Dec 10, 2013
Book Excerpt: ‘The Israel Lobby’
Posted on Oct 8, 2007
Having established that neither strategic interests nor moral rationales can fully explain U.S. support for Israel, we turn our attention to that “something else.” Chapter 4 (“What Is the ‘Israel Lobby’?”) identifies the lobby’s different components and describes how this loose coalition has evolved. We stress that it is not a single unified movement, that its different elements sometimes disagree on certain issues, and that it includes both Jews and non-Jews, including the so-called Christian Zionists. We also show how some of the most important organizations in the lobby have drifted rightward over time and are increasingly unrepresentative of the larger populations on whose behalf they often claim to speak.
This chapter also considers whether Arab-American groups, the so-called oil lobby, or wealthy Arab oil producers are either a significant counterweight
In Chapter 5 (“Guiding the Policy Process”) and Chapter 6 (“Dominating Public Discourse”), we describe the different strategies that groups in the lobby use in order to advance Israel’s interests in the United States. In addition to direct lobbying on Capitol Hill, the lobby rewards or punishes politicians largely through an ability to guide the flow of campaign contributions. Organizations in the lobby also put pressure on the executive branch through a number of mechanisms, including working through government officials who are sympathetic to their views. Equally important, the lobby has gone to considerable lengths to shape public discourse about Israel by putting pressure on the media and academia and by establishing a tangible presence in influential foreign policy think tanks. Efforts to shape public perceptions often include charging critics of Israel with anti-Semitism, a tactic designed to discredit and marginalize anyone who challenges the current relationship.
These tasks accomplished, Part II traces the lobby’s role in shaping recent U.S. Middle East policy. Our argument, it should be emphasized, is not that the lobby is the only factor that influences U.S. decision making in these issues. It is not omnipotent, so it does not get its way on every issue. But it is very effective in shaping U.S. policy toward Israel and the surrounding region in ways that are intended to benefit Israel—and believed also to benefit the United States. Unfortunately, the policies it has successfully encouraged have actually done considerable harm to U.S. interests and have
Following a brief introduction to set the stage, Chapter 7 (“The Lobby Versus the Palestinians”) shows how the United States has consistently backed Israel’s efforts to quell or limit the Palestinians’ national aspirations. Even when American presidents put pressure on Israel to make concessions or try to distance the United States from Israel’s policies—as President George W. Bush has attempted to do on several occasions since September 11—the lobby intervenes and brings them back into line. The result has been a worsening image for the United States, continued suffering on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide, and a growing radicalization among the Palestinians. None of these trends is in America’s or Israel’s interest.
In Chapter 8 (“Iraq and Dreams of Transforming the Middle East”), we show how the lobby—and especially the neo-conservatives within it—was the principal driving force behind the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. We emphasize that the lobby did not cause the war by itself. The September 11 attacks had a profound impact on the Bush administration’s foreign policy and the decision to topple Saddam Hussein. But absent the lobby’s influence, there almost certainly would not have been a war. The lobby was a necessary but not sufficient condition for a war that is a strategic disaster for the United States and a boon for Iran, Israel’s most serious regional adversary.
Chapter 9 (“Taking Aim at Syria”) describes the evolution of America’s difficult relationship with the Assad regime in Syria. We document how the lobby has pushed Washington to adopt confrontational policies toward Syria (including occasional threats of regime change) when doing so was what the Israeli government wanted. The United States and Syria would not be allies if key groups in the lobby were less influential, but the United States would have taken a much less confrontational approach and might even be cooperating with Syria in a number of limited but useful ways. Indeed, absent the lobby, there might already be a peace treaty between Israel and Syria, and Damascus might not be backing Hezbollah in Lebanon, which would be good for both Washington and Jerusalem.
In Chapter 10 (“Iran in the Crosshairs”), we trace the lobby’s role in U.S. policy toward Iran. Washington and Tehran have had difficult relations since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the shah, and Israel has come to see Iran as its most serious adversary, in light of its nuclear ambitions and its support for groups like Hezbollah. Accordingly, Israel and the lobby have repeatedly pushed the United States to go after Iran and have acted to derail several earlier opportunities for détente. The result, unfortunately, is that Iran’s nuclear ambitions have increased and more extreme elements (such as current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad) have come to power, making a difficult
Lebanon is the subject of Chapter 11 (“The Lobby and the Second Lebanon War”), and the pattern is much the same. We argue that Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s unjustified provocation in the summer of 2006 was both strategically foolish and morally wrong, yet the lobby’s influence made it hard for U.S. officials to do anything except strongly back Israel. This case offers yet another classic illustration of the lobby’s regrettable influence on American and Israeli interests: by making it hard for U.S. policy makers to step back and give their Israeli counterparts honest and critical advice, the lobby facilitated a policy that further tarnished America’s image, weakened the democratically elected regime in Beirut, and strengthened Hezbollah. The final chapter (“What Is to Be Done?”) explores how this unfortunate situation might be improved. We begin by identifying America’s core Middle East interests and then sketch the essential principles of a strategy—which we term offshore balancing—that could defend these interests more effectively. We do not call for abandoning the U.S. commitment to Israel—indeed, we explicitly endorse coming to Israel’s aid if its survival were ever in jeopardy. But we argue that it is time to treat Israel like a normal country and to make U.S. aid conditional on an end to the occupation and on Israel’s willingness to conform its policies to American interests. Accomplishing this shift requires addressing the political power of the lobby and its current policy agenda, and we offer several suggestions for how the power of the lobby might be modified to make its influence more beneficial for the United States and Israel alike.
