Fact Sheets: Harvard's Pseudo-Scholarship on Israel *
(Updated November 2006)
Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government has published* a paper, “The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” by Stephen Walt, the academic dean of the school, and John Mearsheimer a University of Chicago political scientist, that is one of the most flawed analyses to be produced in recent years.
- Relations With Israel
- Apologists for Terrorism
- Questioning Israeli Values
- Distorting the Peace Process
- Rewriting History
- It's The Lobby's Fault
- Conspiracy Theories
- Blaming Israel for Palestinian Failures
- Anger Over Iraq
- Defending Syria
- Minimizing the Iranian Threat
Since the publication of their paper, Walt and Mearsheimer have become celebrities and have given up the pretense of scholarship. Appearing before the fervently anti-Israel Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in August 2006, Mearsheimer and Walt rehashed the specious arguments from their article that are deconstructed below and presented new unfounded accusations, most notably that “Israel had been planning to strike at Hizballah for months before the July 12 kidnaping of its soldiers” and that Israel briefed the Bush Administration on their intentions and received an enthusiastic endorsement for their plans for war in Israel. No credible Middle East analyst has supported this idea and, when asked if he had any “hard evidence” for this accusation. Mearsheimer could not produce a single example.
Throughout their appearance, the professors demonstrated their ignorance of Middle East affairs and Washington politics. For example, Mearsheimer spoke about the influence the groups have over “John Boner, the House majority leader,” and Rep. Chris “Von” Hollen (D-Md.). As Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank noted (August 29, 2006), it should be John Boehner (pronounced “BAY-ner”) and Van Hollen. “Such gaffes would be trivial,” Milbank observed, “ if Mearsheimer weren’t claiming to be an authority on Washington and how power is wielded here.”
Milibank also pointed out that Mearsheimer selectively reported data about public opinion, citing a USA Today/Gallup poll showing that 38 percent of Americans disapproved of Israel’s military campaign while ignoring the same poll’s finding that 50 percent approved, and that “Americans blamed Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and Lebanon far more than Israel for the conflict.”
Milibank also noted how they blurred “the line between academics and activism” by accepting a “Fight the Israel Lobby” button. Given this context, it is much easier to understand the motivations behind their 41-page “working paper” on the lobby. The document has an astounding 40 additional pages of footnotes, many from post-Zionists and anti-Israel sources, in an apparent effort to give this diatribe against Israel and its supporters the veneer of respectability. The distortions and outright inaccuracies in the paper demonstrate, however, that documentation does not make a paper scholarly.
Relations With Israel
In the second paragraph, the authors make the astounding statement that since 1967 “the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy has been its relationship with Israel” (p. 1). Relations with Israel have since 1948 been only one of five interests the United States has in the region. The others are oil, economics, stability, and security. From 1967 to 1989, the Cold War shaped U.S. policy far more than concern with Israel and, since 1989, a variety of other interests have occupied policymakers attention, including two wars in Iraq and terrorism. Moreover, policy toward Israel is driven largely by the desire to increase regional stability and security to insure the supply of oil and maximize trade with the Arabs.
The authors devote several paragraphs (p. 2) to discussing U.S. aid to Israel. They bemoan the amount given to Israel, but fail to explain the context in which it is given, notably the fact that Israel must compete with enemies who have virtually unlimited budgets to purchase arms. They fail to note that Israel agreed to reduce its economic aid and it will soon not receive any. They suggest that there is no accountability for military aid, but the truth is that nearly three-fourths of the money is spent in the United States, generating jobs and profits for more than 1,000 companies in 46 states.
The paper says (p. 2) that Israel received money to develop the Lavi aircraft, which “the Pentagon did not want or need.” The Lavi was not meant for U.S. use. It also claims that Israel receives access to intelligence denied to its NATO allies. This is improbable and neither of the sources listed have access to intelligence. They also are outdated. The same paragraph falsely states that the U.S. “turned a blind eye towards Israel’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.” Even the most cursory research into this subject would reveal numerous documents showing U.S. concern and an effort to discourage Israel’s development of these weapons.
It is correct that the United States has vetoed a number of UN resolutions (p. 3), but the authors do not show that this is in any way conflicts with the national interest. On the contrary, blocking one-sided resolutions was consistent with the American effort to serve as an honest broker. The volume of vetoes is simply a function of the disproportionate number of resolutions condemning Israel. Still, what the authors fail to note is the number of times the United States has not vetoed resolutions and gone along with UN resolutions criticizing Israel. The paper makes no reference to the fact that Israel is consistently the top supporter of the United States at the UN in contrast to the Arab states, which oppose U.S. positions 80% of the time.
