Pro-Israel Lobby in US under Attack

May 15th, 2006 - by admin

United Press International & Ori Nir / The Forward – 2006-05-15 00:41:18

Pro-Israel Lobby in US under Attack
United Press International

WASHINGTON, March 20 (UPI) — Two of America’s top scholars have published a searing attack on the role and power of Washington’s pro-Israel lobby in a British journal, warning that its “decisive” role in fomenting the Iraq war is now being repeated with the threat of action against Iran. And they say that the Lobby is so strong that they doubt their article would be accepted in any US-based publication.

Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, author of “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics” and Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard’s Kenney School, and author of “Taming American Power: The Global Response to US Primacy,” are leading figures American in academic life.

They claim that the Israel lobby has distorted American policy and operates against American interests, that it has organized the funneling of more than $140 billion dollars to Israel and “has a stranglehold” on the US Congress, and its ability to raise large campaign funds gives its vast influence over Republican and Democratic administrations, while its role in Washington think tanks on the Middle East dominates the policy debate.

And they say that the Lobby works ruthlessly to suppress questioning of its role, to blacken its critics and to crush serious debate about the wisdom of supporting Israel in US public life.

“Silencing skeptics by organizing blacklists and boycotts — or by suggesting that critics are anti-Semites — violates the principle of open debate on which democracy depends,” Walt and Mearsheimer write.

“The inability of Congress to conduct a genuine debate on these important issues paralyses the entire process of democratic deliberation. Israel’s backers should be free to make their case and to challenge those who disagree with them, but efforts to stifle debate by intimidation must be roundly condemned,” they add, in the 12,800-word article published in the latest issue of The London Review of Books.

The article focuses strongly on the role of the “neo-conservatives” within the Bush administration in driving the decision to launch the war on Iraq.

“The main driving force behind the war was a small band of neo-conservatives, many with ties to the Likud,” Mearsheimer and Walt argue.” Given the neo-conservatives’ devotion to Israel, their obsession with Iraq, and their influence in the Bush administration, it isn’t surprising that many Americans suspected that the war was designed to further Israeli interests.”

“The neo-conservatives had been determined to topple Saddam even before Bush became president. They caused a stir early in 1998 by publishing two open letters to Clinton, calling for Saddam’s removal from power.

The signatories, many of whom had close ties to pro-Israel groups like JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) or WINEP (Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy), and who included Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, Bernard Lewis, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, had little trouble persuading the Clinton administration to adopt the general goal of ousting Saddam.

But they were unable to sell a war to achieve that objective. They were no more able to generate enthusiasm for invading Iraq in the early months of the Bush administration. They needed help to achieve their aim. That help arrived with 9/11. Specifically, the events of that day led Bush and Cheney to reverse course and become strong proponents of a preventive war,” Walt and Mearsheimer write.

The article, which is already stirring furious debate in US academic and intellectual circles, also explores the historical role of the Lobby.

“For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel,” the article says.

“The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?” Professors Walt and Mearsheimer add.

“The thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel — are essentially identical,” they add.

They argue that far from being a strategic asset to the United States, Israel “is becoming a strategic burden” and “does not behave like a loyal ally.” They also suggest that Israel is also now “a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states.

“Saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around,” they add.

“Support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question that many al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are motivated by Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. Unconditional support for Israel makes it easier for extremists to rally popular support and to attract recruits.”

They question the argument that Israel deserves support as the only democracy in the Middle East, claiming that “some aspects of Israeli democracy are at odds with core American values. Unlike the US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this, it is not surprising that its 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens.”

The most powerful force in the Lobby is AIPAC, the American-Israel Public affairs Committee, which Walt and Mearsheimer call “a de facto agent for a foreign government,” and which they say has now forged an important alliance with evangelical Christian groups.

The bulk of the article is a detailed analysis of the way they claim the Lobby managed to change the Bush administration’s policy from “halting Israel’s expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories and advocating the creation of a Palestinian state” and divert it to the war on Iraq instead. They write “Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical.”

“Thanks to the lobby, the United States has become the de facto enabler of Israeli expansion in the Occupied Territories, making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians,” and conclude that “Israel itself would probably be better off if the Lobby were less powerful and US policy more even-handed.”

Jewish Groups to Bush: Drop Iran-Israel Connection

This is acknowledged be a fallout from the Mearsheimer-Walt paper which correctly places most of the blame for the Iraq war on the Israel lobby. In fact, having the US confront Iran has been the main issue on the lobby’s agenda for the past year. In December AIPAC publicly criticized Resident Bush for being soft on Iran. Now, with the war on Iraq having been proved a disaster, the collars around the lobby’s white shirts are probably feeling a little tighter.

Groups to Bush:
Drop Iran-Israel Linkage

Ori Nir / The Forward

WASHINGTON (May 12, 2006) — Jewish community leaders have urged the White House to refrain from publicly pledging to defend Israel against possible Iranian hostilities, senior Jewish activists told the Forward.

