Two Knights and a Dragon

Article excerpt

Two Knights and a Dragon [The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 496 pages]

THERE ARE books that change people's consciousness and change history. Some tell a story, like Harriet Beecher Stowe's 1851 Uncle Tom's Cabin, which gave a huge impetus to the campaign for the abolition of slavery. Others take the form of a political treatise, like Theodor Herzl's Der Judenstaat, which gave birth to the Zionist movement Or they can be scientific in nature, like Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species, which changed the way humanity sees itself. And perhaps political satire, too, can shake the world, like 1984 by George Orwell.

The impact of these books was amplified by their timing. They appeared exactly at the right time, when a large public was ready to absorb their message.

It may well turn out that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy is just such a book.

It is a dry, scientific research report, 355 pages long, backed by 106 further pages containing some thousand references to sources. It is not a bellicose book. On the contrary, its style is restrained and factual. The authors take great care not to utter a single negative comment on the legitimacy of the lobby, and, indeed, bend over backward to stress their support for the existence and security of Israel. They let the facts speak for themselves. With the skill of experienced masons, they systematically lay brick upon brick, row upon row, leaving no gap in their argumentation.

This wall cannot be torn down by reasoned argument Nobody has tried, and nobody is going to. Instead, the authors are being smeared and accused of sinister motives. If the book could be ignored altogether, this would have been done-as has happened to other books that have been buried alive.

The two professors take the bull by the horns. They deal with a subject that is absolutely taboo in the United States, a subject nobody in his right mind would even mention: the enormous influence of the pro-Israel lobby on American foreign policy.

In a remorselessly systematical way, the book analyzes the lobby, takes it apart, describes its modus operandi, discloses its financial sources, and lays bare its relations with the White House, the two houses of Congress, the leaders of the two major parties, and prominent media people.

The authors do not call into question the lobby's legitimacy. On the contrary, they show that hundreds of lobbies of this kind play an essential role in the American democratic system. The gun and the medical lobbies, for example, are also very powerful political forces. But the pro-Israel lobby has grown out of all proportion.

It has unparalleled political power. It can silence all criticism of Israel in Congress and the media, bring about the political demise of anyone who dares to break the taboo, and prevent any action that does not conform to the will of the Israeli government.

In its second part, the book shows how the lobby uses its tremendous power in practice: how it has prevented the exertion of any pressure on Israel to forge peace with the Palestinians, how it pushed the United States into the invasion of Iraq, how it is now pushing for wars with Iran and Syria, how it supported the Israeli leadership in the recent war in Lebanon and blocked calls for a ceasefire. Each of these assertions is backed up by so much undeniable evidence and quotations from written material (mainly from Israeli sources) that they cannot be ignored.

Most of these disclosures are nothing new for those in Israel who deal with these matters. I could add a whole chapter from personal experience.

In the late '50s, I visited the U.S. for the first time. A major New York radio station invited me for an interview. Later, they cautioned me, "You can criticize the president [Dwight D. Eisenhower] and the secretary of state [John Foster Dulles] to your heart's content, but please don't criticize Israeli leaders! …