Ken Jacobson of the ADL perfectly summed up the import of a new paper by Harvard Professor Stephen Walt and University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer entitled "The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy": The study would not be worthy of response but for the authors’ academic credentials and the prestige of their respective universities.
The Walt-Mearsheimer paper is a virtual compendium of every charge ever raised against Israel. There is no rumor concerning Israel too discredited to be mentioned, including that Israel provided security information received from Jonathan Pollard to the Soviet Union in return for exit visas for Soviet Jews. The former national director of the Knights of the Klu Klux Klan David Duke was not far off base when he said that the study offered nothing that he has not being saying for years. And Alan Dershowitz has shown that at least some of the authors’ supporting documentation was pulled directly from neo-Nazi sites.
Though Walt and Mearsheimer offer the usual pro forma assurance that they support Israel’s right to exist, they offer an Elysian vision of a world without Israel, and portray Israel’s birth as an instance of ethnic cleansing based on fabricated quotes. They mention no threat to the United States apart from those caused by Israel – not Islamic terrorism nor a nuclear Iran.
The latter they cheerfully assure us is easily deterred by the threat of massive retaliation. They do not consider, however, the possibility that the ayatollahs seek nuclear weapons as a means of immunizing themselves from any Western response to their sponsorship of terrorism around the globe. Could that be why the feckless Europeans are no less terrified of a nuclear Iran than is the United States? Nor are they concerned by the threat of Iran’s president to wipe Israel off the map, or his predecessor’s confident assertion that Iran could survive a nuclear exchange with Israel.
Walt and Mearsheimer barely discuss the Islamic terrorist threat, except as a reaction to American support for Israel. Yet Bin-Laden’s various manifestos in advance of 9/11 hardly mention Israel, and are obsessed with the presence of American troops in the "Land of the Two Mosques." He and his fellow Islamists view themselves as at war with the entire infidel West.
European attitudes to Israel are repeatedly cited by Walt and Mearsheimer as what any objective observer would conclude absent the influence of the "Israeli lobby." Europeans describe Israel as the greatest threat to world peace, and Walt and Mearsheimer apparently share that view.
Their loathing for Israel knows no bounds. Palestinian terrorism is described as largely a response to Israeli colonization on the West Bank since 1967, ignoring the attack of five Arab armies against Israel in 1948 and the massing of Egyptian and Syrian troops in 1967, as well as the non-stop Palestinian terrorism between 1948 and 1967.
Palestinian terrorism is tacitly justified as the only alternative available to the Palestinians. The Palestinians, in Walt and Mearsheimer’s telling are helpless victims, who bear no responsibility for their fate. They make no mention of the three "no’s" of Khartoum with which the Arab League, including the PLO, responded to Israel’s offer to return captured territories in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War. It does not occur to Walt and Mearsheimer that the Palestinians could have emulated David Ben Gurion’s example of accepting any state, no matter how small or indefensible. (They falsely characterize the American-brokered offer to Arafat at Camp David in 2000 as unconnected bantusans.) Nor does it occur to them that Arafat and company could have used massive international humanitarian aid to the Palestinians– dwarfing, on a per capita basis that received by any other people in history – to dismantle fetid refugee camps and for economic development, rather than skimming off billions and keeping 50,000 armed men on the payroll.
Nor do Walt and Mearsheimer take any note of the massive shift in Israeli public opinion over the last twenty years. A large majority of Israelis now support a Palestinian state, though not a terrorist one. And Israel has made large and painful territorial concessions, including last summer’s withdrawal from Gaza, without receiving anything in return. (Typical of their belief in Israel’s Machievellian evil, Walt and Mearsheimer portray the Gaza withdrawal as a cynical ploy to ensure a Hamas electoral victory and, with it, continued American support.) Over the same period, it would be impossible to point to any shift in Palestinian opinion, or any recognition that peace will also require Palestinian concessions and an end to terrorism. Throughout the Oslo period, Arafat employed the Palestinian media and educational system to whip the population into unprecedented paroxysm of hatred and create a death cult glorifying suicide bombers.
AT THE OUTSET, Walt and Mearsheimer state that the facts they present "are not in serious dispute among scholars." In fact, they make not a single point that is not subject to serious debate or demonstrably wrong. Their paper is notably cavalier about the type of evidence adduced in support of its conclusions. Self-promoting statements by AIPAC officials, and even a speech by Prime Minister Sharon to an AIPAC convention, are quoted to prove AIPAC’s virtually unlimited power. It is also filled with logical contradictions, and unconscionably vague about its core concept – the Israel Lobby – and the mechanisms by which it is supposed to have subverted American policy in favor of Israel.
The war in Iraq receives more attention from Walt and Mearsheimer than any other subject and serves for them as the strongest proof of the nefarious influence of the Israel Lobby. They can conceive of no possible justification in terms of American interests for the war in Iraq. On that basis, they conclude that the decision to oust Saddam Hussein can only be explained by the success of the Israel Lobby in duping President George W. Bush, Vice-President Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and Secretary of State Colin Powell into supporting the war and continuing to do so to this day. If 9/11 had any influence on the thinking of the Bush adminstration, other than as an excuse to advance Israeli interests by going to war in Iraq, Walt and Mearsheimer never mention it.
