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Breaking the Taboo: Why We Took On the Israel Lobby

Posted on Oct 4, 2007
John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt.

“The Israel Lobby” authors John J. Mearsheimer (left) and Stephen M. Walt.

Eric Chinski, the editor of John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt’s provocative new bestseller, asks the authors whether their book is good for the Jews and good for America.  This interview originally appeared on the Web site of the publishing house Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Why did your article “The Israel Lobby,” which was published in the London Review of Books in 2006, provoke such heated discussion around the world? James Traub wrote in The New York Times Magazine: “ ‘The Israel Lobby’ slammed into the opinion-making world with a Category 5 force.” How would you describe the reaction?

The article received enormous attention because it challenged what had become a taboo issue in mainstream foreign policy circles, namely the impact of the Israel lobby on U.S. Middle East policy. We did not question Israel’s legitimacy and explicitly stated that the United States should come to Israel’s aid if its survival is at risk, but we did argue that pro-Israel groups in the United States were encouraging policies that were ultimately not in America’s national interest. Although the views we expressed are often discussed openly in other democracies—including Israel itself—they have rarely been set forth in detail by mainstream figures in the United States. The article was also of great interest to many readers because it has become increasingly obvious that U.S. Middle East policy has gone badly awry. Although a number of groups and individuals either mischaracterized our views or attacked us personally, many other readers agreed that such an examination of the lobby’s role was long overdue.

Why did you feel the need to follow up the article with your book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”? What more is there to say?

Writing a book provided an opportunity to present a more nuanced and complete statement of our views, and also allowed us to address some of the responses to the original article. Although the article was long by magazine standards, space limitations forced us to omit several key issues and to deal with other topics more briefly than we would have liked. Events like the 2006 Lebanon war had not occurred when the article was published, and additional information about other episodes—such as the U.S. decision to invade Iraq—had since come to light. Thus, writing a book allowed us to refine our analysis and bring it up to date. 


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In particular, the book presents a more detailed definition of the lobby, an extended discussion of its development and rightward drift over time, an examination of the role of the so-called Christian Zionists, and an analysis of the controversial issue of “dual loyalty.” We also offer a more detailed description of the various strategies that groups in the lobby use to advance their goals within the U.S. political system. The book also addresses the widespread belief—as illustrated by Michael Moore’s documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11”—that oil companies are the real driving force behind America’s Middle East policy, and explains why this view is incorrect.

Finally, our original article did not offer much in the way of positive prescriptions, but the book outlines a new approach to U.S. Middle East policy that would better serve U.S. interests and, in our view, be better for Israel as well. To that end, it also identifies how the influence of the lobby might become more constructive, for the good of both countries.

What is the extent of American financial, diplomatic, and military aid to Israel, and how does it compare with other states’?

Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. economic and military assistance, having received more than $154 billion in U.S. aid since its creation in 1948, and it currently receives roughly $3 billion in direct U.S. assistance every year, even though it is now a prosperous country. The United States also consistently gives Israel diplomatic support, and consistently comes to its aid in wartime, as it did during the 2006 war in Lebanon. Most important, U.S. support for Israel is largely unconditional: Israel receives generous American assistance even when it takes actions that the U.S. government believes are wrong, such as building settlements in the Occupied Territories. As former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once remarked, U.S. backing for Israel is “beyond compare in modern history.”

Isn’t America’s special relationship with Israel based on strong strategic and moral arguments? Isn’t it important for the United States to have an ally that shares our values in a region dominated by extremism and enemies of America?

Israel is not the strategic asset to the United States that many claim. Israel may have been a strategic asset during the Cold War, but it has become a growing liability now that the Cold War is over. Unconditional support for Israel has reinforced anti-Americanism around the world, helped fuel America’s terrorism problem, and strained relations with other key allies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. The United States derives some tangible strategic benefits from its close security partnership with Israel, but it pays a high price for them. On balance, it is more of a liability than an asset.

Similarly, the moral case for unconditional U.S. support is not compelling. Israel is a democracy, but no other democracy gets the same level of support that Israel does—and so unconditionally. There is a strong moral case for Israel’s existence, which is why we support a Jewish state in Palestine and believe the U.S. should come to its aid if its survival is jeopardized. But many of Israel’s policies—especially the continued occupation of the West Bank and its refusal to allow the Palestinians a viable state of their own—are at odds with key U.S. values. Viewed objectively, the early Zionists’ behavior during the founding of the Jewish state and Israel’s later behavior toward the Palestinians and its Arab neighbors undermine the myth of Israel as victim and the Arabs as aggressors. 

