- WASHINGTON (UPI) -- Two of
America's top scholars have published a searing attack on the role and
power of Washington's pro-Israel lobby in a British journal, warning that
its "decisive" role in fomenting the Iraq war is now being repeated
with the threat of action against Iran. And they say that the Lobby is
so strong that they doubt their article would be accepted in any U.S.-based
- Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago,
author of "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics" and Professor
Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kenney School, and author of "Taming American
Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy," are leading figures American
in academic life.
- They claim that the Israel lobby has distorted American
policy and operates against American interests, that it has organized the
funneling of more than $140 billion dollars to Israel and "has a stranglehold"
on the U.S. Congress, and its ability to raise large campaign funds gives
its vast influence over Republican and Democratic administrations, while
its role in Washington think tanks on the Middle East dominates the policy
- And they say that the Lobby works ruthlessly to suppress
questioning of its role, to blacken its critics and to crush serious debate
about the wisdom of supporting Israel in U.S. public life.
- "Silencing skeptics by organizing blacklists and
boycotts -- or by suggesting that critics are anti-Semites -- violates
the principle of open debate on which democracy depends," Walt and
- "The inability of Congress to conduct a genuine
debate on these important issues paralyses the entire process of democratic
deliberation. Israel's backers should be free to make their case and to
challenge those who disagree with them, but efforts to stifle debate by
intimidation must be roundly condemned," they add, in the 12,800-word
article published in the latest issue of The London Review of Books.
- The article focuses strongly on the role of the "neo-conservatives"
within the Bush administration in driving the decision to launch the war
- "The main driving force behind the war was a small
band of neo-conservatives, many with ties to the Likud," Mearsheimer
and Walt argue." Given the neo-conservatives' devotion to Israel,
their obsession with Iraq, and their influence in the Bush administration,
it isn't surprising that many Americans suspected that the war was designed
to further Israeli interests."
- "The neo-conservatives had been determined to topple
Saddam even before Bush became president. They caused a stir early in 1998
by publishing two open letters to Clinton, calling for Saddam's removal
from power. The signatories, many of whom had close ties to pro-Israel
groups like JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) or WINEP
(Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy), and who included Elliot
Abrams, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, Bernard Lewis, Donald
Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, had little trouble persuading
the Clinton administration to adopt the general goal of ousting Saddam.
But they were unable to sell a war to achieve that objective. They were
no more able to generate enthusiasm for invading Iraq in the early months
of the Bush administration. They needed help to achieve their aim. That
help arrived with 9/11. Specifically, the events of that day led Bush and
Cheney to reverse course and become strong proponents of a preventive war,"
Walt and Mearsheimer write.
- The article, which is already stirring furious debate
in U.S. academic and intellectual circles, also explores the historical
role of the Lobby.
- "For the past several decades, and especially since
the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has
been its relationship with Israel," the article says.
- "The combination of unwavering support for Israel
and the related effort to spread 'democracy' throughout the region has
inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only U.S. security
but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal
in American political history. Why has the U.S. been willing to set aside
its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the
interests of another state?" Professors Walt and Mearsheimer add.
- "The thrust of U.S. policy in the region derives
almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of
the 'Israel Lobby'. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew
foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what
the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans
that U.S. interests and those of the other country - in this case, Israel
-- are essentially identical," they add.
- They argue that far from being a strategic asset to the
United States, Israel "is becoming a strategic burden" and "does
not behave like a loyal ally." They also suggest that Israel is also
now "a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal
with rogue states.
- "Saying that Israel and the U.S. are united by a
shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has
a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel,
not the other way around," they add. "Support for Israel is not
the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one,
and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question
that many al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are motivated by
Israel's presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. Unconditional
support for Israel makes it easier for extremists to rally popular support
and to attract recruits."
- They question the argument that Israel deserves support
as the only democracy in the Middle East, claiming that "some aspects
of Israeli democracy are at odds with core American values. Unlike the
US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race,
religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state
and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this,
it is not surprising that its 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class
- The most powerful force in the Lobby is AIPAC, the American-Israel
Public affairs Committee, which Walt and Mearsheimer call "a de facto
agent for a foreign government," and which they say has now forged
an important alliance with evangelical Christian groups.
- The bulk of the article is a detailed analysis of the
way they claim the Lobby managed to change the Bush administration's policy
from "halting Israel's expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories
and advocating the creation of a Palestinian state" and divert it
to the war on Iraq instead. They write "Pressure from Israel and the
Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March
2003, but it was critical."
- "Thanks to the lobby, the United States has become
the de facto enabler of Israeli expansion in the Occupied Territories,
making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians,"
and conclude that "Israel itself would probably be better off if the
Lobby were less powerful and U.S. policy more even-handed."
- First published March 20, 2006