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Saturday, April 7, 2012

STEPHEN J. SNIEGOSKI-Israel lobbying: The attack on Mearsheimer and Walt

Israel lobbying:

The attack on Mearsheimer and Walt
 
By STEPHEN J. SNIEGOSKI



  The elephant in the room that no one is supposed to mention is the role of the supporters of Israel in shaping American foreign policy in the Middle East. Their role has become especially apparent with the American attack on Iraq and the subsequent American policy toward Iran and Syria, in all of which the Israelocentric neoconservatives provided the fundamental driving force. The neocons have been closely aligned with the Likudniks (the Israeli Right), and the idea of destabilizing and weakening Israel's Middle Eastern enemies through war actually originated among Israeli Likudniks.
To be sure, mainstream media accounts have touched on the role of Israel's supporters, but the media never treat it extensively. To see a more extensive development of the theme the persistent reader has had to find and peruse non-Establishment analysis. (I myself have written extensively on the subject.) Mainstream figures have generally shied away from this undertaking because of the fear of being labeled "anti-Semitic" — a tag that can inflict severe harm on anyone desirous of an important career, or even a decent livelihood.
However, in mid March 2006, the taboo was punctured when two leading scholars in the field of international relations, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, produced their 82-page bombshell, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." Mearsheimer is Wendell Harrison Professor of Political Science and co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago, and Walt is Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs and the academic dean of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, though he will now be relinquishing the latter post. The paper was placed in the Faculty Research Working Papers Series on the Kennedy School's Website, which is described as an "electronic database to disseminate works-in-progress reflecting the broad range of research activities of Kennedy School faculty members." [1]
Both Mearsheimer and Walt have impressive Establishment credentials that complement their prestigious positions. Mearsheimer has authored three books: Conventional Deterrence (1983), which won the Edgar S. Furniss, Jr., Book Award; Liddell Hart and the Weight of History (1988); and The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2001), which won the Joseph Lepgold Book Prize. He has also written many articles appearing in major academic journals, such as International Security, and in leading popular journals and newspapers, such as the Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times.
Mearsheimer is the leading proponent of an international-relations theory called "offensive realism." Offensive realism holds that great powers are engaged in a never-ending struggle for power, for the more power a nation-state has, the greater its chances of survival in this chaotic world.
Stephen Walt has been a resident associate of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, and a consultant for the Institute of Defense Analyses, the Center for Naval Analyses, and the National Defense University. He has served on the editorial boards of some of the most prestigious journals in the field of international relations, including Foreign Policy, Security Studies, and International Relations. In 2005, Walt was elected a Fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Walt wrote The Origins of Alliances (1987), which received the 1988 Edgar S. Furniss National Security Book Award; Revolution and War (1996); and Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (2005). He is a proponent of "defensive realism," which holds that the fundamental goal of states is to seek security and that states expand their influence to counter perceived threats.
In "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," Mearsheimer and Walt maintain that the pro-Israel lobby, made up of an extensive network of journalists, think-tankers, lobbyists, and officials of the Bush regime — largely but not solely of Jewish ethnicity — has played a fundamental rule in shaping American Middle East policy. The lobby's goal has been to enhance Israeli security, which could very well be at the expense of U.S. interests. The risk of that has become especially apparent with the war on Iraq, for which the pro-Israeli neoconservatives served as the "driving force." The authors reject the contention of Israel's backers that American and Israeli interests are identical and that by helping Israel the United States necessarily serves its own interests. They argue that "saying that Israel and the United States are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: rather, the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around." [2]
In short, the authors state that
the overall thrust of U.S. policy in the region is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the "Israel Lobby." Other special interest groups have managed to skew U.S. foreign policy in directions they favored, but no lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical. [3]
 
Mearsheimer and Walt proceed to illustrate their thesis with 42 pages of narrative and a massive 40 pages of endnotes. Their sources consist of mainstream newspaper accounts, works by Israeli scholars and journalists, and the testimony of the Israel lobby's own members. The authors point out that "readers may reject our conclusions, of course, but the evidence on which they rest is not controversial." [4] That evidence is extensive and straightforward. The authors eschew any type of conspiracy thesis relating to Jews. "The Israel lobby's activities are not the sort of conspiracy depicted in anti-Semitic tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion," they emphasize. Rather, "for the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise the lobby are doing what other special interest groups do, just much better." [5]
Mearsheimer and Walt point out the dangerous repercussions that result from discussing the Israel lobby and emphasize the need for open discussion. They maintain that the
Lobby's campaign to squelch debate about Israel is unhealthy for democracy. Silencing skeptics by organizing blacklists and boycotts — or by suggesting that critics are anti-Semites — violates the principle of open debate upon which democracy depends. The inability of the U.S. Congress to conduct a genuine debate on these vital issues paralyzes 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 by those who believe in free speech and open discussion of important public issues. [6]
It must be emphasized that the two authors do not say anything that has not been noted before by non-Establishment writers. As antiwar commentator Justin Raimondo observed: "I am glad to see the Kennedy School is finally catching up to the level of analysis long available here at Antiwar.com: it's a good sign, albeit long overdue." [7] While not producing anything new, the two authors must be credited for risking their Establishment standing by daring to deal with this taboo subject.
  But though they punctured the Israel taboo, by no means did they shatter it: the piece has attracted little attention in the mainstream American media, except for a few adversely critical references. [8] Rather, the paper was picked up by the London Review of Books, which published an abbreviated version. In the United States it remains only a "working paper" on a Harvard faculty Website. [9] Most average Americans who rely on the mainstream media for information remain unaware of the study's existence.
"I do not believe that we could have gotten it published in the United States," Mearsheimer told the Forward. He said that their paper was originally commissioned in the fall of 2002 by a major American magazine, "but the publishers told us that it was virtually impossible to get the piece published in the United States." Mearsheimer opined that people involved in scholarship, media, and politics know that "the whole subject of the Israel lobby and American foreign policy is a third-rail issue." And "publishers understand that if they publish a piece like ours it would cause them all sorts of problems." [10]
Peter Beaumont of The Observer reports that the piece "was originally written for, but rejected by, the Atlantic Monthly and picked up by the LRB," according to what he was told by LRB editor Mary-Kay Wilmers. [11]
While the Mearsheimer-Walt essay was largely ignored by mainstream American media outlets, it did ignite a firestorm among the pro-Zionist media after the publication of the LRB version. Writing in the neocon Front Page Magazine, Lowell Ponte proclaimed that "This Mearsheimer and Walt attack is so nastily slanted against Israel that their paper ought to be called The New Protocols of the Elders of Zion." [12] William Rapfogel, CEO of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, said the pro-Zionist New York Sun "should be commended for exposing the Harvard Kennedy School's entry into the contest to succeed the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. To imply, as the report does, that there is a disloyal American Jewish population is a disgrace that Harvard and Kennedy should disassociate from immediately." [13]
Moreover, Ruth R. Wisse, the Martin Peretz [14] Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard, called for the Kennedy School to withdraw the paper until the authors remedied their "poor scholarship." [15] In an article in the pro-neocon Wall Street Journal, Wisse compared the essay to German anti-Semitism when she proclaimed that "their tone resembles nothing so much as Wilhelm Marr's 1879 pamphlet, 'The Victory of Judaism over Germandom,' which declared of the Jews that 'there is no stopping them.... German culture has proved itself ineffective and powerless against this foreign power. This is a fact; a brute inexorable fact.'" [16]
Eliot Cohen, the man who coined the term "World War IV" for the neocon-desired American war on Islam, titled his piece condemning the Mearsheimer-Walt essay, "Yes, It's Anti-Semitic." [17] Writing in the Washington Post, he portrayed the essay as a "wretched piece of scholarship." Cohen caricatures the Mearsheimer-Walt description of the neocons' role in the war by asserting:
Mearsheimer and Walt conceive of The Lobby as a conspiracy between the Washington Times and the New York Times, the Democratic-leaning Brookings Institution and Republican-leaning American Enterprise Institute, architects of the Oslo accords and their most vigorous opponents. In this world Douglas Feith manipulates Don Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney takes orders from Richard Perle.
In reality, of course, Mearsheimer and Walt conceive of nothing as simple-minded as that. They accurately identify the neocons as the driving force for the war on Iraq, and they develop their argument to that end in a sophisticated, step-by-step fashion, showing that the 9/11 attacks enabled the neocons to gain a dominant position in the Bush regime so that they could implement their pre-existing war agenda. But like any faithful member of the Israel lobby, Cohen opts for a smear rather than an analysis. Presumably the neocons developed their war agenda with the intention of influencing American policy; but now that its major aspects have been adopted by the Bush administration, they are denying the connection, and they don't like it when anyone brings up the record. Congressman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), a strong supporter of Israel, labeled the paper "the same old anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist drivel." "Given what happened in the Holocaust," Engel moaned, "it's shameful that people would write reports like this." [18] I must interpose a brief comment, one that would be elementary and unnecessary if we but lived in a more-rational world: Scholars should seek the truth and eschew propagandistic lies on all subjects. The issue of the Holocaust should not determine what scholars say about Zionist influence in America. If Zionist influence does not exist, it should not be fabricated, Holocaust or not. But if that influence does exist, the matter of the Holocaust should not render one silent about it. Congressman Engel, however, seems to imply that the Holocaust should trump the truth where Jews are concerned. The reader may recall that the use of the Holocaust to stifle debate on Israel has been recognized and closely examined by Norman Finkelstein in The Holocaust Industry and by Peter Novick in The Holocaust in American Life.
Mearsheimer and Walt's critics made much of David Duke's endorsement of the essay, with the implication that because Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader who continues to denounce Jewish power, praised the work it must ipso facto be hatefully wrong. For example, Eli Lake in the pro-Zionist New York Sun observed that "a paper recently co-authored by the academic dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government about the allegedly far-reaching influence of an 'Israel lobby' is winning praise from white supremacist David Duke." [19] James Taranto in the Wall Street Journal acknowledged that "just because Duke endorses Walt and Mearsheimer doesn't mean they endorse him," but maintained that "without ascribing to them any invidious motives, it seems fair to say that their views dovetail disturbingly with those of unquestioned anti-Semites." [20]