The strategic and moral rationales for unconditional U.S. support have grown weaker since the end of the Cold War, yet U.S. support has continued to increase. This anomaly suggests that some other factor is at work.

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By truthseeker9, October 7, 2007 at 7:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Daniel Finkelstein on Richard Dawkins.
A typical hysterical reaction to someone mentioning the power of the Jewish lobby.

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By Myronh, October 7, 2007 at 5:41 am Link to this comment

When will the citizens of the US wake-up and realize that we have been occupied by an enemy that has been living here long enough to become politicians, diplomats, or key cabinet members. This enemy consists of less than 2-percent of the US population. They have such a strangle hold on us that we act like zombies, catering to their every whim, providing weapons of war for their Israeli cousins, and soldiers to fight their alleged enemies.

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By tim, October 6, 2007 at 7:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Jewish Lobby has blackmailed US politicians to sacrifice our country’s interest for Israel. No US politicians will say the obvious that one of the main reasons terrorist Bin Laden attacked us on 9/11 was our support of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land. Just listen to what Bin Laden and his other terrorists! They make it plain in videos and audios that they hate us for our support of Israel. Hundreds of millions of Moslems are mad at us for supporting Israel’s brutal occupation of Palestinian lands. When will our spineless, shameless politicians say no to Israel Lobby?

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By APS, October 6, 2007 at 4:58 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

An interesting comment - even if Israel were to disappear tomorrow we’d still be in trouble because of Jews in media, banking, business, etc.  So, it isn’t really about Israel at all, its about Jews.  This is interesting because Mearsheimer & Walt are trying so hard to persuade just the opposite.  And yet, as we learn more and more about W&M;‘s cheerleaders, we find that W&M;‘s critics are proving to be more and more prescient; namely, the book doesn’t really resonate with truly neutral observers of American/Israeli policy, but, it appeals strongly to that subset of individuals who obsess against Jews in general.  Again, quite interesting.

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By Angus, October 6, 2007 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While I agree with almost everything said by messrs. M&W;vis a vis the lobby there is one other aspect that remains unsaid. In the segment concerning the reasons for the Iraq War; (and coming soon to a theater near you Iran War; and that would be sheer human greed. From reading the news every day it is clear that huge amounts of the billions of dollars appropriated for this war are siphoned off for private corporate welfare such as Blackwater, Halliburton etc. A lot of this money undoubtedly funnels its way back to those in power who helped ferment the war and those on the other side who did nothing to stop it. Shame on you all. Even if you care nothing for Iraqi lives what about the 4000 or so of your own countrymen and women who have paid with their lives. Shame.

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By THE MANGEMEISTER, October 6, 2007 at 8:58 am Link to this comment

PatrickHenry writes
If Israel was to disappear tomorrow we would still be in trouble in this country with a monopolistic media,film industry and a lobby which places jewish owned business concerns ahead of all others.Well said!With all the focus on the Middle East this important issue should not be ignored.

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By WR Curley, October 6, 2007 at 8:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Jews comprise about 1.5% of the US population. Jews comprise about .02% of the global population. Why are we even having these discussions?

The numbers alone command attention to the dominance of the Zionists in the public discourse.

The fact that Jews own and control most of the mainstream media plays a far greater role in censoring debate than do the purile rantings of Mr. Foxman, or the bundled campaign contributions of the Israel lobby. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, pumped up with some $400 million in tax revenue, has a professional propagandist with impeccable Zionist credentials as its CEO. Time-Warner, the Post, the Times, the Newhouse group, all the major networks, the London Times, the BBC, Clear Channel, god, it just goes on and on…all controlled by Jews. We need a follow-up study detailing these relationships as well. You can’t have a national debate without an informed public, and you can’t have an informed public without a balanced information flow.

I am mystified by assertions that there is some moral argument for a special relationship with Israel. This is a matter of religious conviction, I suppose, but I just don’t get it. God promised much to the children of Abraham, including the shining city on the hill. But if you believe that stuff, then we are all the children of Abraham - Christian, Muslim, Jew - in spiritual terms if not in genetic lineage. And let’s not forget, God has seen fit to slap his Chosen People around when, stiff-necked, they stepped off the path of righteousness.

