Exclusive Book & Movie Reviews: Walt and Mearsheimer's Lobby Fantasies The Israel Lobby by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, NY: Farrar. Strauss and Giroux, 2007, 484 pages, $26
by Mitchell Bard
When Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s article on the Israeli lobby first appeared, it was rightly ridiculed for its shoddy scholarship. They were two prominent political scientists who knew nothing about the Middle East and had demonstrated their ignorance. Had they remained interested in their academic reputations, they would have pretended it was all a mistake, but their apparent conviction that Jews really are to blame for 9/11 and what they consider a disastrous war in Iraq would not let them give up their conspiracy theory. The fact that anti-Semites and others inclined to believe their nonsensical arguments treated them credibly, and gave them publicity, prompted a publisher to offer them a reported six-figure advance. It was no surprise then that two eggheads whose work would usually generate yawns from the public and feeble or non-existent advances from academic presses would take the money and build a book from the thin reeds in their article.
If someone didn’t know the pedigree of the authors, they would never believe it was written by academics because the book shows such profound ignorance of all aspects of Middle East history and politics. Apparently they didn’t get much help from anyone who might know more. In their acknowledgments they mention only one person who has written seriously on U.S.-Israel relations and he’s a frequent critic of Israel. Clearly they didn’t speak to anyone with any expertise in the subject of the book who might have differed with their preconceived notions. They mention eight Israelis whose work influenced them — six are post-Zionists. They mention sources, but did no interviews with members of the lobby or those influenced by it.
The book doesn’t retreat from the positions shown to be false in their original article; rather it is padded by futile attempts to respond to their critics and a blizzard of more than 100 pages of footnotes that shows more desperation than serious research. This document dump actually further erodes their credibility as they cite books and articles as though they just looked at indexes by subject but didn’t actually read any of them; in fact, it’s dubious they could have consumed the amount of research they cite in the year since their article was published and because they did not incorporate any of the information from many of those sources that would have disproved their thesis. W/M made clear that facts do not matter to them. In response to criticism of their failure to conduct interviews in their initial article and reliance on secondary sources, and the suggestion that they should have done more research, they said, “these additional steps would not have altered our conclusions” (“Setting the Record Straight: A Response to Critics of ‘The Israeli Lobby,’ December 12, 2006, p. 26). They would have been wise to heed Mark Twain’s admonition, “Get your facts first, and then you can distort ‘em as much as you please.”
But let’s be candid. This book has no scholarly pretenses, it’s a work of polemics that not only earned them a hefty advance but guaranteed celebrity speaking fees from every anti-Israel group around the world (it’s no surprise the U.K., home of the anti-Israel boycott, would be one of their first foreign stops to promote the book).
From an academic perspective, one would have expected two professors associated with studies of the balance of power to have some passing knowledge of the notion of a balance of lobbying power, but they are clearly unfamiliar with the literature on interest groups in general, and of the research on the Israeli and Arab lobbies in particular. Had they read my book, for example, they would have seen extensive documentation for when, where, how and why the pro-Israel lobby exercises influence. Actually, they cite my work, but, if they read it, they chose to ignore all of the data that disproves their hypothesis.
Currency in the academic world is publication in peer reviewed journals and university presses, so the first question raised about W/M’s work was why they went outside the academic channel. One answer is that it could never have passed muster if reviewed by scholars in the field. After their original article was lambasted, they admitted making a “small number of minor factual errors” but asserted that they could not be accused of shoddy research because they were tenured professors and other work of theirs had been subject to peer review (“Setting the Record Straight,” p. 1). Unfortunately for W/M, tenure does not offer immunity from scrutiny, or a stamp of approval for work outside their fields that was not reviewed by knowledgeable experts.
Moreover, their willingness to speak at forums sponsored by anti-Israel organizations only fuels the suspicions about their motives. Like Jimmy Carter, they piously and hypocritically proclaim their objective is to promote discussion of the issues they raise while avoiding debates with experts in the field. At the one panel where Mearsheimer appeared with a group of Middle East experts, his case was completely torn apart by Dennis Ross, Martin Indyk and Shlomo Ben-Ami. The book has also been almost universally panned and was derisively reviewed in publications such as Foreign Affairs, the New York Times, The New Republic and The New Yorker.
Same Old Arabist Line
One of the indications of the authors’ animus toward Israel is the time they devote to historical events that have little or nothing to do with the lobby. Since they know nothing about the subject, and apparently made no effort to do what scholars normally do, original research, they simply regurgitate canards from a rogues gallery of Israeli new historians and anti-Israel academics, such as Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim. Not surprisingly, they get the facts consistently wrong.
They spend time, for example discussing the issue of the Palestinian refugees. In their original paper they used the work of Israeli historian Benny Morris to argue the refugees were a product of Israel’s desire to transfer the population. It’s the standard Palestinian narrative. After the article came out, however, Morris launched a blistering attack on how they had misrepresented his work. Undeterred, they repeat the same canards in the book and parrot post-Zionist claptrap about the Zionist leaders not really being interested in partition and conspiring to transfer the Palestinians out of their homes.
It is particularly shocking that two academics associated with the “realist” school have such a naïve understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. Middle East policy. They ignore the principal U.S. interest in the region, namely oil. Without oil, Americans would not care at all about Arabs. Since this is the most vital U.S. interest in the Middle East, the hypothesis that the lobby is harming American security ought to show that policy toward Israel has somehow affected the flow of oil. With the exception of the embargo in the 1970s, however, no such evidence exists and, even then, OPEC’s action was a matter more of self-interest than fealty to the Palestinians. It may have also escaped the authors’ notice that despite their alleged love of the Palestinians and dislike for U.S. policy, the oil producers have not imposed any other embargoes.
It is another glaring fault in their analysis that W/M give so little attention to America’s economic interests. Assuring the supply of oil is not the only interest; however, the United States also wants to prevent Middle Eastern states from getting weapons of mass destruction and spreading terror.
One of the many straw men W/M construct is to suggest that the U.S. has no strategic interest in Israel. No one claims otherwise. Israel does share strategic interests with the United States, however, such as the desire to contain radicalism and prevent the spread of WMDs.
As realists, perhaps they don’t like the fact that America also has interests in freedom and democracy in the Middle East and Israel is the only country in the region where those values are respected. In the book, they try to show that Israel does not share American values, but the imperfection of Israeli society hardly disqualifies it as a free, democratic society that most Americans recognize as far more like us than the Arab/Muslim states.
In addition to their general misunderstanding of U.S. policy, W/M butcher much of the region’s history. For example, they claim that U.S. support for Israel drove the Arabs into the Soviet orbit. This assumes those states otherwise shared American interests and also ignores U.S. efforts to build alliances with many Arab states. In particular, the U.S. tried for years to lure Egypt into the Western camp, but Gamal Nasser had his own agenda to unify the Arab world behind his leadership. His initial turn to the Soviets had nothing to do with Israel, but was a consequence of the breakdown of negotiations over the building of the Aswan Dam and Nasser’s decision to seek Soviet arms and recognize Communist China.
Similarly, W/M blame U.S. support for Israel for the broader antipathy of the Arab world toward the United States. Again, this ignores the fact that the Arabs and Muslims in the region have different values and interests unrelated to Israel. Some object to what they view as Western decadence and the corrosive influence it has on their societies. Others object to the American military presence in the region. If Israel disappeared tomorrow, the people who now despise the United States would not change their views.
W/M also push the nearly 70-year-old State Department Arabist line that if the United States has good relations with Israel it damages ties with the Arabs. The only problem with this view is that the empirical evidence shows precisely the opposite. If you were to draw a graph of the relationship between the United States and Israel, and the United States and the Arab states, the lines would move in tandem with relations growing stronger over time with each.
Elsewhere, the authors contradict themselves when they argue the U.S. backed Israel no matter what in the Cold War but also say the U.S. was not supportive of Israel in the 1950s and only gave limited support in the 1960s. They also ignore America’s policy throughout the 1960s of balancing the sale of arms to Israel with transfers of weapons to the Arabs.
Slightly less controversial is the claim that Israel missed a chance for peace with Egypt in 1971-72. Proponents of this view do extend beyond W/M’s principal post-Zionist sources, but all of them ignore what Anwar Sadat actually said at the time, which was that he was only prepared to reach an agreement with Israel if all the disputed territories were returned by the Israelis. No progress toward peace was made, however, so, the following year, Sadat said war was inevitable and he was prepared to sacrifice one million soldiers in the showdown with Israel. Throughout 1972, and for much of 1973, Sadat threatened war unless the United States forced Israel to accept his interpretation of Resolution 242 — total Israeli withdrawal from territories taken in 1967. As I argued in my book, Will Israel Survive?, Sadat also was unprepared to make peace until he could erase the humiliation suffered by Egypt in the Six Day War. W/M don’t acknowledge or understand the psychological dimensions of the conflict so they pretend they don’t exist.