The guilt-by-association theory is further developed by Harvard legal scholar Alan Dershowitz, who invalidates the Mearsheimer-Walt paper on the grounds that many of the authors' sources have appeared elsewhere on the Web on sites that criticize Israel and pro-Zionist influence on American foreign policy — and to Dershowitz and his confreres, that ipso facto constitutes "hate."
"What we're discovering first of all," Dershowitz declares, "is that the quotes that they use are not only wrenched out of context, but they are the common quotes that appear on hate sites." The paper, Dershowitz maintains, is "simply a compilation of hateful paragraphs lifted from other sources and given academic imprimatur." Meghan Clyne, reporter for the Israelocentric New York Sun, transforms Dershowitz's "hate" to "neo-Nazi" when she writes: "Mr. Dershowitz said that he and his research assistants were currently working on a comparative chart showing the parallelism between parts of the Walt-Mearsheimer paper and quotes available on neo-Nazi Web sites." [21]
However, Dershowitz does not allege that the quotes that so disturb him were invented by the "hate" Websites but, rather, that they were simply cited by them. And the information cited by Mearsheimer and Walt ultimately derived from legitimate sources, often mainstream and sometimes from members of the Israel lobby itself. It is not apparent how the citation of that information by "hate" sites would affect its truthfulness.
Moreover, Dershowitz's concern about Mearsheimer and Walt's alleged methodology of relying on citations from secondary sources represents the height of hypocrisy, since that has been his own modus operandi. Shortly after the publication of Dershowitz's The Case for Israel, Norman Finkelstein noted twenty instances where Dershowitz excerpted the same words from the same sources used by Joan Peters in her book From Time Immemorial. Peters's book about the history of Israel was viewed by most critics as a pro-Israeli propaganda tract; indeed, Peters went so far as to claim that, before the coming of the Zionists, the Palestinians had not lived in the land that would be claimed by the Israeli state! [22]
Dershowitz demanded the opportunity to post a rebuttal of the Mearsheimer-Walt essay to the Kennedy School's Website, which to that point had been reserved for the faculty of that particular school. As a result of Dershowitz's demand and the overall avalanche of criticism against the "Israel Lobby" essay, the dean of the school, David Ellwood, changed the school's policy and opened the working papers Website to full-time Harvard faculty outside of the Kennedy School, with Dershowitz's rebuttal being the first submission. [23]
In his 45-page rebuttal, Dershowitz uses the same methodology that he uses in his responses to reporters. He charges that
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 recognized 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? [24]
Dershowitz regards the authors' claim that criticism of Israel leads to charges of "anti-Semitism" to be "demonstrably false, though it is a charge made frequently in the hate literature." [25] He justifies his assertion by pointing out that he and other Jews criticize Israeli policy and have never been so labeled. Undoubtedly, friendly criticism is allowed. And it is well-attested that many right-wing American Jews do criticize the Israeli government — for being too lenient toward the Palestinians — and that has never led to charges of "anti-Semitism." Of course, some folks, such as Joe Sobran, who criticize Israel on other grounds have not been so fortunate.
  What is Dershowitz's standard of fairness to Israel? Let us recall that Mearsheimer and Walt did not intend to write a history of the Israel/Palestine conflict but merely pointed out that Israel is not so pure as it is conventionally claimed to be; and they cited rather formidable research to back that up. The two scholars did not claim that Israel is an exceptionally evil state but rather that there was no overwhelming moral reason for the United States to back the positions of Israel. Meanwhile, of course, the rest of the world tends to see the Palestinians, dispossessed of their land and living in dire poverty, as the victims. Not so Dershowitz: "Considering Palestinian collaboration and support for Nazism during World War II, and its participation in an offensive war of extermination in 1948-49, the Palestinian people can hardly be called 'a largely innocent third party.'" [26]
Dershowitz claims that the Mearsheimer-Walt essay "presents a conspiratorial view of history. This type of paranoid worldview, in which Jews manipulate and control the media and government, is not the sort of argument one would expect from prominent academics." [27] Here Dershowitz relies on bludgeoning a straw man — or straw demon, we might say — since Mearsheimer and Walt explicitly reject the idea of a Jewish "conspiracy" and never claim that Jews "control" the media and government. Rather, the authors focus on the quite open pro-Zionist efforts to dominate American Middle East policy, which, as was pointed out earlier, represent the actions of a successful lobby.
Dershowitz expresses concern about Mearsheimer and Walt's citing such exponents of alleged "hateful views" as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, and Alexander Cockburn. Mearsheimer and Walt cite Chomsky and Finkelstein each three times, and Cockburn's CounterPunch site (not necessarily Cockburn's writing, mind you) four times. [28] Those few citations, of course, nestle in 40 pages of endnotes. Also, Dershowitz strays rather far afield, one might think, in citing other commentators who dispute the accuracy of the cited writers [29], rather than dealing himself with what Mearsheimer and Walt actually cite.
Given his insinuation of anti-Semitism, Dershowitz's claim that the authors go overboard in relying on Jews as sources strikes one as odd: "One of the authors' most common arguments is to suggest that if a Jew admits something negative about other Jews, then it must necessarily be true." [30] Dershowitz's skepticism about the credibility of Jews applies especially to members of the Israel lobby, because, as he writes, such a man undoubtedly "had a professional stake in exaggerating his access to decision-makers." [31]
Now, Dershowitz's hyper-skepticism here doesn't leave much room for the possibility of truth, where analysis critical of Israel or the Israel lobby is concerned. For according to Dershowitz, one cannot believe gentile critics of Israel: they're hateful. And one cannot trust Jews (self-haters?) who criticize other pro-Israel Jews. And one definitely cannot believe members of the Israel lobby who admit their own power. Once we have excluded all such people, whom do we have left to believe: Alan Dershowitz and Abe Foxman? Needless to say, Dershowitz does not observe a rigorous selection process in his own use of sources, relying on opinion pieces in the pro-Israel Forward and Jerusalem Post to back up the contention that the Israel lobby is powerless.

