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Israel Lobby Report Finds Support

6.4.2006 12:09:14

A report on the influence of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington has led to accusations of anti-semitism by critics.

The report's authors say the lobby is so powerful it often convinces the US to put Israel's interests before its own.

PHillip Wilcox was the United States' consul general to Jerusalem between 1988 and 1991, giving him a close insight into US-Israeli relations.

Now the president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, in Washington, he told Nic Perpitch he thinks the report has merit.

Listen to the interview:

SOURCE: World View


More Debate Over Report On Israel's Influence In US

Supporters cite freedom of speech, need to discuss topic. Detractors say it promotes 'crass bigotry.'

By Tom Regan|

Coverage of the debate over the recent paper "THE ISRAEL LOBBY AND U.S. FOREIGN POLICY " by professors Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago that examines the influence of Israel and its supporters in Washington over US foreign policy has been, mostly, absent from US media. But the paper generated vigorous debate in the British and international media and on the Internet. Since the working paper's release, there have been several more attacks on it, but also more support for the professors' position on the need to look hard at the US-Israel relationship.

The Financial Times reports on Wednesday that Harvard Law School's Alan Dershowitz posted a 15,000-word response to the Walt-Mearsheimer paper on the Kennedy School of Government site, where the original report appeared. In his response to the paper, Professor Dershowitz denounced the work of the two professors as having an “illogical and conspiratorial approach.

“What would motivate two recognized academics to issue a compilation of previously made assertions that they must know will be used by overt anti-Semites... that will give an academic imprimatur to crass bigotry and... place all Jews in government and the media under suspicion of disloyalty to America?”

The publication of the response paper marked the first time in the Kennedy School’s history that it has allowed faculty from other schools at Harvard to answer back directly to the work of any of its professors.

Since the paper was published several other well-known authors have condemned or disagreed with it, including David Gergen in US News and World Report and Christopher Hitchens in The Washington Post reported on Sunday that while well-known Israel critic Noam Chomsky applauded the two professors for their courage in writing the paper, he felt they took a naive view of US foreign policy.

University of Maryland professor Shibley Telhami, a vocal critic of the war in Iraq, said the men were "incredibly bold" for trying to start the debate. But he also said "he does not believe Jewish neocons and their Christian supporters forced the United States into the war [as the Walt-Mearsheimer paper contends]," and that it was George W. Bush's decision alone.

The original working paper was also strongly defended over the weekend. The Guardian Observer reported on Sunday that the editor of the London Review of Books, which was the only nonacademic publication to carry a shorter version of the original 81-page report, defended her decision to carry the report, and also said the charges of anti-Semitism were ridiculous. Editor Mary-Kay Wilmers, who is Jewish, said that while the support of people like David Duke was "unsettling," it did not detract from the debate the authors were attempting to start.

'I don't want David Duke to endorse the article,' [she] told The Observer from France on Friday. 'It makes me feel uncomfortable. But when I re-read the piece, I did not see anything that I felt should not have been said. Maybe it is because I am Jewish, but I think I am very alert to anti-Semitism. And I do not think that criticising US foreign policy, or Israel's way of going about influencing it, is anti-Semitic. I just don't see it.'

Ms. Wilmers also said that those making the charges of anti-Semitism may actually encourage it in the long run.

'It serves a purpose. No one wants to be thought of as anti-Semitic because it is thought of as worse than anything else, although it is not worse being anti-Semitic than being anti-black or Islamophobic. Really, one of the most upsetting things is the way it can contribute to anti-Semitism in the long run just by making so many constant appeals and preventing useful criticism of Israel. No one can say Israel's posture does not contribute to anti-Semitism, yet charges of anti-Semitism are used to justify that policy.'

The Financial Times also carried two pieces over the past week in support of the Walt-Mearsheimer paper. On Sunday, the paper editorialized that in the US, "Reflexes that ordinarily spring automatically to the defence of open debate and free enquiry shut down – at least among much of America’s political elite - once the subject turns to Israel, and above all the pro-Israel lobby’s role in shaping US foreign policy." The Times also said that the Walt-Mearsheimer paper is not truly being considered, but "swept aside by a wave of condemnation."