I’m equally perplexed by the notion that Israel is a democracy. How do you claim to be running a democracy if you disenfranchise all but a single ethnic group? What if the Mormons denied full citizenship to the non-Mormon peoples of Utah? Would that still constitute democracy? The fact is that the core values of the US include inclusion. The idea of a state reserved for the exclusive propagation of a single self-defined ethnicity is profoundly anti-American. Pretty obvious, isn’t it?

I commend your courage. Thanks for opening the dialogue. It’s long overdue.

WR Curley,
Elizabeth, Colorado

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By PatrickHenry, October 6, 2007 at 7:29 am Link to this comment

Non Credo,

Visit to see how “they” do it.  I attribute alot of the last minute pro Israel comments on this and other blogs by unregistered commenters by this very useful organizational tool.


If Israel was to disappear tommorrow we would still be in trouble in this country with a monopolistic media and film industry and a lobby which places jewish owned business concerns ahead of all others based on religious preference.

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By Conservative Yankee, October 6, 2007 at 5:40 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

WOW… although I formerly was open to criticisms of Israeli foreign policy, I’m appalled by the return of Hitler’s “Jewish bankers as cause for every plague visited on “good xtian” folk.

I’m outta here… Hope I didn’t catch anything…

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By Howard, October 6, 2007 at 3:02 am Link to this comment

If Israel was to disappear tomorrow, Islam would be a bigger problem to America !

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By weather, October 6, 2007 at 2:57 am Link to this comment

Howard, what you write is enough to scare Stephen King. Thankfully you don’t speak for America.

The sad, firm and irrevocable truth remains;before Israel, Islam was of little concern to America.

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By Howard, October 6, 2007 at 1:23 am Link to this comment

Israel and the United States stand together in their fight against Islamo-fascist terrorism.  These shared values will bind Israel and the United Sates forever.

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By marisa, October 5, 2007 at 8:28 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Walt and Mersheimer’s book in my opinion has done something better than any right wing Israeli lobby group could for Israel and the middle east, they have allowed the opening of a discussion that is long overdue. This discussion will do anything but diminish Israels right to exist, it will also bring about a healthier political environment when Americans realize how Lobby groups (not just Jewish ones) are controlling the people who control their country.



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By PatrickHenry, October 5, 2007 at 6:28 pm Link to this comment

DeBeers is an good example of jewish monopoly

They kicked the bushmen off their land and purchased GE patents for flawless 5 carat diamonds which can be made for pennies.  Their people travel far and wide to control production, crafting (Tel Aviv) , distribution (Antwerp) and most retail (New York)for a bunch of cut and polished rocks.  Through the jewish owned and/or controlled media, diamonds are glamorized and the ones they can’t control are “blood” or “conflict” diamonds.

I’m happy to see that Russia now is supporting its own bourse in regard to diamonds, the Soviets primarily used DeBeers.

Another old wealth jewish family that escaped the holocaust and are promenient monopolists in banking are the Rothschild’s, you don’t see any of their names in Forbes.

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By msgmi, October 5, 2007 at 4:02 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Control?!!! How about the sinking of the USS Liberty, a shameful whitewash.

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By Joe Blonsky, October 5, 2007 at 1:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Israel Lobby = Christian Agenda

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By TMoodie, October 5, 2007 at 12:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


APS, I very much like your comment as well. Myronh makes the classic mistake of using anecdotal evidence to bolster his argument. He then uses the old guilt-by-association fallacy. To the degree that his post is motivated by hatred, it is despicable.

But what gets me is that you, without the slightest trace of irony or self consciousness, then proceed to do very same thing. You take Myronh’s comment as your anecdote to make the guilt-by-association argument that anyone who criticizes Israel is an anti-semite.

Is your comment any less illogical, hateful, or despicable than Myronh’s?

I can only hope that you were writing out of anger and didn’t think before you posted, and NOT that you hoped the readers of these pages were simply too stupid to notice…

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By ATL, October 5, 2007 at 11:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

AIPAC and the Israeli lobby are currently all powerful. Congress is terrified of them. They have however miscalculated somewhat. They have controlled the American media for generations with their constant invoking of the holocaust and used this to deflect all criticism. Now the dam has broken. Their dirty secret is out and anti semitism is rising steadily and not just in Europe. It is rising in the US and these trends are impossible to turn around . It will continue into the forseeable future and Israel and American Jews will bear the consequences of their un-democratic actions over the last 60 years.