Misunderstanding the Lobby
The book is based on the faulty premise that the Israel lobby’s goal is to help Israel rather than strengthen the relations between the U.S. and Israel. Their definition of the lobby seems to shift throughout the book. Any U.S. policy they disagree with requires a scapegoat and if they see the neocons as responsible, then they are the lobby; if the Israeli government weighed in, then it is the lobby; and, if AIPAC was involved, then that group is “the lobby.” The authors’ definition of the lobby seems to incorporate anybody who says anything positive about Israel or disagrees with them. They also conflate statements by Israeli leaders, some of whom are not even in power (e.g., Benjamin Netanyahu), neocons and the lobby. By definition, the lobby must have influence because people they define as part of the lobby make every decision they oppose.
W/M also equate any expression of opinion with power, and if the policy is consistent with those views, they assert a causal effect. For example, some Israeli leaders and neoconservatives supported democratization in the Middle East, Bush adopted this view, therefore, they conclude the lobby influenced policy. It doesn’t necessarily follow, however, that the lobby influenced the decision. They completely discount that Bush may have had an independent opinion, or that advisors such as Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld or Condoleezza Rice, who are not part of the lobby, may have influenced him.
One tactic used throughout the book is to make statements with anti-Semitic undertones, or suggest conspiracies, and then, like Jimmy Carter tried in his book, they say they don’t mean all Jews, or they’re not really suggesting there’s a conspiracy, it just looks like one. For example, they raise the issue of dual loyalty, that is, American Jews being divided in their allegiance toward Israel and the United States, but then say they don’t believe it. The recurrent theme of the book, nonetheless, is to blame the Jews for all the deficiencies they see in U.S. Middle East policy and that is why some critics have labeled the authors anti-Semites. While that case can be made, it distracts from the more important point that whatever their motivations, the substance of their arguments ranges from debatable to laughable to fallacious.
Another tactic W/M use to mislead readers is to frequently mention that the State Department and/or the CIA oppose a particular policy favoring Israel. Usually, they do not cite any specific critics from those agencies and only refer to them when they believe the organizations support their position. They also refer to these agencies as though they are disinterested parties when, in fact, employees in both organizations are associated with the Arab lobby.
For all the footnotes devoted to interest groups, it is clear W/M have no understanding of interest group behavior. They assert, for example, that no other lobby skews the national interest, but what about the China, Turkish, Armenian, Indian, Greek, Irish or Cuban lobbies? Do they better represent the U.S. interest?
While they suggest the lobby is omnipotent, they never make clear connections between the lobby and policy decisions. The one area where the lobby has demonstrably had some influence is foreign aid, but W/M do not show how encouraging Congress to provide assistance to Israel has undermined any U.S. interest.
I found it amusing that the authors selectively quote from my work when it suits them but ignore an entire book’s worth of evidence I produced that disproves their thesis. They spend a long time, for example on the lobby’s influence on Congress and conclude it has an “almost unchallenged hold on Congress.” As evidence, they mention letters written in support of Israel by members, but they ignore actual policy and the fact that letters reflect more of the lobby’s weakness than its power. If the lobby controlled Congress, it would be able to get binding legislation adopted that said what was in those letters. Letters are an easy way for members to win points with the lobby without having to vote and get into a fight they would undoubtedly lose with the president.
When W/M begin to talk more specifically about AIPAC, they clearly have done no original research and appear to rely heavily on JJ Goldberg’s book Jewish Power, which also lacked interviews with the lobby principals, and wrongly attributed undue influence to the umbrella organization of Jewish community relations councils. W/M repeat the charge made by many frustrated Jews on the left that the lobby has moved rightward and that right-wing Israelis have exercised undue influence on American Jewish organizations. They are unaware of the fact that Israelis on the left were the first to come to the United States and break with the tradition of eschewing criticism of the government while abroad. Once that taboo was violated, Israelis on the right followed suit. Neither has had particular influence on policy as the lobby tends to follow the policies of the government in Israel, whether it is right or left.
The authors argue that AIPAC didn’t support the Oslo accords. In fact, the organization did support it, though with not as much enthusiasm as some people would have preferred. The truth was the Oslo process was controversial within Israel and the American pro-Israel community and the doubters were ultimately proven correct.
They also make a number of inaccurate statements about AIPAC. They claim the group was behind the Jerusalem embassy act, which they assert was meant to disrupt the peace process. Actually, the legislation originated in Congress in an effort to show support for the unity of Jerusalem and correct the anomaly of Jerusalem being the only world capital not recognized by the U.S. government. They also incorrectly claim that AIPAC’s director, Tom Dine, was replaced because he wasn’t sufficiently hawkish. Dine’s demise was actually a result of an indiscreet remark he made about Orthodox Jews and the view that he had become too visible for an organization whose directors preferred a low-profile staff. Finally, W/M misrepresent the AIPAC board as being an unrepresentative plutocracy based on contributions to the organization. Contributions alone do not determine membership on the board, however, and there is nothing unusual about a nonprofit board being comprised largely of major donors.
Not surprisingly, W/M applaud minor left-wing groups that aren’t representative at all of Jewish opinion. Though they present no evidence, they assert that Jews don’t support mainstream groups. The authors ignore the basic attributes that make any interest group powerful: a large and vocal membership; members who enjoy high status and legitimacy; a high degree of electoral participation (voting and financing); effective leadership; a high degree of access to decision-makers and public support. AIPAC is influential because it has these characteristic; its adversaries are largely ineffectual because they either lack or are at a disadvantage in each of these areas.
Jews in the administration have no chance with W/M. Even if an administration, such as Clinton’s, has many liberal Jews involved in policymaking, or Jews whose views were not always consistent with those of the lobby, they are dismissed if the policy outcomes are not to the authors’ liking. They intimate, for example, that former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk and chief State Department peace negotiator Dennis Ross were more influenced by sympathy for Israel than U.S. interests. You won’t convince too many Israelis or Jews on the right of that idea given that both were attacked for what some Jews believed were their unsympathetic views. In fact, if you look at the opinions they espoused prior to entering the government it is clear the State Department influenced them more than the other way around. And, incidentally, this is not unusual given that public servants are expected to toe the administration line.
W/M also make statements that are impossible to prove. For example, they claim that if there were no lobby, the administration would have forced Israel to change its behavior to “suit America’s interest.” Besides the fact that they can’t prove a negative, they also assume the administration agrees with their view of the national interest and that Congress has no say in the matter.
Attacking Christian Zionists
W/M display a disdain for the millions of Christians who identify themselves as Zionists or are otherwise sympathetic toward Israel. They discuss the organization Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a self-styled Christian AIPAC, as if it is a longstanding organization rather than a group that started the same year their book was published, and suggest the two lobbies have close ties because CUFI’s director, John Hagee, was invited to speak at AIPAC’s annual conference. The authors imply Christian supporters of Israel are all right-wing zealots who back the settler movement and aim to sabotage peace efforts. They also attribute this “junior partner” in their version of the lobby with influence on policy without providing any evidence they have made any difference whatsoever. In fact, as they often do throughout the book, they contradict themselves. At one point they claim Christians have played a role in the growth of settlers and the U.S. government’s unwillingness to pressure Israel to rein in settlements. Two paragraphs later, however, they say the influence of Christian Zionists “should not be overstated” and that they did not stop either President Bill Clinton or George W. Bush from pursuing policies the Christians disagreed with (e.g., Bush’s support for the establishment of a Palestinian state).
W/M also say the Israeli government encouraged Christians to visit Israel to boost tourist income and solidify evangelical support for Israel as if this is some nefarious activity. Imagine a government encouraging foreigners with an interest in their country to come and visit with the hope they will return to their homes with a positive view of the experience. Shocking! This is the type of conspiratorial claptrap weaved throughout the book, which, in this case, ignores the fact that Christians want to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land without any enticement from the Israeli government. During the Palestinian War (2000-2005) it was Christians who continued to tour Israel because of their deep attachment to the birthplace of Jesus even as many Jews stayed away.
In fact, pro-Israel Christian groups are controversial within the Jewish community. Some people feel very uncomfortable with their views on Israel, and even more troubled by their positions on other issues. AIPAC and other more politically savvy members of “the lobby” view Christians as valuable allies and realize that a constituency of 6 million is likely to be more powerful if it has another 50 million people on their side. Still, there is little evidence to date that Christian supporters of Israel have influenced any policies in Israel’s favor.
The Arab Lobby
As is the case throughout the book, W/M ignore the Arab lobby entirely and its far older connections with Christian organizations. Decades before CUFI existed, groups such as the World Council of Churches and the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers), were criticizing Israeli policies and expressing solidarity with the Arab states and the Palestinians. Many Christian groups remain at the forefront of anti-Israel activities, and denominations such as the Presbyterians have launched divestment campaigns to tar Israel as an apartheid state and undermine the U.S.-Israel relationship.
W/M simply assert there is no evidence the Arab lobby influences policy, but they don’t ever define that lobby or discuss its elements. They claim oil companies have not exerted influence and conclude their case is proven. Oil company executives, however, were very active in supporting Arab interests up through the 1980s and have only recently become less involved in Middle East politics. But what about diplomats and former diplomats (such as some of the members of the Iraq study group whose views they like) who devote their energies to promoting U.S-Arab relations? They suggest that if there was an influential Arab lobby it would try to distance the United States from Israel, but this is precisely what those diplomats do. It is also the goal of many of the Arab-American and Muslim organizations.
