Israel Lobby

In this paper, John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago’s Department of Political Science and Stephen M.Walt of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government contend that the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy is its intimate relationship with Israel. The authors argue that although often justified as reflecting shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, the U.S. commitment to Israel is due primarily to the activities of the “Israel Lobby.” This paper goes on to describe the various activities that pro-Israel groups have undertaken in order to shift U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy
By John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt

One of the authors of this paper has acknowledged that “none of the evidence represents original documentation or is derived from independent interviews.” In light of the paper’s errors, and its admitted lack of originality, Dershowitz asks why these professors would have chosen to publish a paper that does not meet their usual scholarly standards, especially given the risk – that should have been obvious to “realists” – that recycling these charges under their imprimatur of prominent authors would be featured, as they have been, on extremist websites. Dershowitz questions the authors claims that people who support Israel do not want “an open debate on issues involving Israel.” He renews his challenge to debate the issues.

Debunking the Newest – and Oldest – Jewish Conspiracy: A Reply to the Mearsheimer-Walt “Working Paper”
by Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School

I was listening to a recent Fresh Air, in which the host, Terri Gross, interviewed first Stephen Walt and then Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. Foxman was hopelessly inept. I think the reason is that his rhetorical tools are so blunt. He’s a practiced counter-puncher, but it was profoundly reflexive. He is seemingly so used to attacking antisemitism that he has not noticed that this is a very different sort of debate. Dershowitz’s rhetoric seems to share this same strategy.

I could not tell if he was simply attacking because that is what he always does or if he really believed that Mearsheimer and Walt’s argument about the “Israel lobby” is in fact a kind of Trojan Horse sneaking in some very old and ugly attitudes about Jews. After listening to Gross’s interview with Walt, it was hard to take any of either Dershowitz’s or Foxman’s contentions seriously. Walt carefully distinguishes between supporters of Israel, not all of whom are Jews, and the Jewish community, not all of whom support Israel to the same degree. Foxman thinks that distinction is in bad faith.

While noting that many prominent neo-conservatives are Jewish, Walt is careful to say that many are not and that it is not their ethnicity or religion that concerns him but their support of Israel. Foxman sees this as a meaningless distinction. Walt argues that many Americans have dual loyalties for a lot of reasons; we can even have dual citizenship. Foxman contends that this is a sneaky way to accuse Jews of disloyality, a classic antisemitic tactic. Ironically, both seemed to agree that more blatantly antisemitic writers have distorted Mearsheimer and Walt’s arguments.

Walt sounded fairly optimistic. It’s hard to debate these issues he says, and to call into question U.S. support of Israel and its central place in our Middle Eastern policy, but not impossible. They were able to publish first a long article and now a book. What I find most disturbing is that Foxman– and Dershowitz– ought to be helping to flesh out the debate over U.S. support of Israel. That’s not to minimize the fight against antisemitism, which is important. But I think they are fighting the wrong battle with Mearsheimer and Walt.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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