THOSE WE LEARNED FROM
No author is an island, and we owe a considerable debt to other scholars and writers who examined these subjects before we did. To begin with, there is the extensive academic literature on interest groups that helped us understand how small but focused movements can exert influence far greater than their absolute numbers within the population might suggest. There is also a robust literature on the impact of ethnic groups on U.S. foreign policy, which confirms that the Israel lobby is not unique in its basic activities, only in its unusual level of influence.
A second body of literature addresses the lobby itself. A number of journalists, scholars, and former politicians have written about the lobby. Written from both critical and sympathetic perspectives, these works contain a considerable amount of useful information on the ways that the lobby has worked to influence U.S. foreign policy. We hope our account will extend the trail that these earlier writers blazed.
We have also learned a great deal from other studies, too numerous to list in toto, that deal with particular aspects of U.S. Middle East policy, U.S.-Israeli relations, or specific policy issues. Although some of these works—such as Steven Spiegel’s The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict: Making America’s Middle East Policy from Truman to Reagan and Warren Bass’s Support Any Friend: Kennedy’s Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance—tend to downplay the lobby’s influence, serious works of scholarship such as these nonetheless contain considerable evidence of the lobby’s impact and especially its growing clout.
There is a final body of literature that has played an important role in helping us to think about Israel, the lobby, and America’s relationship with the Jewish state. We refer to the so-called new history that has come out of Israel over the past twenty years. Using extensive archival research, Israeli scholars like Shlomo BenAmi, Simha Flapan, Baruch Kimmerling, Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, Tom Segev, Avi Shlaim, and Zeev Sternhell have effectively overturned the conventional wisdom on Israel’s founding and on its subsequent policies toward both the surrounding states and the Palestinians. Scholars from other countries have also contributed to setting the historical record straight. Together these individuals have undermined the original, highly romanticized version of the founding, in which the Jews are usually portrayed as the white hats and the Arabs as the black hats. Moreover, these works make clear that after Israel gained its independence, it behaved much more aggressively toward the Palestinians and other Arabs than is commonly recognized. There are various disputes among these historians, of course, and we do not agree with every point they make. Nevertheless, the story they collectively tell is not just a matter of academic interest. In fact, it has profound implications for how one thinks about the moral rationale for supporting Israel over the Palestinians. It also helps one understand why so many people in the Arab and Islamic world are deeply angry at the United States for supporting Israel so generously and unconditionally.
A NOTE ON SOURCES
A brief word about sources is in order before we proceed. Much of this study—especially Part II—deals with recent history, or with events whose ultimate outcome remains uncertain. Because official documents regarding contemporary events are normally unavailable to scholars, we have been forced to rely on other sources: newspapers, magazines, scholarly articles, books, reports from human rights organizations, radio and television transcripts, and personal interviews that we conducted. In a few instances, we had to work with an admittedly spotty record of events. Although we think it is unlikely, some parts of our story may look different once official records become available.
In order to ensure that our various arguments are correct, we backed up virtually every significant point with multiple sources, which accounts for the extensive notes provided at the end of this book. We also relied heavily on Israeli sources like Ha’aretz and the Jerusalem Post, as well as the writings of Israeli scholars. Another indispensable source of information was American Jewish publications like the Forward and Jewish Week. Not only are these Israeli and Jewish-American sources filled with important information that is not found in the mainstream media in the United States, these newspapers were by and large not likely to be sympathetic to many of our arguments about the lobby. Our reliance on them should help make our conclusions even more reliable.
Our analysis begins by describing the material and diplomatic support that the United States provides to Israel. The fact that America gives consider able support to the Jewish state is hardly headline news, but readers may be surprised to learn just how extensive and varied this largesse actually is. Documenting that support is the subject of the next chapter.
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