In light of the current focus on the neocons and the war on Iraq, and on overall Bush administration Middle East policy, it is peculiar that Dershowitz has virtually nothing to say on those subjects, even though Mearsheimer and Walt devote about a quarter of their essay to examining them. In fact, Dershowitz uses the term "neoconservative" but once. Given the overriding significance of the topic, its glaring omission would seem to concede to Mearsheimer and Walt one of their most fundamental points: that America is fighting a war for the interests of Israel as a result of neocon influence.
Instead of dealing with the all-important issue of the role of the neoconservatives and the war, Dershowitz demonstrates a complete failure of reading-comprehension in the following smear:
Mearsheimer and Walt attribute anything that Israel and America do or aspire to achieve in common to Israeli manipulation. The professors make the most basic of all logical fallacies — they confuse correlation with causation. Listen to the following passage: "By February 2003, a Washington Post headline summarized the situation: 'Bush and Sharon Nearly Identical on Mideast Policy.' The main reason for this switch is the Lobby." The upshot of their naked conclusory assertion is that Ariel Sharon duped President Bush into overthrowing Saddam Hussein. Mearsheimer and Walt never consider the more likely explanation: that Bush and Sharon shared the same worldview and vision for the Middle East. [32]
But in fact the passage Dershowitz cites actually refers not to the issue of the war on Iraq but rather to the Israeli policy towards the Palestinians. Furthermore, a plain reading of the passage shows that the two scholars attribute the change in American policy not to Sharon himself but to the Israel Lobby. Perhaps Dershowitz's approach here can be called "argument by miscomprehension." Dershowitz assumes that America and Israel simply and necessarily have similar interests. That is, of course, the fundamental position of the Israel lobby. But if the identity of interests were patent and unchallengeable, there would be no need for the lobby. Dershowitz tries to counter that inconvenient fact by observing that the existence of a lobby does not prove that following its agenda is harmful to the American public interest. Given the Harvard milieu in which he is writing, Dershowitz chooses some nice liberal lobbies for purposes of illustration — environmental, civil rights, retired people — remaining silent on the lobbies representing gunowners, Big Oil, the arms industry, Saudi Arabia, and so on.
Since the Israel lobby holds positions opposed to those of men knowledgeable about Middle Eastern relations, Dershowitz implies that Israel and its lobby, by pursuing Israeli interests, actually advance U.S. interests better than the American foreign-policy elite, which is oriented to directly pursuing U.S. interests. On the surface, that state of affairs seems unlikely. Presumably it does not apply to all countries: pursuing the interests of France, much less Iran, would not be considered as also pursuing U.S. interests. To the contrary, specialists in international relations, especially those of the "realist" school, show how the interests of different countries are actually different. In their essay Mearsheimer and Walt go to some lengths to disprove the proposed identity of interests. Let us use the Iraq war as a test for the Dershowitz thesis. Israel and the Israelocentric neocons strenuously pushed for the war. But the foreign-policy elite was largely cool to launching the war. Now, have the results benefited America? Hardly.
Dershowitz strays so far from reality as to imply that instead of there being a taboo against criticizing Israel and its supporters in the United States, the "Mearsheimer-Walt paper may be one of the strongest pieces of evidence of the powerful culture of anti-Israeli animus on college campuses." Dershowitz approvingly quotes this logic-deprived gem from Caroline Glick of the pro-Likudnik Jerusalem Post:
Walt and Mearsheimer — who are both rational men — undoubtedly considered the likely consequences of publishing their views and concluded that the anti-Israel nature of their article would shield them from criticisms of its substandard academic quality. That is, they believe that hostility towards Israel is so acceptable in the U.S. that authors of shoddy research whose publication would normally destroy their professional reputations can get away with substandard work if that work relates to Israel. [33]
Of course, if what Glick says is true, Mearsheimer and Walt are liars; but then we must confront the odd fact that their article did not get published in the United States. If American society or even the American academy is so friendly to anti-Israel articles, one wonders why a plethora of such articles are not published. On this issue Dershowitz, assisted by the blooperish Glick, peddles an outright inversion of truth.
  It is apparent that Dershowitz has no desire to uphold the standards of scholarship; his goal is rather to slime the authors by all possible means: half-truths, distortions, the application of ridiculous standards, outright misstatements, innuendo, and impassioned rhetoric — while continually attributing insidious motives to the authors. What lawyer Dershowitz has crafted is a polemic that doesn't even meet the standards of a lawyer's brief for the defense, much less approach what would be considered fairness in the realm of actual scholarly analysis.
Of course, the condemnation of Mearsheimer and Walt's research method represents what might be called a Catch 22 scenario, since the Israelophilic smearbund considers the very act of criticizing Israel or pointing out the influence of the Israel lobby to be sufficient proof of sloppy scholarship, at the very least, if not "hate" or "neo-Nazi" propaganda.
While no academic study is beyond criticism and all scholarly articles must focus on a limited field and offer conclusions that are only tentative, it is just preposterous to claim that two leading scholars somehow suddenly forgot how to engage in scholarship when writing one particular paper, or that they were suddenly poisoned by anti-Semitic "hate." It is reasonable to conclude that the essay in question represents the same level of scholarship demonstrated in Mearsheimer's and Walt's earlier much-acclaimed works. Undoubtedly, they sent drafts of the present essay to scholars for review before posting it on the Web. Such an approach is commonplace. As leading scholars, Mearsheimer and Walt have extensive scholarly contacts. The upshot is that if any problems really existed with their scholarly methodology, the authors would have been notified of it and would have made corrections long before offering the essay publicly.
Moreover, to label opponents of an aggressive war, which was considered the pre-eminent Nazi crime at the major Nuremberg war-crimes trial, as being somehow Nazi-like is to descend spelunkingly deep into the realm of Orwellian absurdity. And it becomes even more absurd when such criticism comes from members of the Israel lobby who promoted the falsehoods that led the United States into war against Iraq. Even Orwell would be dumbfounded by such super-chutzpah.