Messages were passed to the White House through several channels, Jewish activists said. And it seems to have worked: Speaking before the annual conference of the American Jewish Committee in Washington last week — his most recent address before a Jewish audience — President Bush talked about America’s commitment to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and about his administration’s commitment to Israeli security, but he did not link the two, as he has several times in recent months.

“We are basically telling the president: We appreciate it, we welcome it. But, hey, because there is this debate on Iraq, where people are trying to put the blame on us, maybe you shouldn’t say it that often or that loud,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Within the Jewish community there is a real sense of ‘thank you but no thank you.'”

Communal leaders say that although they deeply appreciate the president’s repeated promises to come to Israel’s defense, public declarations to that effect do more harm than good. Such statements, they say, create an impression that the United States is considering a military option against Iran for the sake of Israel — and could lead to American Jews being blamed for any negative consequences of an American strike against Iran.

Jewish activists are concerned that “there would be [a scenario] just like with Iraq: the idea that somehow the Jewish community and the neoconservatives have dragged the United States into a conflict with Iran,” said Martin Raffel, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a policy coordinating organization that brings together 13 national Jewish agencies and 123 local Jewish communities. “And if things go badly and our people are killed, then who is to blame?”

In early February, during an interview with Reuters, the president was asked about America’s reaction to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s threats against Israel. Bush replied: “We will rise to Israel’s defense, if need be. So this kind of menacing talk is disturbing. It’s not only disturbing to the United States, it’s disturbing for other countries in the world, as well.” Asked whether he meant that the United States would militarily defend Israel, Bush said: “You bet we’ll defend Israel.”

The White House’s public liaison office has been ending its e-mails to the Jewish community with the following Bush quote from a March 20 appearance: “I made it clear. I’ll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally, Israel.” At the time, Bush was speaking about the threat posed by Iran.
Most Jewish communal leaders, despite their unease, say that the president talks about defending Israel from Iran out of a deep, personal commitment to the Jewish state.

“This comes from the heart,” Foxman said.

Some, however, say that other factors may be at work, specifically the president’s poor approval ratings, even among members of his political base. Two recent opinion polls show Bush’s support among conservatives dropping, including among evangelicals, who consistently cite their support of Israel as a key political priority.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the White House is playing politics here,” said an activist with a major Jewish group, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Jewish objections to the president’s rhetoric have increased in recent weeks, as the storm created by a recent paper by two academics criticizing the influence of the “Israel Lobby” continues to grow. The study, co-authored by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, has been attracting support in national media outlets with its thesis that Israel, with the help of powerful supporters in Washington, has all but hijacked America’s policy in the Middle East.

In one such article, Arnaud de Borchgrave, editor at large at United Press International, wrote April 24 that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the lobbying powerhouse known as Aipac, “has maneuvered to make Israel the third rail of American foreign policy.” In addition, more than 1,000 Americans, most of them university professors, have signed an online petition challenging the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella body of 52 groups that serves as Jewish community’s main united voice on Middle East issues, to “condemn” the “smearing” of Mearsheimer and Walt by several fellow scholars and pundits as “antisemites.”

The executive vice chairman of the Presidents Conference, Malcolm Hoenlein, said that none of the Jewish organizations in the umbrella group had accused the two scholars of being antisemitic. But Juan Cole, the University of Michigan professor who initiated the petition, pointed out that the Anti-Defamation League has. In a comment on the study posted on its Web site in March, the ADL expressed the hope that “mainstream individuals and institutions will see it for what it is ññ a classical conspiratorial anti-Semitic analysis invoking the canards of Jewish power and Jewish control.”

Even with the buzz surrounding Walt and Mearsheimer’s paper, not everyone agrees that the president’s statements are potentially damaging for the Jewish community. One senior official with a major Jewish group, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “So what do [Jewish communal leaders] want? They want the president of Iran to be threatening Israel with nuclear destruction and the United States will say nothing? If that happens they would be complaining: ‘Why aren’t you committing yourselves to protecting Israel?'”

Robert Freedman, a professor of political science at Baltimore Hebrew University and an expert on Iran, calls the concerns about the president’s statements “nonsense” and “foolish.” First, he said, the case for tough action against Iran is stronger than the case was for action against Iraq — the intelligence this time is solid, the Iranian president says he wants to destroy Israel and Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons poses a much greater danger to the region than Saddam Hussein’s regime ever did. Second, according to Freedman, the risk of an entanglement in Iran is much smaller. A military campaign against Iran would most likely not involve a ground invasion, but an air bombing campaign. Third, he said, Israel is not in as good a position to carry out such a bombing campaign as the United States is.

“So,” Freedman said, “if the president of the United States says, ‘I am going to support Israel and we will not let Israel be destroyed,’ that should be taken as a given and as a good given.”

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