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The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy
By John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
496 pages; $26
Stung by the fierce criticism of the article they published last year in the London Review of Books, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt this time have tried to preempt any accusations of bigotry and anti-Israel sentiment by declaring they believe Israel has a right to exist, and that the US should support it. They go so far as to denounce "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion." Yet readers not well-versed in the factual history of the Middle East and US-Israel relations are likely to conclude exactly what the authors of "The Protocols" intended.
In Abraham Foxman's The Deadliest Lies, the Anti Defamation League Director doesn't defend Israel, but rather details the fallacies of Mearsheimer and Walts' analysis, demonstrating that the insidiousness and subtlety of their lies is exactly what makes them so potent.
Foxman lays out a straightforward case against the position of The Israel Lobby by citing example after example of untruths and misinterpretations of fact. While it is somewhat repetitive for those familiar with the situation, it is an excellent primer for those who would like to understand the subtleties of bias and bigotry.
The two books share one thing, apart from their subject: each has an obvious agenda. Whereas Foxman is forthright about stating his - exposing The Israel Lobby's defamation of Israel and the Jewish people - Mearsheimer and Walt do their best to hide their agenda of discrediting Israel and delegitimizing the Israel lobby in the US. While conceding that lobbies are part and parcel of the American system of governance, they characterize the Israeli lobby as a formidable network, "a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction and not a cabal or conspiracy." Nonetheless, they include not only the numerous Jewish and Christian Zionist organizations, but also every pro-Israel individual in the media, think tanks, academia or government. Hence, they create the impression of a well-organized army of dedicated foot soldiers who adhere to a strict code and promote only Israel's interests.
A more objective approach would have described the diversity of ideology and opinions of Israel's supporters, and asked whether this is simply a reflection of grassroots support by Jews and Christians alike.
THE BASIC premise of the book is twofold:
* Israel is a strategic and moral liability for the US, and strong support of the Jewish state doesn't serve American interests.
* US aid to Israel is disproportionately high vis-a-vis aid to other countries, and considering what the US stands to gain in return.
Their conclusion is that the impetus for the massive US aid, both material and political, comes from a powerful lobby that doesn't serve American interests. The authors' attempt is based on irrelevant assumptions and "creative interpretation" of realities in the Middle East as well as in the US. This is a disservice to their readers.
"Although we believe that America should support Israel's existence," they write, "Israel's security is ultimately not of critical strategic importance to the United States. In the event that Israel was conquered - which is extremely unlikely given its considerable military power and its robust nuclear deterrent - neither America's territorial integrity, its military power, its economic prosperity, nor its core political values would be jeopardized. By contrast, if oil exports from the Persian Gulf were significantly reduced, the effects on America's well-being would be profound."
They don't even examine the validity of this statement when compared to reality and the facts on the ground. Since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, after which US aid to Israel increased dramatically, there have been no interruptions of oil flow or even threats to stop that flow if the US continues to support Israel. The reason is that the oil-producing countries are even more dependent on the free flow of oil and the resulting cash flow than the oil-consuming nations, so any such threats would be empty. Indeed, any interruptions, or threatened interruptions of oil supplies from the Middle East after 1973 to date have been due to inter-Islamic or inter-Arabic conflicts: the Iran-Iraq war of 1980-88, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the various attempts by al-Qaida and other Islamic terrorist organizations to attack oil installations in the Gulf; all of which have nothing to do with Israel.
To build their case against US support of Israel, Mearsheimer and Walt promulgate the idea that al-Qaida perpetrated 9/11 because of such support, and because of Israel's behavior toward the Palestinians. The fact is that al-Qaida has clearly declared the main reason for the attack was to drive "American infidels" from the Middle East, only mentioning Israel in a relatively minor way. By focusing only on Israel, the authors distort the real message of al-Qaida. Moreover, they neglect to mention that the 9/11 attack was planned during the Oslo years, when there were high hopes for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
A simple scan of Arabic and Islamic publications reveals the depth of Muslim hatred toward modern Western civilization, and particularly the US. There is little doubt that if Israel were "conquered," this would serve as a springboard for ever-intensifying terrorist attacks, indeed an overt war against the US. However, there is no debate of this issue in the book.