The statement that “the United States also comes to Israel’s rescue in wartime and takes its side when negotiating peace” (p. 3) is simply false. The United States imposed arms embargoes against Israel in 1948 and 1967, opposed its involvement in the 1956 Sinai campaign, suspended arms shipments and frequently criticized it’s actions during the Lebanon War, and resupplied Israel in 1973 only when it appeared Israel might be defeated by the Soviet-supplied Arab states that had launched a surprise attack. Contrary to the authors’ claims, the United States played no role in the negotiations that preceded the Oslo Accords and frequently took the Palestinians’ side in the subsequent negotiations, forcing Israel, for example, to withdraw from additional territory in 1998 despite the failure of the Palestinian Authority to meet its obligations under the agreements.
Even when the authors get it right, they find a way to criticize U.S. support for Israel. While correctly noting Israel’s value as a strategic asset during the Cold War (p. 4), they claim it complicated relations with the Arab world and use the Arab oil embargo as evidence. But why blame U.S. policy and Israel for an action the Arabs took for their own economic and political interests? And what would have been the cost to American interests if the United States had allowed the Soviet Union to dictate the outcome of the 1973 War? The authors have no trouble identifying the U.S. and Israeli influence on events, but pretend the rest of the world has nothing to do with them. More significantly, an objective analysis of U.S. Middle East policy would show that in direct opposition to the authors’ view, U.S.-Arab relations have improved as U.S. ties with Israel have grown progressively stronger.
They question Israel’s strategic value because it did not prevent the Iranian revolution (p. 4). On what do they base the idea that the United States relied on Israel to prevent the fall of the Shah or to defend Gulf oil supplies? This was never part of any U.S. security formula.
The authors go further and claim Israel has actually become a “strategic burden” (p. 4) because the U.S. didn’t use Israeli bases during the first Gulf War and because it diverted resources (Patriot missiles) to defend Israel. Actually, the U.S. did make use of some Israeli facilities and materials during the war. Moreover, the decision to keep Israel out of the war was not a reflection of Israel’s inability to contribute, it was a decision President Bush made based on what many believed was an unjustified fear the coalition against Iraq would break up. The shipment of Patriots to Israel did nothing to hurt the capability of U.S. forces and ultimately did Israel more harm than good as the missiles were found to be ineffective.
Apologists for Terrorism
A particularly outrageous statement is that the terrorist threat “implies that Washington should give Israel a free hand in dealing with the Palestinians and not press Israel to make concessions until all Palestinian terrorists are imprisoned or dead” (p. 4). It has never been the goal of Israel or the U.S. to kill or imprison all terrorists. It is actually the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, according to the agreements it signed, to arrest all the terrorists and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure. Israel has repeatedly said that if the Palestinians fulfilled their Oslo and road map commitments, it would have no need to pursue terrorists. The authors, however, are not interested at all in Palestinian obligations. Up until it became clear that neither Yasser Arafat nor his successor Mahmoud Abbas had the will and ability to negotiate peace, the United States consistently pressured Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.
The authors repeat the canard that terror is a response to Israel’s “prolonged campaign to colonize the West Bank and Gaza Strip” (p. 5). How then can they explain the long history of terror that preceded Israel’s capture of those territories? How is it colonization for Israelis to move to areas such as Hebron and Gush Etzion where they lived before being expelled by the Arabs? Why don’t Israelis have the right to live in areas that are in dispute. Of course, Israel has now disengaged from Gaza and the terror has continued unabated, but the authors simply ignored that fact.
The paper says that the United States is not threatened by groups that terrorize Israel, but more Americans were killed by Hizballah than by any other terrorist group except those murdered on 9/11 by Al-Qaeda. Excluding 9/11, approximately 700 Americans have been killed and 1,600 wounded in terrorist attacks since 1970, many by Palestinian terror organizations.
Another false assertion is that “many Al-Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden, are motivated by Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians” (p. 5). The fact is bin Laden's antipathy toward the United States has never been related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. As Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak noted, “Osama bin Laden made his explosions and then started talking about the Palestinians. He never talked about them before” (Newsweek, October 29, 2001).
The authors insist the United States wouldn’t be worried about Iran, Iraq or Syria if not for Israel (p. 5). Iran’s antipathy toward the United States, however, dates back decades and has nothing to do with Israel. Iran is important because of its size, strategic location, and petroleum reserves and would be a focus of our attention if Israel did not exist. As discussed below, U.S. concerns with Iraq and Syria are also based on interests separate from Israel. The authors argue that it’s not a “strategic disaster” if any or all of these states acquired nuclear weapons. This is a view at odds with virtually every strategist in the United States and most Western nations. The fact that Britain, Germany and France have led the campaign to prevent Iran from developing the bomb shows how out of touch the authors are with those knowledgeable about the region.
