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A look at the lobby system


Controversial new book raises good questions



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October 24, 2007
Writing of the array of special interests in America, political scientist Robert Dahl said that we have a democracy where "minorities rule," and many of them seek to control their issues almost totally.

Such is the case of the so called Israel lobby which is the focus of a controversial new book called 'The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy' by professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt which was published this summer. The book, an extended version of an earlier article which appeared in the London Review of Books, ignited a storm of controversy almost as soon as it was published.

The Israel lobby is not limited to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee but is a coalition, according to the authors, of "watchdog groups, think tanks, Christian evangelicals, sympathetic journalists and neocon academics" and conservative politicians.

The authors were accused of anti-Semitism for advancing the thesis that "many policies pursued on Israel's behalf now jeopardize U.S. national security." They went on to say: "The combination of unstinting U.S. support for Israel and Israel's prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory has fueled anti-Americanism throughout the Arab and Islamic world thereby increasing the threat from international terrorism and making it harder for Washington to…deal with a host of regional challenges."

The authors argue that while there is a strong moral case for supporting Israel's existence in the post cold war era, the United States no longer has any need for an indulgent patronage of Israel since such support is not in America's geo-political interests. "It is time for the United States to treat Israel not as a special case but as a normal state, and to deal with it much as it deals with any other country," they say.

To view Israel as a strategic liability runs contrary to the strong ties of sentiment, history, culture and religion that many Americans have for Israel and therefore it is no wonder the earlier article and subsequent book would run into a firestorm of criticism when they were published, not unlike former President Jimmy Carter faced with the publication of his recent book 'Palestine Peace Not Apartheid.'

By their examination of the Israel lobby the authors have sought to break taboos and stimulate a discussion about the special relationship the United States has had with Israel since 1948 and by doing so ignited charges of anti-Semitism from the lobby which are unfair and only seem to act as a cover for the criticisms of Israeli foreign policy the authors have mounted in their thesis.

Leslie H. Gelb, a former New York Times columnist and a past president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in a thoughtful critique of the book points out there are a number of flaws in the authors' argument that U.S. foreign policy has pretty much followed the dictates of the lobby in its unequivocal support of Israel. In fact this is not the case with respect to arms sales to Arab states and on the question of a Palestinian state.

While objective observers of our foreign policy would agree the influence of the Israel lobby is the single most important influence on our stance toward Israel among lobbies in Washington, it is but one of many strong players influencing government policy with such groups as the pro-Taiwan lobby, AARP and the National Rifle Association being much more powerful in influence.

Still, despite the flawed arguments and the sometimes harsh rhetoric, Mearsheimer and Walt have done a service by calling attention to the sometimes undo influence of the Israel lobby on American foreign policy and indirectly to the influence of lobbyists in general on politics.

Clearly reforming campaign finance laws and the lobbying process itself is an ongoing agenda item for the nation. By polarizing the debate to the extent that they have, Messrs. Mearsheimer and Walt are merely reflecting the divisive nature of our political debate which has characterized society in the last few years.

As economist John Kenneth Galbraith once said, "politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable." Given the catastrophic nature of our Mideast policy in the last few years the issues raised by Mearsheimer and Walt are perhaps part of the debate which should be raised in next year's presidential campaign.

By raising the issues they have, the authors have at least provided readers with a context, albeit a controversial one, for examining the U.S. and Israeli relationship fundamental to understanding the complexities of that troubled region called the Middle East.

Castle Creek
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