Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Israel Lobby Controversy

In March 2006, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer published an essay on the role of what they called the Israel Lobby in defining American foreign policy. John J. Mearsheimer is professor of political science at the University of Chicago. He wrote The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (New York: W.W. Norton, 2001).

Stephen M. Walt is professor of international affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. His most recent book is Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (New York: W.W. Norton, 2005).

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, "The Israel Lobby," London Review of Books, Vol. 28 No. 6, 23 March 2006.

[Iran and Syria's support for Hezbollah pales by comparison. Of course, the argument is that Hezbollah is not a state which reveals something of the motivation for keeping the West Bank and Gaza in an ambiguous status, in particular denying the Palestinians a legitimate state. -jlt]

"...Israel is a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states."

[The terrorist organizations that threaten Israel do not threaten Canada. Israel is a strategic liability standing on the sidelines of the war on terror. Bringing the Israeli Defense Forces into Afghanistan would alienate what little Islamic support there is for the other foreign troops, like the Canadian Forces contribution to NATO. This point is particularly riling to Aaron Friedberg. -jlt]

"Unconditional support for Israel makes it easier for extremists to rally popular support and to attract recruits."

"Israel’s nuclear arsenal is one reason some of its neighbours want nuclear weapons, and threatening them with regime change merely increases that desire."

"Unlike the US [or Canada], where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this, it is not surprising that its 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, or that a recent Israeli government commission found that Israel behaves in a ‘neglectful and discriminatory’ manner towards them. Its democratic status is also undermined by its refusal to grant the Palestinians a viable state of their own or full political rights."

"...Yitzhak Shamir, once a terrorist and later prime minister, declared that ‘neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.’"

"Interest groups...enjoy a disproportionate amount of influence when they are committed to an issue to which the bulk of the population is indifferent."

"There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy: the Lobby’s activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise it are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better."

"It is hard to imagine any mainstream media outlet in the United States publishing a piece like this one." [And their experience with publication proves it. Where would it be published in Canada? -jlt]

"The Lobby doesn’t want an open debate, of course, because that might lead Americans to question the level of support they provide."


"Critics are also accused of holding Israel to an unfair standard or questioning its right to exist. But these are bogus charges too. Western critics of Israel hardly ever question its right to exist: they question its behaviour towards the Palestinians, as do Israelis themselves. Nor is Israel being judged unfairly. Israeli treatment of the Palestinians elicits criticism because it is contrary to widely accepted notions of human rights, to international law and to the principle of national self-determination. And it is hardly the only state that has faced sharp criticism on these grounds."

"By refusing to negotiate with Abbas and making it impossible for him to deliver tangible benefits to the Palestinian people, Sharon’s strategy contributed directly to Hamas’s electoral victory. With Hamas in power, however, Israel has another excuse not to negotiate. The US administration has supported Sharon’s actions (and those of his successor, Ehud Olmert). Bush has even endorsed unilateral Israeli annexations in the Occupied Territories, reversing the stated policy of every president since Lyndon Johnson."

"If Washington could live with a nuclear Soviet Union, a nuclear China or even a nuclear North Korea, it can live with a nuclear Iran. And that is why the Lobby must keep up constant pressure on politicians to confront Tehran."

"The war over Israel's influence," Foreign Policy, July/August 2006.

Political scientists John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt sparked a firestorm when they raised questions about the power the Israel lobby wields over U.S. foreign policy. Now, in a Foreign Policy magazine Roundtable, they face off with four distinguished experts of the Middle East over whether the influence of the Israel lobby is ordinary or extraordinary.

John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, "Unrestricted Access," Foreign Policy, May/June 2006.

Aaron Friedberg, "An Uncivilized Argument," Foreign Policy, July/August 2006.

"a stunning display of intellectual arrogance"

Dennis Ross, "The Mind-set Matters," Foreign Policy, July/August 2006.

To say that the Israel lobby is largely responsible for the U.S. invasion of Iraq presumes that elected leaders, their worldviews, and extraordinary events such as those on Sept. 11, 2001, don’t matter....Al Gore was against going to war in 2002 and 2003. Yet, Al Gore was closer to leaders of the “Israel lobby” throughout his career than was President George W. Bush.

The reality is, neither the Israel lobby nor neoconservatives convinced Bush to go to war. September 11 did. Prior to 9/11, Bush’s Iraq policy was one of “smart sanctions”—the containment of the Iraqi regime, not its overthrow. His worldview changed on 9/11.

Shlomo Ben-Ami, "The Complex Truth," Foreign Policy, July/August 2006.

"grossly overblown"

President Richard Nixon, no friend of the Jews, sided with Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War not to protect Israel from Soviet invasion, but to serve America’s national interest. Israel was just a pawn in Nixon’s great game of the Cold War, and it was thanks to U.S. arms shipments to Israel that America was able to disrupt the SovietEgyptian alliance, eventually dismantling Soviet hegemony in the region. Two decades later, according to President George H.W. Bush, “thousands of lobbyists”—presumably many of whom were Jewish—fought his policy, but that did not prevent him from dragging then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to a peace conference in Madrid against his will. Nor did “the lobby” prevent Bush’s predecessor, Ronald Reagan, from distancing himself from Israel by officially recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization. And it did not stop President Bill Clinton from offering unconditional sovereignty to the Palestinians on the Temple Mount, the holiest of Jewish sites.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, "A Dangerous Exemption," Foreign Policy, July/August 2006.