The suggestion that Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons is the reason the other countries want them (p. 6) is also contrary to the facts. Iran, for example, has nothing to fear from Israel and first wanted nuclear weapons to offset the bomb program of their rivals in Iraq. They now are committed to this path for nationalistic reasons that have nothing to do with Israel. If Israel gave up its arsenal tomorrow, there is no reason to believe the Muslim nations would not accelerate their efforts to get their own nuclear arms in the hope that they would then have a qualitative advantage over Israel.
To try to make the point that Israel is the cause of problems between the Islamic world and the west, the authors cite a letter from 52 former British diplomats to Tony Blair (p. 6). Setting aside the historic Arabist orientation of the British Foreign Office, the proposition ignores the range of more fundamental causes of conflict such as the Arab/Islamic nations’ rejection of Western values. Blair, himself, does not believe the diplomats and has adopted a pro-Israel policy during his term. In fact, the British policy is one more example of the fallacy of the authors’ thesis that an all powerful pro-Israel lobby is responsible for all of the ills of the Middle East because the United Kingdom has no corrollary to the U.S. lobby.
The paper questions Israel’s strategic value because the authors say Israel is not a loyal ally (p. 6). Why? Because they say Israel doesn’t do everything the United States wants. Well, as a sovereign nation, Israel sometimes has to determine its own national priorities and these sometimes create conflicts with the United States. The authors might have noted that U.S. divisions are more profound with many NATO allies, such as France, but that does not lead them to question France’s value. Moreover, the American public does see Israel as a reliable ally, ranking it after Great Britain, Canada and Australia and ahead of Japan, France, Germany and other allies.
The paper asserts (p. 7) that Israel is “portrayed as weak and besieged,” but that has not been the case for decades. Israel is not weak, it is strong, but it is still facing threats from terrorists and countries that consider themselves at war with Israel (Iran, Syria, Libya, Saudi Arabia). The authors are again wrong when they suggest that Israel was Goliath rather than David in the 1948, 1956 and 1967 wars. In 1948, Israel was invaded by all its neighbors and its own leaders believed their chances of victory were only 50-50. In 1956, Israel was victorious in part because of support from France and Great Britain. In 1967, Israel’s quick victory came as a shock because it was perceived as David. The authors also conveniently neglect to mention the 1973 War in which Israel was nearly defeated.
Questioning Israeli Values
An outright calumny is the author’s assertion that Israel does not share America’s liberal democratic values (p. 8). They assert that citizenship is based on blood kinship and insist this is why Israeli Arabs are treated as second-class citizens. If blood kinship was the sole basis of citizenship, one-fifth of the population could not be citizens. In fact, however, all Israelis, Jew and non-Jew, are equal under the law. Israel is not a perfect society, and discrimination still exists, but that is the case in the United States as well. Americans have had nearly 230 years to address the inequalities so it should not be surprising that Israel has not resolved all of its social ills in its first 60 years of independence. Moreover, Israel stands out in the Middle East as the only country that shares American values.
The authors make the absurd claim that Israel’s democratic status “is undermined by its refusal to grant the Palestinians a viable state of their own” (p. 8). Israel’s democracy is independent of the Palestinians. The fact that the Palestinians don’t have a state can be traced back decades to the first peace plans that they rejected because they allowed for the existence of a Jewish state. Palestinians who are citizens of the state enjoy full rights, but Israel has no obligation to permit those living in the territories those same guarantees. Furthermore, roughly 98 percent of the Palestinians in the territories are denied fundamental liberal values by the Palestinian Authority that is responsible for their well-being. The authors say Israel is “colonizing lands on which Palestinians have long dwelt” without presenting any evidence of any such connection to those lands or acknowledging the longstanding Jewish presence and claims to parts of the West Bank.
Distorting the Peace Process
Another falsehood is the claim that the Zionists were not interested in the partition of Palestine (p. 9). They take a Ben-Gurion quotation cited from post-Zionist authors to suggest that it was the Jews rather than the Palestinians who had a policy of stages whereby they expected to expand beyond the partition lines to take over all of Palestine. The facts show otherwise. It was the Zionists who reluctantly accepted chopping up their homeland into the kind of cantons the Palestinians now complain about in the hope that this would bring peace. While the Jews accepted partition and, today, again offer the Palestinians a partition plan, it is the Arabs who have repeatedly rejected any proposal that would not lead to the destruction of Israel.
The authors also resurrect the discredited arguments that Israel had a policy to transfer the Palestinians and drove 700,000 Palestinians into exile (p. 9). If they had read the source of these claims more closely, they would have seen that his research did not support this conclusion and that, contrary to the authors’ claims, he did provide evidence that many Arabs fled because their leaders told them to do so.
