CONFUSING THE ISSUE: MEARSHEIMER & WALT'S "THE ISRAEL LOBBY"

(Printed in London Review of Books Vol. 28 No. 6 23 March 2006)* download pdf

by Libby Frank
Member, Leadership Team, Women Challenge U.S. Policy: Building Peace on Justice in the Middle East (Women's Int'l. League for Peace and Freedom)

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of the paper, "The Israel Lobby," hold leading positions in American academic life.  The paper is provoking great interest in political and activist circles and  provides an opportunity to clarify issues of the "Israel Lobby" and U.S. policy. 

The authors' vivid descriptions of oppressive Israeli actions and the billions of dollars of U.S. tax money that go to Israel are accurate and do need public airing.  Successful efforts to keep the U.S. public ignorant of what is going on in the Middle East and the control of debate on these issues have also been accurately exposed here.

However, there are many problems in the paper.  I focus here on only a few.

            1.  The exoneration of U.S. from responsibility for its own foreign policy.

            2.  The definition of the "Israel Lobby."

            3.  Claims of no benefits to U.S. from Israel.

            4.  The "Jewish Face" of the Israel Lobby.

Most important, the authors (henceforth M-W) dismiss claims that the U.S. government's imperialist, repressive moves in the Middle East are an integral part of its overall foreign policy.  According to them, the "Israel Lobby" is to blame.

Noam Chomsky faults the paper, writing "that it leaves the US government untouched on its high pinnacle of nobility."1

Does Israel "divert" U.S. policy from "what its national interest would suggest" as stated by M-W, or do the interest of the right-wing Israeli government coincide with those of the U.S.?

Diverse voices around the world challenge the idea that the Lobby is responsible for U.S. policy vis a vis Israel.  Following are some of the most eloquent:

From Vijay Prashad in the online version of The Hindu (India)

"AIPAC AND AJC  [the American Jewish Committee] are powerful, but they do not determine U.S. foreign policy.  They are powerful not just because of their money, but because their views converge with those of the neo-conservative elements who dominate the ruling coalition in Washington." 2

"US geostrategic interest in a strong Israel has been considerable for a long time. The idea that after WWII the US or any other major power would allow independent Arab governments to emerge and control their own oil resources is simply not credible." 3

From Joseph Massad, Faculty Member at Columbia, in Al-Ahram Weekly;

"Is the pro-Israel lobby extremely powerful in the United States?  As someone who has been facing the full brunt of their power for the last three years through their formidable influence on my own university and their attempts to get me fired, I answer with a resounding yes.  Are they primarily responsible for US policies towards the Palestinians and the Arab world?  Absolutely not." 4

From the Palestine Solidarity Committee (USA);

"There is no evidence of a centralized international conspiracy of Jews to control banks, media, Congress, or the world in general....

"We find hints of this stereotype in the insistence that U.S. support for Israel is entirely due to the influence of the so-called 'Jewish lobby'....Furthermore, there are several other powerful factions that pressure the US government to support the Israeli government, such as right-wing Christian groups...and the Aerospace Industry Association (AIA).  The AIA, promoting sales of weapons and equipment to Israel, donates twice as much to political campaigns in this country as all the pro-Israel groups combined." 5

M-W state that since 1967, the "centrepiece of the US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel."  That relationship is not explained except as it is determined by the "Israel Lobby."

They allege that "... the Bush administration's ambition to transform the Middle East is at least partly aimed at improving Israel's strategic situation."  This, too, according to M-W, is explained only by the Israel Lobby.

That "Lobby" is defined by M-W as "shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction...Many of the key organisations in the Lobby, such as the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations, are run by hardliners who generally support the Likud Party's expansionist policies....The Lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals...and 'neo-conservative gentiles'...."

But a major omission from their definition is the powerful role of the weapons manufacturers and their lobby – namely the Aerospace Industry Association  (AIA).

The profits from arms sales to the Middle East by members of the AIA are tremendous.  Omitting this aspect obscures the drive by the U.S. for hegemony in the region.  It appears that M-W do not see this drive by the U.S. as a problem.

