Taking On the Israel Lobby
Two professors from Harvard and the University of Chicago have touched off a firestorm with their controversial report, published last week in the London Review of Books, which argues that the United States’ pro-Israel lobby has damaged America by pushing it to act in ways contrary to its strategic interests.
Reactions to the report are burning up the blogosphere and, increasingly, traditional media outlets. On balance, the report has more high-profile critics than it does defenders, and the criticism encompasses both the researchers’ conclusions (for overlooking major historical facts) as well as their methodology (the report was based solely on previously published news reports and contained no new original research). Still, there are those, even in the Israeli community, who feel the report is an important contribution to the issue.
What follows is a sampling of those reactions:
Even if the article involved an attempt to blame the Jews for developments that are unconnected to them, and even if the comments are rooted in increasing opposition to the war in Iraq and an attempt to search for hidden motives for what the writers see as an American foreign policy failure, it would be irresponsible to ignore the article’s serious and disturbing message…. The fact that Israelis view the United States’ support for and tremendous assistance to Israel as natural causes excess complacence, and it fails to take into account currents in public opinion that run deep and are liable to completely change American policy.
[E]ven a cursory examination of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy reveals that it is riddled with errors of fact, logic and omission, has inaccurate citations, displays extremely poor judgement regarding sources, and, contrary to basic scholarly standards, ignores previous serious work on the subject. The bottom line: virtually every word and argument is, or ought to be, in “serious dispute.”
[It should] serve as a wake-up call, on both sides of the ocean…. Sadly, if predictably, response to the Harvard study has been characterized by a combination of the shrill and the smug. Avoidance of candid discussion might make good sense to the Lobby, but it is unlikely to either advance Israeli interests or the U.S.-Israel relationship.
These are two serious scholars and you need to expose what they have done as ignorant propaganda … the challenge is to find a single idea in the piece that does not already appear in hate websites. There is no scholarship here what so ever.
Over the course of four tours in the White House, I never once saw a decision in the Oval Office to tilt U.S. foreign policy in favor of Israel at the expense of America’s interest. Other than Richard Nixon–who occasionally said terrible things about Jews, despite the number on his team–I can’t remember any president even talking about an Israeli lobby. Perhaps I have forgotten, but I can remember plenty of conversations about the power of the American gun lobby, environmentalists, evangelicals, small-business owners, and teachers unions.
The essay is worthy of attention because of its timing, three years after the start of a war that is now being viewed as one of the greatest failures in U.S. history. It cannot be dismissed as anti-Semitic nonsense, nor should it be attributed to the conspiracy theories produced by Noam Chomsky and his disciples.
Mearsheimer and Walt belong to that vapid school that essentially wishes that the war with jihadism had never started. Their wish is father to the thought that there must be some way, short of a fight, to get around this confrontation. Wishfulness has led them to seriously mischaracterize the origins of the problem and to produce an article that is redeemed from complete dullness and mediocrity only by being slightly but unmistakably smelly.
Walt and Mearsheimer should not be criticized as anti-Semites, because that’s patently false. They should be criticized for doing piss-poor, monocausal social science.
To repeat, the main empirical problems with the article are that:
A) They fail to demonstrate that Israel is a net strategic liability;
B) They ascribe U.S. foreign policy behavior almost exclusively to the activities of the “Israel Lobby”; and
C) They omit consideration of contradictory policies and countervailing foreign policy lobbies.
Much as they try, this article will be unpersuasive in convincing Americans that our real national interest lies with cozying up with Saudi Arabia, and abandoning Israel. And much as they claim their approach is motivated only by the national interest, something uglier is at work here. When something walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and looks like a duck, usually it is a duck. Walt and Mearsheimer have decided to navigate the waters of the Israel-hating, Jew-hating conspiracy theorists. There is a good reason for this. They seem comfortable in these waters.
For the first time in memory, the power of the Lobby has been challenged by two prominent academics: try as the Lobby’s activists might, they won’t succeed in smearing either Mearsheimer or Walt as neo-Nazis, nor will they be able to dismiss their concerns as the ravings of fringe characters. As far as the Lobby is concerned, the jig is up – and all I can say is, it’s about time.
Walt and Mearsheimer’s method of analysis presumes Israel’s guilt. Every past or present Israeli transgression is evidence of its wickedness, whereas Arab ones, if they are acknowledged at all, are “understandable.” This approach paints a highly misleading picture. It is anti-Semitic in effect if not in intent.
[T]heir analysis is not grounded in any careful investigation of declassified U.S. documents from the Departments of State or Defense.