They also believe a lobby would work for the creation of a Palestinian state. Why? This again shows their ignorance of the region and the unwillingness of the Arab states to do little more than offer verbal support for the Palestinian cause. Since the Arab states have no great love for the Palestinians, the Arab lobby makes minimal efforts to support them. It is a testament to the lobby, however, that they get any support whatsoever given that Palestinians comprise only 0.42 percent of the U.S. population and Palestinians make up only 6 percent of the Arab Americans (about 70,000 people). W/M believe the U.S. government should support the Palestinian cause, but, in addition to having virtually no constituency, they also have no popular support. According to the Gallup polls dating to 1967, the average sympathy for the Arabs is 12 percent. Since the Oslo agreements in 1993, Gallup started asking Americans if they sympathize more with Israel or the Palestinians and the results have not been much different, with the average for the Palestinians a paltry 14 percent compared to 48 percent for Israel in the same surveys. The data indicates very clearly that, contrary to their claims, U.S. policy reflects the wishes of the people and it is W/M and their fellow travelers whose views are out of sync.
W/M also ignore the possibility that Arab Americans may not support the Palestinians or may have their own agenda independent of the Israeli lobby. For W/M, however, even the U.S. Committee for a Free Lebanon is part of the Israeli lobby because it called for Syria to end its occupation of Lebanon, to get rid of its WMD and stop supporting terror. The writers do not acknowledge that Lebanese Americans have their own independent lobby to represent the interests of the majority of Lebanese who oppose Syrian intervention in their affairs. They would probably also be interested to know that most of these Lebanese also do not support the Palestinians, and the reason has nothing to do with the lobby and everything to do with their own unpleasant experience with the Palestinians who tried to take over their country and brutalized their people. If they knew anything about the history of the region, of course, W/M would have been aware of this.
W/M apparently don’t see any actors outside the Israel lobby as relevant to Middle East affairs. The Arabs, Russians, Chinese, Europeans, and UN have no influence; it is only the Israelis and their supporters who affect U.S. policy. According to W/M, whatever Israel tells the U.S. to do, it does – except when it doesn’t.
W/M insist the lobby doesn’t accept that the United States and Israel may have different interests. On the contrary, supporters of Israel understand quite well that the United States has multiple interests, such as maintaining good relations with Arab states and often arming them with weapons that directly threaten Israel. The authors argue that Jews put Israel’s interest above those of the U.S., but provide no evidence of lobby actions that undermined U.S. interests. It is true that the lobby may sometimes disagree with the president or other officials, but this is true of all lobbies and individual citizens as well. What they seem to say is if the lobby disagrees with a president, it is disloyal and acting contrary to American interests. Meanwhile, they defend critics of Bush or the Iraq war who have been accused of being unpatriotic. Why can’t the lobby express a different view on the national interest without it meaning their actions are always against it? As critics of the Iraq war, W/M wouldn’t admit that they are acting contrary to the national interest by opposing the president’s policies, although a case could be made that they are doing just that if the same logic they use to describe the actions of the Israeli lobby is applied to their own suggestions.
Ultimately W/M are forced to admit the Israeli lobby does what all lobbies do, but is more effective than most. So what’s the problem? They disagree with the lobby’s views. So what? That doesn’t make the lobby wrong and them right.
The Biased Media
It will certainly come as a shock to anyone in the pro-Israel community to learn from W/M that the lobby has influenced the media to be pro-Israel. They make the even more laughable comment that news reporters are more objective than editorial writers and therefore portray the region more accurately, that is, by routinely criticizing Israel.
The pro-Israel bias of the media is evident, they say, when you read columnists such as William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer. They are, therefore, part of the lobby as well. He laments that columnists don’t take the side of the Palestinians (even the rabidly anti-Israel Bob Novak isn’t sufficiently pro-Palestinian for their tastes) and can’t understand why someone like Thomas Friedman, who sometimes criticizes Israel, doesn’t echo their view that the U.S. should distance itself from Israel. So how do they explain why some of the most sophisticated political observers and journalists don’t agree with them? Are they on the take? Does the lobby have compromising pictures of them? It is simply inconceivable to these two ivory tower denizens that opinion elites understand the value of the U.S.-Israel relationship and that many actually know something about the subject they write about and therefore come to more informed judgments.
One group of Jews particularly offend W/M. They see the neoconservatives as bogeymen who are everywhere exerting their nefarious influence. Interestingly, few of the neocons are part of the lobby or influential because of their views on Israel. Israel is only one concern of neocons and the overwhelming majority of Jews are still liberal Democrats and not neocons. According to W/M, however, Elliott Abrams is apparently all-powerful and is preventing Bush from pressuring Israel. This also assumes that Bush would otherwise want to pressure Israel and that the use of coercion would be in the U.S. interest. They also argue the balance of power is stacked against Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but the State Department has been driving Middle East policy since the situation in Iraq deteriorated. Moreover, one could argue that if Abrams is powerful, that is precisely the role he should have to offset the Arabist dominated State Department.
W/M also have a problem explaining how it is that U.S. Middle East policy took the directions that it did in the 50 odd years before neocons became influential in the administration of George W. Bush. In the pro-Israel administration of Bill Clinton, for example, neocons had no influence and the many Jews working for Clinton were typical liberal democrats. Why don’t W/M rail about the influence of Robert Reich or Sandy Berger who sat in the Clinton cabinet? Do they believe that they had no influence or were they advocating policies W/M agreed with? And why were neocons so ineffectual during Bush Sr.’s term?
Terror Because of Israel
The authors claim the U.S.-Israel relationship makes it harder to defeat terrorists and undermines America’s standing with its allies, but they don’t give any evidence for these sweeping assertions. In fact, not a single alliance has been weakened by U.S.-Israel relations, in part because even those “allies” hostile to Israel understand the special relationship America has with Israel. America’s relations outside the Middle East certainly are unaffected by policies toward Israel, so they really are only talking about Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States, as they are the only “allies” that might care. And do they? Besides paying lip service to the Palestinian cause, or providing some meager financial support, they have not demonstrated any great love or concern for the Palestinians. They also have done little to demonstrate their value as allies to the United States. While W/M spend a great deal of time trying to disparage Israel’s value, they simply take for granted that these dictatorships have anything to offer the United States.
One of their major arguments is that Israel not only has nothing to contribute to the war on terror but that it actually is responsible for the hostility toward the United States. The most outrageous of all the charges in their book is that the U.S.-Israel relationship and Israeli policies contributed to the attacks on 9/11. They produce various quotations from bin Laden in which he mentions the Palestinians, but no one who was analyzing Middle East affairs prior to 9/11 talked about bin Laden in the context of the Palestinian issue. In fact, little was said about bin Laden. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak put it best when he expressed the view prevalent even in the Arab world, “Osama bin Laden made his explosions and then started talking about the Palestinians. He never talked about them before” (Newsweek, October 29, 2001).
The attempt to link U.S. policy toward Israel to bin Laden and to argue that the terror war is a function of Israeli policy or U.S. support for Israel demonstrates a profound ignorance of the motivations of the terrorists and reflects the authors’ failure to appreciate the role of religion in Middle East affairs in general and terrorism in particular. If Israel disappeared tomorrow, Al-Qaeda would still have the same agenda of reconstituting the Islamic empire and expanding the rule of Islam around the world. As a decadent country of infidels the United States would remain its enemy. Bin Laden, for example, has issued a document entitled, “The Nuclear Bomb of Islam,” which insists it is “the duty” of Muslims to acquire a nuclear bomb in order to use “as much force as possible to terrorize the enemies of God.”
Set aside the United States for a moment. If the cause of terror is related to Israel, how can W/M explain the terror directed against the pro-Arab nations of Europe? Why were Spain and Britain targeted? Why does MI5 report the growing radicalism of Muslims in the UK where there is no Israeli lobby and the British government has historically been far friendlier toward the Arabs than Israel? Why do countries such as the Netherlands see a threat of Islamic radicalism? W/M have nothing to say about this because it does not fit into their conspiracy theory.
W/M buy into the propaganda line that the Arab world is so concerned with “Palestine,” it affects their outlook toward the United States. Beyond platitudes, what evidence is there the rest of the Arab world cares about the Palestinians? No Arab state is prepared to fight for them and most are willing to contribute only a pittance in financial aid for their welfare. No country besides Jordan allows them to be citizens, and Jordan has increasingly placed restrictions on Palestinians. Kuwait expelled tens of thousands after the first Gulf War. “Palestine” has nothing to do with the price of oil, the threat posed by radical Islam or the dynamics of the Iraq war.
The authors assert that the U.S. and Israel don’t share the same goals in the war on terror, but they are wrong. Both are interested in fighting Islamic extremism and violence against civilians. Both have an interest in preventing the radicals’ effort to spread their influence in the region and to restore the caliphate. Most Arab states, by contrast, have little or no interest in the terror war beyond preventing radicals from threatening their autocratic regimes. They are happy to support terrorists directed at others. In April 2008, for example, the U.S. issued a report documenting Saudi Arabia as the leading source of funding for Al-Qaeda and other Islamic extremists.
