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 Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Must Read ! Two Commentaries on the Mearsheimer-Walt Paper on America's Israeli Lobby

  (A) American Media Response to the Mearsheimer-Walt Paper on Israel Lobby


William Pfaff
(Read here background of William Pfaff)

London’s Financial Times performed an American public service in its weekend edition, calling editorially for open and honest discussion of the influence of Israel on American foreign policy.

The call came amidst the resounding silence in “responsible” American circles concerning the paper recently issued by two highly-regarded political scholars, Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, discussing the “Israel lobby” in Washington and its effect on American foreign relations.

So far as one can make out from the internet, in the mainstream American press, only United Press International, The International Herald Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post have carried articles on the paper.

The Herald Tribune’s was an opinion piece by Daniel Levy, a former advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, calling for open discussion of the lobby.

The UPI and the Monitor provided professionally detached news reports.

The other two papers carried attacks -- in the case of The Washington Post, two of them, both featuring the news that the totally insignificant David Duke, a former head of the Klu Klux Klan, applauds the Merscheimer-Walt paper.

Duke is not a figure whose views are ordinarily treated as of national interest by The Washington Post, and the newspaper’s linking of him to the Merscheimer-Wall document was an act of character assassination by association just like those which won Senator Joseph McCarthy infamy in the 1950s.

The document has not otherwise lacked attention. The blogosphere is full of it, with both attacks on it and defenses and praise.

The authors themselves predicted that the mainstream media would ignore or attack their argument, which is essentially that the influence of Israel on American policy has distorted it to Israel’s advantage, and sometimes to American disadvantage.

They say that Israel’s friends in the United States have succeeded in convincing Americans that Israeli and American national interests are inseparable, which they are not, and have tried and often succeeded in suppressing or punishing critical discussion of the relationship.

What are very striking are the virulence as well as the volume of the attacks being made on the authors. The Klu Klux Klan smear has been the least of it.

Their paper has been compared to Nazi propaganda of the 1930s and to the czarist-era forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (which still circulates in the Arab world).

In fact, Mearsheimer and Walt are recognized and respected political scholars in the so-called realist tradition, which regards the defense and promotion of the national interest of states as the chief purpose of foreign policy.

Their paper is a responsible document of public importance.

The venom in the attacks made on it risks the opposite of its intended effect by tending to validate the claim that intense pressures are exercised on publishers, editors, writers, and on American universities to block criticism, intimidate critics, and prevent serious discussion of the American-Israeli relationship.

In Israel itself there has for many years been frank, cool and reasoned discussion of the subject.

Leading figures, including retired officers and intelligence officials as well as peace activists, have in the past warned that the actions of Israel’s friends in America could eventually rebound against Israel itself, with harm to Jews elsewhere.

Some also have noted that the leading U.S. lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is farther to the right in its views than Israeli public opinion, and has interfered in Israeli politics through support for the Likud party and by undermining Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.

The note of panic in some of the attacks on Mearsheimer and Walt contrasts with the fact that what they say is no secret in American foreign policy circles.

People have for years taken for granted the informal censorship, or self-censorship, exercised in the government and the press on this issue.

It is a fact of democratic life in the United States that determined interest groups annex their own spheres of federal policy. Energy policy is run by the oil companies, and trade policy by manufacturers, exporters and importers, with an input from Wall Street.

U.S. Cuba policy is decided by the Cuban lobby in Florida, and policy on Armenia by Americans of Armenian descent. The Middle East, or at least its part of it, belongs to Israel.

However in the Israeli case the lobbying effort is linked to a foreign government, even if the lobbyists sometimes take a policy line not that of the government. Moreover, the lobbying involves war and peace issues.

President George W. Bush said a few days ago that in connection with the supposed threat of Iran, his concern is to protect Israel.

Critics ask why Israel should NOT protect itself.

The same has been asked about Iraq.

In this respect the controversy over the Israeli lobby is potentially explosive.

This is why denials, secrecy, and efforts at intimidation are dangerous.

Daniel Levy is right when he says that Israel itself would be served “if the open and critical debate that takes place over here [in Israel] were exported over there,” meaning the United States.


(B) At last, An Impassioned Debate About US's Unwavering Support for Israel


Rupert Cornwell

Read here original article

TO JOHN MEARSHEIMER and Stephen Walt, heartfelt thanks are due.

