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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.

(Page 3)

What is the lobby’s impact on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East?

In Part II of the book, we show how the lobby has encouraged the United States to take Israel’s side in its long struggle with the Palestinians, and made it more difficult for the United States to help bring this conflict to a close. The lobby—and especially the neoconservatives within it—also played a key role in the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, although other factors (such as the September 11 attacks) were also critical in making the decision for war. The lobby has successfully pressed the Bush administration to adopt a more confrontational stance toward Syria and Iran, and encouraged it to back Israel to the hilt during the 2006 war in Lebanon. 

Why are these policies not in America’s national interest?

Backing Israel’s harsh treatment of the Palestinians has reinforced anti-Americanism around the world and almost certainly helped terrorists recruit new followers. U.S. and Israeli policy also led directly to Hamas’ growing popularity and its victory in the Palestinian elections, which made a difficult situation worse and a long-term peace settlement even more elusive. The Iraq war is a strategic disaster that has damaged America’s standing and strengthened Iran’s regional position, and now provides other terrorists with an ideal training ground. The Lebanon war enhanced Hezbollah’s position, weakened the pro-American Siniora government in Beirut, and further tarnished America’s image throughout the region. A hard-line approach to Iran helped bring President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power but failed to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and threatening Syria led Damascus to stop helping the United States against al Qaeda. None of these developments has been good for the United States.

What is the impact on Israel’s long-term interests?

U.S. aid has indirectly subsidized Israel’s attempt to colonize the Occupied Territories, a policy that many Israelis now see as a strategic and moral disaster. Yet the lobby has made it effectively impossible for Washington to convince the Israeli government to abandon this misguided policy. The lobby’s influence has also made it harder for the United States to persuade Israel to seize opportunities—such as a peace treaty with Syria, the 2002 Saudi peace initiative, or full and complete implementation of the Oslo agreements—that would have saved Israeli lives and shrunk the number of enemies it still faces. The invasion of Iraq—which Israel and the lobby both supported—turned out to be a major boon for Iran, the country many Israelis fear most. And by pressing Congress and the Bush administration to back Israel’s ill-conceived response to Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, the lobby unwittingly facilitated a policy that damaged Israel significantly.

Do you think the upcoming 2008 presidential campaign will provide a chance for the Israel lobby’s influence to be discussed?

Regrettably, no. The candidates will undoubtedly disagree on a wide array of domestic and foreign-policy issues: health care, education, taxes, the environment, what to do in Iraq, how to deal with a rising China, etc. But the one issue on which there will be virtually no debate is the question of whether the United States should continue to give Israel unconditional backing. Even though almost everyone recognizes that U.S Middle East policy is a disaster, no serious candidate is going to suggest anything other than steadfast and largely unconditional support for Israel. Indeed, all the major candidates (Clinton, Edwards, McCain, Obama, Romney, etc.) have already expressed their strong and uncritical backing for Israel, even though the campaign is just getting underway. Not only is this situation bad for the United States, it is also not good for Israel. The United States would be a better ally if its leaders could make support for Israel more conditional and if they could give their Israeli counterparts more candid and critical advice without facing a backlash from the Israel lobby.

What in your view should the U.S.-Israel relationship look like? What should the lobby’s role be?

The United States has three strategic interests in the Middle East: maintaining the flow of Persian Gulf oil to world markets, discouraging the spread of WMD, and reducing anti-American terrorism from this region. It is also committed to Israel’s survival, but on moral rather than strategic grounds. Instead of garrisoning the region with its own troops or attempting to transform the entire region, the United States should act as an “offshore balancer.” The United States does not need to control the Middle East itself; it merely needs to prevent any hostile power(s) from controlling the region. To do that, Washington should strive to maintain a balance of power in the region and intervene with its own forces only when local actors cannot uphold the balance themselves, as it did when it liberated Kuwait in 1991.

As part of this strategy, the United States would begin to treat Israel like a normal state, rather than as the 51st state. Israel is nearly 60 years old, increasingly prosperous, and now officially recognized by the vast majority of the world’s nations. The United States should deal with it as it does with other democracies: backing Israel when its policies are consistent with U.S. interests, but opposing it when they are not. And the United States should use its considerable leverage to fashion a durable two-state solution, as it is the only outcome that is consistent with U.S. values and with the long-term interests of both America and Israel.

Achieving this shift will require overcoming the opposition from the most powerful groups in the lobby, like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents. This goal can be achieved if there is a more open debate about the lobby’s role in shaping U.S. policy, more widespread awareness of Israel’s history and behavior, and a candid discussion within America’s pro-Israel community. Instead of trying to weaken or counter the lobby, one may hope that moderate pro-Israel organizations will become more influential, and that the leading organizations realize that the hard-line positions they have espoused in the past have been counterproductive. If these groups can bring their impressive influence to bear in more constructive ways, U.S. policy will be more in line with its national interests, and better for Israel too.


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By truthseeker9, October 7, 2007 at 8:30 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 6:41 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 8:11 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 5:58 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 1:33 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 9:58 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 9:13 am Link to this comment
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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 8:29 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 6:40 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 4:02 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 3:57 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 2:23 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 9:28 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 7:28 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 5:02 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 2:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Israel Lobby = Christian Agenda

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By TMoodie, October 5, 2007 at 1:56 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 12:55 pm 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 10:51 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 6:54 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 6:39 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 5:59 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 2:58 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 1:59 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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