Bad for the US, bad for Israel

J. Mearsheimer and S. Walt co-author a book highly critical of the Israel lobby.

MEARSHEIMER PIN 88 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
On the eve of its publication on Monday, the book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt appeared set for strong sales, already featuring at No. 1 in's Israel History ranking and No. 10 in the US History ranking. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, the book is an expansion of themes that first appeared in an article entitled "The Israel Lobby," written by Mearsheimer (of the University of Chicago) and Walt (of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government) in the London Review of Books last year. In essence, the authors argue in the book that a loose coalition of individuals and organizations shape US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction and that this lobby has pushed policies that are neither in America's national interest nor Israel's long-term interest. No other "ethnic lobby," the authors claim, has so diverted US policy away from the American national interest. "The Israel lobby is the antithesis of a cabal or conspiracy," they state. "What sets it apart, in short, is its extraordinary effectiveness." The authors stress that supporters of Israel "have every right to advocate their positions, and it is wrong to question their loyalty when they do. Yet it is equally legitimate for critics to point out that organizations like AIPAC are not neutral, or that the individuals ... are motivated by an attachment to Israel that is bound to shape their thinking about many foreign policy issues." They allege that groups within the lobby "try to marginalize anyone who criticizes Israeli policy or challenges the 'special relationship'" between the US and Israel, and that they attempt to deprive such critics of getting "a fair hearing." At times, the authors claim, "heavy-handed tactics" are employed to silence critics, including the leveling of accusations that such critics are anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. "Smearing critics of Israel or the lobby with the charge of anti-Semitism works to marginalize them in the public arena," the book states, asserting that the charge of anti-Semitism is "a widely used weapon." Although the authors state that the US should support the existence of Israel, they add that Israel's security is "ultimately not of critical strategic importance to the United States." The book claims that broader US policies in the Middle East - on Iran, Iraq and the Palestinians, for instance - reflect Israel's preferences. Israel and the lobby have pushed US policy in a "strategically unwise" direction over Iran for the past 15 years, they state, thwarting the possibility of detente. Only because of this pressure is there contemplation of the notion of a military strike against Iran. And if this "dangerous policy" were followed and such a strike were to take place, the US would be attacking "in part on Israel's behalf." On Iraq, the book says that pressure from Israel and the lobby was "not the only factor behind the decision" to invade, "but it was a critical element." The war stemmed in large part from "a desire to make Israel more secure," and were it not for Israel and the lobby, "America would not be in Iraq today." The writers claim that "many policies" that the US follows on Israel's behalf "now jeopardize US national security." Moreover, it charges, the lobby's influence "has not helped Israel either." The lobby, it contends, makes it "difficult to impossible for the US government to criticize Israel's conduct and press it to change some of its counterproductive policies," and in so doing, "may even be jeopardizing" Israel's long-term future. "The United States has enormous potential leverage at its disposal for dealing with Israel and the Palestinians," the book states. "It could threaten to cut off all economic and diplomatic support for Israel. If that were not enough, it would have little difficulty lining up international support to isolate Israel."