This week saw the publication of a new research paper entitled, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”. Authored by two of America’s leading political scientists, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the paper’s central argument is that Israel’s backers in the US (the “Israel Lobby”, according to the researchers’ terminology) have used their disproportionate influence to force the US government into a decades-long alliance with Israel that is neither morally justified nor strategically advantageous. This influence, the authors claim, was a key factor behind the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.
While this blog is not the place for a detailed critique of the myriad of arguments contained in the 83-page Mearsheimer/Walt essay, I would like to offer some basic impressions about two elements that disturbed me:
1. The authors monolithize Israel’s political establishment. Consequently, they also lob into a single, indistinguishable pile all the organizations in the US that are associated with Israel. Shimon Peres and Binyamin Ben-Eliezer are admittedly not my heroes, but they’re not in the same league as Arik Sharon, Bibi Netanyahu and Yitzhak Shamir. Despite the length of this piece, there is barely a sentence on the important distinctions within Israeli political thought, and all Israelis come off as backers of Greater Israel expansionism. As a result, the Brookings Institution and JINSA (the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) are referred to in the same breath as equally uncritically “pro-Israel”; and Haim Saban, who was a major supporter of Ehud Barak, is termed an “ardent Zionist” in accusatory tones – as if admitting to “Zionism” was an admission of thought-crime. A reminder to Messrs. Mearsheimer and Walt: Being a Zionist does not imply blind support of every Israeli action.
2. Some of the Mearsheimer/Walt argumentation about the influence of “the Lobby” seems flawed. The “Lobby” is powerful, so they say, because of Jewish money, Jewish voting in key states, and the ability to enlist the Jewish community politically (letter writing, etc.).
BUT: The authors also note that 36% of American Jews don’t even feel a connection to Israel; that most American Jews are more moderate on the Israel-Palestine issue than the “Lobby” is; and that the Jewish community was LESS supportive of the Iraq invasion than the American public as a whole.
So, who (in blazes) is the “Lobby” mobilizing? For if the “Lobby” is, at its core, a small coterie of Likud-aligned Jewish and evangelical Christian neo-cons that is duping the masses of American Jewry into supporting a much more right-wing American and Israeli policy than they really believe in, then that’s a key element that needs to be stressed, and explored. Because – alas – the style, the choice of words and the general tone of this essay will make the unsophisticated reader (and even the sophisticated one) come away with the impression that ‘the Jews control American foreign policy’ – even if that is not what Mearsheimer and Walt really meant to say.