The AIA itself proudly acknowledges its role:  "...it is assumed that for any potential sale of U.S. defense equipment, a decision has already been made that such a sale would be consistent with U.S. foreign policy interests...." 6

M-W state that "The US has provided Israel with nearly $3 billion to develop weapons systems, and given it access to such top-drawer weaponry as Blackhawk helicopters and F-16 jets...."  But this is not due to the "Israel Lobby" as defined by M-W.  They don't mention the lobbying efforts by Sikorsky, the manufacturer of the Black Hawks, or Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the F-16s.

"Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Company is the world's largest "defense" contractor.  In 2001, Israel decided to purchase 52 additional F-16 fighter jets.  The contract value was reported to be approximately $1.3 billion..."  It has donated over $1 million to members of the US government committees responsible for awarding defence contracts, and in return has been rewarded with orders from the US federal government that are worth $65 million per day....There is also a 'revolving door' between the company and the Bush administration, with personnel working for Lockheed Martin moving to the Pentagon, and vice versa."

The producer of Blackhawk helicopters, "Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, is a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation.  In February 2001, Sikorsky was awarded a $211.8 million contract for 24 additional Black Hawk helicopters to serve the Israeli Air Force."7

"These companies targeted members of House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees, which allocate federal defense money, and the Armed Service committees.  Both companies spend heavily on lobbyists in Washington." 8

Can we imagine that Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin don't have vested interests in U.S. foreign policy?  Yet M-W make absolutely no mention of this kind of influence and it is not included in their definition of the Israel lobby.

M-W express concern that the U.S. isn't getting its money's worth from Israel, but they ignore benefits the U.S. currently receives from Israel.  While giving a good account of past assistance and cooperation with U.S. foreign policy, M-W tacitly convey the idea that currently it's a one-way street.  That is, that the U.S. is completely supporting Israel and getting nothing worthwhile in return.

But there are many ways Israel helps U.S. aggression today.  Two right-wing governments are supporting each other and gaining from each other.

As Joseph Massad has written in Al Ahram, "...it is in fact the very centrality of Israel to US strategy in the Middle East that accounts, in part, for the strength of the pro-Israel lobby and not the other way around.... The fact that it is more powerful than any other foreign lobby on Capitol Hill testifies to the importance of Israel in US strategy and not to some fantastical power that the lobby commands independent of and extraneous to the US 'national interest'  The pro-Israel lobby could not sell its message... if Israel was a communist or anti-imperialist country or if Israel opposed US policy elsewhere n the world."  4

Douglas Feith, currently U.S. Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, once explained that "...Israel has formidable military forces, intelligence capabilities, militarily relevant R&D skills, strategically located ports and airfields, training facilities, medical infrastructure, and high-quality equipment maintenance skills.  Israel willingly allows the U.S. to benefit from all this.  Without Israel, the U.S. couldn't duplicate these benefits in the Middle East, even if we spent many billions of dollars."10

Today, Israel is actively providing aid to the U.S. in Iraq.

In the words of an Associated Press release, "After decades of U.S. military aid and defense cooperation, the U.S. military is permeated by technology developed in Israel." 11

A remarkable story in the Los Angeles Times has recently reported on the advice and support that the U.S. receives from Israel on how to fight the insurgency in Iraq.  Here are some excerpts.

"In the last six months, U.S. Army commanders, Pentagon officials and military trainers have sought advice from Israeli intelligence and security officials on everything from how to set up roadblocks to the best way to bomb suspected guerrilla hide-outs in an urban area.

"Israeli and American officials confirm that ... the Pentagon is increasingly seeking advice from the Israeli military on how to defeat the sort of insurgency that Israel has long experience confronting.

"The Israelis 'certainly have a wealth of experience from a military standpoint in dealing with domestic terror, urban terror, military operations in urban terrain, and there is a great deal of intelligence and knowledge sharing going on right now, all of which makes sense,' a senior U.S. Army official said on condition of anonymity.  'We are certainly tapping into their knowledge base to find out what you do in these kinds of situations.'"

"Many of the tactics recently adopted by the U.S. in Iraq – increased use of airpower, aerial surveillance by unmanned aircraft of suspected sites, increased use of pinpoint search and seizure operations, the leveling of buildings used by suspected insurgents – bear striking similarities to those regularly employed by Israel.