Beyond smearing the essay publicly, the lobby has mounted behind-the-scenes efforts to suppress it and prevent anyone else from producing something like it. The executive director of the pro-Zionist Committee for Accurate Middle East Reporting in America, Andrea Levin, stated that she would ask the Kennedy School to withdraw the paper because it failed to meet academic standards. She said it relied too much on "new historians," a group of Israeli academics who, relying on declassified state documents, have pointed out negative aspects of the founding of Israel — fundamentally, the mistreatment of the Palestinians. Levin called those scholars "a thoroughly discredited lot" [34], although there seems to be little evidence for that characterization. It is not apparent what academic credentials Levin possesses that enable her to judge scholarly or even journalistic methodology, but she nevertheless spends her time condemning leading writers, such as reporter Robert Fisk, who find fault with Israel. [35]
Rob Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, e-mailed the organization's board of trustees:
If you have a connection to Harvard (and, specifically, the Kennedy School), I urge you to contact the relevant officials — especially the major gifts officers! — and express your outrage. Academic freedom means that universities have to provide allowance for writing by tenured professors that can be inane, stupid, and otherwise professionally unacceptable. But academic freedom does not mean that donors have to subsidize such drivel. [36]
Robert Belfer, a former Enron director and philanthropist with a strong ties to Israel, and the man who endowed the chair that Walt now occupies, contacted Harvard to ask that Walt be forbidden to use his formal title (which includes the names of Belfer and his wife) in publicity for the study. [37] What were the results of all that pressure? The Kennedy School of Government removed its logo from the front page of the paper and raised to more prominence a boilerplate statement to the effect that neither the school nor Harvard endorses the essay's views. But of course none of these research papers reflects the official views of Harvard. Raimondo writes:
It is undeniable that the Mearsheimer-Walt study was singled out for special treatment: out of all the "working papers" published by Harvard, only this one now lacks the university's logo. Only this one has special language appended to it putting the reader on notice that neither Harvard nor the University of Chicago "take positions on the scholarship of individual faculty." Ouch! If that isn't a slap in the face — impugning their scholarship — then I don't know what is. [38]
Furthermore, days after the essay came to light, the Kennedy School announced that Walt would be stepping down from his post as academic dean, though he would remain as a professor. Walt himself has said that his decision to relinquish his post was made a few months before the current brouhaha. [39] Raimondo questions that explanation [40], but the truth is hard to discern. It could very well be that only a man who already intended to leave an important post such as dean would risk angering members of the Israel lobby. In this context it is interesting that the lobby's purported concern about shoddy scholarship overlooks other questionable denizens of the Kennedy School. One may fairly detect some selectivity at work. No one finds anything wrong with former Deputy Secretary of Defense Douglas Feith's co-chairing a project at the Kennedy School to write an academic book on how to fight terrorism. Feith is a lawyer by training who lacks any relevant academic credentials. [41] However, in developing a fantasy piece on how to fight Islamic terrorism perhaps Feith can apply the same creative talents that he used to promote the war lies at what Secretary of State Colin Powell privately called a "Gestapo Office" within the Bush regime. Undoubtedly the same folks who lambaste Mearsheimer and Walt as unscholarly would like to stock the entire Kennedy School with other intellectual luminaries from such neocon hangouts as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs or the American Enterprise Institute.

It is evident that the fundamental purpose of the scurrilous onslaught on Mearsheimer and Walt is to prevent honest debate. As Michael Scheuer, former chief of the CIA's Bin Laden unit who gained the public's attention in 2004 with his condemnation of the Bush war policy in his anonymously authored Imperial Hubris, writes at Antiwar.com: "Such a response deep-sixes any chance for a substantive debate on the issue at hand, and submerges it in a blizzard of hate speech directed at the authors from prominent Israel-Firsters, those paragons of virtue who are the chief proponents of First-Amendment-destroying laws against hate speech." [42]
The lesson provided by the partisans of Israel is that anyone, no matter how scholarly or influential, who aspires to criticize the activities of the Israel lobby will be smeared and perhaps destroyed. That would be powerfully intimidating for anyone, and it would be the kiss of death careerwise for those who did not hold the prestige, credentials, and tenure of a Mearsheimer or a Walt.
Of course, the effort and success of the Israel lobby in smearing and suppressing the Mearsheimer-Walt essay confirms that essay's very thesis about the Israel lobby's power. Or as Raimondo puts it: "The hate campaign directed at Mearsheimer and Walt underscores and validates the study's contention that all attempts to objectively discuss our Israel-centric foreign policy and the pivotal role played by the Lobby are met with outright intimidation." [43]
One can understand why the partisans of Israel try to suppress criticism using the most outrageous lies — the role of lobbyists is to support the interests of their client by whatever methods they can get away with. It is less easy to understand why the American people, especially "respectable" educated Americans, allow such an inversion of truth to successfully silence discussion. It is especially ironic in light of the fact that respectable Americans forever preach about the value of freedom of expression and profess to be bringing its blessings to the unenlightened in the rest of the world.

Significantly, while public support for the Mearsheimer-Walt essay in academia was minuscule, a poll has revealed that a substantial number of experts firmly agreed with its findings — when such agreement could be registered anonymously. Between March 31 and April 5, 2006, the Middle East Academic Survey Research Exposition (MEASURE) project, conducted by the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, surveyed 71 academic specialists on the Middle East about the essay. The number was drawn from a pool of 2,300 academics with advanced degrees in Middle East area studies. [44] The poll revealed that:
86 percent of those surveyed believe that the Israel lobby places Israeli interests above American interests;
85 percent described the Israel lobby as "negative" to "extremely negative" in respect to U.S. interests;
91 percent held that the Israel lobby's tactics create greater hostility to the United States in the Middle East;
65 percent said that the most powerful intimidation tactic of the Israel Lobby is labeling critics as "anti-Semites," the second-most-effective intimidation tactic being attacks in the mainstream media by Israel lobby sympathizers (59 percent); and
49 percent of the Middle East specialists polled held that the academic community is "hostile" to works critical of the Israel lobby, compared to 26 percent who believe academia is "open" to such studies. [45]
While clandestine support for the essay may be substantial, it must be reiterated that few "respectable" scholars have come forward from academia or elsewhere — beyond the very few who already criticize Israel and are probably therefore disrespectable — to defend the propriety of Mearsheimer and Walt's engaging in their study as they see fit. If a substantial number of established scholars did come forth, the Lobby would not have the power to punish them all; in fact its power would evaporate. The scholars stepping forward would not have to identify at all with the findings of the Mearsheimer-Walt study; it would be sufficient if they merely supported their peers' ability to do research and publish without being smeared and threatened. The purpose of such a declaration would not simply be to defend the prerogatives of individual scholars but rather to defend freedom of inquiry itself, which is essential for the pursuit of truth.
"Respectable" people, however, are too sheeplike to take any risk. Academics are always warning about the non-existent ghost of "McCarthyism" or about some right-wing fundamentalists who are supposed to be threatening academic freedom. But they dare not say boo in the face of a real impediment to such freedom, for doing so might cause them some real harm.

Obviously, the Israel lobby alone does not have the power to stifle dissent without the aid of a large number of accomplices. Members of the lobby, or even Jews, do not control a majority of jobs, or most of the wealth, in the United States. The Israel lobby has the power it does only because respectable gentiles go along with it. Don't blame the Jews; blame the gentiles — specifically white, "respectable" gentiles. (Blacks seem to intuitively know the truth on this matter, regardless of their level of education or knowledge of the situation in the Middle East.)
Why are respectable white gentiles paralyzed by fear, guilt, or a combination of both? If reason were the governing standard, and anti-Semitism were taken to mean discrimination against Jews, there would be nothing anti-Semitic in treating Jews, Jewish interests, and Israel in the same way other ethnic groups and countries are treated. Pointing out the role of the Israel lobby is no different from pointing out the existence of other groups that identify with particular countries, which such groups do all the time. It is never considered improper, for example, to recognize the existence and activities of the Greek lobby, the Armenian lobby, or the anti-Castro Cuban lobby.
Respectable white gentiles fear offending against propositions that have been designated Politically Correct. To a certain degree, they have internalized the moral compass of the Israel lobby: that offending what seems to be a Jewish interest is worse than lying; that propitiating officially recognized victims is more important than truth. They do it automatically; rational reflection is neither necessary nor appropriate. Respectable gentiles have mastered Orwellian doublethink — moving on to triplethink and beyond. Staying within the bounds of Political Correctness is a survival mechanism: lone individuals who go against a PC taboo can suffer. As a matter of fact, avoiding reflection on the truth of Politically Correct taboos but instead simply obeying them automatically is the ultimate survival trait in modern American society.
If a significant number of men were to stand up and violate the taboo, they would easily overcome the power of the taboo. But to do that, each man would have to take an individual risk, and that would require that he believe in something passionately enough — such as truth — to make the risk worthwhile. In fact, most respectable people, so that they may reach and remain in the ranks of profitable respectability, take care to hold no strong views; in all likelihood they have never engaged in any reflective thinking on subjects deemed taboo, since it is far easier and safer simply to conform to the prescribed opinion.
Ironically, the Mearsheimer-Walt essay received somewhat less hostile treatment in Israel than in America, confirming once again that the subject of Israel and its American supporters can be discussed far more openly in the self-proclaimed Jewish state than in the United States with its loudly trumpeted First Amendment. Writing in Ha'aretz, Daniel Levy, former advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, identifies with key parts of the Mearsheimer-Walt essay such as its criticism of the neocon war agenda and the "the bullying tactics used to silence policy debate in the U.S." At the same time, Levy offers some legitimately ponderable criticisms of the essay, observing that "it lacks finesse and nuance when it looks at the alphabet soup of the American-Jewish organizational world and how the Lobby interacts with both the Israeli establishment and the wider right-wing echo chamber." [46] It is true that the differences between left- and right-wing Zionists do not emerge in the Mearsheimer-Walt analysis — though that difference is not huge with respect to Palestine, since the Labour Party's "peace process" never offered a viable Palestinian state.
Levy also correctly observes that the essay disregarded "key moments" when U.S. policy differed significantly from that sought by Israel and its American supporters — such as the Bush I/James Baker loan-guarantees episode. I would go even further and say that traditional American foreign policy in the Middle East amounted to a balancing act, defending Israel within an overall policy of maintaining stability to facilitate the flow of oil. That largely ended with the neocon ascendancy in the Bush II administration. The neocons have sought to destabilize the Middle East in order, so they say, to bring about democratic regime change throughout the region. That policy is in line with the longtime Likudnik goal of destabilizing the region in order to weaken Israel's enemies and consequently enhance the security of Israel. [47]