Israel Causes the Palestinian Problem
The authors believe the creation of a Palestinian state is the only way to end conflict. Once again they don’t bother trying to produce any evidence for this assertion. Will a Palestinian state satisfy Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which openly state their goal as the destruction of Israel? Will it satisfy Iran, whose leaders threaten to wipe Israel off the map, proclaim that Israel is a “stinking corpse, and say as long as Israel exists there will be no peace in the Middle East? A Palestinian state also would not resolve Syrian claims to the Golan Heights.
On a number of occasions W/M refer to Israel’s “brutal treatment” of the Palestinians without saying what they are referring to or placing the behavior of Israel into the broader context of the war Israel has been fighting against the Palestinian terrorists. They argue the U.S. should be more evenhanded or lean toward the Palestinians, but they offer no rationale for why this would be in the U.S. interest. Do the Palestinians share any interests or values with Americans?
They claim the U.S. favors Israel over the Palestinians. In what way? In their view it is because the U.S. doesn’t do what they want and pressure Israel to capitulate to Arab demands. But why shouldn’t the U.S. support Israel, which shares our values and interests rather than the PA which does not? And how can they say the U.S. does not support the Palestinians when Bush has explicitly endorsed a Palestinian state, provided millions of dollars in aid and laid out a clear route to peace and self-determination?
Like Jimmy Carter, W/M are hung up on settlements and say Israel is better off without them. Many Israelis believe this as well, but that doesn’t make it a fact. They also make no distinctions between settlements. A few scattered houses on a hill in the West Bank are much different than a thriving city with a population of 30,000. Israelis have different opinions, for example, about Hebron, Ma’aleh Adumim and Tekoa. And why is the lobby wrong to support the policy of the elected government of Israel on this subject? Why is it that the U.S. should decide what’s best for another democracy? Should the U.S. also dictate policy to the U.K., France and Germany? Would W/M consider some nefarious interest at work if those sovereign nations resisted U.S. pressure or views of their national interest?
There is also an argument that settlements are a stimulus to peace and that some are very good for Israel because they strengthen its geostrategic position. Given that U.S. policy after 1967 has recognized the indefensibility of the pre-67 borders, the incorporation of some communities is perfectly consistent with both U.S. and Israeli interests.
Another reason W/M are viewed by some critics as anti-Semites is that they tend to use the language of the most virulent Israel haters. For example, they frequently say Israel has a campaign to “colonize” the territories. What colonial power ever voluntarily withdrew from territory it conquered? Israel has withdrawn from 94 percent of the disputed areas and offered to withdraw from even more in exchange for peace and security. It was the Jews who waged an anti-colonial war against the British in the 1940s. “Colonialism means living by exploiting others,” Yehoshofat Harkabi has written. “But what could be further from colonialism than the idealism of city-dwelling Jews who strive to become farmers and laborers and to live by their own work?”
Like Carter, W/M are also apologists for terror. They say it is “not surprising” as if there is no alternative way for Palestinians to express their political aspiration than to blow up innocent Israelis. Why aren’t they surprised given that other people who have political disputes do not resort to violence when seeking redress of their grievances? In fact, Palestinian Christians don’t engage in terrorism so it is not simply a matter of their conditions. Moreover, if W/M are so interested in peace, why aren’t they advocating that Palestinians engage in non-violent protest? They say they are concerned with U.S. interests but express no concern for the American victims of terror. And while they criticize Israel’s response to terror, it would be instructive to hear what they think the U.S. or other democracies would do if, for example, their cities faced daily rocket barrages.
Rather than rely on the authoritative sources, such as President Clinton or his chief peace negotiator, Dennis Ross, W/M regurgitate the misrepresentations of Carter and others regarding the negotiations that took place in 2000 between Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Yasser Arafat and Clinton. Contrary to the facts laid out in Ross’s book, they maintain Israel was only prepared to give the Palestinians a disarmed and dismembered state. Ross documents, however, that the state the Palestinians were offered was contiguous. While it is true that Israel has no desire to see a heavily armed Palestinian military force on its border, it is also the case that Israel has been arming the Palestinians since 1993. Before this they didn’t have arms, so it is ironic for W/M to accuse Israel of trying to disarm the Palestinians. Furthermore, even the left in Israel, which has long supported the establishment of a Palestinian state, has consistently called for it to be demilitarized. They also conveniently ignore Arafat’s unwillingness to negotiate at Camp David, which led Clinton to blame Arafat for the failure to achieve a breakthrough.
Another myth they accept is the idea that the Palestinians are being asked to settle for only 22 percent of their homeland. The truth is exactly the reverse. Historic Palestine included not only Israel and the West Bank, but also all of modern Jordan. It is Israel, including the disputed territories, that is only 22% of Palestine. If Israel were to withdraw completely from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, it would possess only about 18%. And from Israel’s perspective, it is the Zionists who have made the real sacrifice by giving up 82% of the Land of Israel. In fact, by accepting the UN's partition resolution, they were prepared to accept only about 12% of historic Israel before the Arab states attacked and tried to destroy the nascent state of Israel.
The title of their chapter, “The Lobby Versus the Palestinians,” also captures their bias. The analysis is completely one-sided. The Palestinians are blameless for everything while Israel engages in all sorts of terrible activities for no apparent reason beyond some sort of inbred malevolence. The chapter also ignores the fact that the lobby supports a two-state solution, supported the withdrawal from Gaza and also supports efforts to resolve the conflict.
In yet another contradiction, W/M acknowledge that President George W. Bush was the first president to publicly support a Palestinian state, but fail to explain how that could happen if the lobby was omnipotent and opposed to such a policy. Another example is what he calls a “small victory” achieved when the Bush administration told Israel not to expel Arafat. If the lobby is so powerful, how was this victory achieved? In fact, the “lobby” never advocated expelling Arafat and the Israeli government was never committed to it.
It is remarkable to read the apologetics associated with Palestinian terrorism. W/M give the impression, for example, the assassination of members of Hamas were unprovoked attacks on innocents. They describe the Hamas mastermind as a paraplegic in a wheelchair as if Israel was targeting the disabled, ignoring Ahmed Yassin’s role in planning terrorist attacks that contributed to the deaths of nearly 1,000 Israelis (a blind sheik is sitting in a U.S. prison for his role in planning the first World Trade Center bombing). They claim his assassination was a “serious blow to America’s position in the Middle East.” What evidence can they produce for such an absurd claim? None.
The authors’ effort to defend terror becomes particularly embarrassing when they suggest that Israel falsely accused Arafat of supporting terrorism. This is not even a matter of doing research, it is a question of whether they were awake during the last 40 years and read a newspaper. Since Arafat’s death, still more documentation has been unearthed showing his involvement in a variety of incidents, including attacks on Americans. They argue that there was no clear evidence of Arafat’s connection to the effort to smuggle Iranian weapons into the territories aboard the Karine-A. Israel provided the documentation, however, and U.S. confirmation led the Bush Administration to support Arafat’s removal as president of the PA.
W/M are also critical of Israel’s effort to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank. They said Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 damaged America’s image in the Arab and Islamic world and undermined the war on terrorism. On the contrary, Israel’s operation showed that a determined military campaign could be successful against terrorism. Bush supported the operation and there was little protest from outside. When Arafat was isolated and began calling Arab leaders for help, no one answered.
Their discussion of the road map is also seriously flawed. W/M say, for example, that serious movement began when Arafat nominated Mahmoud Abbas as Prime Minister. This is nonsense. Abbas was actually given no authority and was quickly shown to be impotent. Even now that he is president and theoretically has full power, Abbas has made little progress toward meeting any of the obligations outlined in the road map.
They are also mistaken when they argue that Sharon opposed a Palestinian state and that was why he objected to the road map. Actually, it is a testament to the evolution in Israeli attitudes, and Sharon’s in particular, that he came around from vigorous opposition to support for a two-state solution. Sharon objected to the road map, as did many others, because it was a terrible plan that had little chance of success, a view that has been proven over the last several years. It is true that Israel has not enacted a complete settlement freeze, but Israel’s position from the outset was that it would act on settlements if and when the Palestinians satisfied their obligation to stop terror. This was a promise the Palestinians first made in 1988, and repeated in subsequent agreements, including the road map, but have never fulfilled.
According to W/M, the 2005 disengagement was a plot by Sharon to sabotage the establishment of a Palestinian state when, in fact, it gave the Palestinians the freedom they claimed to want and an opportunity to create a state, which they have subsequently squandered. They also say some Jewish groups supported disengagement, and others didn’t, so how did the lobby influence U.S. policy?
Equally ridiculous is the claim that Sharon was responsible for the Hamas victory in Palestinian elections. Israel did not want to allow Hamas to participate and it was the Bush Administration that pushed for their inclusion to give the vote a democratic veneer. Hamas won in large measure because of widespread anger at Fatah corruption and the outcome was not what anyone in the lobby wanted.
