By Ira Glunts

Considering the attacks that pro-Israel advocates mustered against the authors when their article, of which the book is an expanded version, appeared in The London Review of Books in March 2006, it is startling that the criticism has been so muted.

I write this on the day that The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, by Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt has appeared at bookstores. I am expecting my copy which I ordered online to arrive in a few days. Already, many articles about the book have appeared on the Internet. Most of the writers of these articles seem not to have read the book; most of the discussion of the authors’ views comes from their previous writing and public statements. Four main points Mearsheimer and Walt have previously made are: current US policy toward Israel does not serve US self-interest; US policy is determined by a small special interest group they call the Israel lobby; this group successfully suppresses debate on US/Israeli relations; and finally, the existence of the Israel lobby was a necessary condition for the US invasion of Iraq.

It was indeed surprising to learn from the Jerusalem Post, that “neither Israel nor the American Israel Public Affairs Committee [AIPAC] are putting together a proactive campaign to combat the new Mearsheimer-Walt book.” Usually the Post would vehemently deny the existence of such concerted campaigns, if not the very fact of a powerful lobby. Israel’s former US Ambassador Danny Ayalon proclaimed that he “supports a ‘do nothing’ policy regarding the book,” believing that it is best not to call attention to what may be perceived as pernicious to Israel. Yet, seemingly ignoring his own advice, he immediately proceeded to call the book “not serious” and “lacking in depth.” [1] This is actually very funny since in Israel Ayalon was oft-criticized during his tenure as US Ambassador as the “young kid who is in over his head,” and is known for exactly the same characteristics that he incorrectly and may I add ludicrously attributes to Mearsheimer and Walt’s book.

The lower volume and its measured nature of response to The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy is surprising. Considering the attacks that pro-Israel advocates mustered against the authors when their article, of which the book is an expanded version, appeared in The London Review of Books in March 2006, it is startling that the criticism has been so muted. Ayalon’s admonitions, until now at least, have been largely heeded. Even critics of the book have been more restrained. Gone for the most part are allusions to the authors’ alleged anti-Semitism and the work’s affinity with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I find no mention of the writings of white supremacist David Duke as being Mearsheimer and Walt’s source of information and inspiration. All these scurrilous charges were made loudly, repeatedly and publicly by various faculty at Harvard, op-ed writers and politicians, and trumpeted most noticeably and irresponsibly by the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe.

There is evidence that the pro-Israel mudslinging and aggressive attack strategy that was used in the original Mearsheimer/Walt affair and also after the publication of President Carter’s Israel book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is wearing thin. Spin doctors such as Danny Ayalon may realize that a tactical retreat from the “take no prisoners, show no restraint” smear campaigns associated with pro-Israel activists may be prudent at this time.

Apparently, the general public is much more willing to give criticism of Israel a fair hearing than members of the US House of Representatives, the American press or the faculty of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Certainly, the substantial payment Mearsheimer and Walt received from their publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux indicates that critical discussion of US/Israel relations is something that interests more and more people.

Speculation about why there is a loss of public sympathy for the pro-Israel camp has been addressed recently in the Jewish-American press. The reasons given for the present problems are many and varied. Firstly and some say most importantly, President Carter’s book did much to legitimize discussion about US/Israel relations. Then even if the war weary public does not believe the charge that pro-Israel neo-conservatives were responsible for the Iraq war, it is more difficult to ignore the pro-Israel chorus beating the war drums for invention against Iran. (Think Joseph Lieberman the Senator from Connecticut and Israel.) Even The Jewish Week admits that pro-Israel groups were the driving force in blocking legislation which would have forced the removal of the Congressional authorization given President Bush to invade Iran. [2] Additionally, maybe the Dershowitz, Horowitz, Krauthammer, Kristol, Pipes barrage of misinformation and vilification is wearing a bit thin from overuse. Maybe, those one-sided Congressional votes became a bit harder to explain. Surely the indictments and looming trial of two former AIPAC officials, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, for passing classified information to Israeli officials have not helped the public image of the pro-Israel camp.

One of the most contentious arguments made in the original “Israel Lobby” article was the authors’ claim that pressure from the lobby was a necessary condition for the US invasion of Iraq. It has been reported that in their new book, Mearsheimer and Walt aver that the lobby is now an important factor in steering the US toward a military confrontation with Iran. Yet unlike the massive reaction of denial and vituperation unleashed in response to the Iraq contention, Mearsheimer and Walt’s claim about Iran is being treated in accord with Danny Ayalon’s advice and not being widely contested.

In an article titled “Jewish Leaders Caught in Iran Bind,” which appeared on The Jewish Week web site, James Besser admits “a rising chorus of neoconservatives, many of them Jewish, [are] calling for preemptive war [against Iran]” may be causing public relations problems for the pro-Israel cause. [3] The article quotes Shoshana Bryen from the hawkish Jewish Affairs Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) as warning Jewish leaders who are publicly vocal about pushing for military action against Iran, that they are “not understanding the consequences, they are not making themselves look good; they open themselves up to a lot of criticism by being glib about going to war.” Apparently, the US public’s growing opposition to continued and expanded military commitments in the Middle East has not gone unnoticed.

Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, who was a typical active and overwrought critic of Walt and Mearsheimer when the “Israel Lobby” article first appeared, exemplifies the new restrained posture of many vocal pro-Israel activists. A review written by Ben Fishman, Ross’ spokesman, cautions against using charges of anti-Semitism which Ross himself employed in the first round of the Mearsheimer and Walt debate. Fishman goes on to opine somewhat elliptically and vaguely, “[a]lthough the book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy appears to contain much clearly documented research, its authors fail to capture the realities of policy formation….” It is interesting to note that Fishman’s review does contest the Mearsheimer and Walt claim that pro-Israel groups are making military confrontation with Iran more likely. This omission is ironic because Fishman’s boss, Dennis Ross, in attacking Mearsheimer and Walt in the first round repeatedly ridiculed the political scientist’s contention that the pressure from the Israel lobby was a necessary condition for going to war in Iraq, by making the claim that Iran, not Iraq was Israel’s real enemy!

It would, however, be a mistake to think that the real power of the pro-Israel lobby will decrease as a result of increased public awareness. As long as the pro-Israel lobby can mobilize and spend enough money on Congressional campaigns to determine their outcomes, US Senators and Congressmen will serve the lobby’s interests. Yet it is good to think that the next time you criticize the sorry current state of Israeli American relations you may be less liable to be called an anti-Semite or in my case a self-hating Jew. For this we can thank President Carter, Stephen Walt, John Mearsheimer and the power, however limited, of the truth.

-Ira Glunts first visited the Middle East in 1972, where he taught English and physical education in a small rural community in Israel. He was a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces in 1992. Mr. Glunts lives in Madison, New York where he writes and operates a used and rare book business.

Notes

[1] Keinon, Herb, “Israel, AIPAC Won’t Parry Walt-Mearsheimer Book,” Jerusalem Post, August 27, 2007. www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1188128150170&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
[2] Besser, James D, “Jewish Leaders Caught In Iran Bind,” The Jewish Week, August 31, 2007.
www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14460
[3] Ibid.

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