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The Onion’s quick swipe at the “Israel Lobby”

by Jonah Lowenfeld

May 25, 2011 | 4:33 pm

Under the headline “Government Official Who Makes Perfectly Valid, Well-Reasoned Point Against Israel Forced To Resign,” The Onion, a weekly publication that parodies the style of newspaper writing with often hilarious results, poked fun at the way that Israel’s critics can be left to hang out to dry.

In just 118 words, an uncredited writer for the New York-based comedic paper painted a satirical picture of the fallout that followed a fictional veteran State Department staffer’s “informed, thoughtful analysis” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on CNN.

The piece came out on May 20, the same day President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.

According to the Onion, State Department staffer Nelson Milstrand implied “that Israel could perhaps exercise more restraint toward Palestinian moderates in disputed territories,” which led to his forced resignation.

The article included a made-up quote from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton distancing herself from the imaginary official’s comments.

“The United States deeply regrets any harm Mr. Milstrand’s careful, even-tempered, and factually accurate remarks may have caused our democratic partner in the Middle East,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an unequivocal condemnation of the veteran foreign-service officer’s perfectly reasonable statements. “U.S. policy toward Israel continues to be one of unconditional support and fawning sycophancy.”

The fake news piece, which was reportedly mistaken for a true report of an actual event by some news aggregation sites, was welcomed by many left-leaning observers of the region, and particularly those who have drawn attention to what they identify as the outsized power Israel commands in Washington.

“All good satire contains more than a kernel of truth,” wrote Harvard International Affairs Professor Stephen Walt in an email. Walt is co-author of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” “Reasonable people can disagree about whether the lobby’s preferred policies are good for the United States or for Israel, but at least no serious analyst tries to deny that it exists.”

“I love this piece because it captures perfectly how the system works in the U.S. when it comes to talking about Israel,” Walt’s co-author John J. Mearsheimer, a political science professor at University of Chicago, wrote in an email. “Criticize Israel and the lobby will smear you and try to destroy your career, even if your criticism is smart and well-intentioned. While the piece is humorous, it is also a sad commentary on what blind support for Israel is doing to large portions of the American Jewish community.”

This isn’t the first time The Onion has made light of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Bin Laden Sends Belated Threat To Israel For 60th Birthday,” read a headline in a June 2008 issue of the paper.

Another news brief, from January 2009, reported that a New Jersey native was canceling his upcoming trip to Israel that summer because of “unfavorable exchange rates and the entirety of the Jewish nation’s 60-year existence.”

Clinton was also quoted in a news brief that appeared in the Onion in November 2009 about the progress of talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Secretary of State was encouraging the two sides to start with an relatively easy topic: the weather.

“ ‘They may not see eye to eye on every point, of course, ’” Clinton said, according to the Onion, “‘but the most important thing now is for both nations to just sit down and say that, yes, it looks like rain, and that, man, the traffic out there sure was a nightmare this morning, wasn’t it?’”

A media representative from the Onion declined to make a member of the editorial staff available for interview.

 

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