Once W/M finish with Sharon they move on to attacking Olmert’s policies, which they mischaracterize, and blame for the failure to advance the peace process. In their myopic conception of events, Palestinians play no role and, therefore, their irredentism and terror campaign are irrelevant.
They are also incorrect when they claim that President Bush reversed U.S. policy on Israeli withdrawal from the territories. What he did was make the U.S. position on Security Council Resolution 242 explicit by acknowledging that political and demographic realities would require a modification in the borders. This view is consistent with that of the American Ambassador to the UN, Arthur Goldberg, who was the key figure in drafting 242 in 1967.
It would require a much longer article to correct all the misstatements and inaccuracies in the authors’ review of Middle East history, but I’ll mention a few of the more egregious ones.
It is hard to recognize the history of the 1948 war from the description of W/M. They claim the Arabs had no interest in trying to destroy Israel in 1948 (or ‘67 or ‘73 for that matter). They maintain the Jews had a decisive early advantage in numbers and dismiss the British-led and trained Jordan Legion as “small.” They also misrepresent the research of Israeli historian Benny Morris and try to portray Israeli policy toward the Palestinians as one of transfer and expulsion even after Morris rebutted their original article and said they distorted his work. They offer a variety of quotations accusing the Jews of ethnic cleansing, executions, massacres and rapes. Well-known incidents of innocents being killed exist, such as Deir Yassin, but the overall argument is exaggerated and inaccurate. Their claim that Israel “drove up to seven hundred thousand Palestinians into exile” is specious. Israel’s leaders, including David Ben-Gurion, always foresaw a large Palestinian minority and virtually all Palestinians (except those in a handful of villages that were forced out) had the opportunity to remain in their homes. Approximately 150,000 Palestinians did remain in Israel and were given full citizenship.
W/M see Eisenhower’s threats to withhold aid and take other punitive measures if Israel didn’t withdraw from the land it captured in the 1956 war as a great example of how the United States can wield a stick effectively against Israel. Of course they ignore how this short-sighted policy that required nothing of the Egyptians sowed the seeds of the ‘67 war.
W/M argue that in May 1967 Israel was sending the U.S. falsely alarmist reports, claim Israel forwarded misleading intelligence about Egyptian intentions and capabilities, and say Israel chose war over a peaceful resolution. It did not require any secret intelligence, however, to read Nasser’s public threats or to interpret the provocations when he demanded the withdrawal of UN forces from the Sinai, mobilized his forces, blockaded the Straits of Tiran and formed a unified command with the Syrians and Jordanians. Given the threats by Arab leaders to annihilate Israel, and the failure of President Johnson to organize a flotilla to break the blockade, it is not clear where they got the idea that a peaceful resolution was possible.
They are particularly impressed with the Arab League peace plan originally formulated by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah in 2002 to divert attention from the Saudi hijackers’ role in 9/11. W/M say they offered to sign a peace treaty with Israel and saw their plan as a basis for negotiations. The plan offered little new beyond a vague promise of a new relationship if Israel met all the Arab demands, several of which were known to be nonstarters. The Saudis have never showed the slightest interest in negotiating on the basis of the plan, they don’t recognize Israel and refuse to engage in any direct talks. W/M falsely claim that Israel wasn’t willing to negotiate with the Saudis; Prime Minister Olmert’s offer to meet with the Saudis was rebuffed. Of course, W/M don’t bother to ask the more fundamental question of why the Saudis are at war in the first place with a country that occupies none of their territory.
The authors also give a distorted picture of U.S. votes at the United Nations by taking U.S. vetoes out of context. They cite the number of vetoes of resolutions pertaining to Israel and compare it to other countries, but they fail to point out that most UN resolutions are about Israel and that most were not vetoed. They also take as a given that these resolutions are fair and justified when successive administrations have decided otherwise. W/M also provide no evidence the lobby is responsible for any UN decisions. If it were up to the lobby, the U.S. would vote against every UN resolution, and yet that hasn’t happened. How can they explain that? They can’t so they ignore it and leave the impression that the U.S. unthinkingly supports Israel at the UN.
Devaluing An Asset
One of the staples of the pro-Israel lobby has been Israel’s strategic value; however, W/M go to great lengths to try to devalue that asset. As in other places, the case is made primarily with straw men. For example, they suggest that Israel was not much of an asset during the Cold War because it did nothing that “decisively altered the course of the superpower competition or enabled America to inflict a decisive blow against its communist adversary.” If that’s the standard for strategic value, however, then one could just as easily question NATO allies.
They also argue that Israel isn’t an asset because it didn’t help protect the Persian Gulf, but Israel was never expected to do so. It had the resources to help if asked, but the United States never called on Israel to project its power that way. Which country would the U.S. ask for help in the Middle East? Our erstwhile Arab allies are too weak to offer any meaningful assistance, and they do that only grudgingly if their survival is at stake. In the first Gulf War, the most pro-Western Arab state, Jordan, backed Saddam while our other ally, Egypt, sent only a token force. W/M might ask what U.S. aid has bought from them, but they don’t question our relations with those countries. They go so far as to suggest Israel was a liability because it couldn’t help in the 1991 war, but that was an assumption not a fact. President Bush made a choice to keep Israel out of the coalition, but there is little doubt Israeli participation would not have been the problem portrayed and may have assisted U.S.-led forces in a variety of missions, such as taking out the Scud missile launchers. Though no direct assistance was needed, Israel did provide indirect assistance, such as intelligence and a variety of weapons systems. Most of our closest European allies did little or nothing in the first Gulf war and, with exception of UK, were obstacles in 2003, but their strategic value isn’t questioned.
The authors portray the strategic relationship as one-sided and give no recognition to any Israeli contribution to U.S. intelligence, war fighting doctrine or technology and weaponry. Instead, they suggest Israel gets everything it wants from the United States, ignoring how the U.S. has refused to sell Israel many systems it wants and now dictates to Israel what it can export to third parties. Furthermore, W/M are silent with regard to the billions of dollars worth of arms sold to the Arabs and the implications for the national interest as well as Israel’s security.
After unsuccessfully attacking one pillar of the U.S.-Israel relationship, they wage an equally specious critique on the other, the shared values of the two nations. They say, for example, that Israel as a Jewish state is at odds with core U.S. values because there is no equality for non-Jews. They also cite a variety of Israeli opinion polls showing that some Israeli Jews have negative attitudes toward Israeli Arabs. On balance, however, few serious political scientists would question the democratic values and record of Israel. No one claims the society is perfect, or that in its first 60 years it has eliminated all traces of discrimination and bigotry, but all its citizens share the essential freedoms and rights Americans take for granted – freedom of speech, assembly, religion and press. In addition, Israel respects the rights of women, gays and minorities. None of these values are respected by the Palestinian Authority or the 21 Arab states.
In a particularly twisted interpretation, W/M maintain that Israel is undemocratic because it will not give the Palestinians a state. What does Palestinian statehood have to do with Israeli democracy? And on what basis do they conclude Israel is obligated to give the Palestinians anything? Are they unaware the Palestinians have had multiple opportunities for statehood, going back to 1937, which they have rejected? Even today, Israel does not deny them statehood and explicitly recognizes their right to independence. The principal obstacle remains the Palestinians’ own failure to stop the violence against Israel and negotiate a peace treaty that ends the conflict.
In one of their explicit attacks on Israel, the authors claim the Israelis “killed several foreign peace activists” and rarely investigates these incidents. Of course, the most celebrated “peace activist” to die, Rachel Corrie, was in a military zone where she did not belong and died in an accident that was indeed investigated. In truth, Israelis are very demanding when it comes to holding their government accountable. While the Arab world took the massacres in places such as Damour, Lebanon, and Hama, Syria, as routine, it was the Israeli public that insisted on an inquiry into the events at Sabra and Shatila. Like other detractors, W/M are only interested in innocents if Israelis can be blamed, but they have no concern for Arabs killed by Arabs or Jews killed by Arabs.
The esteemed scholars also repeat the usual propaganda about Israel showing no regard for civilians. This is an insult to the IDF’s doctrine of the purity of arms and to the memories of soldiers such as the 27 who died in the battle of Jenin when the IDF decided to fight hand-to-hand in the refugee camp to minimize the risk to innocents rather than bombing it as every other army in the world would have done.
Foreign Aid As Hammer
Paradoxically, W/M want to use foreign aid as a stick to coerce Israel to adopt their favored policies while at the same time attacking the justification and amount of aid Israel receives. Members of Congress understand, however, that aid to Israel is an investment in peace because it discourages Israel’s enemies from believing it can be defeated and gives Israelis confidence to take risks for peace. It is true that Israel is the largest recipient of aid, but economic assistance has just been phased out and Israel’s share of foreign assistance has dropped from about 25% to 10%.