The paper falsely reports (p. 10) that “Israeli leaders have repeatedly sought to deny the Palestinians’ national ambitions.” On the contrary, Israel has since 1967 expressed a willingness to trade land for security. The Palestinians, however, have rejected each overture and responded to concessions of land with greater terror. Had the Palestinians accepted the autonomy plan offered by Menachem Begin as part of the Israel-Egyptian peace treaty, they would today have a state. If they had fulfilled the terms of the Oslo agreements, they would today have a state. If they had accepted the Barak offer at Camp David, they would today have a state, and if they had fulfilled the terms of the road map for peace, they would today have a state.
The authors’ repetition of the canard that Barak offered the Palestinians a set of “Bantustans” also exposes their limited research (p. 10). Clearly, they failed to read the book by Clinton’s chief negotiator, Dennis Ross, or the many articles that documented the generosity of the Israeli offer and Yasser Arafat’s unwillingness to make peace under any conditions.
The myopia of the authors is apparent in the claim that “Israel’s conduct is not morally distinguishable from the actions of its opponents” (p. 10). Perhaps they can provide a list of all the Israeli suicide bombers who have blown up Palestinian schools, buses and cafes. The evidence for the authors’ claim is that Zionists in the 1940s engaged in terror tactics. It is true that some Jews did employ terrorism at that time and they were condemned for doing so by the Zionist establishment. This is in contrast to the Palestinian Authority which is the sponsor of the terror against Jews today.
The paper accuses the Zionists of “ethnic cleansing,” an outrageous claim for which there is no evidence (p. 11). To the contrary, it is easily refuted by the fact that 150,000 Palestinians were allowed to remain as citizens of Israel and that the Zionists always anticipated a significant Arab population within the state’s borders.
Once again citing post-Zionist histories, the authors claim that between 1949 and 1956 “Israeli security forces killed between 2,700 and 5,000 Arab infiltrators, the overwhelming majority of them unarmed” (p. 11). That’s a pretty wide margin of error and fails to put into context the terror war being waged by the Arabs at that time. The suggestion that large numbers were unarmed raises the question of why they were infiltrating. Here’s part of what the authors left out: During roughly the same period, Israel reported to the UN 1,843 cases of armed robbery and theft, 1,339 cases of armed clashes with Egyptian armed forces, 435 cases of incursion from Egyptian controlled territory, and 172 cases of sabotage perpetrated by Egyptian military units and fedayeen in Israel. These incidents killed 101 Israelis and left 364 wounded. In 1956 alone, 28 Israelis were killed and 127 wounded (Security Council Official Records, S/3706, October 30, 1956, p. 14).
The authors accuse the IDF of excessive violence in the Palestinian War because the ratio of Palestinians killed is higher than that of the Israelis (p. 11). They are now equating Israelis who are killed riding on buses and sipping coffee at cafes with Arabs killed by troops trying to prevent these atrocities. Would the authors be happier if the figures were even? Isn’t it enough for them that nearly 2,000 Israelis have been murdered? The disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties is primarily a result of the number of Palestinians involved in violence and is the inevitable result poorly-trained irregulars attacking a well-trained regular army. The unfortunate death of noncombatants is largely due to the habit of Palestinian gunmen and terrorists using civilians as shields. Moreover, Israeli troops do not target innocent Palestinians, but Palestinian terrorists do target Israeli civilians.
On page 12 we learn the authors are apologists for terror. They say the Palestinians’ “behavior is not surprising” because they “believe they have no other way to force Israeli concessions.” Terrorism is not Israel’s fault. It is not the result of “occupation.” And it certainly is not the only response available to the Palestinians’ discontentment. Palestinians have an option for improving their situation, it is called negotiations. And that is not the only option either. The Palestinians could also choose the nonviolent path taken by Martin Luther King or Gandhi. They have chosen, however, to pursue a war of terror instead of a process for peace.
It's The Lobby's Fault
The thesis of the paper is not really addressed until page 13 when the authors start to make the case that it is the “Israel Lobby” that is responsible for distorting U.S. policy. They start with a distortion of their own by suggesting that Israel is not a salient issue for Jews by citing a survey showing that 36% of American Jews are not emotionally attached to Israel. The American Jewish Committee, however, has asked a similar question for several years and found in 2005 that 77% of American Jews feel fairly or very close to Israel.
