on August 27, 2007
This book is stunning. The two authors are prominent political scientists with impeccable credentials, hailing from Harvard and the University of Chicago. They have boldly gone where many of their academic colleagues would fear to tread. Although their conclusions about Israel and its negative influence on American foreign policy will awaken much anxiety, resentment and fury in certain quarters, Walt and Mearsheimer don't seem to care. Why not? They are scientists. They appeal to logic, facts and common sense; and let the conclusions fall where they may. The writing is calm, dispassionate, thorough. The basic argument is that the extraordinarily high degree of economic, military and diplomatic support given to Israel by the United States cannot be explained or justified by the notion that Israel functions as a strategic asset to the U.S., or that Israel as the "only democracy" amidst a sea of authoritarian neighbors is deserving of special favor for its "shared interests and values". In fact, the authors claim, Israel is more a liability than an asset. During the Cold War, the strategic-value argument had perhaps some plausibility -- but no longer. What has replaced the Soviet menace, as the enemy which the U.S. supposedly needs Israel's help to combat, is Islamic terrorism. But the U.S. favor shown to Israel at the expense of the Palestinians only makes us more not less vulnerable to terrorism. Furthermore Israel's cruelty towards the Palestinians and its essential nature as a Jewish but not a truly democratic state in which all citizens of whatever ethnicity or religion would be given equal rights and respect, belie the "shared values" argument.
So if neither "shared values" nor "strategic asset" can explain the overwhelming U.S. support of Israel, what else is there? The power of the Israel lobby, which has brought about a situation in which it is impossible for elected officials to question support for Israel, much less redirect foreign policy in any way contrary to the perceived self-interest of Israel. This has led the U.S. to make critical mistakes, such as invading and occupying Iraq. The war on Iraq has proven disastrous; the authors argue that the U.S. would not have attacked Iraq, were it not for the influence of the Israel lobby.
In the end, perhaps what is most significant and remarkable about this book is that it has seen the light of day. It got published. Could it be that there is still hope for reasonable, open debate about the right courses of action in the Middle East? The authors have been and will continue to be vilified as anti-Semitic or worse. They are owed a debt of gratitude for having the courage to stand up and to refuse to be silenced.
on September 1, 2007
This year has witnessed an amazing phenomenon. More accomplished Americans are willing to question United States blind support for the State of Israel. Recently we have seen books out by President Jimmy Carter, Grant Smith, Professor Petras and full-page placements in newspapers questioning the American Israel Political Actions Committee placed by the Council for the National Interest Foundation. I suspect the major reason behind this is the Iraq War. As one digs deeper in why this war occurred and who were the major advocates a deeply troubling theme emerges. The chief architects and advocates of this war were also what Pat Buchanan terms "Israel Firsters." These are Americans who have conflated American interests with those of Israel's. I urge all readers to do a search on Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, Elliot Abrams, Bill Kristol, Doug Feith, Richard Perle, etc. and investigate their financial and political ties to Israel. I think the reader will be astonished. I suspect that Professors Mearsheimer and Walt did just as I did and were both outraged and troubled by what they discovered. Moreover, the recent efforts by the same cabal that manipulated a rather dull President into invading Iraq are up to their same tricks again by lobbying for war against Iran and Syria. Hence the book; "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy." This study is both timely and critical.
The authors published a brief last year that examined the Israel lobby and its impact on U.S. Middle East policy. When the Atlantic Monthly cowardly reneged on their promise to publish the paper, they found refuge with the London Review of Books. Thank to the internet, the Lobby was not able to squelch their research. This paper has now circulated among millions of Americans. For this rather minor effort in questioning US-Israeli policy, they were subjected to slander, humiliation and threats. Faster than you could say AIPAC, the usual pro-Israel flacks, Dershowitz and Foxman, rolled out their worn out charge of anti-Semitism. I suspect if a dog's bark was construed as critical of Israel, Dershowitz and Foxman would be on the first morning talk show claiming the dog was an "anti-Semite!" I wish these two clowns would buy a thesaurus and find other words of insult. However, to their credit, Mearsheimer and Walt upped the anty and decided to publish a more detailed and documented book on the Israel Lobby.