Honest and informed debate is the foundation of freedom and progress and a precondition of sound policy. It is, to say the least, odd when dissent in such a central area of policy is forced offshore or reduced to the status of samizdat. Some of Israel’s loudest cheerleaders, moreover, are often divorced by their extremism from the mainstream of American Jewish opinion and the vigorous debate that takes place inside Israel. As Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, remarked in Haaretz about the Walt-Mearsheimer controversy: “It would in fact serve Israel if the open and critical debate that takes place over here were exported over there [the US].”Nothing, moreover, is more damaging to US interests than the inability to have a proper debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, how Washington should use its influence to resolve it, and how best America can advance freedom and stability in the region as a whole. Bullying Americans into a consensus on Israeli policy is bad for Israel and makes it impossible for America to articulate its own national interest.

The other piece on the controversy the Financial Times carried was from Mark Marzower, professor of history at Columbia University, who wrote Monday in an opinion piece called, "When vigilance undermines freedom of speech," that what is striking about the whole debate is not so much the content of their report but how "discussing the US-Israel special relationship still remains taboo in the US media mainstream." Prof. Marzower writes that is seems that it is all but impossible "to have a sensible public discussion in the US today about the country’s relationship with Israel."

If fear of being tarred as an anti-Semite – and there is no more toxic charge in American politics – blocks the way, what anti-Semitism actually implies in today’s America is increasingly unclear. Over the past century, secularization, wealth and prestige have bolstered the place of American Jewry in national life. Polls suggest that seriously anti-Semitic views are now found only among a small minority of Americans. Yet, fear of anti-Semitism has not vanished. Where once it was suspected – and often found – in the workplace and the domestic political arena, it is now expressed in terms of sensitivity towards criticism of the Jewish state. Often ambivalent about the methods of lobby groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), American Jews generally share the committee’s ultimate goal of maintaining a high level of US support for Israel. As Earl Raab, the veteran commentator, has noted, there is a sense that if America abandons Israel, it also may be in some way abandoning American Jewry itself. In the process, the line between anti-semitism and criticism of Israeli policy has become blurred. Defending what Bernard Rosenblatt, the distinguished interwar Zionist, predicted would be “the Little America in the East” is seen by many as synonymous with defending Jews as a whole.

Marzower also wrote that there is no reason that the relationship between Israel and the US should not be subject to the same kind of cost-benefit analysis as any other any other relationship the US has with another country.

In perhaps the most balanced view of the debate about the working paper and the response to it, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, an English journalist and author whose books include "The Controversy of Zion" which won a National Jewish Book Award, writes that "the American reaction is puzzling to Europeans," and he says is another example of the great transatlantic rift.

On the eastern side of the Atlantic, it has long been recognized that there is an intimate connection between the United States and Israel, in which Aipac clearly plays a major role. The degree to which this has affected American policy, up to and including the war in Iraq, has been discussed calmly by sane British commentators – though also, to be sure, played up maliciously by bigots.

In America, by contrast, there has been an unmistakable tendency to shy away from this subject. As Michael Kinsley wrote in Slate in the autumn of 2002, both supporters and opponents of the coming war did not want to invoke classic anti-Semitic images of cabals, arcane conspiracies, and malign courtiers whispering into the prince's ear. Such motives are honorable, and yet there is always a danger when something is wilfully ignored. As Kinsley said, the connection between the invasion of Iraq and Israeli interests had become "the proverbial elephant in the room. Everybody sees it, no one mentions it." Until now, at any rate.

Mr. Wheatcroft also wrote that no one needed Walt and Mearsheimer to point out the work being done by Israeli lobbyists because they are happy to point it out themselves, especially on the website of Aipac, which "proudly quotes Bill Clinton's description of Aipac as 'stunningly effective' and John McCain's praise of its 'instrumental and absolutely vital role' in protecting the interest of Israel. Perhaps Mearsheimer and Walt would have done better to confine themselves to that website as their source." And ultimately, he says, the key question in the entire debate is, Has the relationship been a success on its own terms?
When Mearsheimer and Walt ask if there are really strategic imperatives on the American side for ''unwavering support" of Israel, that is at least worth discussing as a hypothesis. But it's scarcely more fascinating than the question of whether such support has been to the long-term benefit of Israel.

Bolstered by American aid, successive Israeli governments tried to strengthen their settlements on the West Bank and in Gaza, the policy [New York Times columnist Tom] Friedman calls insane. Ariel Sharon at last gave up the dream of a Greater Israel, including his promise to remain in Gaza ''for Zionist reasons." And now Ehud Olmert, when he has formed his new government, will withdraw from most of the West Bank. Might not much blood and treasure have been saved if Israel had been obliged to make those choices years ago?


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