Throughout the discussion of the lobby, the authors repeatedly refer to Israel’s “expansionist policies” (pp. 13-14, 25, 40) without presenting any evidence for the use of this phrase. On the contrary, Israel is the only “expansionist” power in history that has repeatedly given up territory (after the 1956 war, signing the treaty with Egypt and the Oslo agreements). Most recently, Israel evacuated the entire Gaza Strip and a part of Samaria. In addition, Israeli leaders have repeatedly offered to withdraw from as much as 97% of the territories in exchange for peace with the Palestinians, a fact never mentioned in the paper.
In describing the lobby, the paper mentions only Jews, evangelical Christians, and gentile neoconservatives as supporters of Israel (p. 14). In highlighting the evangelicals and neocons, the authors suggest a narrow base of support for Israel and pick out two groups that are particularly controversial among liberals and the more general public. What the authors fail to do is mention the broad-based support for Israel reflected by the most recent Gallup poll (February 2006), which found that sympathy for Israel was 59 percent compared to only 15 percent for the Palestinians. One remarkable aspect of the lobby they ignore is that its members cross boundaries of race, gender, age and ideology.
For a paper purporting to be based on scholarship, it is particularly weak in its discussion of the well-researched area of interest group behavior (p. 15). The authors assert that “pro-Arab interest groups are weak to non-existent,” but fail to define or examine the Arab lobby. It is true that pro-Arab organizations are weak, but the lobby also includes the petrodiplomatic complex, which is far more influential.
A major theme of the section on the lobby is that the pro-Israel community is determined to stifle debate and negative news about Israel (p. 15). It is true that the lobby, like other interest groups, wants to make its case, but to suggest that Middle East politics is not the subject of heated debate in Congress, the Executive Branch and the media is simply to put one’s head in the sand. No shortage of information is available on all sides of the issues, and much of the critical analysis comes from Israel, where the raucous democracy and freewheeling press routinely publicize the good, the bad and the ugly of Israeli society and politics.
The authors describe the effectiveness of the Israeli lobby, but make a specious logical jump to the conclusion that AIPAC, the pro-Israel community’s principal representatives to public officials, is a “de facto agent for a foreign government” (p. 17). This has been a claim of Israel’s detractors for some time and part of their campaign to place lobbying restrictions on the organization, but AIPAC does not represent the government of Israel and its employees are not paid by Israel. AIPAC represents the views of the majority of Americans who believe a strong U.S.-Israel relationship is in America’s interest. AIPAC’s policies often coincide with Israeli positions, but not always, and the organization has studiously avoided taking positions on some of the more contentious issues of Israeli politics, such as settlements.
If the authors had read the literature, in particular, The Water's Edge And Beyond, they would have seen the evidence does not support their claim that “the Lobby also has significant leverage over the Executive branch” (p. 17). The lobby’s influence is primarily over economic issues decided in the Legislature. It has very little influence on the Executive and virtually none on issues of war and peace, regardless of where they are decided.
The paper says that the lobby makes support for Israel a litmus test for administration appointments. As evidence, the authors contend that Jimmy Carter did not appoint George Ball Secretary of State because of the lobby’s opposition (p. 18). This is unlikely, especially since other Carter appointees (such as National Security Adviser Brzezinski) were not much more to the lobby’s liking. Moreover, George H.W. Bush did not hesitate to appoint James Baker as Secretary of State even though he was known for his hostile views. The authors also completely ignore the historically Arabist-dominated State Department, which is where most Middle East policies are discussed and determined.
To bolster the conspiracy theory that Jews are running U.S. Middle East policy, the authors single out pro-Israel individuals – Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross, and Aaron Miller (they somehow forgot Orthodox Jew Daniel Kurtzer) – who served in the Clinton Administration (p. 18). They don’t present any evidence, however, that these individuals shifted policy in a more pro-Israel direction. On the contrary, if you look at the views of Ross and Indyk before they joined the administration, it is possible to make the exact opposite case, that the State Department influenced them (or they simply did their job of representing the President’s policy) and they became less supportive of pro-Israel policies they had previously advocated.
No one in the Israeli lobby would agree with the authors’ proposition that its “perspective on Israel is widely reflected in the mainstream media” (p. 19). One of the few things virtually all American Jews agree on is that the media is biased against Israel. They do acknowledge that the New York Times is not part of this list, but they cite Max Frankel’s memoirs to suggest that the Times still has a pro-Israel bias. For an academic paper, this is not a very serious analysis of the media and ignores the impact of frequently critical outlets such as the Washington Post, CNN and NPR as well as the wire services. The assertion that the “American media contains few criticisms of Israeli policy” (p. 20) makes one wonder if the authors actually venture outside their ivory tower to watch television, listen to the radio or read newspapers.