The book examines in detail the power that the Israel Lobby now has over U.S. Middle East policy- manifested in the extreme by the invasion of Iraq. The book is well documented with over 100 pages of notes and citations. It first examines the true financial costs of the American-Israel relationship- it should surprise no one that this is one way relationship- the U.S. taxpayers shovel out billions of dollars every year (now exceeding $4 billion) getting little if anything in return. The authors then ask the critical question- is Israel a strategic asset or liability to the United States? Correctly they conclude that it has evolved into a major liability. The United States pays a high price for its blind support of Israeli policies. For example, take case of Lebanon. Though more than 25,000 American citizens were put in harms way by Israel's reckless brutal attack on Lebanon last year, I could count on one hand any members of Congress that raised objections. In fact, our politicians behaved more like a herd of swine running to the microphones to be the first to praise Israel for its willful slaughter of more than 1,000 Lebanese civilians. It was surreal and it was disgusting. Later the authors document the contest between the Lobby and the Palestinian people. See President Carter's book for further discussion on the brutalization of the Palestinian people by Israel. They also describe how Israel routinely undermines American presidents- publicly humiliating them through their virtual control of Congress. They tell the story of how an AIPAC member bragged that within an hour he could have over 70 Senators sign whatever resolution he wrote on a napkin! They then warn us how the Lobby is attempting to again manipulate Washington into another senseless war- this time against Iran and Syria. Finally, they ask, "What is to be done?" They are skeptical whether a "counter lobby" would be effective. They instead put their trust in open debate and open discourse. This reflects their intrinsic belief that "the truth will set you free." However, I am not sure about this. It may be that with the arrival of the internet the distribution of information can no longer be controlled by the Lobby and its fellow travelers. However, the recent disgraceful case of Professor Finkelstein denial of tenure by De Paul University gives me pause. Thus, I am now of another school. Polite scholarly ways will not work against organizations such as AIPAC. I believe that the Israel Lobby now represents an existential threat to the security of the United States. The Lobby's objectives are to engage the United States in perpetual confrontation and war in the Middle East solely to advance the interests of a foreign power- Israel. This requires an offensive response as aggressive as that of the Israel Lobby in its efforts to silence scholars such as Mearsheimer and Walt. Who, if nothing else, deserve the admiration of all patriotic Americans.
Additionally, readers are referred to "Foreign Agents- The American Israel Public Affairs Committee form the 1963 Fulbright Hearings to the 2005 Espionage Scandal" by Grant Smith; "The Power of Israel in the United States" by James Petras; "They Dare to Speak Out" by Paul Findley.
"The Israel Lobby" asserts what almost 40% (per the authors) of Americans recognize - that Israel is one of the main causes of anti-Americanism, that the U.S. provides Israel with extraordinary material and diplomatic support, and that many policies pursued on Isral's behalf jeopardize U.S. national escurity.
Documentation is not wanting for these claims. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. aid since WWII, amounting to some $154 billion (2005 dollars), and about $500/citizen today. Since 1982, the US has vetoed 42 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members - and this does not even count those that did not come to a vote because of a U.S. veto threat. At the same time, the Israel lobby is also credited with pushing the U.S. away from Syria (had been providing al Qaeda intelligence post 9/11 and Iran (had supported U.S. airmen rescue efforts in Afghanistan, and offered an opportunity for a major agreement at the time Iraq fell).
This extraordinary support might be justified if there were some great moral reason or security need involved. Our military has not been able to use Israel as a base in either Gulf War, nor could we ask it to help for risk of triggering a calamity in the region. Further, the U.S. has a terrorism threat in common with Israel because of our support for that nation. Thus, Israel is far from an asset to the U.S. As for moral argument, Israel's past and present conduct involving continual abuse of the Palestinians after stealing their land offers no moral basis for preferring it over the Palestinians.
So how do we explain our extraordinary support for Israel? The answer, claim the authors, is the Israel lobby. AIPAC is the most powerful and best known; however, prominent Christians have also been involved - eg. Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Gary Bauer and numerous politicians believe Israel's rebirth is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda. One leading Israel lobbyist even bragged that he could easily get 70 U.S. Senators' signatures upon a napkin.
Senator Charles Percy's ouster in 1984 (for insensitivity to Israeli issues) has become the most visible example of the Israel lobby's influence. Although they make up only 3% of the population, it is estimated that their donations comprise 60% of Democrat donations, and their voters turn out in high percentages.
Influence is not limited to just elections. The Israel lobby also influences key appointments (eg. George Ball was not appointed Sec. of State because Carter knew he would be opposed), monitors professors' comments, newspaper editorials, etc. Neoconservatives, on the other hand, are pushed by the Israel lobby because of their support for strong U.S. action in the mid-East - most recently for taking action against Iran.
