MODERN HISTORY AND POLITICS American Policy Toward Israel: The Power and the Limits of Beliefs, by Michael Thomas. London, UK and New York: Routledge, 2007. viii + 192 pages. Notes to p. 222. Refs. to p. 244. Index to p. 253. $150.
Reviewed by Michelle Mart
Michael Thomas' contribution to the ongoing scholarly debates about the nature of the US-Israeli relationship asserts that cultural ideology is the starting point for understanding the ties between the two nations, but that recent American policies favoring Israel have often been adopted due to a powerful lobby in Washington. Unlike John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's recent study of domestic political support for Israel,1 6American Policy Toward Israel finds that the pro-Israel lobby derives much of its power from an American population predisposed to support the Jewish state for cultural reasons. Moreover, Thomas reminds his readers numerous times that the lobby is not representative of American Jews as a whole or the multiple parties in Israeli governments. Thomas's study focuses mainly on the 1980s and early 1990s, arguing that US policy and the nature of the Israel lobby changed greatly during the administrations of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.
At the outset of his book, Thomas contrasts his views with those of most international analysts who rely on rationalist models to make sense of foreign relations. Instead, Thomas argues that cultural ideology matters in how one understands the world, "provid[ing] default positions when strategic analysis yields only ambiguous answers." He adds that "by defining policies over time and becoming embedded in political institutions, beliefs can shape policy long after the evidence originally relied upon is obsolete or discredited" (p. 2). In the case of US-Israeli ties - "the extra-special relationship" - Thomas finds that a whole set of ideas about the Jewish state became part of political organizations and thus have shaped the relationship as much as did "external events and the contemporaneous preferences of the president and other participants in the process" (p. 3). As have other students of the American-Israeli relationship, Thomas identifies key themes in American ideology concerning Israel, including the American tendency to see the US as the new Zion and Americans as the new Chosen People; the idea that modern-day Israelis resemble biblical heroes of old; and the conviction that Israelis are pragmatic, moral, skilled fighters, and liberal democrats.
After the introduction on the underpinnings of the US-Israeli relationship, the remainder of the book into three main sections, focusing on detailed policy maneuvering. First, he discusses the political situation prior to 1981, including the dynamics of the pro-Israel community, inside and outside of Washington. Second, he turns to the Israeli policies during the Reagan Administration, examining the beliefs of the president, the controversial AWACS sale and its aftereffects, and the revolutionary changes in the pro-Israel lobby. …