The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

By Findley, Paul | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, November 2007 | Go to article overview

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy


Findley, Paul, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

By John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007, 484 pp. List: $26.00; AET: $17.75.

Reviewed by Paul Findley

ABRAHAM LINCOLN ducked when religion surfaced during his successful campaign for Congress in 1846. Asked about a controversial Mormon village nearby, he responded with a story: "This reminds me of the farmer who confronted a tree trunk in the center of a field he was plowing. It was too green to burn, too twisted to split, and too heavy to haul away. What did he do? He plowed around it."

Lincoln knew religion was a touchy issue, so he plowed around it. In contrast, John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard, distinguished professors in distinguished universities, plow straight into the most politically sensitive religious issue of this era-the phenomenal, harmful influence of a foreign religious state, Israel, in the formulation of U.S. foreign policy.

The volume they have co-authored, The Israel Lobby, is a comprehensive study of the staggering damage to U.S. national interest by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other pro-Israel advocacy groups. In it, they set a new standard of political bravery by proposing that further U.S. aid be conditioned on Israel withdrawing from Arab territory seized in June 1967 and on its "willingness to conform its policies to American interests." During the past 40 years, no president or serious presidential candidate of either party has hinted-on or off the record-that even minor conditions should be put on aid to Israel. In my close experience in the thicket of Middle East politics during those years, I could count on the fingers of one hand the candidates for any office that daring. The professors are brave pioneers.

Unlike Lincoln in 1846, neither Mearsheimer nor Walt was or is a candidate for public office, but they wrote this book with their eyes wide open, fully warned by recent events that any major document presenting criticism of Israel will stir passions strong enough to threaten any career, academic or otherwise. A year earlier, their study paper on the same theme as their book, first rejected by the Atlantic Monthly magazine, was published by the London Review of Books. Widely circulated through the Internet, and reprinted by the Washington Report, it prompted both caresses and cuffs. The latter even included reckless charges of anti-Semitism from Zionists like Harvard's Alan Dershowitz who seem to think only with their glands when Israel is criticized.

Instead of retreating to the relative obscurity of thick ivy, Mearsheimer and Walt stood their ground without flinching, answered their critics, defended their analysis and conclusions, and spent most of the next year expanding the study paper's theme into a book that deserves the attention of every thoughtful citizen.

A few of its gems:

"Pressure from Israel and the lobby was not the only factor behind the Bush administration's decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a crucial element.

"...the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it has long been so supportive of Israel.

"...bin Laden and his deputies clearly see the issue of Palestine as central to their agenda?

"Israel's ability to defy the United States-and even to get Washington to allow its preferred approach to dealing with the Palestinians-offers a classical illustration of interest group politics at work?

"Backing Israel against the Palestinians makes winning the war on terror harder, not easier. …

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