"In the last week, U.S. soldiers began leveling houses and buildings used by suspected guerillas, a tactic long employed by the Israeli military in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.... The Americans learned a lot from the Israelis' use of [bulldozers] in urban combat." 12

In addition to weapons manufacturers, there are oil interests tied in with the administration.  These interests are dismissed by M-W, saying "there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim," that is, concern for oil.

One must also consider the gendarme role that nuclear-armed Israel plays in the region, a consideration completely ignored by M-W.

Let's be clear.  Criticism of Israeli government policy or repressive actions is not anti-Semitic.  But when one speaks of the "Israel Lobby," it resounds as the "Jewish Lobby."  M-W, focusing on Jewish lobby groups, add to that perception.

Mitchell Plitnick, of Jewish Voice for Peace, explains:  "One of the classic anti-Semitic myths is that of Jews manipulating governments and other seats of power behind the scenes.  That pretty closely describes the work of a lobby, and there is a powerful one, with a Jewish face, working to push particular policies regarding Israel.  We need to understand that lobby, what its effect is, and what its nature is.  That means asking, directly and fairly, is this a 'Jewish lobby', and does this truly have the power to be a tail wagging the dog of American Middle East policy?.... Jewish 'shadow control' is an old canard of anti-Semitism." 3

And Vijay Prashad in Frontline (India) continues "The idea of the 'Jewish lobby' is attractive because it draws upon at least a few hundred years of anti-Semitic worry about an international conspiracy operated by Jewish financiers to defraud the European and American working poor of their livelihood. ... The stereotype of a 'Jew' without a country, but with a bank, had no loyalty to the nation, no solidarity with fellow citizens .... The Nazis stigmatised the 'Jew' as the reason for poverty and exploitation and obscured the role played by capitalism...."

It is important to realize that U.S., policy is no more altruistic in the Middle East than it is anywhere else in the world.  The U.S. doesn't need an Israel Lobby to tell it how to conduct its own dirty business.

Many readers of the Mearsheimer-Walt paper are angry and frustrated by the one-sided policies of the U.S. government and their echo in the corporate media.  And many have welcomed the articulate exposé by M-W of elements in the Israel Lobby.

But what is presented relieves the U.S. government of almost all responsibility for its misdeeds in the region.  Thinking progressive activists cannot accept this thesis.

LMFrank1@verizon.net

                   April 2006

* The paper can be accessed at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/print/mear01_.html

Footnotes:

 1. Noam Chomsky. "The Israel Lobby?" Znet, March 28, 2006.

 2. Vijay Prashad. "The myth of the 'Jewish lobby.'" Frontline (India), Sept. 27-Oct.10, 2003. 

 3. Mitchell Plitnick. “Myth and Reality: Jewish Influence on US Middle East Policy.” Jewish Voice for Peace.  http://jewishvoiceforpeace.org/publish/printer_100.shtml

 4. Joseph Massad. "Blaming the Lobby." Al-Ahram Weekly On-Line, March 23-29, 2006, Issue 787.  http//weekly.ahram.org/eg/print/2006/787/op35.htm

 5. "Racism Against Jews is not Acceptable." Statement by the Palestine Solidarity Committee, Seattle, Washington. Undated. Internet site of the Palestine Information Project.  http://members.aol.com/edwardmast/antiracism.html

 6. "U.S. Government Advocacy Policy." White paper on defense trade. Aerospace Industries Association. 

 7. Sam Bahour. "Corporate America and the Israeli Occupation of Palestine." Counterpunch online, May Day 2002. htttp://www.counterpunch.org/bahour0501.html

 8. "Activists Occupy Office Lockheed Martin Brussels." For Mother Earth (Netherlands), Feb. 22, 2005.  http://www.motherearth.org/news/news/php?at=uHpuAc

 9. Lan Anh Nguyen. "Sikorsky ready to lobby for bid." The Middletown Press, Jan. 3, 2005.

10. Douglas J. Feith. "Strategic Ties Worth Enhancing," JINSA Online, Feb. 2, 1993. http://www.jinsa.org/articles/view.html?documentid=299

11. "U.S. military employs Israeli technology in Iraq war."  Associated Press story in online edition of USA Today, March 24, 2003.

12. Esther Schrader and Josh Meyer. “U.S. Seeks Advice from Israel on Iraq,” Los Angeles Times, Nov. 22, 2003, p. A1.

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