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On the eve of Israel's elections, Israelis should be deeply concerned about the state of our relations with the United States.
Last week the London Review of Books published a long article under the heading "The Israel Lobby." The article was authored by two prominent American international relations and political science professors: Stephen Walt, the academic dean at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago.
Walt and Mearsheimer are prominent members of the "Realist" school of political science and international relations. Realists assert that states are rational actors that use the international arena to advance their national interests. For realists, states' rationality bars morality and sentiment from playing any significant role in the international affairs.
This is significant because their essay, "The Israel Lobby," and a longer version of the work published as a "Faculty Working Paper" by the Kennedy School earlier this month, completely contradicts every single aspect of the realist doctrine of international relations.
The article begins with a general accusation that since the 1967 Six Day War, US Middle East policy has been driven not by US national interests, but by Israel's national interests. In their view, "The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread 'democracy' throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world." So Mearsheimer and Walt believe that for the past 40 years, the US has been acting in a manner that completely undercuts its national interest.
With this opening salvo, Walt and Mearsheimer argue that the reason that the US acts in opposition to its national interests is because for the past four decades US Middle East policy has been dictated by the "Israel Lobby." The distinguished professors define the Israel lobby, or in their conspiratorial shorthand, "the Lobby," as "the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction." Members of the Lobby include most US media outlets; Jewish American organizations generally and AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations in particular; pro-Israel evangelical Christians; Jewish and "gentile neo-conservative" newspaper columnists; Washington think tanks - both Jewish and "gentile neo-conservative"; Jewish government officials and politicians; and "gentile neo-conservative" government officials and politicians.
Walt and Mearsheimer allege that members of "the Lobby" and their friends and professional counselors in the Israeli government and the Likud party were a "critical" factor behind the US decision to topple Saddam Hussein's regime three years ago. Similarly, these forces are behind America's (unjustified and counterproductive) hostility towards Iran and its nuclear weapons program and its (incorrect) view that the Iranian program constitutes a threat to global security.
Israel, they claim, weakened the US-led coalition in the 1991 Gulf War and is at least partially responsible for Osama bin Laden's decision to attack the US. ("There is no question that many al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are motivated by Israel's presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians.")
Israel itself is described by Mearsheimer and Walt as a colonialist, criminal state that has conducted a "long campaign to kill or marginalize a generation of Palestinian leaders," and Palestinian children, and to methodically and criminally abuse the political, legal and human rights of the Palestinians. Their Israel was born in the sin of "ethnic cleansing," a sin that has forced the Palestinians to turn to terror in order to protect themselves. Israel's nuclear arsenal forced Iran to seek nuclear weapons and "the Lobby" is now insisting that the US take military action against Iran in order to protect Israel. Although they acknowledge that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," they deny that Israel is in any danger from Iran. By supporting Israel, the racist state that kills and oppresses Arab Israelis and Palestinians and inflames the Arab and Islamic worlds in general, the US has become "complicit in [Israel's] crimes."
The two celebrated professors declare that the reports of anti-Semitism in Europe are either incorrect or widely exaggerated and work to advance the interests of "the Lobby" and Israel. As well, they accuse "the Lobby" of silencing criticism of Israel by labeling everyone who dares to criticize the Jewish state as an anti-Semite.
In an interview this week with The New York Sun, Harvard law professor, Alan Dershowitz, whom Mearsheimer and Walt label as an "apologist" for Israel, noted that many of the authors' claims are found in neo-Nazi Web sites. David Duke, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan, called the report "excellent," and said, "It is quite satisfying to see a body in a premier American university essentially come out and validate every major point I have been making since even before the war even started."
Although Mearsheimer and Walt politely acknowledge that "the Lobby's activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," Dershowitz is unimpressed by their largesse. "Sorry," he says, "But it sounds very similar to me. The only difference is the Protocols are a forgery, but this [essay] is actually written by two bigots."