W/M have a seriously flawed understanding of foreign aid allowances. They talk about per capita assistance as though the money goes directly to Israeli citizens, but then acknowledge that 75% of military aid is actually spent in the U.S. so that Americans benefit. They compare aid to Israel and Egypt, but don’t consider whether Egypt has any need for the aid. More significant is their failure to understand that it is the support of the Israeli lobby for foreign aid in general, and Egypt and Jordan in particular, that makes it possible for them to get the amounts of assistance they do from Congress. They actually turn the facts on their head and claim aid to Jordan and Egypt is an example of U.S. generosity to Israel! This is yet another refutation of their thesis that the lobby makes relations worse with the Arabs. W/M also lament that Israel receives aid that could better be spent on needier countries, but aid is so unpopular that it is unlikely the budget would be as big or as likely to pass without the lobby pushing Congress to support the overall aid package. The lobby, therefore, makes it possible for all those needy countries to receive assistance.
The Iraq War
The war with Iraq appears to be the catalyst for W/M to have written their original article. They are so upset by the war that they saw the need to attack those responsible for what many see as the Bush administration’s catastrophic policy. Their scapegoat is the Israeli lobby, but more specifically Jews and other neocons. In their analysis, government officials are incapable of any independent judgments. When asked about the notion that these malevolent forces were the “driving force behind the Iraq war,” former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told the New Yorker, “I suppose the implication of that is that the President and the Vice-President and myself and Colin Powell just fell off a turnip truck to take these jobs.” In fact, while Rumsfeld is generally viewed by opponents of the war as the man most responsible for what they consider a debacle, W/M reserve their contempt primarily for the Jews in the administration that were involved in formulating Iraq policy.
Of course, W/M also ignore many of the salient facts regarding the views of “the lobby.” First, no organization advocated going to war. AIPAC and others highlighted the threat posed by Saddam Hussein to Israel and American interests, but did not say a war was necessarily the answer. Israel also was not pressuring the U.S. to attack. To the contrary, despite W/M’s assertions, Israeli officials were arguing that Iran was the bigger threat. They even try to turn this against Israel by suggesting that Israel must not have been so concerned about Iran because it didn’t “undertake a significant effort to halt the march to war.” If the lobby had opposed the war, perhaps it would have been cheered by W/M, but why was it up to Israel to try to stop the U.S. from pursuing its own interests? Why weren’t other countries, such as the UK, responsible for halting the march to war? Furthermore, while some Israelis made statements that the world and Israel would be better off without Saddam, W/M say the Saudis and oil companies were against the war, so why would the administration pay more attention to the Israelis?
And how did the neocons they see responsible for the war convince all those Democrats in Congress that they should endorse the war? Their answer is that they manipulated intelligence. They quote a New York Times reporter claiming Israeli intelligence played a role in convincing Wolfowitz not to trust the CIA and, a paragraph later, they say the Bush administration received “alarmist” reports by an ad hoc intelligence group in Sharon’s office that bypassed the Mossad. Ok, let’s assume that is true. What about the British and the French intelligence services? Are the Israelis so convincing that everyone else was ignored? W/M already argued that the CIA and State Department don’t trust them. Like most opponents of the war, they simply ignore the fact that there was a pretty broad consensus among the major allies that Saddam was a threat and that he had WMD.
W/M also contend that the Israelis were behind Bush’s policy to democratize the Middle East. What evidence do they have for this? The Israelis know better than anyone that the prospects for democracy in Arab countries are bleak, and they were interested more in removing their enemy and enhancing their regional security than in a democratic postwar Iraq. To the extent the lobby had an interest in democratization, it was secondary to military-strategic-terror issues.
Another lobby position they stand on its head is the suggestion that Israel’s supporters advocate U.S. military involvement in the region to protect Israel. One of Israel and the lobby’s longstanding talking points, however, is that Israel can defend itself and has never asked Americans to protect them.
Once the United States made the decision to go to war with Iraq, there was no reason why the lobby should not have supported the government, as most Americans did initially. W/M claim the lobby didn’t represent Jews when it came to the war, but how do they come to this conclusion? Throughout the book, it is not clear when they believe the lobby represents the Jews and when it does not.
They are correct when they say the war in Iraq wasn’t about oil, but they are wrong when they contend that no American government has considered seizing the oil fields. In fact, Nixon considered it during the oil embargo.
It is interesting that W/M declare Iraq a failure. This is a remarkably shortsighted view for academics. We’re years from knowing the consequences of the war. The politicians may rush to judgment to win votes, but serious analysts cannot reach conclusions yet. In the short-term it is possible to list numerous achievements, such as ousting Saddam and ending the government’s support for terror both inside and outside the country. Iraqis also voted despite the danger they faced in an expression of their desire for democracy, even as W/M suggest it’s an impossible or unreasonable goal. They also say Israel wants the U.S. to stay in Iraq, but, again, Israel believes the focus needs to be on Iran. Israelis worry about a precipitous withdrawal, but even most Democrats understand that the policy W/M advocate would be potentially calamitous for the Iraqi people and America’s interests in the region.
They also misrepresent some of the implications of the war. For example, they insist Libya gave up its WMD in exchange for lifting sanctions. In fact, it was the Iraq war they so oppose that changed Libya’s position.
Another example of stunning stupidity is the idea that Iran and Syria are happy the U.S. is in Iraq. The last thing either wants is 150,000+ U.S. soldiers on their borders. Those two countries are even more eager than W/M to see American troops retreat to a safer distance. Equally absurd is their contention that creating a Palestinian state would improve the situation in Iraq, as if Sunnis and Shiites would suddenly stop killing each other because Mahmoud Abbas was recognized as president of Palestine.
Though they have demonstrated throughout the book they have no interest in Israel’s security, they shed crocodile tears for Israel in the aftermath of the war. They say Israel is considerably worse off to bolster their case the war was a failure. Here, too, their analysis is faulty and relies on quotations that support their argument and ignores any evidence Israel has benefitted from the demise of Saddam. Israel is much better off for now: The leader of the rejectionists is gone, suicide bombers are no longer receiving Iraqi subsidies, and Israelis are no longer threatened by WMDs from the one Arab country that fired missiles at them.
The section on Iran is one of many where you scratch your head and wonder where W/M got their ideas. They say, for example, that Israel won’t take steps toward peace with the Arabs unless it feels secure from Iran, yet Israel did offer peace to the Palestinians, made peace with Jordan and Egypt, and all but signed a treaty with Syria without regard to Iran. Still, what is wrong with Israel being concerned about Iran? If W/M say the U.S. has an interest in peace, it must take into account Israel’s security concerns, but they want to impose their solution with no regard for Israeli security, which would undermine what they claim is their objective, namely, regional stability. If a peace is forced on Israel that leads to future war (as was the case when Eisenhower forced Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai in 56, which they applaud), the policy is counterproductive.
Another of their bizarre assertions is that the Israeli lobby is to blame for the United States not having diplomatic relations with Iran. Did they sleep through the 444 days Americans were held hostage? Are they unaware of the belligerence of Khomeini and his followers? Have they seen any of the “Death to America” rallies held in the last 30 years? What values or interests does the United States share at the moment with Iran? Up until the revelation that Iran was secretly trying to build nuclear weapons, the lobby paid little attention to Iran and was not trying to discourage relations with the United States. Even now, with the nuclear threat a clear and increasingly present danger, the lobby’s concern is not diplomatic ties with Iran, it is finding the best way to prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb.
They further descend into the nuthouse by repeating the ridiculous assertion that Iranian President Ahmedinejad’s remarks about Israel’s destruction were mistranslated. This was also the ludicrous position of the former president of the Middle East Studies Association, Michigan Professor Juan Cole, which was refuted by official Iranian news sources.
W/M say Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons because it feels threatened by the U.S. They’ve felt threatened by America for the last two decades? No, the Iranians felt threatened by Saddam’s desire for hegemony and their belief, along with everyone else, that he was building nuclear weapons. Having a bomb wouldn’t protect Iran from the United States anyway, at least until they develop a missile capable of reaching us. They also claim America is responsible for Iranian interference in Iraq as though Iran has no interests in shaping the future of Iraq.
The authors put their faith in deterring Iran, comparing the situation with the U.S. posture toward China and Russia. In typically realist fashion, they focus on the political/military/economic aspects of the problem and ignore religion and psychology. They are not worried about Islamism and the possibility that Iranian leaders may not fear mutual assured destruction because they believe they will reach Paradise or bring about the return of the missing imam or otherwise hasten the worldwide victory of Islam over the infidels.
W/M assert that Arab states won’t support American policy on Iran because of Israel. This is rubbish. The Arab states are scared to death of the Iranians and not the least bit worried about the Israelis. They will appease or confront the Iranians based on their calculation of the best way to preserve their regimes.
While they do acknowledge Arab concerns with the Iranian threat, they completely ignore European interests. Since Israel has already been threatened by Iran, and Iranian proxies wage daily war against Israel, it is not surprising the Israelis are worried, but why are the leaders of Germany, France, and Great Britain all leading the campaign to stop Iran from obtaining a bomb? Even W/M do not believe they are doing so out of concern for Israel’s well-being. The desire to prevent a nuclear Iran may be the one issue today that has perhaps the broadest international consensus.