Walt and Mearsheimer’s resort to conspiracy theory and dark, malevolent forces to explain unwanted events is typical of what American historian Richard Hofstadter once called "the paranoid style in American politics," most notably American populism, which contained its own generous dollop of nativist and anti-Semitic thinking.
Walt and Mearsheimer accuse everyone from the Christian Right to gentile neo-conservatives to Jewish officials in the Defense Department of placing Israel’s interests above America. Yet Israel’s supporters, who include the overwhelming majority of the American people, according to nearly every poll, do not see it that way. They may believe that there is a large degree of congruence between American and Israeli interests, but they do not place the latter over the former.
Many evangelicals believe that America is blessed by virtue of its support for Israel. Neo-conservatives’ support for Israel is one element of a well-developed world view, which believes in a muscular foreign policy and resolute opposition to tyranny, whether that of the former Soviet Union or that of Saddam Hussein and the Iranian ayatollahs. For most Americans, Israel represents the doughty defender of Western values, in a vast sea of backwardness and hatred for all the West represents.
And for successive American administrations, Israel has represented a strategic asset – protecting Jordan from Syrian invasion in 1970, taking out Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981, and discrediting the Soviet Union as an Arab patron during the Cold War. Today Israel provides the United States with invaluable intelligence information and a powerful, stable and reliable ally in a crucial region. The major studies of American Middle East policymaking all downplay the role of domestic political considerations.
Even Columbia Professor Joseph Massad, a bitter critic of both Israel and the United States, admits that Israel provides America good value. The $3 billion in military aid Israel receives annually, 75% of which is spent in the United States, Massad writes in the Egyptian paper Al-Ahram, is far less than it spends on military bases in the Arab world. And it is only a small fraction of what the United States spends to station 50,000 troops in South Korea and hundreds of thousands in Europe. Unlike the South Koreans and the Europeans, Israel has resolutely resisted the employment of any American servicemen in its defense (contrary to Walt and Mearsheimer assertion, without a shred of evidence, that Israel seeks to entangle American troops in its defense.)
THE ISRAEL LOBBY, as used by Walt and Mearsheimer is a highly slippery concept. It includes everyone from Ehud Barak’s largest supporter billionaire toymaker Chaim Saban on the Left to the neo-conservative supporters of Binyamin Netanyahu on the Right, from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal, from the Brookings Institution to the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, even though they disagree on almost every aspect of Israeli and American policy. And yet this amorphous Lobby is nearly all-powerful, having successfully pressured or duped every American administration since Nixon’s to do its bidding. Bill Clinton, no less than George W. Bush, was its tool. Remarkably, however, the "Lobby" was not even able to convince American Jews to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. They opposed, and continued to oppose the war in Iraq, in higher percentages than any other population group.
But if the Israel Lobby is a weak analytic tool, it is nevertheless a brilliant rhetorical device. Raising the specter of an Israel Lobby, which seeks to advance Israeli interests at the expense of America, Walt and Mearsheimer avoid having to treat seriously any arguments for the war in Iraq or those offered in defense of Israeli policy. Walt and Mearsheimer accuse the Israel Lobby of seeking to suppress public debate, but it is they who seek to avoid discussion of the issues. They dismiss, for instance, Bernard Lewis, the preeminent Orientalist of our times, and Fouad Ajami, as members of the Lobby, without discussing a single argument that they advanced in favor of Operation Iraqi Freedom or their more general treatment of the sources of Islamic terrorism.
They accuse the Israel Lobby of labeling all criticism of Israel "anti-Semitic." (If there were indeed a Lobby and that were its tactic, it has proven a notably ineffective one, as the publication on a Harvard website of the Walt/Mearsheimer paper, and a steady drumbeat of criticism of Israel in the elite press and on elite campuses demonstrates.)
As an example of the Lobby’s attempt to intimidate critics, the authors cite Daniel Pipes’ Campus Watch project, which publicizes the classroom statements of anti-Israel professors. They do not explain, however, why the classroom statements of professors should be any more immune from scrutiny and criticism than those contained in their published works. As a particularly egregious example of intimidation, they mention the documentary Columbia Unbecoming exposing the biases of Columbia University’s Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC). To prove how ill-founded the charges of bias against the department were, they rely on the exoneration of an internal Columbia University committee. But they fail to note that the committee was hand-picked to white-wash the charges: Two of its five members had signed a petition calling on Columbia University to divest from all companies connected to the Israeli military, and the university vice-president to whom the committee reported was one of the petition’s initiators. A third committee member served as the thesis advisor of one of the professors most criticized by the documentary.
Walt and Mearsheimer complain of a handful of university Israel Studies departments, chiefly financed by Jewish philanthropists, but ignore entirely the far more numerous and larger Middle East Studies Departments, dominated by pro-Arab professors and supported by Saudi and other Arab oil money.
It is hard to know how to respond to the Walt and Mearsheimer paper. Those who point out their innumerable errors of fact and interpretation face the typical tar baby problem: The harder they punch, the more they "prove" that there is an Israel Lobby.
Yet the paper cannot be ignored. At the vary least it serves as an alert to what Jewish students face on America’s elite campuses, and the poisons being fed the next generation of American leaders.