It seems perfectly plain that the Israel lobby has had significant influence in shaping American foreign policy. Let us conduct a brief thought experiment. Assume that the positions of Jewish-Americans and Palestinian-Americans were reversed, and that Palestinian-Americans were disproportionately wealthy, disproportionately influential in the media and academia, and had established a powerful lobby with numerous well-funded think tanks to advance the interests of the suppressed Palestinian people. Palestinians use the term "Nakba" to refer to their brutal expulsion from Israel in 1948, so let us imagine that Nakba education courses had been established in most schools and that a U.S. Nakba Memorial Museum had been created near the Mall in Washington, D.C. Of course, anyone who disputed the Palestinians' description of their suffering, attested to by eyewitness accounts, would be labeled a "Nakba denier" and would suffer severe career consequences resulting from that lethal designation.
In such an environment it seems hardly likely that Israel would be supported by the United States or that it would have elicited the necessary aid to develop its highly sophisticated military arsenal, which includes nuclear weapons. Few people would support the double standard on international law favorable to Israel. Israel would be expected to abide by all UN resolutions, including the Palestinian "right of return." The rights of the Palestinian people would be seen to mesh with the interests of the oil lobby. In such a situation, it is easy to imagine that Israel would be treated by the United States and the rest of the world as a pariah state and would go the way of white South Africa, with the establishment of a single Palestine of Jews and Palestinians and with Palestinians receiving reparations for the harm done them by the Zionist takeover, analogous to the reparations provided to Jews for Nazi oppression. Certainly this is a totally imaginary alternate history; but I would add that elsewhere in the world, especially where Jewish power is negligible, the population, especially the intellectual population, favors the rights of the Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Evidence for that may be found in the voting at the UN.
If the United States were willing to support Israel at the current level without the efforts of the Israel lobby, there would be no need for that lobby. As Mearsheimer and Walt point out: "Indeed, the mere existence of the Lobby suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organized special interest group to bring it about. But because Israel is a strategic and moral liability, it takes relentless political pressure to keep U.S. support intact." [48] Really, it is piquant to hear members of the Israel lobby, who devote their careers to promoting Israel, proclaim their uselessness and lack of influence.
The sun rises in the East; water flows downhill; and the Israel lobby influences U.S. foreign policy. And since there is no reason that American interests should be identical to those of Israel, the pursuit of Israeli interests lessens the extent to which U.S. state interests or the actual interests of Americans can be pursued. That would seem to be self-evident. In the neocons' ongoing "war on terror," it is obvious that the United States has taken on Israel's enemies to its own detriment.

While the entire thrust of the Mearsheimer-Walt essay is to berate American policy for pursuing Israeli interests, at the essay's end the authors abruptly reverse gears and state that Israel's' "long-term interests" actually are identical to those of the United States. [49] They conclude their essay by stating that a moderate compromise policy for Israel, which would accommodate the interests of the Palestinians, would be in the best interests of Israel as well as the United States. That addition may be intended to serve as self-protection: intelligent proponents of Israel, the authors are arguing, should welcome their critique of the Israel lobby.
However, Israel's existing policy may well represent a hard-headed look at its actual security situation. In fact, Israel's quest for regional hegemony through having its enemies weakened by American power would seem to be perfectly in line with Mearsheimer's and Walt's "realist" international-relations theories. Such a policy certainly fits the overall geostrategic worldview of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, the spiritual leader of the Israeli Right. Writing in the 1920s, Jabotinsky held that the Arabs would never voluntarily accept a Jewish state and would naturally fight it. To survive, the Jewish state would have to establish an "iron wall" of military force that would crush all opposition and force its Arab enemies into hopelessness. From that position of unassailable strength, the Jewish state could make, or dictate, peace. [50] It was the "iron wall" strategy that would characterize not only the thinking of the Israeli Right but to a significant extent, as historian Avi Shlaim points out, the Israeli Left and the State of Israel itself. [51]
As Mearsheimer and Walt recognize, such a position is not in line with American interests, especially since the United States is now expected to provide the military force to ensure Israeli regional hegemony. But even moderate Israelis do not offer enough concessions to allow for a viable Palestinian state. The result? Certainly one cannot win over the Israel lobbyists by telling them that a policy beneficial to America in the Middle East might fail to protect the security of Israel — but it is also unlikely that one can win them over by claiming that a policy to advance American interests in the region is automatically in the best interests of Israel. They are simply not that trusting or gullible.
Therefore, the necessary change in America's position in the Middle East is not likely to come from any transformation in thinking on the part of the American supporters of Israel. Rather, policy change can only come from the actions of those outside the Israel lobby who do not believe that American interests must be sacrificed for the good of Israel. It is essential for Americans to realize that their leaders' Israel-oriented policy in the Middle East has become exceedingly dangerous for the United States, and for the American people themselves, and then do what they can to remove from power, or at least disown, those who look to Israel. Fear of such popular resistance has prompted the pro-Zionist forces to engage in their campaign of condemnation against the Mearsheimer-Walt article. In the perceptive analysis of Justin Raimondo:
It is the potential threat to Zionist power in the U.S. that the Lobby has sought to avert with its all-out smear campaign of Mearsheimer and Walt: The reasons for this extreme defensiveness on the part of the Lobby are not hard to discern. If they are the prime movers of U.S. foreign policy, then they do indeed have a lot to answer for. As the consequences of the Iraq war roll across our television screens, tracing a path of blood and mindless destruction, we have to wonder: who got us here? We have to question their motivations. And we have to ask: Why? Who lied us into war? For whose sake did 2,300 American soldiers, and tens of thousands of Iraqis, die? Whose interests were served? The tip of the spear Mearsheimer and Walt have pricked the Lobby with is the contention that they were the decisive influence in pushing us into war with Iraq. And the howls that are coming from right, left, and center are proof enough that they have struck home. [52]

What impact will the Mearsheimer-Walt critique of the Israel lobby have? Virtually no "respectable" academic has dared to come out and defend the two scholars' work against the pro-Zionist onslaught. That task has been left to the handful, of questionable respectability at best, who already dare to criticize Israel and its U.S. backers. To be sure, we have seen isolated criticisms of America's pro-Israel policy in the past on the part of significant figures such as George Ball, General Anthony Zinni, Senator Fritz Hollings, and Congressman Paul Findley; but those criticisms evoked no strong follow-up support and thus had no lasting impact on the way Israel was viewed and treated. They flared up briefly but then quickly died down. Considering the total lack of support from members of the respectable Establishment class, the Mearsheimer-Walt essay will likely meet the same fate. Still, these are not normal times. America is preparing to once again attack an enemy of Israel — Iran. Israel and the Israel lobby have been calling for an attack on Iran for the last couple of years. War on Iran is certainly a key component of the neocons' envisaged World War IV against Israel's Islamic enemies. That disaster, which could lead to a blowup of the entire Middle East with American forces stuck right in the middle, is in the offing. Only by laying out to the public the truth regarding the basis for American policy can the disaster be averted. Does there exist a significant number of Americans of stature willing to risk the ramifications of being called "anti-Semitic" in order to try to stop an unimaginable conflagration? Unlikely. But hope springs eternal.
April 20, 2006
This article is © 2006 by Stephen J. Sniegoski. All rights reserved.
This page is © 2006 WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

