Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Israel Lobby

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy
By John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 484 pp., $26)

Despite accusations to the contrary, there is nothing anti-semitic about this book. The authors are simply performing an exercise in "political realism". "Although we believe that America should support Israel's existence [i.e., for moral and historical reasons]," the authors write, "Israel's security is ultimately not of critical strategic importance to the United States ... By contrast, if oil exports from the Persian Gulf oil were insignificantly reduced, the effects on America's well-being would be profound." (p. 338). Tough words, but not racist.

The final chapter offers some policy advice: the United States should abandon its current efforts at regional transformation in the Middle East and return to a strategy of "offshore balancing" since "the United States does not need to control this vitally important region; it merely needs to ensure that no other country does" (p. 339). Israel, a regional economic and military superpower, can largely fend for itself. If (however improbably in their view) her existence should ever be threatened by enemies, the U.S. would at that point have a moral obligation to intervene. Otherwise, they maintain, Israel should be treated like any other state, based on U.S. national interest, and not subject to the "special relationship".

For Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Republic, however, this book represents "the most sustained attack, the most mainstream attack, against the political enfranchisement of American Jews since the era of Father Coughlin." Backed up by the recorded words of Richard Clarke and Lawrence Wright, he effectively challenges the book's analysis of Bin Ladin's motives (i.e. that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians was close to Bin Ladin's heart) and representation of Israel's position on Iraq (i.e., that Iran wasn't the greater threat in Israel's view). Goldberg fails to offer a counter-explanation, however, for why the Israel policy debate has been so strangely stifled in the U.S.. He also unhelpfully smears journalist Robert Fiske as a "rabid anti-Zionist who has lately made common cause with the September 11 conspiracy movement".

Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, also roughs up the authors a bit in his piece for the New York Times Book Review. Gelb points out some significant problems with the book (e.g., cherry-picking of quotations, absence of original research, reflexive blame on Israel for failed peace negotiations) , but, in their response the following week, Walt and Mearsheimer point out a fatal flow in Gelb's critique, one that reflects the distorted way in which he read their book: "Gelb refers repeatedly to a "Jewish lobby", despite the fact that we never employ the term in our book. Indeed we explicitly rejected this label as inaccurate and misleading, both because the lobby includes non-Jews like the Christian Zionists and because many Jewish Americans do not support the hard line policies favored by its most powerful elements." Another error was Gelb's inference that they turned their wrath on the Israel lobby out of exasperation and disbelief over the invasion of Iraq. But the Atlantic Monthly commission of the original article began in October 2002, still nearly 6 months before the war began.

Meanwhile, Ray McGovern of Consortium News has an article on Alternet (10/10/07) regarding Israel's June 7, 1967 attack on the USS Liberty. McGovern attributes the 40-year cover-up to--you guessed it--intimidation by the Israel lobby. The recent declassification of government documents along with aggressive reporting by John Crewdson make it increasingly hard to deny that the Israelis intentionally destroyed a "friendly" U.S. spy ship, and that the two governments conspired afterward to keep it secret from the U.S. public.

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