What went wrong [pg. 14]

The recently published study "The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy" by two important professors of international relations, John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, blames the Jews for pushing US foreign policy in the wrong direction, at great cost to Washington. The researchers portray themselves as "realists" whose cold analysis has only American national interests at heart. The main thrust of their argument is easily refutable. The two professors are clearly wrong in ascribing US support for Israel to the machinations of the Israel lobby. All polls show consistent support for Israel over many years on the part of a large majority of Americans from all walks of life, and most of them were never exposed to the Israel lobby. Americans like Israel for what it is: a vibrant and embattled democratic society which is a natural ally for the US. The proposition that the US would be better off by not lending its support to Israel betrays ignorance of what the Middle East really is, and of the real causes of anti-Americanism in the region. The negative attitudes to the US and the West are deeply rooted in Arab and Muslim culture and have little to do with American aid to Israel. In reality, the case for supporting Israel as an important strategic ally due to its strategic location and political stability, as well as its technological and military assets, is almost self-evident. Methodologically, it is strange to see realists whose powerful intellectual paradigm places little importance on domestic politics ascribe such a role to any lobby. However, despite its shallow analysis and the probable desire of the authors to be provocative and take the spotlight, it would be a mistake to ignore the Mearsheimer-Walt paper. This study is not just the result of the frustration felt by senior academics whose advice against going to war in Iraq went unheeded. The Mearsheimer-Walt study is serious because it is symptomatic of the mood in many Western intellectual circles. Its value judgments are a great source of concern. THESE RESEARCHERS, and others, have stopped seeing Israel as morally superior to its foes. Unfortunately for Israel, the Palestinian interpretation of the conflict is increasingly gaining credibility in the West. Israel's new historians, whose publications were quoted in the Mearsheimer-Walt study despite their poor scholarship, also provide ammunition for the Palestinian case. For many, Israel has become the culprit in the Arab-Israeli conflict. While Israel still has strong bastions of support, public opinion in most Western countries - America is a clear exception - has shifted in the past decades and is critical of Israel, often taking the Palestinian side. There is a long-range danger in the emergence of an international consensus questioning the legitimacy of Israel. A new zeitgeist which accepts the position that Israel was born in sin, and blames its behavior for the subsequent negative regional repercussions, would make the elimination of the Jewish state expedient - indeed, even morally acceptable - to Western regional interests. Israel is a strong state, but because it is a small country it is more dependent for its well-being than larger powers on the vagaries of the international community. Becoming a pariah state is dangerous. TO SOME extent Israel itself is at fault for the change in attitudes. Israel bailed out the PLO from its crisis and brought Yasser Arafat from Tunis to the lawn of the White House in 1993, bestowing unprecedented legitimacy upon him and his cause. Jerusalem's reluctance to remove the mask of the corrupt and authoritarian PLO leader, who turned a blind eye to terror, allowed the Palestinians to deny their blatant violations of the "peace process." In fact, its continuation was contingent largely upon Israeli self-delusion. The frequent references to the casualties of Palestinian terror as the "sacrifices for peace" helped Arafat hide Palestinian cruelty and cynicism. Portraying the Palestinians as reasonable partners for peace, rather than as a society mesmerized by violence, united by abysmal hatred for Jews and largely partner to widespread Arab anti-Western sentiments, undermined Israel's case. At home, Israel's undue tolerance of organizations that side with the Palestinians and obstruct Israel's war effort has played a role in the deterioration of Israel's moral standing. For example, while various organizations encourage draft-dodging and accuse IDF officers of being war criminals (causing great public relations damage as well as violating Israel's penal code), the authorities are reluctant to bring such groups to court. In addition, an education system that exposes the Israeli student to the fabrications of the new historians has undermined the main asset of our society: conviction of the justice of the Zionist cause. Israel has to recapture the moral high ground in its conflict with the Palestinians. With a Hamas-led PA in power the task is easier; but Jerusalem needs clarity of purpose and a sophisticated strategy, as well as determination and resources, to help the enlightened world appreciate that we are fighting the bad guys. The writer is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.