And it’s worth keeping in mind that the strength and success of AIPAC and similar organizations isn’t just a factor in America’s regional policy, it’s also something to which the failure of America’s regional policy has directly contributed. After all, had the Oslo Accords worked out in the mid-1990s and led to the establishment of the independent Republic of Palestine and the assumption of normal diplomatic relations between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council states that would have been great for Israel. And it would have been great for the United States of America. And it would have been great for Palestine. And generally speaking, it would have been good for the world.
But it would have been terrible for AIPAC as such. There’s no way the AIPAC 2011 annual conference would be a huge deal had the Arab-Israeli dispute been settled in 1997. Nor would it be possible for writers and editorialists with hawkish views on Israel to earn generous paydays speaking to Jewish organizations around the country. And with the (fortunate!) decline of anti-semitism as a practical issue in American life, advocacy around the Arab-Israeli conflict has also become more central to the mission of the Anti-Defamation League and other American Jewish organizations that weren’t initially founded with Zionist missions. Obviously, I don’t think the leadership of these organizations are insincere in their efforts. But it’s still the case that objective interests end up influencing people’s behavior through motivated reasoning and motivated skepticism.
Bracketing the question of AIPAC itself, this logic certainly applies to a wide range of organizations. The Southern Poverty Law Center, for example, tracks extremist groups, and the notion that “right-wing” extremism is a pervasive and dangerous phenomenon is crucial to its fundraising efforts. Groups devoted to fighting entrenched poverty rely on shifting metrics for what constitutes entrenched poverty. Tenured academics who explicitly and enthusiastically advocate both the abolition of tenure and the proliferation of low-cost instructional providers are strikingly rare. Social workers and other social services professionals (I am related to a few) tend to be skeptical of the notion that the poor would be better off if the United States created a fairly generous unconditional basic income and eliminated most of the social services apparatus. And opinion journalists are just as susceptible to these cognitive biases, which is one reason why I make an effort to present arguments I disagree with in a favorable light. Of course, I am, by necessity, selective about the arguments I engage.
Fortunately, I’m pretty sure that all of my readers are quite capable of thinking for themselves, and that they take everything they read in this space with a grain of salt.