The authors are clearly bothered by the lobby’s interest in holding academics accountable for their work (p. 21). They claim it is a “transparent attempt to blacklist and intimidate scholars” but it is nothing of the sort. This is the charge academics use to insulate themselves from scrutiny. Professors maintain that academic freedom allows them to say anything they want, but they wish to deny everyone else the freedom to question their work. The paper misrepresents what happened at Columbia University, where one department became so well-known for hostility to Israel, and its scholarship so severely compromised, that it became a national scandal. The authors suggest nothing was amiss and the problems were all a product of outside agitators.
The paper says that Jewish groups are trying to eliminate criticism of Israel from campuses (p. 22), but this is incorrect. Criticism of Israel is widespread today and many Jews are themselves detractors, but the lobby is not trying to prevent criticism. What many people do protest is the misuse of academic freedom to license anti-Semitism. Though faculty may prefer to be beyond scrutiny, their work is subject to review, and, if the scholarship is found wanting, professors should not be immune to criticism.
The authors completely misrepresent legislative initiatives to reform a government funding program that has provided money for area studies (p. 22). The proposed reforms of Title VI have nothing to do with monitoring what professors say about Israel, as they claim. The idea is to create an advisory board, similar to those for other grant programs, that will oversee the program to see that the money is spent for the intended purpose.
The authors try to preempt any criticism of their shoddy scholarship by repeating the canard that anyone who criticizes Israel is labeled an anti-Semite (p. 24). Criticizing Israel does not necessarily make someone anti-Semitic. The determining factor is the intent of the commentator. Legitimate critics accept Israel’s right to exist, whereas anti-Semites do not. Anti-Semites use double standards when they criticize Israel, for example, denying Israelis the right to pursue their legitimate claims while encouraging the Palestinians to do so. Anti-Semites deny Israel the right to defend itself, and ignore Jewish victims, while blaming Israel for pursuing their murderers. Anti-Semites rarely, if ever, make positive statements about Israel. Anti-Semites describe Israelis using pejorative terms and hate-speech, suggesting, for example, that they are “racists” or “Nazis.” A glance at any Israeli newspaper will reveal a surfeit of articles questioning particular government policies. Anti-Semites, however, do not share Israelis’ interest in improving the society; their goal is to delegitimize the state in the short-run, and destroy it in the long-run. There is nothing Israel could do to satisfy these critics. Readers of the paper can decide for themselves iff the authors have crossed the line from legitimate criticism to anti-Semitism.
The paper uses the divestment decision of the Church of England as an example of legitimate protest of Israelis policy. But the former Archbishop of Canterbury called the decision “a most regrettable and one-sided statement” that “ignores the trauma of ordinary Jewish people,” displays the Church’s “propensity to reduce complex issues to black and white” and makes him “ashamed to be an Anglican” (Jerusalem Post, February 8, 2006). More generally, the former President of Harvard, Larry Summers called divestment efforts anti-Semitic and said “Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent.” [Address at morning prayers, Memorial Church, Cambridge, Massachusetts, (September 17, 2002), Office of the President, Harvard University]
Blaming Israel for Palestinian Failures
The authors argue that President Bush backed Israel’s “hard-line” approach after lobby pressure led the President to abandon efforts to halt Israel’s “expansionist policies” to reduce anti-American sentiment and undermine Al-Qaeda (pp. 25-26). This is erroneous on multiple levels. First, the authors never define what they mean by Israel taking a hard line, but the pejorative language suggests they find the policy problematic. Ariel Sharon’s policy was straightforward, that is, he would not give in to terror and expected the Palestinians to fulfill their promises to end violence. This was consistent with the view of President Bush. Rather than having an expansionist policy, Sharon also had earlier made a dramatic change from his earlier views and openly supported the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Furthermore, the notion that anti-American sentiment in the Middle East could be erased by pressuring Israel ignores the broad range of economic, political and religious grievances of Muslims and Arabs that have nothing to do with Israel. Finally, Al-Qaeda’s anti-Western agenda, and desire to recreate the Muslim empire, is unrelated to Israel.
More specifically, the authors mistakenly claim that Bush demanded that Israel end its Operation Defensive Shield because it was damaging America’s image in the Arab/Islamic world (p. 27). Actually, Bush fully supported the operation until Israeli troops surrounded the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to root out a group of terrorists who had taken refuge there. Contrary to their claim that Israel did not withdraw, the Israelis did, in fact, end the siege and the overall operation. The authors once again fail to mention the reason for the Israeli military operation, namely, the escalation of violence by the Palestinian Authority.
The authors imply that the U.S. should have been more actively working with Arafat even though he had proven to be uninterested in peace and unwilling to stop the violence. They then argue that Bush has failed to help Abbas “gain a viable state” (p. 28). Doesn’t Abbas have any role to play in working for this state? Yet again, the authors are unwilling to suggest the Palestinians have any responsibility for their plight, that it is only the U.S. and Israel that are preventing the establishment of a state.