What do the brilliant realists believe is the proper approach toward Iran? They believe Iran should be allowed to have nuclear weapons and then America should try to contain them. Paradoxically, they opposed the Clinton containment policy of non-nuclear Iran. They believe Iran can be stopped through diplomacy and normalizing relations. This ignores the last several years of history during which the Europeans have negotiated and offered Iran a variety of carrots and the Iranians used these talks to buy time to advance their weapons program. The authors imply U.S. sanctions imposed on Iran are an example of Bush’s misguided policies when the House and Senate unanimously approved the legislation during Clinton’s term. W/M say some administration officials hated the act and expect readers to agree the presence of opposition somehow makes the policy wrong.
In yet another contradiction, they say that Clinton was pursuing their desired policy of moving toward a dialogue with Iran, but W/M note that hardliners in Iran opposed Iran’s engagement with the “Great Satan.” Still, they blame the lobby for discouraging rapprochement, even as they show there was no chance of this occurring on the Iranian side during the last two administrations. They conclude that the best strategy is to renounce threats against Iran and compromise.
They clearly are worried the Jews are going to drag America into a war with Iran as they did with Iraq. They assert that Israel and various constituents of the lobby, especially the neocons, favor military action. No part of the lobby, however, has advocated going to war. On the contrary, the argument has been to take the necessary steps to prevent Iran from getting to the point where war is necessary. AIPAC, for example, has championed the idea of sanctions. Even those who are skeptical of nonmilitary approaches express reservations about the consequences of a military strike.
Apologists for Hezbollah
W/M spend an entire chapter ranting about Israel’s behavior in fighting Hezbollah in 2006 and are upset the U.S. didn’t criticize Israel, which it said killed 1,000 Lebanese (they don’t say it, but most were terrorists), and undermined the Lebanese government and ultimately brought Iran, Syria and Hezbollah closer. In their coverage of the war, Hezbollah did nothing to provoke Israel, the indiscriminate rocket barrage on Israeli cities was irrelevant and no Jews suffered whatsoever.
In fact, the Iran/Syria/Hezbollah axis existed before the fighting and didn’t get any stronger because of Israel’s actions. If anything it highlighted for the rest of the world this axis of evil and led to greater isolation of all three. Israel’s actions also didn’t undermine the Lebanese government, it is the Syrians who are bent on doing that, but W/M are either uninterested or unaware of the Syrian view of Lebanon as its southern province. In their view, Hezbollah’s actions were not unusually provocative, but they were actually acts of war.
The lobby is blamed for persuading the Bush Administration to support Israel, but the government and public understood that Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s actions was justified. The Congress voted 410-8 to support Israel, but W/M focused only on its rejection of language regarding protecting civilians and infrastructure.
The authors say Israel targeted civilians in Lebanon and they found “little evidence” that Hezbollah used civilians as shields. Plenty of evidence is available, however, including photographs and videotape, but they simply ignore the facts when they contradict their thesis. W/M also repeat the criticism that Israel’s response was “disproportionate,” relying on discredited reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, without giving any indication what a proportionate response would be to the indiscriminate missile attacks launched by Hezbollah against Israeli cities. They claim Israel caused catastrophic damage and suggest it wasn’t pinpointed as Israel claimed; however, the IDF could have easily taken out all of Lebanon’s power, water and electricity, but did not, focusing instead on targets designed to weaken Hezbollah.
They assert that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert saw the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers as an opportunity to implement a long planned campaign against Hezbollah, but the Winograd report has shown just the opposite, that there was no plan and too little thought was given to going to war.
As they do throughout the book, W/M claim most people share their views. They say, for example, that once the war began, Israel was heavily criticized around the globe when, in fact, Israel’s actions were initially widely supported as a justified response to Hezbollah’s aggressive actions and violation of Israeli sovereignty. It was not until the war appeared to be dragging on without a conclusive outcome, and the damage and casualties in Lebanon began to grow, that opinion started to turn against Israel.
Paradoxically, W/M say the mainstream media supported Israel. A paragraph later, however, they contradict themselves again by citing a study by Marvin Kalb at Harvard, which showed that Israel was heavily criticized on the front pages of the New York Times and Washington Post. In another example of their shoddy and selective research, they ignore the rest of the study in which Kalb eviscerated the media coverage and highlighted its anti-Israel bias. According to W/M, the negative coverage of Israel was unavoidable because of the amount of destruction Israel caused. Here the two academic political scientists pretend to know more about reporting than the professional journalist Kalb. They also defend a report by Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks, who made perhaps the most outrageous charge of the war when he claimed that Israel intentionally left Hezbollah rocket launchers intact because having Israeli civilians killed helped Israel in the public relations war. That report was so indefensible the Post’s editor took the unusual step of repudiating his reporter and retracting the story, but perhaps the Post was cowed by the lobby.
One central thesis of their book is that the relationship with Israel hurts the American national interest and they reassert the position here by suggesting that U.S. support for Israel in Lebanon reinforced anti-Americanism. Actually, it did not because Hezbollah’s actions were seen as reckless and most of the Arab world blamed its leader for provoking Israel and bringing ruin to Lebanon.
Cooking the Books
The authors often grasp for data to support their case and present incomplete or misleading statistics. For example, they cite a poll showing that 40% of Americans believe support for Israel causes anti-Americanism, which a) does not mean that the supposition is true and b) indicates a majority does not agree. Had they written that 60% of Americans do not believe that U.S. support for Israel causes anti-Americanism it would have undermined their argument. Similarly, they say 39% (again, far less than a majority) believe the lobby was the reason we went to war in Iraq and want to confront Iran. In other words, the entire premise of their book, that debate is silenced, that Americans don’t support the lobby’s positions and that U.S. support for Israel is contrary to American interests, is contradicted by their own poll data which shows they are being given choices but majorities reject their distorted view of the world. And, incidentally, these were the best figures they could find for their case and they came from a poll conducted by the rabidly anti-Israel Council for the National Interest.
It is possible to cite far more reputable data that has consistently shown that a majority of Americans sympathize with Israel while a tiny minority support the Palestinians (the last Gallup poll in February 2007 showed Americans supported Israel over the Palestinians by 58%-20%) and an even larger majority view Israel as a reliable ally (75% in the 2006 Harris poll). Overall favorability ratings of Israel in the February 2008 Gallup poll were 71%, the highest since the record 79% rating during the first Gulf War. By contrast, just 14% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Palestinian Authority, while 75% have an unfavorable view. The PA is rated just above North Korea (12%) and Iran (8%) as the least popular countries.
W/M can’t accept that the pro-Israel views of the general public, the media, elites, or public officials could be accurate portrayals of the national interest and that they are simply out of step or just plain wrong.
W/M make a number of absurd claims regarding Syria. For example, they maintain that Bush’s hostility toward Syria damaged the U.S. position in the region. First, Bush’s posture has nothing to do with the lobby. Israelis have been wanting to negotiate with the Syrians (and have had secret talks with them) and been reportedly held back by Bush. Second, none of America’s allies in the region have been disturbed by Bush’s policy toward Syria. On the contrary, Syria is isolated in the region because of its alliance with Iran and its interference in Lebanon. When Damascus recently hosted an Arab League summit, most of the major players boycotted the meeting. Even when the United States was accused of supporting Israel’s raid on Syria’s nuclear facility, none of the Arab states complained.
Their amateurish views are further reflected in their lack of knowledge of the history of U.S.-Syrian relations and the fact, for example, that the U.S. has had little contact with Syria for years. Bush has been more openly hostile, but this is justified by Syria’s escalation of anti-American activities during his term in Iraq and Lebanon. Furthermore, Bush undoubtedly resents that Syrian President Bashar Assad lied when he said he would close down the terrorist headquarters in Damascus and, instead, increased his support for terror groups.
It’s also clear they’re not too clever when it comes to military analysis. They argue that Syria poses no military danger to Israel, ignoring their WMD, their ongoing support for terror in general and Hezbollah in particular, and the ongoing threat to attack the Golan. They also say that Syria does not have a nuclear program and they see no reason to think it will pursue one anytime soon. Oops, got that wrong too as we now know Syria was working with North Korea on a nuclear program when Israel bombed their facility in September 2007. Even before the Israeli raid, knowledgeable analysts had raised the possibility that Syria was indeed interested in developing a nuclear weapon.
W/M apparently have no problem with terrorism, so long as it is directed at Israel. According to the authors, Syria doesn’t support global terror only terror against Israel. Would they feel the same if the terror was directed against other U.S. allies? They also ignore the fact that Syrian terror is also directed against Lebanon and that their Hezbollah proxies killed more Americans than any other terror group except for Al-Qaeda on 9/11.
The authors say the U.S. counted on Syria to keep the peace in Lebanon and favored the Syrian occupation. It’s not clear where they get this wacky idea since successive administrations called for Syria’s withdrawal. Of course, W/M don’t care about the instability of Lebanon caused by Iran and Syria or the suffering of people there except when Israel is involved. They also ignore that Lebanon signed a peace treaty with Israel that Syria forced the government to annul.