--------------------------------
 
The second wave against Mearsheimer and Walt:

A well-tempered smother-out
as a new war looms

 
By STEPHEN J. SNIEGOSKI



  The initial reaction to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's essay "The Israel Lobby" consisted of a relentless barrage of vituperative insults, smears, character assassination, misrepresentations, and other inflammatory rhetoric that condemned the essay in toto. In large part, the vicious pillorying of the piece came from members of the Israel lobby denying their own power and even existence. Presumably, the purpose of that approach was to intimidate anyone from ever daring to investigate the subject. But the effect of the venomous verbal bombardment also unintentionally illustrated the absolute correctness of the essay's claim about the lobby's power to suppress.
Since that initial period a more moderate tone has emerged in the responses, which in many cases concede a substantial portion of the points presented by Mearsheimer and Walt. Nonetheless, despite a general improvement in substance as well as tone, the more temperate responses have tended to downplay the actual value of the essay and the significance of the rabid attacks that initially accompanied it. This more recent approach to the "Israel Lobby" study represents a variant of what Harry Elmer Barnes, the great revisionist historian of the two world wars, described as the smother-out approach. At best, the newer responses divert attention to peripheral issues — was the essay properly nuanced? was the issue of the Israel lobby placed in proper context? — rather than accept and emphasize the significance of the essay's central thesis and current relevance. In short, the essential need to apply the message of the study to current American Middle East policy — namely, the move on Iran that is being spearheaded by Israel and its lobby — receives minimal attention.

It is interesting that, among the more recent critics, the least supportive of the Mearsheimer-Walt message are two giants of the intellectual Left — Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein — both of whom have focused on the history of the Middle East and have not shied away from taboo topics. Chomsky praises Mearsheimer and Walt for their courage but then goes on to contend that the Israel lobby, though enjoying the appearance of power, is actually powerless. It succeeds, he maintains, only when its interests coincide with the interests of the dominant powers in the United States. In essence, the lobby is merely a tool of U.S. imperialism, and America is simply engaging in the same type of imperialist enterprise in Iraq and the Middle East that it carries out and has carried out in the rest of the world, with oil being the special concern in this particular region. [1]
Chomsky manages to make all of his claims without citing any empirical evidence for them; at least that is so with respect to the ongoing Middle East misadventure. The fact of the matter is that leading elements of the U.S. security/foreign-policy establishment — Bush the elder and his cronies, Brzezinski, foreign-policy "realists," liberal internationalists, the oil interests, global capitalists (e.g., George Soros), the military brass, career State Department and CIA professionals — were cool or hostile to the war on Iraq and to the Middle East war agenda in general.
Though a noted authority on language, it seems that Chomsky falls into a simple logical fallacy — he assumes what he is trying to prove. U.S. foreign policy is directed by some nebulous corporate elite, he believes, so that elite must have directed America's current foreign policy in the Middle East. Oil is a fundamental concern for the United States in the Middle East, so oil interests must have been a fundamental motive for the war policy — but Chomsky neglects, of course, the empirical fact that the oil lobby did not push for war and actually wanted to end sanctions on Iraq and Iran. Somehow this powerful controlling imperial interest posited by Chomsky is completely sheltered from politics — so that the Israel lobby could not influence policy at all through its funding of candidates, its lobbying power, or its success in infiltrating its members into the executive branch. But Chomsky's model must immediately provoke us to ask: if the Israel lobby couldn't affect American policy, who could? Chomsky's approach seems to offer little hope of ever rectifying the problem of American foreign policy — short of a revolution.
Norman Finkelstein provides a modification of Chomsky's version in an effort to take care of some of the obvious weaknesses in the latter's broad-brush account. While Finkelstein holds that the Israel lobby does not determine American Middle East policy, he grants that it is influential on the Israel-Palestinian issue. "Without the Lobby and in the face of widespread Arab resentment," Finkelstein contends, "the U.S. would perhaps have ordered Israel to end the occupation by now." [2] Now, this concession to the power of the lobby is no small thing, since Israeli leaders perceive control of the West Bank and its resources as essential for Israel's survival — at least its survival as a wealthy, powerful, secure, exclusively Jewish state. And it was the goal of eliminating the Palestinians' will to resist that, in significant part, motivated the neocon/Likudnik campaign to weaken, by means of war, Israel's external enemies who have provided aid to the Palestinian resistance.
Departing from Chomsky's head-in-the-sand approach, Finkelstein deals with the obvious fact that the neocons instigated the war on Iraq. But he denies that they are ideologically committed to Israel, arguing instead that they "watch over the U.S. 'national' interest, which is the source of their power and privilege." Finkelstein essentially agrees with the neoconservatives regarding their identification with American national interests, but he gives that connection a negative spin. He bases his claim about the neocons' lack of any real ideological support for Israel on the fact that the original neocons of the late 1960s had not previously evinced any strong support for Israel. And he goes so far as to compare them to the Jewish police during the Holocaust who served their Nazi German masters. "As psychological types, these newly-minted Lovers of Zion most resemble the Jewish police in the Warsaw ghetto," Finkelstein asserts.
That is a gratuitous and outrageous calumny for which there would seem to be no real evidence. For all intents and purposes the neocons have expressed and demonstrated support for Israel. Douglas Feith, who pushed the neocon war propaganda as the third-highest figure in the Defense Department during George W. Bush's first administration, has been closely associated with the right-wing Zionist group, the Zionist Organization of America. His father, Dalck Feith, while living in Poland during the 1930s, was active in Betar, the youth organization of the right-wing Revisionist Zionist movement founded by Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky.
In 1997, Douglas Feith and his father were the guests of honor at the 100th anniversary dinner of the Zionist Organization of America, in New York City, and both were given significant awards. [3] Colonel Yigal Carmon, formerly of Israeli military intelligence, was a co-founder of the neocon think tank Middle East Media Research Institute (Memri) along with Israeli-born Meyrav Wurmser, who is the wife of David Wurmser, an important figure in the neocon American Enterprise Institute and the Bush II administration. With the beginning of the Gulf War of 1991, Norman Podhoretz actually went to live with his daughter in her home in Jerusalem in order to show his solidarity with Israel, which Saddam had threatened with a missile attack, actually carrying out his threat to a limited extent. [4]
Neocons have been involved in institutions that promote the interests of Jews and Israel — especially Commentary magazine, which is funded by the American Jewish Committee, and the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs — demonstrating that Finkelstein's claim that neocons are lacking in their support of Israel is unknown to the pro-Israel financial backers of those entities.
It just does not make sense for Finkelstein to base his inflammatory charge on the fact that certain leading neoconservatives failed to champion Israel in their pre-neocon days. Many men have made far greater changes in their philosophical and political views — one thinks of the Communists who became right-wing anti-Communists, or of St.  Augustine, who had explicitly rejected Christianity as a young man. It is also the case that, while the early neocons were converts to the cause of Israel and Jewish interests in general, later neocons had no need to convert; they were partisans of Israel from the beginning; and today those younger men and women are the most active in the movement.
Finkelstein's idea that neocons "watch over" American imperial interests makes one wonder why the many other establishment foreign-policy elements mentioned earlier in this essay were cool or opposed to the war on Iraq. Exactly who makes up the nebulous power elite that really determines the American imperial interest and to which the neocons report? If the neocons are responsible for watching over U.S. interests we may wonder why other parts of the neocon World War IV agenda for the Middle East — war on Iran and destabilization of Saudi Arabia — have not yet been adopted and why the neocons have often criticized actual U.S. foreign policy, especially during the Carter, Bush I, and Clinton administrations. What does this have to say for the actual foreign policy of those administrations? If the neocons "watch over" American imperial interests does that mean that those administrations did not pursue American imperial interests? But that would be impossible given Finkelstein's belief that the U.S. government always pursues those imperial interests. Finkelstein turns Occam's razor into a pretzel. A much simpler conclusion to draw is that the neocons' policy agenda differed from that of other dominant foreign-policy elites but that various factors, especially the trauma of 9/11, enabled their agenda to gain dominance, at least temporarily.