"The Israel Lobby" also provided recommendations. 1)Israel should be treated like a normal state. 2)The U.S. should strongly pursue an end to the Palestine-Israel conflict. 3)Campaign finance reform is essential to a more balanced debate on Israel - eg. public campaign financing. 4)Open debate should be encouraged. (The authors have been precluded from several speaking engagements due to Israel lobby pressure. Also note the adverse reaction to President Carter's book on the Israel-Palestine conflict.)
Kudos to the authors for shining light on this major problem.
on January 25, 2008
In 2006, John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt, Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, wrote an essay in the London Review of Books on the Israel lobby. This generated a huge controversy, so they wrote this book to provide more evidence for their claim that the lobby harms US and Israeli interests.
Chapter 1 details the US state's aid to Israel: $154 billion, mostly grants, 75% military. Israel is the largest recipient of US aid ($500 per person per year), even though Israel ranks 29th in the world by income.
Chapter 2 asks whether Israel is a strategic asset to the USA, and concludes that it may have been during the Cold War, but is now a liability. Chapter 3 asks whether the US state backs Israel because of their shared values, or because Israel is `for peace', and answers no to both. Chapters 4, 5 and 6 examine the lobby's members, activities, funding and its influence on policy-making in Washington and on the public through the media and academia.
Part II studies the lobby's role in shaping recent US policy in the Middle East, and its effects. Chapter 7 examines the lobby's hostility to the Palestinians and shows how it has neutered any hints of US support for the two-state solution. Chapter 8 looks at how the lobby, among others, urged the disastrous attack on Iraq. Chapter 9 examines the lobby's hostility to negotiations with Syria and Chapter 10 looks at its threats to Iran.
Chapter 11 studies the US state's unconditional support for Israel's attack on Lebanon. War supporters lied that US policy `reflected the will of the American people', but most Americans did not back the war, though the Clintons did.
Finally, in Chapter 12 the authors note that US interests are to keep the oil flowing, discourage the spread of WMD and reduce anti-US terrorism. Current US policies, promoted by the lobby, fuel anti-Americanism, increase the terrorist threat and encourage the spread of WMD.
These policies have not been in either US or Israeli interests. As the authors write, "Enabling Israel's refusal to recognize the Palestinians' legitimate aspirations has not made Israel safer." Unfortunately, none of the presidential candidates wants any change in US Middle East policy. All uncritically support Israel.
The authors propose a better policy: withdraw US forces from the Middle East and press Israel to withdraw from occupied Palestine. They urge the USA to treat Israel as a normal state, reduce its aid dramatically, and oppose its settlement policy and apartheid `wall'. Mearsheimer and Walt make a very good case that the Israel lobby is both effective and counter-productive.
on May 31, 2008
I saw this book at a bookstore and thought that lobby is something on which comment is necessary to promote intellectual honesty. I listened to the recorded version, hence the "only" 4-stars.
While I've said in other reviews, the jury is still out on recorded books, they're great for those of us with limited time to read a volume as long as this one. The major objection I have of the recorded media is that, while listening, one has less time to absorb the facts, let alone a written page to which one may return and refer. Aside from that, the book is a masterpiece.
While I don't deny that some ethnic groups have suffered more than others, I've always had problems with a few who base their entitlement on their degree of victimization. (My inlaws insist that they, as Catholics are perpetually victimized. I remind them that we haven't had a candidate in the Know Nothing Party for a few years anyway!) Indeed, I've been afraid that the Israel lobby has triumphed at that art: we were bigger victims than anyone, therefore are entitled, to military aid, to a human rights record to put others to shame, etc., etc., etc. And the moment one challenges that entitlement, s/he is labled as an anti-Semite, even a Nazi sympathizer (!) or (?) a holocaust denier. That always struck me as at least intellectual dishonesty, if not worse.
(An irony of that too is that, as someone reminded me years ago, most of the Arabs who are shunned and demonized by the lobby are Semites too!)
The authors start with the fact that they'd been commissioned to write an article on the subject by a noted periodical, which, once the article was completed, turned them down. So eventually they wrote the book.
Again, I don't have a "text" here to review the specifics--hence my criticism of the "recorded" medium. But I do recall that they repeat several times that they do support a Jewish state. In other words, they're not "anti-Isreal." Yet they too, when critical of the subject which makes up the book's title, are called anti-Semitic.
