The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

author: Stephen Walt, John F. Kennedy School of Government
author: John Mearsheimer, Political Science Department, University of Chicago
author: Bruce Riedel, The Brookings Institution
published: Jan. 28, 2013,   recorded: October 2007,   views: 2604
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The authors of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy caused a sensation on the Beltway and on campuses across the U.S. Here they walk a respectful MIT audience through their argument that Israel does not deserve unconditional support from the U.S.

Stephen Walt builds a case that a special relationship exists between the U.S. and Israel, involving billions of dollars’ worth of economic and military aid. This support, amounting to $500 per year for each Israeli citizen, comes even when Israel is doing things the U.S. opposes. Walt claims this relationship derives primarily from the influence of a powerful, pro-Israel lobby -- a loose coalition of individuals and groups, he is careful to say, not a cabal. This lobby functions openly to influence U.S. policy to favor Israel and has enough clout, he says “to help drive politicians from office who are considered ineffective” on Israel issues, as well as “shape public discourse so Israel is viewed favorably by most Americans.” Critics of Israel’s actions typically find themselves branded anti-Semitic “and marginalized in the public arena.” Walt points out various examples of blackballing, including abrupt cancellations in his own book tour, as evidence of the lobby’s impact.

This U.S.-Israel relationship, says John Mearsheimer, threatens the national interest of both nations. Hostility toward the U.S. among Arab states has only deepened since the 1967 war, as the U.S. protects Israel in the U.N., and ignores Israeli expansion on Palestinian lands. This resentment is fueling terrorism, including 9/11, Mearsheimer claims. Bin Laden was “deeply concerned with the plight of Palestinians since he was a young man. …The notion of payback for injustices suffered by the Palestinians is powerfully recurrent in his speeches.” Now, the Iraq war -- “one of the worst strategic blunders in American history,” says Mearsheimer -- has helped solidify anger against the U.S. and Israel among Arab nations. Mearsheimer believes that along with Washington’s neoconservatives, “Israel and the lobby were two of the main driving forces behind the decision to invade Iraq.” It’s time for the U.S. to treat Israel like other democracies, and to reward Israel when it behaves “in ways consistent with the U.S. national interest,” and to “use leverage to change Israel’s behavior…”

Respondent Bruce Riedel believes these arguments “oversimplify complex situations.” As a confessed member of the Israel lobby, as well as an intimate party to several rounds of Middle East peace talks, Riedel asserts that “neither Israel nor its supporters in the U.S. were a juggernaut always getting what they wanted nor unconditional help.” In particular, he disputes that Israel pushed for a war with Iraq: “Israel stood on the sidelines and said you got the wrong ‘IRA’ country, you should go after the other one.” He also says that while Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians have alienated most of the Muslim world, the policy issue for these countries is not how much of Gaza or the West Bank Israel should give back, but American support for the very existence of Israel.

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