When Ethnic Lobbies Clash

The main thing that really powerful political lobbies have in common is the absence of any kind of coherent opposition. But Ben Smith gives us a glimpse at what happens when an unexpected clash emerges:

Israeli leaders reacted warmly to an unexpected defense of Jews and Israel, and criticism of Iran, from Cuban leader Fidel Castro in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Castro’s “deep understanding” and President Shimon Peres wrote in a warm letter to Castro that the comments were “a surprising bridge between the hard reality and a new horizon.” Israeli officials, I’m told, saw the moment as an opportunity to widen a fissure in the hostility of the global left for Israel.

But Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — a key player because of her position on Foreign Affairs, and a longtime supporter of Israel — was less pleased by the opening. A Cuban exile and fierce Castro foe, she made her displeasure known to the Israelis — and even received an apologetic call from Netanyahu, which appears effectively to have squelched the unlikely dialogue with Cuba.

Jeffrey Goldberg snarks, “Could you remind again which lobby is so powerful?”

The answer, of course, is that they’re both powerful! But what’s extraordinary here is how much quicker Netanyahu is to react to a Cuba-related brushback from Ros-Lehtinen than he is to pushes from the President of the United States. The difference is credibility. When a Cuban exile representing a South Florida district complains that someone is being soft on Castro, she’s very credibly going to stick to her guns. And suddenly the patron-client dynamic between the mightiest empire the world has ever known and a small Mediterranean country snaps into place.