The participation of ethnic or foreignsupported lobbies in the American policy process is nothing new. In my public life, I have dealt with a number of them. I would rank the IsraeliAmerican, CubanAmerican, and ArmenianAmerican lobbies as the most effective in their assertiveness. The Greek and TaiwaneseAmerican lobbies also rank highly in my book. The PolishAmerican lobby was at one time influential (Franklin Roosevelt complained about it to Joseph Stalin), and I daresay that before long we will be hearing a lot from the Mexican, Hindu, and ChineseAmerican lobbies as well.

Brzezinski says that Mearsheimer and Walt "rendered a public service by initiating a much-needed public debate."

" antiIsrael bias is not the same as antiSemitism. To argue as much is to claim an altogether unique immunity for Israel, untouchable by the kind of criticism that is normally directed at the conduct of states.

...The case made by Mearsheimer and Walt did not warrant the hysterical charges of antiSemitism leveled at them by several academics in selfdemeaning attacks published in leading U.S. newspapers. Sadly, some even stooped to McCarthyite accusations of guilt by association...

John J. Mearsheimer, Stephen M. Walt, "Mearsheimer and Walt Respond," Foreign Policy, July/August 2006.

"...we categorically support Israel’s existence. But we believe the lobby’s influence harms U.S. and Israeli interests."

Regrettably, Aaron Friedberg’s comments demonstrate why it is difficult to have a candid discussion of America’s intimate relationship with Israel. He accuses us of a “stunning display of intellectual arrogance,” then labels our arguments “inflammatory,” “distinctly uncivilized,” “irresponsible,” and “slanderous.” He even invokes the nowfamiliar charge of antiSemitism, by hinting that our article contains “the most unsavory of historical echoes.” But he provides no evidence to support these charges. Friedberg does not challenge our claim that AIPAC and other proIsrael organizations exert a marked influence on U.S. Middle East policy. Instead, he invents arguments that we do not make, claiming, for example, that we accuse Israel’s supporters of “treason.” We make no such charge and never would. Friedberg and other supporters of Israel advocate policies that they think will benefit both the United States and Israel. That is neither improper nor illegitimate. But we believe the policies they advocate sometimes clash with U.S. national security interests, and that their feelings for Israel sometimes color their views of U.S. policy.

Canada and Australia have an Israel Lobby too.

"ABC’s “anti-Israel bias” and Antony Lowenstein’s Israel Question," Larvatus Prodeo, August 17-18, 2006.

Larvatus Prodeo describes itself as "an Australian group blog which discusses politics, sociology, culture, life, religion and science from a left of centre perspective."

This discussion is as good a place as any to start trying to understand the Australian version of the Israel Lobby. There are links to articles. Most of the blogular discussion is about what is the appropriate tone to take and whether or not Lowenstein's book is mere zealous propaganda or an honest attempt to stimulate a much-needed discussion about the Israel Lobby. Mearsheimer and Walt themselves claim that their goal in publishing the original essay was to break the taboo against discussing America's relationship with Israel and to "generate a candid discussion of US support for Israel, because it has far-reaching consequences for Americans and others around the world."

I don’t think an equally distorted attack brings some sort of metaphysical “balance” to distorted pro-Israeli state propaganda. Offer an analysis which fits the complex truth of the situation, where claims for justice and human rights can be deployed from both sides.

Phil Mendes, who works as a social policy academic, and describes himself as a "left-wing Jew," says [] that most left-wing Jews "are happy to acknowledge that there are moderates and extremists on both sides, that both sides have committed horrific acts, and that a mutual compromise must be found between Israeli security needs and Palestinian national aspirations."

He concludes,

"Finally, is there some way that so-called dissenters could effectively promote more debate in the Jewish community? I have some practical suggestions:

"Get to know the Jewish community, and seriously understand its political, ideological, and organisational frameworks.

"Use the internal structures and frameworks to articulate your views, rather than ineffectively denouncing the community from outside.

"Do not allow yourself to be used by sections of the Left as an unrepresentative ‘good Jew’ denouncing all the other ‘bad Jews.’ This will simply bring back memories of the Stalinist period when some Jewish communists (now regarded as ‘Uncle Toms’) defended the brutality of Soviet anti-Semitism.

"Recognise and respect the emotional attachment that most Jews feel towards Israel and their concerns about threats to Israel’s existence even if you don’t agree with their political interpretations.

"Acknowledge that some forms of anti-Zionism do contain anti-Semitic stereotypes, and need to be unequivocally denounced.

"Don’t use religious terms such as ‘the chosen people’ to depict a community in which at least half of the members are completely secular and non-religious".

Norman Finklestein, "It's not either/or: the Israel Lobby," CounterPunch, May 1, 2006.

Kathleen and Bill Christison, "Its Origins and Growth: The Power of the Israel Lobby," CounterPunch, June 16/18, 2006.

Joseph Massad, "It's US Policy That Inflames the Arab World: Blaming the Israel Lobby," CounterPunch, March 25/26, 2006.

Noam Chomsky, "The Israel Lobby?" March 28, 2006.

Alan Dershowitz, "The Lobby, Jews, and Anti-Semites," The Huffington Post, April 12, 2006.

Norman Soloman, "The Lobby and the bulldozer: Mearsheimer, Walt and Corrie," The Huffington Post, April 13, 2006.

The Official Website of Norman G. Finkelstein

Recommend this Post

Sphere: Related Content