I saw most of a presentation by the authors of “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt (M & W) on C-Span 2 last Sunday night. They combine elements that we as progressive Zionists are in agreement with (how blind support for all Israeli government policies is NOT really pro-Israel, nor good for the US) with some poorly reasoned conclusions and an unfortunate degree of ignorance.
In their presentation, they tried very hard to argue that even when they were damning this so-called Israel lobby, they weren’t saying that it was doing anything unAmerican or inherently wrong. Even in “controlling” US Middle East policy, these pro-Israel forces and activists were in their rights as citizens to lobby. They state that the Jews/ Zionists/ Neocons/ Israel– they sloppily interchange these terms– have too much power while also covering themselves from the charge of antisemitism by seeming to say (like Seinfeld in an episode on being mistaken for gay) “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
For example, they take pains (and had even in their original paper) to correctly point out that poll data consistently show that American Jews as a whole have been more opposed to the war in Iraq than almost any other ethnic group in the US. Abraham Foxman (national director of the Anti-Defamation League) unfortunately misses this point that M & W have made when he presents his well-intentioned book, “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control,” published to refute M & W.
What is pernicious about their thesis is the notion that Israel and the “Israel Lobby” (viewing them, wrongly, as a seamless entity) were a major factor (“necessary but insufficient” as they now carefully put it) in motivating the US invasion of Iraq. They constantly conflate the neocons with Jewish organizations and the “Israel Lobby” (and sometimes the State of Israel, for good measure). Again, I recall Mearsheimer covering himself by saying, ‘look, not all neocons are Jews’; they also make a point about the so-called Christian Zionists as an important part of the “Lobby.” (I am using an upper case ‘L’ and placing this term in quotes when referring to M & W’s muddled conception of the “Lobby.”)
But their claim that the “Lobby” worked throughout the ’90s to overthrow Saddam is confusing the neocons with Jewish and Zionist organizations big time. This doesn’t mean that Jewish and Zionist organizations didn’t want Saddam to be overthrown (even I wanted to see this happen, more for humanitarian than strategic reasons), but they surely didn’t expend political capital to push for this. Yet this was an important neocon objective and it’s a conceptual error to see the neocons and the “Lobby” as one and the same.