Not surprisingly W/M blame Israel for failing to reach a peace agreement with Syria even though the Israelis offered the Syrians most of the Golan Heights in exchange for peace and, to this day, Assad refuses to say that he will make peace under any circumstances. They portray Syria as wanting peace talks and Israeli “intransigence” as the obstacle when Prime Minister Olmert explicitly called for talks. They mention secret meetings of Israelis and Syrians, but they interpret this as evidence only of Syria’s interest in peace. The Israelis were apparently there for show. In a typical contradiction, they say that holding the Golan is popular with the Israeli right, but then provide poll data showing overwhelming public opposition to giving it up. Since they do not acknowledge the Golan’s strategic value, it is not surprising that they would not understand the Israeli public’s attitude.
The apologetics continue when they suggest that Syria only supports terror groups because “they are the only levers it has to pressure Israel into returning Golan.” Oh really? They’ve tried that tactic now for more than 30 years and it hasn’t worked too well; maybe they should try another approach. Then again, Israel already has agreed to return the Golan so what’s the justification for continued terror?
W/M criticize the Syria Accountability Act, which they argue is another example of the lobby pushing Congress to adopt a measure that is contrary to their view of America’s interest. But why isn’t it in the U.S. interest to call on Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, give up WMD and stop supporting terror? In the end, they note that Bush largely ignored the legislation, so the lobby is so powerful it got a law adopted that has no impact. That’s their idea of power?
They suggest the lobby is really interested in regime change in Syria. On the contrary, Israel has not pushed for regime change in large measure because of fears the alternative could be worse than Assad.
According to W/M Syria is no threat to the U.S. “even taking into account its possible role in helping the Iraqi insurgency.” So even if they’re helping to kill Americans, they’re no concern to W/M. Of course, no one has argued that Syria poses a danger to the U.S. beyond the above-mentioned activities that undermine our regional interests.
W/M also maintain that unnamed “powerful groups in the lobby” are working to prevent U.S. cooperation with Syria. Here they suggest the lobby isn’t united, that parts of the lobby act independently and that they are more influential than the lobby as a whole. Their logic is convoluted and understanding of interest groups juvenile. Perhaps a few Arabists in the State Department believe the U.S. can or should cooperate with Syria, but no one else needs the lobby to tell them this is a bad idea.
Like Jimmy Carter, W/M try to convince readers that the powerful and evil lobby is stifling debate about U.S. Middle East policy. I’m not sure how they do it with a straight face as they crisscross the United States and parts of Europe giving lectures and appear on nearly every media outlet from Stephen Colbert to NPR. They probably thought their book would be in every hotel room next to the bible or in airplane seatback pockets if not for the lobby’s malevolent influence. In yet another contradiction, after complaining vigorously about the censorship of Israel’s detractors, they acknowledge that attacks on Carter didn’t prevent him from widely publicizing his views.
Angry over the almost universal criticism they’ve received from academics who savaged their original article, W/M devote an entire chapter reinforcing the canard that the lobby is trying to silence professors. According to W/M it is unacceptable to challenge their views and it is untoward to support scholars who study Israel.
While they see nothing wrong with millions of dollars being spent by Arab governments to create chairs and centers to propagate distorted views of Islam and the Middle East, they are offended by the news that a Jewish philanthropist was considering a large donation to support Israel studies at Georgetown. Meanwhile, Georgetown accepted a $20 million gift from the Saudis to create a center for Christian-Muslim understanding (noticeably absent is Judaism).
They are also determined to defend some of the more indefensible characters. For example, they blame the lobby for Michigan professor Juan Cole failing to secure a teaching post at Yale. Cole is better known for his anti-Israel screeds (and claiming Ahmedinejad’s threats against Israel were mistranslated) than any of his academic work. W/M also neglect to mention that Cole was also reportedly rejected by Duke, an indication more of the quality of his scholarship than the conspiratorial activities of the lobby.
W/M also defend Columbia University, whose anti-Israel faculty became the subject of widespread scrutiny and criticism. They attack the film, “Columbia Unbecoming,” as a propaganda film, but it is not clear whether they actually saw the film, which documents many of the abuses at Columbia. They cite the academic review of the charges from the film to impugn the critics, but that review was widely seen by everyone familiar with the situation at Columbia as a whitewash (all the committee members had ties to the department and three had called for divestment from Israel). The university was so concerned with the activities in the Middle Eastern Languages and Civilization department that it took over its administration.
Imagine a professor teaching in an astronomy department that the world is flat and then claiming he is entitled to teach this because he has academic freedom and anyone who says otherwise is engaged in McCarthyism. This is essentially the position of W/M and others engaged in pseudo scholarship related to the Middle East. They maintain the right to say whatever they want, but deny anyone else similar freedom. Moreover, they claim immunity to criticism, and insist that anyone who dares to point out the speciousness of their work is engaged in a campaign of censorship.
They also assert that no one can criticize detractors like Jimmy Carter, Tony Judt or Tony Kushner (a playwright who knows nothing about Middle East politics, but spouts criticism of Israeli policies) because they’re “respected” individuals and any criticism of them amounts to “smearing.”
W/M have a number of prescriptions for saving the United States from the dreaded Israel lobby. For example, they argue the United States should keep its armed forces “over the horizon” to reduce resentment toward America. The idea is based on the false assumption that the presence of American troops is the cause of resentment rather than rejection of our values by Islamists. The deployment of U.S. forces also has nothing to do with Israel since the lobby has no interest in seeing American soldiers in Saudi Arabia or other Arab states.
They also believe the U.S. should cut a deal with Iran without specifying what kind of agreement, and after writing earlier that the Iranians have no interest in negotiating with the United States. In May 2008, the U.S. and the other major powers offered Iran a series of carrots to stop their nuclear program and the Iranians defiantly rejected them.
The Arabs are not expected to do anything to contribute to peace. The entire onus is on Israel. W/M believe the U.S. should force Israel to give up the Golan Heights. The U.S. should also oppose the “expansionist” Israeli policy, setting aside the fact that Israel is the only expansionist power in history to repeatedly give up territory. Israel must give up more, however, and return nearly to the 1967 borders and acknowledge the right of the Palestinian refugees to return. Why? How does that serve U.S. interests?
In their fantasy world, ending the occupation would solve all the region’s problems. Of course they don’t address the sticky issue of why there was no peace before the occupation or after disengagement.
W/M call for a cutoff of economic and military aid if Israel doesn’t accept a Palestinian state or if Israel acts unilaterally (even though that would end the occupation!). Have they considered Jordan’s concerns about a Palestinian state? Or Egypt’s? They certainly don’t discuss them. Israel does accept a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians have not been willing to agree to one that coexists with Israel. They say the U.S. has to put significant pressure on Israel to accept the Clinton parameters, but it was Israel that accepted them in 2000 while the Palestinians rejected the plan. In one more contradiction they say Eisenhower could threaten Israel, but those days are past. Later, however, W/M give examples that those times have not yet past. In fact, Reagan and both Bushes went beyond threats and did punish Israel when they were upset by certain policies.
W/M want the U.S. to promise support to the Palestinians if they end terrorism, but this was precisely the bargain George Shultz made in 1988, Bill Clinton made in 1993 and George W. Bush made in 2002. The Palestinians have yet to fulfill any of their promises but W/M see no reason to criticize them or call for tougher measures to encourage their compliance.
Another straw man they build is the suggestion that the only alternatives to a two state solution are expulsion, binationalism or apartheid. But Israel accepts a two-state solution. And even if it didn’t, there are other options they don’t consider, such as a confederation with Jordan.
After spending 350 pages complaining, the authors are left with the question of how to fight the nefarious lobby. They see little hope of weakening it, though they believe campaign finance reform would help (that was also the view after the post-Watergate reforms, but it did not happen). W/M think a counter lobby will be too small and underfinanced, but they would like Jewish leaders to recognize the error of their ways and create a new lobby. After bashing Israel throughout the book, they now presume to know what’s best for the pro-Israel community. They also call for scholars and journalists to resist lobby efforts to shape the debate, but those same elites should listen to their effort to misinform them.
In their view, the flawed policies of the Bush Administration are so apparent and adverse that the impact of the lobby is impossible to overlook. But it is overlooked because most people disagree with them.
Israel’s detractors have embraced the book because its argument fits neatly into their views of an all-powerful group of Jews who control U.S. foreign policy, but they should be offended by the racist, paternalistic tone of the book, which sees the Arabs as impotent and unable to affect their own fate or influence U.S. policy.
While reviewers and experts in the field have dismissed the book, it could have an impact on attitudes toward the lobby and U.S. Middle East policy because it is likely to penetrate college classrooms around the country. Some professors who themselves lack sufficient expertise to recognize the book’s flaws will assign it either because of the reputations of the authors or the belief that it covers an important element of Middle East decision-making. Some instructors may see the book as a way to “balance” works sympathetic to Israel; others whose courses are already one-sided will see the book as bolstering their political agendas. It is comparable to teaching a course on the Holocaust and putting the work of deniers on the syllabus.
Sources: Mitchell Bard is the AICE Executive Director