The text allows for countless examples of how one-sided the "lobby" tends to be. In the US, we hear constantly of how victimized the Israelis are, yet hear little of the suffering of the Palestinians--colonized by Isreal with little if any regard for the rights of the colonized--or how the PLO, for example, WAS interested in treaties, yet the Israelis refuse to even consider them.
I wish I had the "hard copy" of the book here to refer to, but it does confirm my suspicion of the lobby. The authors provide ample evidence that even American Jews do not support much of what the lobby represents. And many who're stalwart supporters of the lobby are not Jewish. (There are some reviewers who've mentioned that many of the neocons who make up the spine of the lobby are Jewish, and infer anti-Semitism. I didn't know that many are Jewish, consider the fact irrelevant, and remind many that some of the strongest supporters, e.g., John Bolton, are NOT Jewish, but inflexibly neoconservative. Which label is more significant, Jewish or neocon?)
I also point out something that the authors remind the reader: that some of the harshest critics of Israeli policy are in the Israeli press. Those in Israel are more exposed to much of the absurdity of the lobby than we are here in the country whose credibility is under attack BECAUSE of our unwavering support of repressive Israeli policies.
I think it's very important that we be able to open doors to the discussion of the lobby's policies and US support of them, without being labled as evil entities. This book may have begun to open those doors, one hopes anyway. But I recommend you read it rather than listen to it, so you have more specifics in arguing with the lobby--and particularly challenging those many "lawmakers" who succumb to the lobby without challenge (some of those lawmakers are Jewish, many are neocon "Christians.")
By the way, I don't agree with everything the authors state. For example, they attribute our invasion of Iraq as having more to do with the lobby than that of the oil companies. That claim may be challengable. But let's at least talk about it!
I'm reminded of a conversation I had with the local Islamic Student Association late in 2001. After Bush gave his rousing speech after 9/11, one of the members of that association, with the agreement of others, said it was a pretty powerful testament, until Bush added, "and our support for Israel." At that point, the students suggested, Bush lost the support of a billion people.
Perhaps it's about time we're at least honest with each other about the inordinate power of the Israel lobby. Maybe it should fit more tightly within parameters of need--How much aide to we give to a relatively developed and small state?--and of credibility worldwide. Denying the open discussion may at least be a challenge to democracy, and our nation's credibility!
on April 6, 2009
This book is explosive. The fact that it was ever even published is a feat unto itself. This book should be read by anyone who wishes to further their understanding of US policies both here and in the Middle East. The scholarship of this book is thorough and the facts that are set forth have created a firestorm of debate. I would urge anyone to not only READ this book for themselves but to also seek further information about these topics through their own queries and investigations.
on October 27, 2007
Mearsheimer and Walt's book is written in a scholarly, matter of fact tone. They make the case for why American foreign policy vis a vis Israel is on the wrong course by using all manner of sources, including those who disagree with them. In their introduction, they talk about the many potential pitfalls of writing a book like this and assure their readers that they are not accusing Jews of conspiring or of dual loyalties. They state unequivocally that they support the idea of Israel as a Jewish state, they state unequivocally that they think ethnic minority lobbying is as American as apple pie, and they state that the U.S. government is responsible for its own actions (ie, they aren't saying that our government is paralyzed by Jewish influence). They simply think that what the Israel Lobby argues for is not in America's interest in the same way that someone might argue that an embargo against Cuba or lax gun laws are not in America's interests. They are not left-wing conspiracy theorists, they are respected professors and military veterans. Can't we keep the discussion on the issue for once and not accuse everyone who disagrees with us of being a Nazi?
on December 27, 2007
A tiny segment of our population has gained an outrageously disproportionate and dangerous influence over our political machinery and as a result this country is on a foreign policy path that is counter to its best interests.
Few Americans with any stature have had the courage to openly discuss this topic since doing so guarantees them the all-to-often career destroying label of "Anti-Semite". This modern day scarlet letter is defined and applied by the same group that benefits most by the problems outlined in this book staying in the only place where they can perpetuate... in the shadows and off the radar of the American public.
Average Americans are too busy to dissect the intricacies of the world as a whole and as a result they depend on their leaders and the media to distill important world issues for them. It is an effective method in most circumstances, but what if our media and politicians are scared silent on certain important issues for fear of being slapped with a label that has destroyed the reputations of many good people who raised questions in this area? What if these people we depend on avoided breaching this complicated topic for fear that they will be left hanging out to dry by a public with a short attention span on one side and a powerful and relentless special interest group on the other?