So much for the Left. Liberals actually tend to accept more of the Mearsheimer and Walt thesis. Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen lambasted the hysterical charges of anti-Semitism, writing that the essay's "basic point — that Israel's American supporters have immense influence over U.S. foreign policy — is inarguable." [5] Michelle Goldberg in Salon acknowledged that vicious attacks on those who violate the taboo regarding Israel and its supporters are commonplace:
On the surface, the whole imbroglio seemed like the latest version of a story that has replayed itself countless times in the last few years. A public figure strays outside the boundaries of acceptable opinion about Israel, or calls attention to the disproportionate influence wielded by supporters of Israel's right-wing political factions, and is immediately attacked as a bigot or a paranoid. [6]
Yet despite their recognition of the essential correctness of the Mearsheimer-Walt analysis, liberal commentators found flaws they deemed serious. Goldberg claimed that "for anyone who hopes for a more open and critical discussion of the Israel lobby, their paper presents profound problems." She faulted the essay for "several factual mistakes and baffling omissions, one that seems expressly designed to elicit exactly the reaction it has received. The power of the Israel lobby is something that deserves a full and fearless airing, but this paper could make such an airing less, not more, likely." [7] Looming large in the flaws found by the liberals was Mearsheimer and Walt's alleged treatment of the Israel lobby as monolithic, as opposed to being composed of diverse elements. Eric Alterman in his Nation article "AIPAC's Complaint" observed that while much of the lobby's
power and influence rest with AIPAC and the neocons — who together with many others did do everything they could to drag America into this catastrophic war — it also contains many passionate opponents of just these tendencies. These are Jews who identify as both Jewish and pro-Israel but do so on the basis of a fundamentally different vision from the one that animates the likes of Peretz, Podhoretz, Perle, and AIPAC's armies of the right. [8]
Alterman's objection is an accurate one, but the omission of such detail is not a serious flaw in a working paper, as opposed to, say, a 500-page tome. It does not negate the obvious fact of the Israel lobby's power. And for that matter, Mearsheimer and Walt did explicitly point out that most Jews do not support the war on Iraq. Goldberg referred to many factual errors: "One could go on and on in this way, listing logical errors and over-generalizations. And that's unfortunate, because it clouds what is valuable in 'The Israel Lobby.' Walt and Mearsheimer are correct, after all, in arguing that discussion about Israel is hugely circumscribed in mainstream American media and politics." [9] Unfortunately for Goldberg, though, she relies on Alan Dershowitz's list of errors. In a letter following their original publication, Mearsheimer and Walt addressed Dershowitz's charges, pointing out that his allegation of factual errors generally arose from the fact that the two scholars relied on sources different from Dershowitz's, with Mearsheimer and Walt often relying on the more-conventional source. [10]
Concern is also evident among the liberals at the authors' rejection of the oil thesis for the war on Iraq. Goldberg is abashed that they reject the oil argument, even though they point out, correctly, that Big Oil was against the war. Goldberg includes as an illustration of the importance of oil the contention by neocon David Frum that the "liberation" of Iraq would lower the price of oil, though that is a far cry from showing that the oil interest was for the war or that leading geostrategic thinkers focused on the need to control Iraq's oil. Alterman also criticizes the authors for allegedly portraying "the lobby as virtually the only determinant of U.S. Middle East policy" and leaving out the oil lobby. (At the same time, Alterman does acknowledge that "things have probably progressed to the point where the AIPAC team can best the Saudis and their minions most of the time." [11] ) Undoubtedly, over the decades since World War II oil has played a significant role in determining American policy in the Middle East — but it was not dominant in influencing the war on Iraq or in fomenting the American hostility toward Iran. [12]
Expanding upon his point, Alterman complains that Mearsheimer and Walt do not put the Israel lobby in the context of other lobbies, writing that "while it's fair to call AIPAC obnoxious and even anti-democratic, the same can often be said about, say, the NRA, Big Pharma, and other powerful lobbies. The authors note this but often seem to forget it. This has the effect of making the Jews who read the paper feel unfairly singled out, and inspires much emotionally driven mishigas [Yiddish: crazy or senseless behavior] in reaction." But surely in a paper on foreign policy it is no more necessary to discuss other lobbies at length any more than it would be necessary to discuss the Israel lobby when dealing with gun-control policy. Moreover, it is not apparent that the Israel lobby is the same in crucial respects as other lobbies. As powerful as the gun lobby is, there is no danger in pointing out its power, as is the case when analyzing the Israel lobby.

