Pro-Israel Lobby Splits on Egypt, Kind Of

February 04, 2011 4:33 pm ET — MJ Rosenberg

Mark Perry, the Middle East scholar and author, writes in Foreign Policy, that the "pro-Israel" lobby is divided over Egypt.

One side takes the view—the one shared by the Obama administration—"that a new constellation of leaders will soon take office in Cairo — and we're going to have to deal with them, like it or not." 

The other side argues against this "because talking to a new set of leaders means talking to the Muslim Brotherhood - which might be bad for Israel."

According to Perry, the leader of the respective sides is, for the status quo, Robert Satloff of AIPAC's Washington Institute for Near East Policy. On the side of embracing the new reality is scholar and author Robert Kagan.

It's a bit of a false dichotomy. Satloff has always been extremely tight with AIPAC, which founded his institute. Kagan shares some of the same views but he is not taking direction from any lobby.

Nonetheless, here is what Perry writes about Satloff, and his journalistic counterpart, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, who has become obsessed with the danger he imagines a free Egypt poses to Israel.

Writing on the events in Tunisia in the Washington Post, Robert Satloff— the head of Washington Institute for Near East Policy (which was founded by AIPAC)— argued that the U.S. should promote "discriminate democracy"—a "democracy for all but the Islamists." By discriminating against Islamists, he writes, the Obama administration would "protect U.S. security interests"— code for Israel. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen was even more candid, putting his belief in democracy behind his support for Israel: "I care about Israel," he wrote on February 1. "I care about Egypt, too, but its survival is hardly at stake. I care about democratic values, but they are worse than useless in societies that have no tradition of tolerance or respect for minority rights."           

But then there is Kagan who breaks with the Satloff/Cohen Israel-first team:

Most recently, neo-conservative writer and Israel supporter Robert Kagan showed up at the White House as part of a team to urge President Obama to press for democracy in Egypt — and was quoted in The New York Times as saying that the U.S. was "overly spooked by the victory of Hamas..." He then asked: "What are we going to do — support dictators for the rest of eternity because we don't want Islamists taking their share of some political system in the Middle East?" 

Kagan was echoed by former George W. Bush speechwriter (and Washington Post columnist), Michael Gerson, "another outspoken Israel supporter."

On the same day that Richard Cohen wrote his anti-Brotherhood diatribe, Gerson endorsed Egyptian elections that would include all political parties and movements: "Condoning an unjust stability involves the assumption that people will remain in servility, suffering and silence," he wrote. "The pervasive failure of American foreign policy elites is a lack of confidence in American ideals." 

Perry ends his piece with a quote from former ambassador (to Egypt and Israel) Edward Walker who was asked by CNN about the growing view in Washington that U.S. policy toward Egypt should not depend on Egypt's attitude toward Israel. Walker's response.

 It's up to Israel, actually, to make its case for a good relationship with Egypt. It's not really up to us  to do that.

That is good advice for Israel.  

And for us too. The United States has to put its own interests first, only one of which is preserving the Israeli-Egyptian relationship.  But we have many others too. 

And that is why it's good that Kagan was the one consulting with the White House, not Satloff.  If the White House wants to know what Satloff thinks, it can just call Prime Minister Netanyahu, or AIPAC.