Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Israel Lobby

In mid-March, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt (M-W) of The Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, posted an 81 page paper on the Kennedy School website entitled the "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy.’’ The paper unleashed a storm of controversy. An edited version was then published by the London Review of Books, which generated a second round of debate. The American Jewish response was frequently vitriolic, led by Allan Dershowitz and John Hopkins’ Eliot Cohen. One of the claims of the M-W paper was that a pro- Israel lobby led by AIPAC, (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) has had an unreasonably powerful influence on American policy in the Mid-East.

The thesis is that the identification of American and Israeli interests is because of the influence of the lobby, and not because Israel is a strategic asset or in virtue of Israel having a uniquely compelling moral case for support. M-W say quite openly, "Israel may have been a strategic asset during the cold war, but it is a strategic burden in the war on terror and the broader U.S. effort to deal with rogue states.’’ They also claim that the $3 billion in foreign aid to Israel has no strategic or moral rationale anymore, if it ever had, and has made America more, not less, vulnerable to terrorism. The study says America, and ultimately Israel interests, would be better served by not following the Lobby’s agenda. The obvious implication of the paper was that a loosening of ties with Israel would be in the American interest.

There are 3 separate issues involved in this major brouhaha. The first concerns the past and whether the claims are true. It is interesting to note that many left wing and Arab commentators like Noam Chomsky and the infamous Prof. Massad of Columbia University reject the paper’s main points. They feel it exonerates the US government of its responsibility and guilt that it deserves for its Middle East policies. They argue that the Israel lobby is not the primary cause of U.S. policies towards Palestinians and the Arab world. In their view, the U.S. pursues policies in the Middle East and everywhere else that are beneficial to its own interests and those regimes that serve those interests, including Israel. The way the radicals see it, Israel is doing America’s bidding and not the other way around. They believe the US would continue the policies even if there was no AIPAC. It is very rare for Jewish polemicists like Alan Dershowitz and radical Palestinian apologists to agree on anything, but this debate is exceptional.

The second interesting question that came of out of the paper is whether the American lobby is in Israel’s interests. I hope at some point to devote a separate blog to this question.

The third issue concerns the future and, in particular, Iran. In the current issue of Foreign Policy, M-W warn ominously “The Israeli lobby is now focusing on Iran…Few world leaders favor using force to deal with the problem, except in Israel and the United States. AIPAC and many of the same neoconservatives who advocated attacking Iraq are now among the chief proponents of using military force against Iran.” "If the lobby were less powerful, the current U.S. policy toward Iran would be more flexible and effective. The U.S. …would not be trying to overthrow the regime or contemplating preventive war...Iran is treated differently (from other nuclear powers) not because it threatens America, but as President Bush has said, because it threatens Israel.’’

I see that two major Jewish neoconservatives, Martin Peretz, publisher of The New Republic, and William Kristol, editor of The American Standard, have come out in favor of our forcing regime change in Iran and the destruction of the Iranian nuclear facilities by the US military. Jewish neo-conservatives are not the sort of people who are willing to sit out a major foreign policy debate. They believe that the current debacle in Iraq is not a sufficient reason for them to change or modify their views. If the debate surrounding the Mearsheimer-Walt article is any indication, the coming debate on Iran is going to be ugly and could very well stir up anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments.


At 4:57 PM, Anonymous MF said...

You say: "If the debate surrounding the Mearsheimer-Walt article is any indication, the coming debate on Iran is going to be ugly, and could very well stir up anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments."

Out of curiosity, do you have an opinion on "stirring up anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiments"? Regardless of the other issues, do you feel like it is productive or not (or based on whatever other criteria) to stir the pot?

At 11:51 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

I believe what has been a commonplace truth until recent times that in the diaspora where we are such a small minority it is imprudent to stir up such sentiments. This idea is less obvious today than 100 years ago, because Zionism frequently acts in its self interest without too much regard to what the world says. The Zionist attitude has carried over to the diaspora. Until Israel is at a point where it need not worry about the US, I would think prudence dictates that Israel adopt galuth attitudes as well. I don't believe this rule applies to the performance of mitvoth. I feel it is fine to wear yalmulkes etc. in public, irrespective of consequences.


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