IT IS deeply disturbing that two prominent American professors have chosen to attack Israel and its American supporters in this manner. But only one element of their attack serves to signal a broader crisis in Israel's relations with the US. That aspect is the fact that this so-called "academic" paper does not stand any academic test. It is filled with obviously false assertions, ridiculous statements and idiotic, tendentious and absurd claims that no political science professor would dare to publicly express in any article about any other political lobby or foreign country.
For instance, the "academic" version of the paper's first footnote maintains, "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 to bring it about." Every semi-sentient person with even an incidental knowledge of American politics knows that there is no area of human endeavor that is not represented by a lobby in the US. Walt and Mearsheimer's asinine assertion means is that every American interest group - from the elderly to the insurance industry, from the Muslims to gun owners to organic food lovers - stands opposed to the American national interest simply by existing. Any professor who made a similar assertion about any other interest group would be imperiling his career.
And herein lies the grave danger inherent their decision to publish their essay. 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 US that authors of shoddy research whose publication would normally destroy their professional reputations can get away with substandard work if it that work relates to Israel.
The fact that academic works criticizing Israel are held to a lower standard than works on any other subject should elicit some response from Israel. But to date, Israel's Kadima government not only has not dealt with this state of affairs, it has insisted that the problem does not exist.
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his friends in Kadima mindlessly repeat the hollow mantra that our relations with the US have never been better. They maintain that handing Judea and Samaria over to Hamas will strengthen the goodwill of the international community that Israel supposedly has enjoyed since the withdrawal from Gaza eight months ago.
If it does nothing else, Walt and Mearsheimer's screed proves the absolute stupidity of the claim that Israeli land giveaways and expulsions of Israelis from their homes increase international sympathy and support for Israel. Their article not only gives Israel no credit for coming to the brink of civil war this summer when it ethnically cleansed Gaza of Jews in the hopes of appeasing international opinion, it claims that Israel intended to bring about Hamas's electoral victory in January in order to force the US to continue to support it.
For their part, the Bush administration and the Europeans today continue to hold Israel responsible for the wellbeing of Gazans and demand that Israel feed them, and provide them with everything from electricity to emergency medical care. To earn their "goodwill," the Israeli government agreed this week to endanger Israel's national security by continuing to finance the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and by operating the Karni cargo terminal at the Gaza border as if Israel had never withdrawn.
Here is the place to mention that in 1999 I studied under Walt at the Kennedy School. It was clear to me back then, through Walt's passive-aggressive non-sequiturs about American Jews and the Israel lobby, that he suffered from an unhealthy obsession with the Jewish state. But back then, when the Likud that he so despises was in power and the government conditioned all Israeli concessions to the Palestinians on reciprocal, measurable Palestinian concessions to Israel, Walt did not give his hostility towards Israel and its supporters such direct and crass expression either in his classroom lectures or in his publications. Rather, he does so now, when Israel is ruled by a party whose only clearly stated policy is its intention to destroy Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria and transfer the areas to Hamas without receiving anything in return.
The growing crisis in Israel's relations with American and other Western societies as manifested by Mearsheimer and Walt's decision to publish their essay leads to two conclusions. First, Israeli weakness harms Israel's international standing and Israeli strength enhances it. Ironically, this conclusion arises from the realist worldview that Walt and Mearsheimer champion on every issue except for Israel. If states seek to increase their strength through their international policies, it makes more sense for them to attack a weak state which will respond to expressions of hostility by seeking to appease the aggressors, than to attack a strong state that will exact a price for such aggression. Israeli demonstrations of international, political, military or cultural weakness open it up to ever escalating demands and expressions of animosity.
Finally, Walt and Mearsheimer's decision to publish their essay points to Israel's desperate need for a leader who understands international politics generally and American politics specifically. In World War II, the preponderance of Walt and Mearsheimer's view - that the Jews forced America to enter the war - caused the Roosevelt administration to refuse to lift a finger to save European Jewry. If, with the assistance of a weak and incompetent Israeli government, their view again becomes prominent, Israel will find itself in existential peril.
Today there is only one Israeli leader capable of rebuilding Israel's standing in the international community generally and in American society particularly. We have only one leader who is capable of bringing about a renewed delegitimization of views like those expressed in Walt and Mearsheimer's essay.
His name is Binyamin Netanyahu.