Books prompt ‘Israel lobby’ debate


The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, the highly controversial book by John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University, has been denounced as a continuation of the Israel and Zionism-bashing launched late last year by former President Jimmy Carter’s book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid. Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who last year said of Carter’s book, “I believe he is engaging in anti-Semitism,” has joined the current debate with his newly published book, The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control, which takes on Carter, Mearsheimer, Walt and others who have attacked Israel and its advocates, such as Tony Judt.

Foxman is scheduled to speak on his book at a “pre-event” for the 2007 Greater St. Louis Jewish Book Festival, 7 p.m., Monday, Oct. 22 at the Jewish Community Center’s Wohl Building, 2 Millstone Campus Drive. All of these books and the arguments they contain, deserve the urgent attention of the Jewish community and all people of good will who want to maintain a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.


Books written by such eminent persons as former President Jimmy Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient who brokered the successful peace treaty between Egypt and Israel; John J. Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt, the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University cannot be brushed aside as the rantings of known bigots and anti-Jewish fringe figures. At the same time, the well-deserved national and international prestige held by a former president and respected professors from prestigious universities does not immunize them from legitimate criticism — any more than our love for the State of Israel and belief in the principles of Zionism immunizes either Israel, its officials or Zionist concepts from legitimate inquiry or criticism.

Mearsheimer and Walt first collaborated on their frontal attack on Israel and its advocates in Washington, especially the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in a highly controversial article in the London Review of Books in March 2006. According to the publisher of the expanded book version of the essay, the piece was “one of the most controversial articles in recent memory (which) provoked both howls of outrage and cheers of gratitude for examining one of the most taboo issues in America: the impact of the Israel lobby on U.S. foreign policy.” The publisher quotes The New York Times Magazine as saying the essay “slammed into the opinon-making world with a Category 5 force.”

Mearsheimer and Walt attack what they call “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. They maintain that especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ending of the Cold War, continued pro-Israel policies by American administrations and majorities in Congress has a negative and “far-reaching impact on America’s posture throughout the Middle East –in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Lebanon — and towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and that the policies it has encouraged are profoundly damaging to both America’s national interests and Israel’s long-term security.” They also maintain that the so-called Israel Lobby’s “influence also affects America’s relationship with important allies and increases the dangers that all states face from global jihadist terror.”

It seems incredible that two respected academicians with solid credentials could maintain with straight faces that U.S. support for the only democracy in the Middle East, which itself has suffered for decades from both secular and jihadist terrorism, somehow has harmed American efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian settlement and an end to violence and chaos in places like Iraq and Lebanon.

Even before The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy hit bookstores, it had already stirred major controversy in the publishing world. In an article by Patricia Cohen headlined “Backlash Over Book on Policy for Israel” in the Aug. 16 edition of The New York Times, she writes, that as a result of “anxieties” about “the backlash” the book is stirring, “several institutions” are “backing away from holding events with the authors.” Cohen adds that Mearsheimer and Walt, because of the firestorm set off by their original article in the London Review of Books “were not totally surprised by the reaction to their work,” noting that the London Review article’s argument, carried forward in the book is that “a powerful pro-Israel lobby has a pernicious effect on American policy.”

Cohen quotes from the original Mearsheimer-Walt article the highly-charged assertion, “Now that the Cold War is over, Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States. Yet no aspiring politician is going to say so publicly or even raise the possibility because the pro-Israel lobby is so powerful.” Cohen notes that the authors “credit the lobby with shutting down talks with Syria and with moderates in Iran, preventing the United States from condemning Israel’s 2006 war in Lebanon and with not pushing the Israelis hard enough to come to an agreement with the Palestinians.” They also raise the long-discredited canard of “dual loyalty.”

All of the above assertions do not stand up to factual analysis. The United States has had extensive talks with Syria in successive administrations, including the more than 20 trips to Damascus by former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, which proved to be fruitless. Ongoing contacts with Damascus have not prevented Syria from continued support of the Lebanon-based terrorist group Hezbollah, which started the war last year in Lebanon by crossing the border into Israel and kidnapping Israeli soldiers without provocation. Israel’s conduct in the war in Lebanon was and is the subject of considerable criticism both within the Jewish State and even among the most pro-Israel elements in the United States. There is absolutely no evidence to support the assertion that the pro-Israel stance of succeeding American administrations has in any way impeded efforts to build bridges to moderate elements in Iran. Far from being a “strategic liability” to the United States and its allies, Israel has been properly described as a stragtegic asset, and is officially categorized as a “non-NATO strategic ally of the United States.”

On the very Sept. 4 date that Farrar Strauss and Giroux published The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, Palgrave Macmillan published The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control by Abraham H. Foxman, the veteran national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman’s book has drawn praise from former Secretary of State George P. Schultz. “In this important book, Abraham Foxman does what he has done his whole professional life: he defends groups and individuals — Jews and non-Jews — against defamtion, lies….This book takes on Professors John J. Mearsheimer, Stephen M. Walt, Tony Judt and former President Jimmy Carter…It has taken not a little courage to write The Dealiest Lies.”

Foxman painstakingly demolishes the assertions by Carter, Mearsheimer, Walt and others, tracing the concept of “an all-powerful Jewish Lobby and a global Jewish conspiracy” to their historic roots in the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and documents how the once fringe and extreme arguments against Israel, Zionism and “Jewish influence” have become “dangerously mainstream.” Foxman is not alone in his criticism of the Mearsheimer-Walt book. William Grimes, in a review published in the Sept. 6 edition of The New York Times under the headline, “A Prosecutorial Brief Against Israel and Its Supporters,” says, among other points, “Most American readers will bristle at the authors’ characterization of Israel,” noting that Mearsheimer and Walt maintain that this results “from the completely false image of Israel and its history that has been manufactured by the Israel lobby…the effect of their book is to leave it dangling by a moral and strategic thread. In essence, they call for the United States to cut Israel loose, to return more or less to American policy before the 1967 war, when the United States tried to occupy a middle ground between Israel and its Arab neighbors.”

In other words, Mearsheimer and Walt want to go back to the old days of former Secretary of State William Rogers, who favored a more “even-handed” foreign policy between the United States and its one sister democracy in the region and the despotic and jihadist regimes in the region. An op-ed piece in the Sept. 7 editiion of The Wall Street Journal, by Boston attorney Jeff Robbins, a U.S. delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission during the Clinton Administration, also denounces the Walt-Mearsheimer book’s arguments, noting, “Messrs Walt and Mearsheimer, in particular, have been heralded by Israel’s critics for their ‘courage’ in attacking American Jews, who have allegedly ‘strangled’ criticism of Israel. Their case is one part laughable, one part eyebrow raising.” Robbins asserts that Walt and Mearsheimer and others of their ilk are part of an “anti-Israel Lobby,” which periodically publishes screeds agains the so-called “powerful Jewish Lobby” and the U.S.-Israel relationship in the harshest terms, only to take the position of “victims” when their own views are criticized.

Thomas Friedman, foreign affairs columnist of The New York Times has said that Israel and its leaders, like any other nation-state and its leaders is fair game for criticism. But when Israel is singled out repeatedly in the harshest terms, never given the benefit of the doubt and is the subject of unrelenting attacks by the United Nations and other critics, it has crossed the line. Under our precious First Amendment free speech and free press rights, and the academic freedom needed on our campuses if they are to be true marketplaces of ideas, the right of people like Carter, Walt and Mearsheimer to publish their views cannot be questioned. But neither can they hide behind claims of a “powerful Jewish Lobby” attempting to “strangle” their criticism when their own views are subjected to scrutiny and criticism.