Nor is there a debate of the premise that Israel is a liability from a moral standpoint. The authors base their moral argument on two factors: the "occupation of Palestinian land" and the "disproportionate response" to Arab aggression. Here also they tell only one side of the story, relying solely on revisionist historians and critics of the Jewish state. There is no mention of the fact that since before 1948 Israeli leaders have been willing to partition the land despite Palestinian attacks that began long before the "occupation" of 1967.
In Camp David in 2000, Israel offered far-reaching compromises to the Palestinians, as confirmed by president Clinton and his chief negotiator ambassador Dennis Ross in their books. There is no reference to this by Mearsheimer and Walt, who opt to rely instead on testimony by Robert Mally (the single revisionist voice from Camp David), and an incomplete quote from Shlomo Ben-Ami.
Their attempt to prove Israel's "disproportionate response" borders on the absurd. They use Ambassador Gillerman's statement at the United Nations as proof of Israel's own admission of disproportion. The quote, however, states quite the opposite; its use can only be the result of gross misunderstanding, or malicious intent.
Mearsheimer and Walt claim American policies toward Iran, Iraq and Syria reflect the influence of Israel's lobby. This simply doesn't agree with the facts. There were numerous high-level diplomatic contacts initiated by the US, including then-CIA director George Tenet and secretary of state Colin Powell, who returned from Damascus in May 2003 furious at the Syrian intransigence. Syrian involvement in the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri aggravated the situation, toughening the American position in cooperation with France. Mearsheimer and Walt don't even consider whether the Hariri murder and Syrian rejectionism explain the American position, as opposed to pressure from the Israel lobby.
Likewise, Iran blatantly violates its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and ignores every ultimatum given by the IAEA and the Security Council.
In the case of Iraq, there was worldwide understanding that the major destabilizing factor in the Middle East was Saddam Hussein's brutal regime, and concern for weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi expatriates, including Ahmed Chalabi, were the most active in arguing for war. Yet according to Mearsheimer and Walt, America's policy towards these three countries is due mainly to the Israel lobby.
THE ISSUE of "excessive" aid to Israel is also handled in a very superficial manner. Mearsheimer and Walt fail to analyze the aid in a broad historical context, or engage in comparative research. When one measures any foreign aid, in the bigger picture, absolute and per capita numbers are almost meaningless. A true analysis measures the aid against the extent of the threats to the recipient, and secondly against other recipients in historical context.
For instance, the $3 billion dollars recently guaranteed to Israel should be measured against the major threat to Israel's security from Iran, Syria, the Palestinian organizations and militant Islam. This aid dwarfs in comparison to the aid provided to European countries in World War II and again during the Cold War.
The cost of deploying 40,000 American troops at the DMZ on the Korean peninsula far exceeds the annual aid to Israel. The mobilization of the US in Europe twice in the past century - once against Nazism and then against Communism - was unprecedented in the history of foreign aid. Americans understood that the fall of Europe would bring about the same fate in the US. This analogy explains the rationale for American support of Israel against extreme Islamists. The difference is that Israel has never asked for foreign troops to defend it - another reason why the aid is supported by the American public.
From my own experience speaking with Americans from all walks of life, they appreciate Israel as the only democratic country in the Middle East, and the most effective answer to radical Islamist expansion. The fact that Mearsheimer and Walt describe Israel as the most powerful nation in the region, with robust deterrent capabilities, attests to the sentiment of these many Americans, and makes the case for supporting Israel as an important ally.
Mearsheimer and Walt are certainly entitled to their view that Israel is neither a strategic nor a moral asset for the US, and that oil is more important, but we readers are entitled to an explanation that in fact supports this view.
The ambassador is co-chairman of Nefesh B'Nefesh.
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