18 April 2006

The Israel Lobby

Breaking the silence
The overwrought response to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's brave paper only confirms its thesis.
By Juan Cole

April 18, 2006 | John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government have put their hands into a hornet's nest with their paper in the London Review of Books, titled "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/mear01_.html)

As political scientists who routinely analyze U.S. foreign policy, they have gained a reputation for lucid and principled argument, but outside the halls of academia are not exactly household names. In daring to simply describe the well-known operations of the Israel lobby, however, they have made themselves targets of a massive smear campaign. Ironically, this reaction is just what their paper predicted.

Fair and gentlemanly to a fault, and widely respected in their discipline, the two professors are impossible to imagine as fire-breathing racial bigots, devious purveyors of blatant falsehoods or wild-eyed conspiracy theorists prone to ignore obvious evidence, but these are the sort of epithets being hurled at them by their critics.

In "The Israel Lobby," Mearsheimer and Walt argue that U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been dangerously skewed by a powerful pro-Israel lobby, which inhibits free discussion of the issues and has made the pro-Israeli position a political sacred cow. Congress, they point out, virtually never criticizes Israel: It is an untouchable subject. And this taboo has had enormous consequences, which are themselves off limits for discussion. Because America's blank-check support for Israel arouses enormous Arab and Muslim rage, Israel is a strategic liability, not an asset.....

Nor, Mearsheimer and Walt argue, is there any moral reason for America to act against its own interests by supporting Israel come what may. Citing distinguished Israeli historians and journalists, they demythologize Israel's history, demonstrating that the root of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the historical fact that "the creation of Israel entailed a moral crime against the Palestinian people" -- a crime that Israel's founders explicitly acknowledged, and that has never been rectified. They discuss Israel's illegal, almost 40-year-old occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, and its flawed democracy, which explicitly discriminates against Arabs.

In an April 9 Op-Ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette titled "Of Course There Is an Israel Lobby," ambassador Edward Peck wrote, "Knowing the fiercely negative reactions to accurate, detailed reporting of controversies surrounding Israel, the media fail to cover Israel's violations of every principle for which the United States -- and Israel -- loudly proclaim they stand. There is only rare, skimpy coverage of the ongoing Israeli mass punishments, house demolitions, illegal settlements, assassinations, settler brutality, curfews and beatings. On the other hand, the blind Palestinian rage generated by decades of receiving humiliating, savage suppression in their homeland is reported in lurid, bloody detail."....

Anyone who has spent any time in the Arab or Muslim world knows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and America's support for Israel's unjust treatment of the Palestinians, are the main sources of anger at America and have been for decades. In a recent Zogby poll, one question that was asked of Arab publics was whether their dislike of the United States was because of its values or its policies. Here are the percentages that said it was because of U.S. policies in the region: Jordan, 76; Morocco, 79; Lebanon, 80; Saudi Arabia, 86; United Arab Emirates, 75; Egypt, 90. Another question was why people thought the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq. Here are the percentages for those who believed it was to "protect Israel": Jordan, 64; Morocco, 82; Lebanon, 82; Saudi Arabia, 44; Egypt, 92. That is, not only are Americans disliked for their invasion of an Arab country, but the Arab public generally attributes the assault to a desire to protect Israel. All those instances when the Americans vetoed U.N. Security Council censures of Israel for its predations against Palestinians or neighbors, all those tens of billions of dollars in aid the U.S. gave Israel, all the times it winked at atrocities such as the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and indiscriminate shelling of Beirut have added up over time.

Arabs and Muslims like Americans and democracy just fine in principle. What they don't like is U.S. foreign policy. Their main grievance before 2003 was of U.S. complicity in the dispossession of the Palestinians. Now they have another major objection, the U.S. occupation of Iraq -- and they clearly see the two as related. I am not arguing that the Arab public is correct, only that critics are blind if they cannot see that it is knee-jerk U.S. support for the worst Israeli policies that has soured Arabs and Muslims on the United States. To avoid accepting this conclusion, we would have to believe that they have consistently lied to pollsters for decades, and we would have to take it upon ourselves to represent the Arabs and Muslims, since they cannot represent themselves.

None of this is hard to understand. The United States is not generally hated by, say, Thais, or Paraguayans, or Cameroonians. This is because we have not done anything to them. We have, however, abetted an epochal wrong against the Palestinian people, with whom Arabs and Muslims feel a similar kinship to that felt by mid-19th century Americans with the Texans trapped at the Alamo. For obvious reasons, an open discussion of the causes and consequences of their anger against us is vital for our national security.

When Ben Franklin exited the Constitutional Convention, he was asked what kind of government the United States would have. "A republic, if you can keep it," he is said to have replied. If we cannot even discuss the shape of U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East without a lynch mob forming, we won't be able to keep it.

The original article is located here:

You might also find the following review useful as it provides some balance:
Is the "Israel lobby" distorting America's Mideast policies?
Two leading academics have tried to break the taboo against criticizing Israel's powerful U.S. lobby. It's a worthy aim, but their clumsy argument may backfire.
By Michelle Goldberg

..."There is virtually no evidence that oil was an important cause of the Iraq war," Mearsheimer says. "It is an intuitively plausible argument, but when you look for evidence that the oil companies were pushing for war, or that Paul Wolfowitz was thinking in terms of oil as a geopolitical weapon, you cannot find it. Instead, you find lots of evidence that the neoconservatives and the leaders of the Lobby were pushing hard for war against Iraq."

In fact, though, such evidence does exist -- it has been compiled by Paul Roberts, author of "The End of Oil," by analysts like James Paul of the Global Policy Forum, and by Kevin Phillips in "American Theocracy." Phillips quotes James Akins, former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, saying, "what they [the Bush administration] have in mind is denationalization, and then parceling Iraqi oil out to American oil companies. The American oil companies are going to be the main beneficiaries of this war." In his memoir "The Right Man," David Frum, the former Bush speechwriter and neocon par excellence, wrote that Bush's campaign to bring freedom to the Middle East would also "bring new prosperity to us all, by securing the world's largest pool of oil."

"One could go on and on in this way, listing logical errors and over-generalizations. And that's unfortunate, because it clouds what is valuable in "The Israel Lobby." Walt and Mearsheimer are correct, after all, in arguing that discussion about Israel is hugely circumscribed in mainstream American media and politics. Citing the liberal, pro-Israel journalist Eric Alterman, they write that the public debate among Middle East pundits "is dominated by people who cannot imagine criticizing Israel. [Alterman] lists 61 columnists and commentators who can be counted upon to support Israel reflexively and without qualification. Conversely, Alterman found just five pundits who consistently criticize Israeli behavior or endorse pro-Arab positions. Newspapers occasionally publish guest op-eds challenging Israeli policy, but the balance of opinion clearly favors the other side." A person who got all their information from the American media would have little idea about the ways Jewish settlers continue to appropriate land in the West Bank, harassing local Palestinian farmers and uprooting their crops. Indeed, one can find far more critical coverage of the Israeli occupation in liberal Israeli newspapers like Haaretz than in any American daily."


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