby” when that term has been used by many others. Former US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel referred to a “Jewish lobby” in 2006. The Guardian says Aaron David Miller responded, noting that Hagel had described a “fact” in discussing, in the words of the Guardian “the considerable influence of the lobby on Congress in an interview the then senator gave in 2006 for Miller’s book, The Much Too Promised Land.” Hagel was widely critiqued for his comment just like Farage. The Washington Post called his comment “controversial” and MSNBC asked if it was “out of context.” Senator Bill Nelson of Florida also waded into the same problematic language when he boasted of his many friends in the “Jewish lobby.” The term has been used as one of abuse for pro-Israel groups, and one of misplaced affection. The website BBC Watch has noted that the term is used too often at the BBC, citing numerous examples.
The BBC in a 2007 review of the book on The Israel Lobby by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, titled the article: “The power of America’s ‘Jewish lobby’ is said to be legendary.” The Israeli newspaper Haaretz printed an article in March 2016 describing AIPAC as ‘the conference of the Elders of Zion,’ a headline it changed online but which exists in print, in which the author claimed “Almost 20,000 people will flock to the city’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Almost all are Jews.” It continues “I’ve never met anyone who could provide a comprehensive explanation for the enormous and destructive power AIPAC has accumulated. I’ve never met anyone who could explain America’s blind, automatic policy toward Israel, for which AIPAC is to a large extent responsible.” In April 2016 the same Israeli newspaper published another piece where it spoke of “the pressure brought to bear by a small group of wealthy Jews to silence criticism of Israel and the support of billionaires and corporations for Israel’s policies.”
So if Chuck Hagel has spoken about the “Jewish lobby” and if Israeli newspapers go far beyond anything that Farage said, then why is what Farage said attacked for being “anti-semitic”? The Newsweek claim that Farage said “Jews should concern Americans more than Russian influence,” is false and misleading. He didn’t say Jews should concern Americans. He was asked about AIPAC and the Israel lobby and he said it has power like other groups. He said there was no claim Israel has tried to affect the result of a US election. Even when referencing the “Jewish lobby,” Farage says it is a “strong voice,” not that it controls anything. Calling it a strong voice is certainly more tame than what many other books and newspapers have alleged, such as the Israeli newspaper that claims it “silences” people.
There is an attempt to push back at comments like these and claim pro-Israel groups don’t have a disproportionate influence. But writers who try to assert that have a problem, because pro-Israel groups in the US openly brag about their influence. “The Israel lobby that could soon rival AIPAC’s influence in Washington,” shout the headlines. One can’t have it both ways. One can’t have massive star-studded events with US presidential candidates all coming and all trying to be more pro-Israel than the next, and then pretend that this lobby is not influential. In October one pro-Israel group raised $35 million in one night. Jewish Federations in the US also raise huge sums for Israel, including $55 million during the 2014 Gaza war. The Forward estimated that what it calls the “Jewish charity industry” in the US is worth $26 billion. Out of that hundreds of millions are donated to Israel. The Jerusalem Post wrote a headline in 2016 that “US Jews contribute half of all donations to the Democratic Party.” It notes: “The reason for such intense scrutiny is the outsize contributions of Jewish donors to US political campaigns, with Jewish donors contributing a whopping 50% of funds received by the Democratic Party and 25% to the Republican Party, Troy says.” Times of Israel also notes “Jewish donors prominent in presidential campaign contributions.”
On the one hand Israeli media often highlight the power and influence of the US Jewish community, on the other hand organizations and others describe as “anti-semitic” someone who repeats what they have read and heard, namely that this group is influential and powerful. It can’t be both ways. To pretend there is not disproportionate influence and that pro-Israel organizations do not influence the US is to purposely ignore reality. A nuanced explanation, noting that most of the vociferous critics of Israel in the US are also Jewish activists, and that pro-Israel supporters are found among many non-Jewish Christians, provides a more clear understanding of how the pro-Israel crowd functions. Farage addressed that well, he said that AIPAC is like other groups and that it is related to the Jewish community. He should not have used the term “Jewish lobby,” since there is no one “lobby,” there are multiple lobbies. Manipulating his comments to pretend he claimed something he didn’t shows how allegations of “anti-semitism” are too often exaggerated.