A senior US diplomat in London has ruffled feathers in Britain’s foreign policy establishment by publicly implying that a reference to the “Jewish lobby” in the United States is an anti-Semitic remark.
The incident happened yesterday at a Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) lecture on US foreign policy given by David Johnson, who is the second in command at the American embassy in London.
During the question-and-answer session he was asked: “Will the US ever be willing to impose an equitable peace settlement in the Middle East, or is it perhaps that the Jewish lobby in America is too strong to make that feasible?”
Mr Johnson responded indignantly, saying: “I am highly resentful of the last part of your remarks, just because of its ethnic slur.” And he went on: “During my time here I have become increasingly troubled by the willingness of European audiences to skirt up to the side of anti-Semitic language as a political criticism.”
A retired US diplomat, now living in Britain, rose to defend the earlier questioner, objecting that Mr Johnson’s remark reflected the American tendency to associate criticism of Israeli policy with criticism of Jews. “There is nothing racial about drawing attention to the existence of a particular ethnic group,” he said, noting that the US had not only “a strong Israeli lobby” but Irish, Polish and other ethnic lobbies.
There was a shout of “hear, hear” from the audience and applause rang around the crowded hall.
Mr Johnson, who was US policy co-ordinator for Afghanistan before arriving in London in August, is an experienced State Department hand with extensive service in Europe.
One of his tasks in London appears to be to woo back members of the British political, academic and media circles who felt alienated by George Bush’s foreign policy, especially the war in Iraq, which is unlikely to be advanced by the exchanges.
Later, Mr Johnson said he held “no animus” towards the questioner, saying that what he found unacceptable about the use of the term was its inference that “somehow the Jews control the US”. He said he was surprised that the term was still so current in Europe, and especially in Britain, noting: “That is an unacceptable formulation.”