They are a pair of very eminent academics, from the University of Chicago and Harvard respectively, and the authors of a recent treatise entitled "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy".

To most European ears, their case is familiar and persuasive. Israel, they argue, has become a liability in Washington's war on terror, that has reduced America's ability to deal with rogue states.

There is no longer a moral or strategic case for US support for Israel, and the billions of dollars of aid it extends to the Jewish state each year, no questions asked.

Yet, claim Mearsheimer and Walt, such is the stranglehold of the lobby on Congress that these policies are never seriously debated there.

The lobby itself, the authors contend, is led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - better known as Aipac - and a host of other pro-Jewish groups.

It also includes powerful gentile outriders in key positions, mostly in the neo-conservative movement, in the Bush administration and on Capitol Hill and in the media, as well as the politically influential evangelical Christian movement, which believes that a greater Israel is the fulfilment of God's will.

Predictably, the paper has provoked an almighty uproar. Their scholarship has been derided by their peers; Eliot Cohen, a celebrated historian and unabashed neo-con, declared in the Washington Post last week that it was simply anti-Semitic, displaying "obsessive and irrationally hostile beliefs about Jews".

But such vitriol, which contrasts with the measured prose of Mearsheimer and Walt, obscures the most important point.

For once, questions asked so oftenin Europe and other parts of theworld are being asked in America.

Is there a "Jewish Lobby" in the US?

Of course there is.

just as there are highly effective lobbies for gun ownership, farmers, and for ridding Cuba of Communism: how else is it that America persists in its spiteful and futile persecution of Fidel Castro's unlovely but unimportant regime? The answer, as we all know, is the critical Cuban-American vote in the electorally vital Florida.

Thus it is, writ far larger, with Aipac and other pro-Israel groups.

They do a great professional job. But they are tilling very fertile soil.

Americans, as poll after poll has shown, side with Israel rather than the Palestinians by a margin of roughly four to one. Suppose those figures were reversed. However well organised, Aipac and the like wouldn't have a prayer.

But America's sympathy for Israel, and the effectiveness of the Jewish lobby, have together rendered the country two giant disservices.

The first is the suppression of serious domestic debate on the US relationship with Israel.

It is beyond dispute that one reason - not the only reason, it is true, but a significant one - for the strife in the Middle East, and the lethally virulent anti-Americanism in the region, is America's built-in bias towards Israel, its failure to twist Israel's arm, its refusal to exert real pressure to halt settlement expansion on the West Bank, to cite just one example.

But you hear next to nothing of this, least of all in Congress - once memorably described by the old isolationist bruiser Pat Buchanan as "Israeli-occupied territory".

Criticise Israel, and as the Cohen response shows, you are branded an anti-Semite.

Concentrating minds is the legend of Charles Percy, the Illinois Senator whose electoral defeat in 1984 is said to have been engineered by the Lobby in retaliation for a supposedly "anti-Israel stance". The folklore of Capitol Hill is clear: you defy Aipac at your peril.

The second disservice rendered by the "Jewish lobby" is the conflation of Israel's conflict with the Palestinians with America's war on terror, so that 9/11 is ultimately presented as no more than a gigantic, horrific specimen of the suicide bomber threat that (at least until the building of the "security fence" to which the US has also raised few serious objections) was faced on a daily basis by Israelis in their own cities.

Thus was born the theory of the indivisible nature of terrorism, bought by the neo-cons and sold by Ariel Sharon - long before the invasion of Iraq - to an American president convinced that the world was divided into simple opposite camps of good and evil, in which "you are either with us or against us".

Thus the strategic interests of Israel and the US in the region were fused, with the pernicious consequences outlined by Mearsheimer and Walt.

But don't expect the tectonic plates of diplomacy to shift.

The Israel Lobby makes a measured case. But it will be added - indeed it already has been added - to the long catalogue of accusations that a Jewish cabal runs European finance/American foreign policy/the world. Such theories have been around for ever.

As I embarked on this piece, I glanced at my bookshelves for inspiration. A title instantly leapt out: The Lobby: Jewish Political Power and American Foreign Policy.

In it, Edward Tivnan maintains that the pro-Israel lobby had silenced debate on Capitol Hill and had become an obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

Sound familiar?

Yet the book was published in 1987.

Plainly, Tivnan's arguments have changed nothing.

Americans likeIsrael, come what may.

I will bet thatthe very similar ones of Messrs Walt andMearsheimer make little differenceeither.

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