May 23, 2013
Book Excerpt: ‘The Israel Lobby’
Posted on Oct 8, 2007
Given this long history of persecution, American Jews are understandably sensitive to any argument that sounds like someone is blaming them for policies gone awry. This sensitivity is compounded by the memory of bizarre conspiracy theories of the sort laid out in the Protocols. Dire warnings of secretive “Jewish influence” remain a staple of neo-Nazis and other extremists, such as the hate-mongering former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, which reinforces Jewish concerns even more.
With a few exceptions, to be discussed in subsequent chapters, the lobby’s actions are thoroughly American and legitimate.
We do not believe the lobby is all-powerful, or that it controls important institutions in the United States. As we will discuss in several subsequent chapters, there are a number of cases where the lobby did not get its way. Nevertheless, there is an abundance of evidence that the lobby wields impressive influence. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most important pro-Israel groups, used to brag about its own power on its website, not only by listing its impressive achievements but also by displaying quotations from prominent politicians that attested to its ability to influence events in ways that benefit Israel. For example, its website used to include a statement from former House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt telling an AIPAC gathering, “Without your constant support ... and all your fighting on a daily basis to strengthen [the U.S.-Israeli relationship], it would not be.” Even the out spoken Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is often quick to brand Israel’s critics as anti-Semites, wrote in a memoir that “my generation of Jews…became part of what is perhaps the most effective lobbying and fundraising effort in the history of democracy. We did a truly great job, as far as we allowed ourselves, and were allowed, to go.”
J. J. Goldberg, the editor of the Jewish weekly newspaper the Forward and the author of Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment, nicely captures the difficulty of talking about the lobby: “It seems as though we’re forced to choose between Jews holding vast and pernicious control or Jewish influence being nonexistent.” In fact, he notes, “somewhere in the middle is a reality that none wants to discuss, which is that there is an entity called the Jewish community made up of a group of organizations and public figures that’s part of the political rough-and-tumble. There’s nothing wrong with playing the game like everybody else.” We agree completely. But we think it is fair and indeed necessary to examine the consequences that this “rough-and-tumble” interest group politics can have on America and the world.
HOW WE MAKE OUR CASE
To make our case, we have to accomplish three tasks. Specifically, we have to convince readers that the United States provides Israel with extraordinary material aid and diplomatic support, the lobby is the principal reason for that support, and this uncritical and unconditional relationship is not in the American national interest. To do so, we proceed as follows.
Chapter 1 (“The Great Benefactor”) addresses the first issue directly, by describing the economic and military aid that the United States gives to Israel, as well as the diplomatic backing that Washington has provided in peace and in war. Subsequent chapters also discuss the different elements of U.S. Middle East policy that have been designed in whole or in part to benefit Israel vis-à-vis its various rivals.
Chapters 2 and 3 assess the main arguments that are usually invoked to justify or explain the exceptional amount of support that Israel receives from the United States. This critical assessment is necessary for methodological reasons: in order to properly assess the impact of the Israel lobby, we have to examine other possible explanations that might account for the “special relationship” that now exists between the two countries.
In Chapter 2 (“Israel: Strategic Asset or Liability?”), we examine the familiar argument that Israel deserves lavish support because it is a valuable strategic asset. We show that although Israel may have been an asset during the Cold War, it is now increasingly a strategic liability. Backing Israel so strongly helps fuel America’s terrorism problem and makes it harder for the United States to address the other problems it faces in the Middle East. Unconditional support for Israel also complicates U.S. relations with a number of other countries around the world, thereby imposing additional costs on the United States. Yet even though the costs of backing Israel have risen while the benefits have declined, American support continues to increase. This situation suggests that something other than strategic imperatives is at work.
Chapter 3 (“A Dwindling Moral Case”) examines the different moral rationales that Israelis and their American supporters often use to explain U.S. support for the Jewish state. In particular, we consider the claim that the United States backs Israel because of shared “democratic values,” because Israel is a weak and vulnerable David facing a powerful Arab Goliath, because its past and present conduct is more ethical than its adversaries’ behavior, or because it has always sought peace while its neighbors always chose war. This assessment is necessary not because we have any animus toward Israel or because we think its conduct is worse than that of other states, but because these essentially moral claims are so frequently used to explain why the United States should give Israel exceptional levels of aid. We conclude that while there is a strong moral case for Israel’s existence, the moral case for giving it such generous and largely unconditional support is not compelling. Once again, this juxtaposition of a dwindling moral case and ever-increasing U.S. backing suggests that something else must be at work.
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