Israel, AIPAC won't parry Walt-Mearsheimer book

Government officials say firing back would "play into their hands" and "help the sales of the book."

Danny Ayalon 224 88 ap (photo credit: AP [file])
Danny Ayalon 224 88 ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
Neither Israel nor the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are putting together a proactive campaign to combat the new Stephen Walt-John Mearsheimer book slamming the Israel lobby for allegedly hijacking US foreign policy. The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy is scheduled to hit the stores on September 5, but is already being sold on the Internet. Government officials in Jerusalem, explaining why the Foreign Ministry has chosen to ignore the book, said Sunday that Israel had no desire to "help the sales of the book," something that would happen, one official said, if Israel aggressively fired back. "We don't want to play into their hands." AIPAC's policy on the book, and other similar books and articles that attack it and organizations lobbying on behalf of Israel, is to avoid a mud-slinging campaign that would detract from the organization's work. Walt and Mearsheimer charge in the book that Israel and its American supporters "have been able to stymie any detente between Iran and the United States, and to keep the two countries far apart," and that "many policies pursued on Israel's behalf now jeopardize US national security." "Some pro-Israel individuals and groups have occasionally taken their defense of Israel to illegitimate extremes, attempting to silence individuals who hold views they dislike. This endeavor can involve intimidating and smearing critics of Israel, or even attempting to damage or wreck their careers," the authors say. Walt, a political scientist from Harvard, and Mearsheimer, from the University of Chicago, also wrote that pressure from "Israel and the lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq... but it was a critical element." Without Israel's and the lobby's efforts, "America would not be in Iraq today," according to the book. "Although we believe that America should support Israel's existence, Israel's security is ultimately not of critical strategic importance to the United States," they wrote. Former Israeli ambassador to the US Danny Ayalon dismissed the new book as "not serious" and one that "lacks academic depth." He supports the "do nothing" policy regarding the book, saying Israel "should not distinguish the authors by paying them or the book any regard at all." The position advocated in the book, Ayalon said, remains on the fringes of American society. He said rather than reacting to books such as this or Jimmy Carter's Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, Israel and Jewish groups in the US should undertake a comprehensive proactive campaign on university campuses to introduce Israel and to counter the Middle East Studies departments funded by the Saudis and Gulf states on many campuses. "Firing back would just promote the book," Ayalon said. "What needs to be done is to make sure there are other books, and to ensure that what students studying on campus is objective." Arieh O'Sullivan, the Anti-Defamation League's spokesman in Israel, said the concern was that "these conspiracy-theory books are very sexy among academics and will be used on college campuses as required reading." ADL national director Abe Foxman has written a book to combat Mearsheimer and Walt entitled The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control. It is also due out on September 5 and now available on the Internet. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-New York), currently in Israel with a group of community leaders on a visit sponsored by the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, dismissed the notion of exaggerated pro-Israeli influence on American foreign policy as "a bunch of hocus-pocus." "America has to do what is in America's interest, and that's what it does," he said, adding that "99.99 percent of American Jews" and "the overwhelming majority of average Americans" were "proud and supportive of the relationship between the US and Israel." Asked whether critics of that relationship, such as Walt and Mearsheimer, were gradually weakening American support for Israel, Ackerman told The Jerusalem Post he was aware of the potential "corrosive effect," but that there would have to be "an awful lot" of criticism for it to have a substantive impact. The Jewish community, because of bitter experience, was acutely sensitive to the potential impact of such criticism, he said. But regarding the two academics, he said, "I don't think these guys have the gravitas of a Jimmy Carter... who got his perspectives all screwed up on Israel." There was a "bigger group" in America "who say Israel can do nothing wrong" than those who say Israel can do no right, Ackerman said, referring to evangelical Christians. "The Bible is a bigger seller than these guys' book."