They go on to blame a series of Israeli policies for Abbas’s failure to improve the lives of the Palestinians and the ultimate victory of Hamas in the 2006 election (p. 28). They ignore the repeated concessions Israel made to bolster Abbas (e.g., facilitating the Palestinian elections, releasing prisoners and withdrawing troops from parts of the territories) that were never reciprocated by any effort on his part to fulfill his principal obligation to stop terror. They also fail to explain why it should be up to Israel to help Abbas when he was unwilling to take the measures necessary to stabilize the PA. The Hamas victory also had less to do with Israeli policy than Palestinian anger over the corruption in the PA (conveniently ignored by the authors).
Another indication of where the authors stand is their reference to the “security fence” (p. 28). Why put the phrase in quotation marks unless they want to suggest that it is not a fence built to protect Israelis from terror?
The author’s claim that “maintaining U.S. support for Israel’s policies against the Palestinians is a core goal of the Lobby” is also inaccurate (p. 29). If this were a serious analysis of interest groups, they would have noted that a principal distinction between the Israeli and Arab lobbies is that the former focuses primarily on strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship and less on anti-Arab policies. By contrast, the Arab lobby rarely attempts to promote policies for the Arabs and lobbies almost exclusively to weaken ties with Israel. The Israeli lobby now supports the creation of a Palestinian state, supported aid to the PA prior to the Hamas victory and has consistently supported a negotiated settlement of the conflict with the Arabs.
Anger Over Iraq
The authors’ bias is particularly clear when they discuss Iraq, which they call a “costly quagmire” (p. 34). The war, which has nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, is so central in their minds that they spend more space (5 pages of the 41) on it than on any other topic. They are obviously frustrated and angry about the decision to go to war with Iraq and seek to blame Israel and its supporters for what they see as an effort “to make Israel more secure” (p. 29). They even go so far as to suggest that the mistaken belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction was the fault of Israeli intelligence.
President Bush decided Iraq posed a threat to the United States because U.S., British, and other intelligence agencies all believed Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and was pursuing a nuclear capability that could have been used directly against Americans or could have been transferred to terrorists who would use them against U.S. targets. The removal of Saddam Hussein was also designed to eliminate one of the principal sponsors of terrorism. The war in Iraq liberated the Iraqi people from one of the world’s most oppressive regimes. Even in the Arab world, where many people objected to the U.S. action, no Arab leader rose to Saddam Hussein’s defense.
It is true that Israel will benefit from the elimination of a regime that launched 39 missiles against it in 1991, paid Palestinians to encourage them to attack Israelis, and led a coalition of Arab states committed to Israel’s destruction. It is also true, however, that many Arab states benefitted from the removal of Saddam Hussein, in particular, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
As for the role of American Jews, it is important to remember that Jews comprise less than three percent of the U.S. population and were hardly the most vocal advocates of the war. On the contrary, the Jewish community had divisions similar to those in the country as a whole (even the authors note that Jews were less supportive than the rest of the country), and most major Jewish organizations avoided taking any position on the war. Meanwhile, public opinion polls showed that a significant majority of all Americans initially supported the President’s policy toward Iraq.
The authors also repeat other war critics’ claim that prominent Jewish officials in the Bush Administration pushed for the war; however, only a handful of officials in the Administration were Jewish, and not one of the President’s top advisers at the time — the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, Vice President, or National Security Adviser — was Jewish.
One small curiosity in the paper is the claim that scholars like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami helped convince Cheney to support the war (p. 31). They present no evidence for this, but what exactly is the problem with the Vice President consulting with perhaps the two leading authorities on the Middle East? Obviously, the problem is that he didn’t consult and listen to people like the authors who had different opinions but no expertise in the field. And while the whole paper is supposed to be about the Israeli lobby, and this specific section about the its role in fomenting war, the authors fail to note that neither scholar is part of the lobby. Lewis is Jewish, but never was known for participating in Israel advocacy and Ajami is a Lebanese Muslim.
In another example of their ignorance of the subject on which they’re writing, the authors claim “pro-Israel forces have long been interested in getting the U.S. military more directly involved in the Middle East, so it could help protect Israel” (p. 34). To the contrary, one of the principal arguments of the lobby has always been that Israel has never asked the U.S. to defend it or to send soldiers to fight on its behalf. While the idea of a formal military alliance is occasionally discussed, the lobby as a whole has generally opposed this, in large measure because of the fear that a defense treaty might limit Israel’s freedom of action.
