Magazine article The Spectator

The Very Special Relationship

Magazine article The Spectator

The Very Special Relationship

Article excerpt

THE ISRAEL LOBB Y AND US FOREIGNPOLICYby John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt Allen Lane, £25, pp. 484, ISBN 9781846140075 £20 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

'Here is a hot potato, ' The Spectator's book review editor wrote in a note accompanying this book. Radioactive, actually. In 2006 Chicago professor John Mearsheimer and Harvard's Stephen Walt posted a version of an article they had written on the Israel lobby for the London Review of Books on a Harvard faculty website. It was downloaded more than 275,000 times, and provoked what the authors call a firestorm of abuse.

Perhaps the most ferocious denunciation, 43 pages long, came from Professor Alan Dershowitz of the Harvard Law School:

This study is so filled with distortions, so empty of originality or new evidence, so tendentious in its tone, so lacking in nuance and balance, so unscholarly in its approach, so riddled with obvious factual errors that could easily have been checked (but obviously were not), and so dependent on biased, extremist and anti-American sources, as to raise the question of motive:

what would motivate two well-recognised academics to depart so grossly from their usual standards of academic writing and research in order to produce a 'study paper' that contributes so little to the existing scholarship while being so susceptible to misuse?

Mearsheimer and Walt have now expanded their notorious article into a book. Here is their argument: Israel receives unique, overwhelming and usually unquestioning support from Washington; this commitment harms the United States and, in the long run, Israel as well. The book also surveys the Israel lobby in the US, 'a loose confederation of individuals and organisations that actively works to move US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction'. The authors state many times that the lobby is not a cabal or conspiracy, that by no means all its members are Jews, though most of them are, and that it includes groups from the American Christian Zionist Right who were also important in edging George Bush into the White House. The authors are at pains to state that the Israel lobby - which is rivalled in its influence only by lobbies representing retired people and the National Rifle Association - 'are engaged in good oldfashioned interest group politics, which is as American as apple pie'. They also emphasise that Israel has a right to exist and that the US should support and, if genuinely necessary, defend it.

The firestorm arose from those in Israel who dislike any criticism, although, as the authors say, many Israelis are profoundly critical of their government's policies and actions, and from Americans who also defend Israel under all circumstances. (The authors quote from polls showing that most Americans favour treating Israel like any other friendly country. ) Those who hated the article, and probably will hate this book more, maintain that Israel is a special country, historically, morally, and as an American ally. Anyone who denies that this entitles it to total support, they insist, is either antiSemitic or is a self-hating Jew.

I have had a bit of personal experience with this particular defence of Israel. During the recent Lebanese war I mentioned to an elderly close friend, who is a Holocaust survivor, that, based on my experience years ago in Vietnam, I supposed the Israeli use of American-manufactured cluster-bombs, intended to kill or wound civilians rather than well-dug-in enemy soldiers, could be termed a war crime. This was especially so, I said, now that we knew that the number of Lebanese civilians killed and wounded far outnumbered the Israeli casualties resulting from Hezbollah rockets. She replied, 'If I didn't know you were a Jew I would say you were anti-Semitic.'

The authors Professor Dershowitz so roundly condemned (Mearsheimer is a graduate of West Point and an Air Force veteran) belong to the 'realist school' of international relations; it holds that only national interest can justify the formation of foreign policy. …

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