By Terry Walz
John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, the Chicago/Harvard University professors whose article last year on the Israel Lobby caused an uproar amongst hardline supporters of Israel have started a national book tour in connection with the publication of their book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26.00), now available.
They made two appearances in Washington, DC on September 5, addressing packed audiences at the Cosmos Club and at the city's famous bookstore, Politics and Prose. The response was overwhelmingly positive.
At the Cosmos Club event, which I attended, the authors addressed two questions: Is there an Israel Lobby? (Walt) and Is the Lobby's impact positive or negative? (Mearsheimer). The object was to bear out the thesis of their book, that such a lobby does exist (which had been preposterously denied by Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross in a debate a year earlier at Cooper Union in New York City), and that it has worked extremely well, often to the detriment of both American and Israeli interests.
Walt told the audience how the initial reaction to the article in the London Review of Books in March 2006 had prompted a vociferous response, one that was often laced with charges of anti-Semitism, none of which was true, and "sloppy scholarship", a charge aimed at demeaning and dismissing the views of the authors. But the response by interested people has been significant. According to the webmaster at the Harvard University website where the longer version of the article was posted, it had been downloaded 265,000 times as of July 2006.
The lobby's successes in congressional hallways have come by wielding a heavy axe, often forcing nervous congressional representative to realize that criticism aimed at Israel would likely result in electoral defeat at the polls. The lobby's ability to steer money to their electoral opponents was among the tools the Lobby used without hesitation. In this, it was perhaps no different than other lobbies, which as Walt averred, were "as American as apple pie."
And yet, the Israel Lobby's agenda, Mearsheimer stated, has led the United States into an alliance with Israel that in the long run undermines both the strategic interests of the United States in the Middle East as Israel's own interests within that region. It has also led the American government to hold positions that are not only opposed by the majority of Americans polled - for example, on Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank, on the continued occupation of the West Bank - but also by most peoples in the world. In a post-colonial world, it has tolerated Israel to construct colonies in the West Bank. There is no doubt, Mearsheimer said, that the treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis was among the reasons that led to the 9/11 attacks, and to continues attacks on American interests. There is also no doubt that, whatever leaders of the Israeli government may have thought, the Lobby solidly backed neoconservative efforts to promote the war on Iraq, which has produced nothing but continued death, destruction, and turmoil in the Middle East, to neither American nor Israeli strategic interests in the area, nor the welfare of the people in the region.
Whatever else happens with the book, the authors concluded, their hope is that it would open up the debate on Israel and the American policy in the Middle East, and move the United States to adopt more sensible policies there.
The 355 page book is backed up by an additional 108 pages of footnotes.
The a list of Mearsheimer and Walt's upcoming appearances in California (San Francisco, Los Angeles) and elsewhere during September and October, see their website