Only the boldest choose to take on this topic knowing the wrath they will surely face and the authors of this book are among the most principled and capable in this group of patriots. But as potent as the Israel lobby is when ganging up on those with public personas, they are powerless against grass roots individuals since there is a limit on how many people can be labeled as "Anti-Semitic" before everyone starts to wonder about the real motivations for doing so.
This is an important issue and the consequences for letting it continue to fester could eventually be catastrophic for this country. Read this book, discuss this topic with others, and get this important issue out into the open where it can be seen in the light. Once that is accomplished our media figures and politicians will be free to talk about what is best for our country without fear of a character assassination coming from this well positioned but tiny segment of our population. Open dialog is the only way to derail this hidden agenda.
on January 2, 2008
The Israel Lobby, by Mearsheimer and Walt, is a highly detailed and well research book on the operations of the Israel Lobby in the United States. The writers main intention is producing this book is to point out that US national interests are being adversely affected by many of the policy choices encouraged by the Lobby.
The book is divided into two parts. Part 1 outlines many of the arguments used to justify the large amount of support given to Israel by the US, which the authors precede to critique one by one. These arguments include the moral support for Israel as a democracy, its importance as a strategic ally, defining what the Lobby is and methods is uses to operate. They conclude that it is the influence of the Lobby that gives rise to such massive support.
The second part of the book details the Lobby's impacts on US foreign policy, through the use of specific examples, such as Iran, Syria, the wars in Iraq and Lebanon. In each case the authors have gathered substantial amounts of evidence, much of it from the Lobby itself, to show how it sought to achieve its aims and influence US foreign policy. They conclude that US and sometimes Israeli interests have been repeatedly damaged through each of these misadventures.
The writers of this book are not anti-Semitic, nor are they `self-hating Jews', as pointed out by a number of other reviewers. Instead, their first concern is for the safety and security of the United States of America. Nor are either of them can be considered left of centre liberals and indeed Mearsheimer has shown himself to be what could rightly be termed a hawk though his other writings such as `The tragedy of great power politics', where he strongly defends the thesis of offensive realism. As they point out in their conclusions, it is the fact that many of the policies advocated by the Lobby are not in the best national interest of the US and sometimes of Israel itself and indeed may actually be making the US's position in the Middle East more dangerous.
This book should be read for what it is, being a strong attack on policies that are not in the best interest of the US, rather than as an attack on Israel or the Jewish people.
on September 6, 2007
I had the opportunity to read the original paper last year in the London Review of Books. I thought the paper was very bold and courageous. It brought out some important information that most Americans do not know when it comes lobby and interest groups. Now with this new book, which expands on the paper substantially and coupled with documentation from primarly Israeli sources, this is a welcomed addition to the discourse on the Israel lobby and its affects on US Foreign policy.
As usual, the naysayers will accuse the writers and have maligned the book's scholarship because of their full fledged support for Israel, right or wrong. I can hear a charge of anti-semitism coming already despite the fact that the authors made it clear that they are no anti-semitic, they are not questioning the right of Israel to exist, nor are they subscribing to the fringe conspiracy theorists who think "Jews control everything" mantra.
This book is critical research that is long overdue and impossible to ignore. We need to get beyond Israeli exceptionalism and like the authors say in the book, and "treat them like any other country." Countries despite being allies with us or not have committed crimes according to the standards of international human rights organizations and international law.
Israel is no different. It has and continues to illegally occupy territory. One of the earlier reviewers said that the separation wall was meant to keep Palestinian Snipers away. He should do more research. International law has no problem in a country building a wall on its own national borders. The problem is that Israel is building a wall over territory that doesn't belong to them. According to the scholarly literature on the topic, the wall cuts through territory of the West Bank substantially. It was also never in Israel's mandate to offer any kind of state to the Palestinians. We only have to look at the documentary record to refute that. Oslo was seen as by Jerusalem Vice Mayor Meron Benvenisti as occupation of the West Bank and Gaza via remote control. Camp David and subsequent "peace plans" failed by the way side.
If the Israel lobby continues to set the tone of US foreign policy, it will only create more resentment and terrorism. This was outline in many studies including the book on suicide terrorism by Robert Pape.
The Israel lobby is a must book to read if one wants to understand exactly what is going on and where your tax dollars are going.