In the end, the liberal commentators tend to conclude that the flaws in the Mearsheimer-Walt essay outweigh its truth content. Goldberg even implies that writers should not treat the subject of Jewish influence in a straightforward manner because of the history of anti-Semitism:
There is, after all, a reason for the taboo surrounding talk of Jewish power and treachery. Tales of Jewish groups using money and secret influence to twist politics for their own, unpatriotic ends are a hallmark of reaction, spouted by everyone from the Nazis to Father Charles Coughlin to David Duke. Walt and Mearsheimer are not anti-Semites, or aligned with anti-Semitic forces. They seem, however, somewhat oblivious as to why the issue they've taken on is so horribly sensitive, and they make little effort to address the causes of the taboo they're trying to dislodge.
Worse, Goldberg suggests that the Israel lobby is to a degree justified in sabotaging discussion of this topic by means of lies, slander, and other nefarious tactics: "Before a rational discussion can proceed, some of that emotion has to be defused. Instead, it's been stoked." According to Goldberg, then, the point is not to present the truth as well and as clearly as it can be determined but to present it in a way that will not irritate organized Jewry. Thus, while Goldberg professes to look for truth, she would render that search virtually impossible: "In taking on a sensitive, fraught subject, one might expect such eminent scholars to make their case airtight." That demands a standard of proof for subjects involving Jews that is much stricter than the standard applied to everyone and everything else. Since there is always controversy in history or in commentary on current events — no analysis is ever accepted by everyone (absent coercion) — it would be impossible to write anything on the subject that was not approved by the Jewish organizations. Goldberg assumes not only the existence but also the justification of an intellectual double standard. She would award Jews a preferred and specially protected status because of their history of suffering.
Though Alterman is more favorable to the Mearsheimer-Walt essay, he still underplays its potential value. "While much of the paper is compelling," he writes, "its weaknesses will hinder the authors' attempt to pierce the wall of ignorance and intimidation erected around such policy debates by the very institutions upon which it seeks to shed light. This is a damn shame, as AIPAC and its minions are pushing for an attack, possibly nuclear, on Iran, and, God help us, it seems to be working — again." But academic working papers cannot be comprehensive, nor can they be flawless. If perfection were required from the start, it would not be possible to discuss anything. [13]
Richard Cohen takes a somewhat different tack. After acknowledging the Israel lobby's existence, he concludes his piece by lauding America's ultra-supportive policy toward Israel as being well-merited and based on "shared values." Somehow the smearing, intimidation, and suppression of discussion by Israel's supporters is unimportant because America should support Israel in view of those "shared values." One would be tempted to add that suppression of truth is one of the values that the two countries share, were it not for the remarkable irony that there is greater freedom to discuss Israeli policy in Israel than there is in the United States.
All in all, these liberal commentators perform a number of varied intellectual gyrations to avoid granting the simple fact that Mearsheimer and Walt hit on some key truths that are essential for understanding American policymaking. Philip Weiss recognizes that in his sympathetic and knowledgeable analysis,"Ferment over 'The Israel Lobby,'" appearing in the May 15, 2006, issue of the Nation. Weiss points out that
the liberal intelligentsia have failed in their responsibility on specifically this question. Because they maintain a nostalgic view of the Establishment as a Christian stronghold in which pro-Israel Jews have limited power, or because they like to make George Bush and the Christian end-timers and the oilmen the only bad guys in a debacle, or because they are afraid of pogroms resulting from talking about Jewish power, they have peeled away from addressing the neocons' Israel-centered view of foreign relations.... The extensive quibbling on the left over the Mearsheimer-Walt paper has often seemed defensive, mistrustful of Americans' ability to listen to these ideas lest they cast Israel aside. [14]
Contra Weiss, it is not apparent that American liberals, from at least the time of their romance with Stalinist Russia in the 1930s if not before, have ever exhibited a strong concern for truth. So their lack of responsibility here is about par for the course. But still it is intriguing that liberals would be more concerned about the possibility of harm coming to Israel than about trying to stop an unnecessary war against Iran that might even involve the use of nuclear weapons. One would think that the consequences of such a war would be far more serious than anything that might happen to Jews or Israel from having the unadulterated truth presented about the Israel lobby.
  To reiterate, the concern for truth on this matter does not mean that Mearsheimer and Walt's presentation was absolutely perfect. But the gist of their message was absolutely true: Israel and its neocon supporters played a fundamental role in leading America to war against Iraq, and the role of Israel and its lobby has been even more explicit in the buildup for war against Iran. The war propaganda on Iran does not even seem to focus much on any threat to the United States — rather, it potrays the threat to Israel as paramount. If Iran obtained a nuclear weapon, the propagandists imply, it would immediately use it on Israel. But Israel is a major power with an estimated 100 to 200 nuclear warheads and intermediate-range ballistic missiles to deliver them, as well as biological and chemical weapons (in all likelihood), and high-tech conventional weaponry about on par with that of the United States. Israel should not be terribly threatened by a nuclear bomb that Iran might be able to produce in roughly ten years.
Still, isn't Iranian President Ahmadinejad a certified loon, a believer in the hidden twelfth imam, who went into hiding more than a millennium ago and is about to reappear to take control the world? And loonier yet, does the Iranian ruler not demand physical proof for the Holocaust death camps? But as horrendous as reappearing-hidden-imam belief/Holocaust non-belief may be, it is not apparent that such views constitute a casus belli. Israel, it turns out, can work with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the alleged good counterweight to the evil Hamas-controlled Palestinian legislature, even though Abbas wrote a dissertation, later turned into a book, that significantly minimized the number of Jewish deaths in the Holocaust and questioned the existence of extermination gas chambers, positions that are conventionally described as "Holocaust denial." 
But doesn't Ahmadinejad say that Israel "must be wiped off the map"? [15] The Western mainstream media imply that such wiping means a nuclear attack and the physical extermination of the Jewish people in Israel. But it means nothing of the sort. In fact, the translation that uses "wiped off the map" leaves the wrong impression. The translation could instead use the word "vanish" — and it refers to the regime. [16] One could interpret this as a call for "regime change."
"Nobody can remove a country from the map. This is a misunderstanding in Europe of what our president mentioned," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki maintains. "How is it possible to remove a country from the map? He is talking about the regime. We do not recognize legally this regime." [17] In this context, recall that most Muslim states in the Middle East have not recognized Israel. In any case it is apparent that Israel and the Israel lobby's targeting of Iran has nothing to do with Ahmadinejad since they were pressing for that targeting before Ahmadinejad became president in August 2005.
In short, Iran, like most Muslim states at one time or another, has rhetorically called for the elimination of the Zionist regime. But didn't Ronald Reagan call for the elimination of the Soviet Union and its "evil empire"? Only 100 percent left-wing peaceniks really thought Reagan was planning a nuclear first-strike on the Soviets. And conversely, the Soviet Union preached the ultimate elimination of all capitalist countries and the creation of a world federation of Soviet socialist republics patterned after the Soviet Union. Outside of a few Dr. Strangeloves, few Americans thought that this ambition on the part of the Soviets required an American preventive nuclear strike. To move closer to the point, the United States does not recognize the Islamic Republic of Iran, calls for its elimination ("regime change"), and is threatening to attack it.

It is true, nonetheless, that Iran does pose a threat to Israel because of its support of the Palestinian resistance. The Palestinians, both inside and outside Israel proper, threaten the existence of the Jewish state by virtue of their very numbers and high birth rate. To effectively combat the Palestinian demographic threat, the United States would have to force countries to stop supporting the Palestinians and to recognize Israel. Moreover, Washington would have to actively support any treatment of the Palestinian population, both on the West Bank and within Israel proper, that the Israeli government deemed necessary for the preservation of the Jewish state.
The removal of the Islamic regime in Iran would mean the elimination of a major bulwark of moral and material support for the Palestinians. With the removal of the Islamic regime, the next, rather easy, target would be the Saudi regime, which could be either destroyed or intimidated into submission. Without external support the West Bank Palestinians would have to accept whatever Israel offered them — an economically non-viable set of non-contiguous Bantustans surrounded by the "security" wall. The Jewish state would be more secure. Naturally the Middle East would be left in turmoil, and the American military would likely be stuck in the middle of a quagmire infinitely greater than the muddle it is now slogging through in Iraq.
An understanding of the role of the Israel lobby would greatly clarify what is actually going on in the Middle East. It is difficult to head off the looming catastrophe with Iran without understanding the deeper motivation behind American policy. Pretending that the war agenda is being driven by the oil lobby, global capitalists, and a deranged George W. Bush will not succeed in preventing war. Justin Raimondo incisively writes that "there is but one way" to halt the movement to war, and that is by "exposing the machinations and motivation of the Lobby. This would blunt the spearhead of the War Party and render it ineffective: people would begin to see it for what it is — as a megaphone for a foreign power, just as the Communist Party was once the Kremlin's echo chamber." [18]
The question to contemplate is which is worse: instigating a major war in the Middle East, or angering and scaring the Israel lobby? It is necessary to note here that most of the mainstream commentators on the "Israel Lobby" essay are Jewish. (All of those dealt with here are Jewish.) It is de rigueur, apparently, for mainstream media to have only Jews discuss the sensitive issue of the power of Jewish groups and their connections to Israel. But the same media do not limit discussions of the anti-Castro Cuban lobby to Cuban-Americans, or discussions of the alleged subversive activities of Arab-American groups to Arab-Americans. Clearly, some American Jews have made incisive points about the Israel lobby. But it is gentiles who must speak out — not to condemn Jews or even Jewish groups, but simply to say that America should not pursue policies harmful to its interests in order to enhance the supposed interests of Israel.
The power of the Israel lobby to influence American policy should be treated like any other issue. That's not hate. That's not anti-Semitism. And anyone who tries to squelch this type of analysis should be condemned by those who really believe in truth and the good of America and all humanity.
May 25, 2006
This article is © 2006 by Stephen J. Sniegoski. All rights reserved.
This page is © 2006 WTM Enterprises. All rights reserved.

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Stephen,
    Great article, I studied the Walt and Mearsheimer article at Uni. I agree that lobbying groups in the US and across the West generally are drowning out the voice of the people the Government really should be representing. Democracy these days is less about what the people have to say but than what the people with power and influence. Grassroot Diplomat is an organisation with some interesting ideas on this. It is an organisation that focuses on bridging the gap between the voices of civil society and political leaders. Do you think more of these organisations could help prevent foreign policy being hijacked by lobbying groups?
    If you're interested in reading more about it the organisation's website is www.grassrootdiplomat.org

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