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By WriterOnTheStorm, October 5, 2007 at 9:51 am Link to this comment

Three cheers to Truthdig for recognizing the value of this story and featuring it prominently on their site. It may turn out to be the most important American foreign policy story in some years, and for years to come.

The consequences of undue Israeli far-right influence in US gov’t policy goes to heart of the regrettable situation in the middle east. If you don’t think so, remember Bin Ladden himsel recently said that, if you want to know why we fight America, read Imperial Hubris. This book, by Michael Scheuer, also makes a strong case that our unqualified support of Israel is a major component in Muslim animosity toward America.

One of the key points Mearsheimer and Walt make, is that Israel has changed. It has moved to the right politically. And because of this radical shift, we MUST rethink our relationship to it’s policies.

I would quibble with Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s characterization of Israel as a democracy. Strictly technically speaking, this might be largely true, in the sense that Israel grants its citizenry a voice in their government. But Israel’s policy of excluding non jews from citizenry flies in face of democratic values as Americans traditionally view them. For this reason, one could argue that Israel is fundamentally theocratic in nature, as the translation of it’s very name (roughly: land of god) implies.

It would be comforting to exclude all those who do not share one’s political views from voting. But can we, as Americans, accept forcible removal from homes, expropriation of private property, false imprisonment, collective punishment for individual crimes, denial of basic goods and services, establishment of internment camps, assassination of opposition leaders etc etc, as a means to achieve this?

Further, is it truly in Israel’s own long term interests to continue in this manner? Are those who support Israel’s far right truly Israel’s friends?

It’s time for this debate in this country!

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By APS, October 5, 2007 at 5:54 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I very much like the first comment here by Myronh.  After all, Walt & Mearshceimer try desperately hard to pretend that this is all about American/Israeli policy and not about the anti-semitic biases that have been around since Jews were first demonized for killing Christ.  And then, here comes Myrohn, ranting about alleged injustices he suffered at the hands of Jews, and trying to convince us that their persecution since “biblical times” was justified; nothing really about American/Israeli politics, but it really puts the lie to W&M;‘s fervent denials and shows the true type of sentiments that underly their “work”.

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By Conservative Yankee, October 5, 2007 at 5:39 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Oh I’m shocked!  Israel has a lobby? and The US supports it?

Reminds me of “Casablanca”

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By Myronh, October 5, 2007 at 4:59 am Link to this comment

It is obvious the Israel Lobby has too much influence in US politics. Our citizens of Jewish heritage have way too much influence in US politics. I was raised by a first generation American-Norwegian who was very sympathetic to the plight of the Jews during and immediately after WWII. He couldn’t understand why many of our rural/farmer neighbors harbored such ill feelings for the Jews.

I have been to Israel twice in the past 12-years, both times on business working in the Industrial and Electrical Utility business. When I started my first trip I was 60-years old and always had a high regard for the Jews in Israel. I soon changed my opinion. Rather than help resolve a problem, I found that the Jewish Management people preferred to argue and shout amongst themselves. When I complained about the time being wasted in what I considered childish bickering, I was told by the Manager of a large steel fabrication plant that I should understand that this was the Jewish customs/heritage; I felt like telling him their actions explained why the Jews had been chased around the world for the past several thousand years. I had to work with one Engineer who tried every trick possible to get a Plant Manager fired because that Manager had been hired instead of the Engineer’s close friend. I saw the average Arab being treated like dirt; no respect shown by any of the Jews that I worked with. My most recent experience with a Jew came at a very nice vacation hotel in Duluth Minnesota. My Sister-in-law was just starting into the complimentary breakfast line when she was almost knocked over by a 60ish Jewish man who just pushed himself in front of her. He never apologized or excused himself in any manner. His air of arrogance and superiority was enough to make me lose my appetite. My personal experience has led me to believe I understand why the Jews have been hated and persecuted since biblical times. I have no intention of ever returning to Israel, or endorsing a US politician that backs blind-servitude to Israel.

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By Khalid, October 5, 2007 at 1:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Muslims never had a problem with the Jews until the American and British decided to send the jews back home, and rename the area based on the biblical name. Christians are expecting the arrival of Jesus, So they had to create Isreal for him to come back to.


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By paco21, October 5, 2007 at 12:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

A very clear assessment without hysterics or hyperbole.  Democratic voters will be, once again, surprised when nothing changes (regarding the mid-east) after the 2008 elections.  This book will help ease the pain of that surprise.

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