Power of Israeli lobby has made peace less achievable

A forensic analysis of American-Israeli relations and US foreign policy suggests neither power is benefiting in the long run, …

A forensic analysis of American-Israeli relations and US foreign policy suggests neither power is benefiting in the long run, suggests Tony Kinsella

In March two US academics published The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy on the Harvard website (a summary appears in the March issue of the London Review of Books), arguing that a powerful lobby has worked with tremendous efficiency to bring about a situation where the US has ". . . been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state".

The article describes two phenomena and advances three arguments. The professors describe how US Middle East policy has, since the 1967 war, been almost unreservedly pro-Israeli and how the Israel lobby works to achieve and sustain that reality.

They argue that Israeli policies are flawed, that US support for those policies works against the national interests of the US, and that the Israel lobby helped tip the scales in favour of the Iraq war.


Israel receives about $3 billion (€2.4 billion) in US aid each year, about one-fifth of total US foreign aid (a figure which rises to more than one-third when US aid to Egypt, a by-product of Washington's Israeli policy, is taken into account).

Uniquely, Israel receives its entire allocation in a lump sum at the beginning of the financial year, and Israel does not have to account in detail for its use. Israel is also allowed to devote about 25 per cent of it to its own defence industries (US military aid normally requires recipients to purchase US material).

The US not only remains stunningly silent on Israel's nuclear arsenal, but actively blocks attempts to have that arsenal discussed in bodies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency. Since 1982 the US has used its UN Security Council veto on 32 occasions in support of Israel - more vetoes than the other four permanent members combined.

The reality of Washington's uncritical support for Israel is well described by the two academics and so too are the structures and working methods of pro-Israeli lobby groups, primarily the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations. This is no anti-Semitic rant attributing paranormal powers to the lobbyists, but rather a detailed, and somewhat alarming description of an extraordinarily dedicated, efficient and well-endowed lobbying operation at work.

Fortune magazine ranked AIPAC as the second most powerful lobby after the American Association of Retired People. When Ariel Sharon was asked by an American audience how they could help Israel, he replied: "Help AIPAC."

The article goes beyond the actual lobby structures to explore its ties to the pro-Zionist Christian Right and neo-conservatives, to help explain its impact, given that Jews make up less than 3 per cent of the US population.

In a 2004 survey 36 per cent of US Jews said they were "not very" or "not at all" emotionally attached to Israel, while a 2003 survey showed more than 73 per cent of US voters favouring a neutral US approach to the Middle East conflict.

The lobby has helped create a political climate in which former congressman Dick Armey (a Republican from Texas) could declare in 2002 that his "number one priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel". National representatives are normally expected to make protecting their own country their highest priority.

The 83-page article, supported by 211 source notes, by Prof John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Prof Stephen Walt of Harvard, accurately describes these realities. It finds itself on much shakier ground when it argues that Israeli occupation policies are flawed, and that US support for Israel works against the best interests of both Israel and the United States.

This is not to fault their arguments that "Palestinian terrorism is not random violence directed against Israel or 'the West'; it is largely a response to Israel's prolonged campaign to colonise the West Bank and Gaza Strip", or that "the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel", but to recognise that these are arguments, albeit well-made and closely-supported, but nonetheless arguments.

They also argue that the Israel lobby was instrumental in tipping the Washington scales in favour of the 2003 invasion of Iraq - something Jerusalem saw as serving Israel's interests. That is an impossible argument to prove, and they fail to do so. They do, however, chillingly point out that a US which managed to live with a nuclear-armed USSR, China and North Korea could probably live with a similarly-armed Iran - something Israel would find considerably more threatening.

The article should have triggered, to quote Tony Judt in the New York Times, "a firestorm of vituperation". Vituperation there has been, but hardly of firestorm intensity. This relative silence is all the more striking given the normally swift blanket attacks which even the most mild criticism of Israeli policy and actions can bring down on those who make them.

Criticise Israel and you leave yourself open to being labelled as anti-Semitic, a negationist denier of the Holocaust, or an al-Qaeda supporter and advocate of terrorism. This is a risk that Mearsheimer and Walt clearly ran in preparing and publishing their work. The interesting reality is that while it has attracted comment and criticism around the world, mainstream US media has been largely silent - a very Imperfect Storm indeed.

Readers will remember the controversy which erupted over Emory University in Atlanta's invitation to Mary Robinson to be a commencement speaker there in 2004. The director of the University's Middle East Institute, Prof Kenneth Stein, questioned her belief that "the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict is the [ Israeli] occupation" and more than 1,000 students and staff signed a petition describing Mrs Robinson as anti-Semitic. Although she did deliver her address, the controversy continues with Gerald Steinberg writing in the April 2006 Canadian Jewish News of her promoting "the fiction the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the result of occupation".

The sad reality, and likely explanation for the studied silence in much of the US media, is that Mearsheimer and Walt are largely right and that US policy post-1967 has poorly served both the US and Israel.

Israel is an occupying power as recognised by the UN Security Council - with no US veto. Israel occupies lands she conquered in 1967. Israel has not, indeed cannot, annex those lands making them, under Israeli law at least, part of the national territory for to do so would be to make all West Bank/Gaza Palestinians into Israeli citizens, leaving Jews as a minority in Israel.

The success of Israeli arms has not only created this situation, it has much more dangerously created the erroneous mindset which suggests that force of arms alone can provide solutions.

Israel is trapped in a vicious circle largely of its own creation; its reluctance to strike a deal until terrorism ends nurtures that very terrorism. Israel helped bring Hamas into being as an alternative to an "impossible" Palestine Liberation Organisation of the late Yasser Arafat. Israeli policies helped bring Hamas to power, and like Dr Frankenstein, Israeli leaders must now contemplate the monster they helped to create.

Perhaps the saddest irony is that the very success of the Israel lobby in the US has provided Israel with the military means to permit itself the luxury of refusing to contemplate its political reality.

Israel's chosen options depend on US support, support that is contingent on continuing myopia in Washington. This runs counter to the very basis of Zionism - the Jewish need for a homeland where a persecuted people could assure their own security.

Mearsheimer's and Walt's article, and the low-level US reaction to it, may be the first sign that Washington's myopia is beginning to end. Perhaps it is time for Israelis to consider theirZionist self-interest rather than revelling in the achievements of their lobbying and the strength of their arms.

Mearsheimer and Walt's article may be read in full via http://ksgnotes1.harvard. edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/ RWP06-011;

The London Review of Books extract is available on http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/ n06/mear01_.html

Tony Kinsella is co-author, with Fintan O'Toole, of Why America Can't Rule The World, an examination of the limitations of US power.