The authors make the totally unsupportable claim that “Israeli leaders did not push the Bush Administration to put its crosshairs on Syria before March 2003, because they were too busy pushing for war against Iraq” (p. 36). The authors apparently are unaware of any Middle East history relating to Syria before or after that date. They don’t mention Syria’s support for Hizballah in Lebanon and insurgents in Iraq. They don’t mention Syria’s occupation of Lebanon or role in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, which provoked the UN to condemn Syria. The authors claim that Israel was pushing for regime change in Syria when, in fact, many Israeli analysts were doing the opposite.
The authors don’t seem to approve of legislation that places sanctions on Syria and imply it was passed at the behest of the Israeli lobby (p. 36). They give no credence to the possibility that some or all of the 398 House members and 89 senators who voted for the bill might have thought it was a good idea to call for Syria to end its occupation of Lebanon, give up its weapons of mass destruction and stop supporting terrorism.
The suggestion that “Syria was not on bad terms with Washington before the Iraq war” further illustrates the authors’ lack of knowledge about the region. Apparently they are not aware that Syria has long been on the list of state sponsors of terrorism and has been frustrating U.S. peacemaking efforts in the region for decades. Still, the authors conclude if it were not for the lobby, “U.S. policy toward Damascus would have been more in line with the U.S. national interest,” (p. 37) though they never explain what the alternative policy would be or how it would be in America’s interest.
Minimizing the Iranian Threat
In a final myopic example, the authors suggest that U.S. concern with Iran’s nuclear program is a product of the lobby’s pressure. They argue “Iran’s nuclear ambitions do not pose an existential threat to the United States” and that America can live with a nuclear Iran as easily as a nuclear Soviet Union, nuclear China, or nuclear North Korea (p. 38). No one suggests that Iran poses an existential threat to the U.S. North Korea doesn’t pose such a danger either, but few people suggest that is a reason to ignore its nuclear program.
The United States still has strong reasons to prevent Iran from going nuclear because it is developing missiles that may one day be able to reach the United States and can already hit U.S. troops in the region. Iran can threaten U.S. Arab allies. As the principal state sponsor of terror, the risk of Iran giving a device to terrorists cannot be discounted. Iran’s president has threatened to destroy Israel, threatened the United States and suggested it will share its technology with other nations. The authors ignore the fact that America’s allies, France, Germany and Britain have actually been leading the campaign to stop Iran. Finally, only writers with no knowledge of the Islamic Republic of Iran could suggest that a nuclear arsenal there would be no different than bombs in the Soviet Union, China or North Korea.
The authors summarize their argument with the completely erroneous and hyperbolic claim that “the United States does most of the fighting dying, rebuilding and paying” for Israel’s security (p. 39). Israel does not ask the U.S. to fight its battles and no American soldiers have died in defense of Israel. The U.S. pursues its own interests in the Middle East, and these sometimes coincide with those of Israel, but often do not.
The authors say the lobby “increases the terrorist danger that all states face” (p. 40), a statement that is so patently absurd that it shouldn’t require a response. The U.S. and its allies face terror threats because the terrorists reject our way of life, our values, and our Judeo-Christian heritage. Israel and its supporters could disappear tomorrow and terror against us would continue.
It is not until page 40 that the authors lay their cards on the table and reveal their real agenda, namely to see the United States “pressure Israel to make peace.” It is a fitting conclusion because it encapsulates the message of the entire paper that the Arabs have no role to play in the region and that everything depends on Israel and its relationship with the United States. The Palestinians have no responsibility to do anything, Israel must be forced to capitulate to their demands.
The report claims the lobby is campaigning for regime change in Iran and Syria. No such campaign exists. The lobby seeks to change policy in both places and the changes it seeks are consistent with U.S. policy goals and the views of most Americans (who in recent polls say Iran is the greatest danger to the U.S.).
The report also falsely claims the lobby organizes blacklists and boycotts. It does no such thing. On the contrary, it is professors with views similar to the authors’ who have organized boycotts of academics in Israel and called for divestment from Israeli companies.
The authors claim the lobby discouraged Israel from seizing opportunities for a peace treaty with Syria and the implementation of the Oslo accords (p. 40). Where do they get this information since they offer no evidence to support it? What peace treaty was Syria ever prepared to sign? Israel has repeatedly said it wants peace with Syria, with the full support of the lobby, but Syria has never said it is willing to make peace with Israel. And Israel implemented the Oslo accords with the support of the lobby. It was the Palestinians who never fulfilled their promises and it was only after Israel had repeatedly traded land for more terror that the accords became irrelevant
* - Harvard logos that originally appeared on the report’s front page have been removed and the paper now carries a new disclaimer that says the authors are “solely responsible” for the content and that Harvard and the University of Chicago “do not take positions on the scholarship of individual faculty.”