[These letters, from a wide variety of people, appeared in the London Review of Books shortly after its publication of the Mearsheimer-Walt essay on "The Israel Lobby." Among the writers are Alan Dershowitz and Daniel Pipes. For the original essay and the authors' response to these and other critiques, see two separate entries in this section of our Website.]
From Adam Glantz
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s piece (LRB, 23 March) boils down to a simple argument, despite copious circumstantial detail and politically correct evasiveness. The ‘Israel Lobby’, spearheaded by AIPAC, is a coterie of Jews, neo-conservatives and Christian Zionists that dominates US foreign policy. It achieves this through the strategic activity of its leaders and its ability to deflect criticism with accusations of anti-semitism.
This argument rests on the belief that a small clique can achieve hegemony over an entity as complex as the US government. AIPAC commands great resources, but its reputation for untrammelled dominance is grossly overstated. There are plenty of countervailing centres of power, such as paleoconservatives, Arab and Islamic advocacy groups (e.g. CAIR) and the diplomatic establishment. A more powerful explanation for the influence of the ‘Lobby’ is that its values command genuine support among the American public. According to a February 2006 Gallup poll, 59 per cent of Americans express strong support for Israel. This figure includes 77 per cent of Republicans, but also half of all Democrats. Far from being the result of unschooled myths and stereotypes, support for Israel is higher among people who follow international events than among those who don’t (i.e. 66 per cent v. 59 per cent).
In addition, reducing American (and Western) conflict with Islam to the issue of Israel obscures more than it reveals. It fails to explain anti-Western Islamicist movements in places as far from Israel as Algeria and the Philippines. It refuses to examine instances when the US, on its own merits, trampled on Muslim self-esteem (in Iran from 1953 to 1979, in Lebanon in 1958), and when non-‘Lobby’ Americans may have had personal axes to grind in the Middle East (e.g. the Bush family in Iraq). Mearsheimer and Walt don’t consider the way that Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf sheikhdoms justify their own autocratic privileges by bankrolling extremism against Israel, or the reasons young European Muslims respond to discrimination in their host societies with anger not at white Europeans, but at a country thousands of miles away. Could it be that vote-seeking European leftists and Saudi-funded Islamic clerics are amplifying the conflict in the Middle East into a transnational obsession? The violence following the publication of Danish cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad in late 2005 may be instructive in this regard: though touching a real nerve, it was widely recognised that particular groups and countries were prolonging the outrage for their own benefit. Josef Joffe argued in Foreign Policy last year that ‘far from creating tensions, Israel actually contains more antagonisms than it causes.’ The USA may very well be purchasing world stability at a bargain through its alliance with Israel.
Perhaps hardest to swallow is Mearsheimer and Walt’s moralising tone. They present themselves as hard-headed realists dispassionately guarding America’s national interest, which is surprisingly not compromised by nuclear weapons in North Korean or Iranian hands. They then catalogue Israel’s moral flaws, refusing to give equal time to Palestinian extremism, maximalism and truculence. We are left with the impression that Israel’s founding and post-1967 expansion were gratuitous sins, while the refusal of the Palestinians to compromise in the 1930s or their current cult of violence are (presumably) natural responses, fixed and unalterable. Having made this point, the authors presume to suggest that a more restrained US policy will be good for Israel. This is probably a display of monumental presumptuousness, but I’ll give the authors more credit than they give Israel and chalk it up to sheer myopia.
Adam Glantz Herndon, Virginia
From Michael Szanto
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt give a strikingly inaccurate account of Middle Eastern history. Arab resentment of America originates from a long pattern of British and French imperialism in the region. This resentment evolved into a more generalised anti-Westernism perpetuated and exploited by the USSR and Soviet allies like Nasser. The distrust of the West including America was further exacerbated by a feeling in the region that the United States often favoured pro-American dictators over more democratic leaders. Over the past two decades, anti-Western militancy in the Middle East has evolved from a Marxist movement into one built on a twisted religious extremism. At the same time, the Arab world has been afflicted with extreme anti-semitism reminiscent of Nazism. A lost war by Israel or a significant poison gas attack on Tel Aviv could easily translate into another holocaust. Finally, support for Israel does not seem quite so extensive when one considers the massive level of manpower America has deployed over the past six decades to defend Western Europe, South Korea and Japan.
Michael Szanto Chicago
From Daniel Pipes
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt write: ‘The Lobby also monitors what professors write and teach. In September 2002, Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes, two passionately pro-Israel neo-conservatives, established a website (Campus Watch) that posted dossiers on suspect academics and encouraged students to report remarks or behaviour that might be considered hostile to Israel.’ This account is inaccurate in several ways (e.g. Martin Kramer had no role in founding Campus Watch), but I write specifically to state that no ‘Lobby’ told me to start Campus Watch. Neither the Middle East Forum nor myself has ever taken orders from some mythical ‘Lobby’, and specifically I decided to establish Campus Watch on my own, without direction from any outside source. I challenge Mearsheimer and Walt to provide their information that connects this ‘Lobby’ to my decision to establish Campus Watch.
Daniel Pipes Philadelphia
From Jeffrey Herf & Andrei Markovits
Accusations of powerful Jews behind the scenes are part of the most dangerous traditions of modern anti-semitism. So it is with dismay that we read John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s ‘The Israel Lobby’. We have known and respected John Mearsheimer for over twenty years, which makes the essay all the more unsettling.
First, it is not true that the American relationship with Israel has been ‘the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy’. That centrepiece has been and remains access to oil for the United States and for the global economy. As it became apparent during the 1960s that Israel was not merely the only democracy in the region but also a supporter of the West in the Cold War, the American relationship intensified. At that point, support for Israel, which had been strongest among liberals who supported a Jewish state in the wake of the Holocaust, expanded to include the previously less than enthusiastic military and diplomatic foreign policy establishment, some of which was deeply hostile to Israel and suspicious of Jews, to put it mildly. This was not due to the efforts of the Jewish Lobby or the power of the five million Jews (in a country of almost 300 million). It was due to an assessment of American national interest made by an overwhelmingly non-Jewish political and military establishment long before Christian fundamentalism became a factor in the Republican Party. It coincided with increasingly close ties with the Saudi regime.
Second, it is not true that the United States went to war in Iraq because of the pressure of a Jewish Lobby. Even if the key decision makers were Jews, this would not prove the point about the Jewish Lobby. As it happens, the primary advisers and war planners for Bush were Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice and the entirely non-Jewish military leadership, not the usual suspects now trotted out by those peddling stories about Jewish power behind the scenes. Whatever Israel or its supporters in the US may or may not have wanted, American and British leaders decided to go to war for reasons grounded in their own interpretation of their respective national interests. Saddam Hussein stunned and surprised his own military leaders three months before the US and Britain invaded by revealing to them that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction. There were many officials in London and Washington – or Berlin and Paris, for that matter – who would have been just as surprised.
One need not think the decision to go to war was the correct one to remember that it was not motivated by concerns about Israel’s national security. One need not agree that oil below the ground and dictatorship above it posed an immediate threat to recall that British and American (as well as other Western) leaders believed that Saddam with weapons of mass destruction in years to come would have posed a threat to the other Arab oil-producing states as much as to Israel. Mearsheimer and Walt’s realism ignores this conventional threat in the minds of American and British policymakers.
Third, while much opinion in the Arab and Islamic world has rejected the presence of a Jewish state in its midst, anti-Americanism, hatred of Europe (including Britain) and of liberal modernity in general would exist if Israel was not there. Mearsheimer and Walt stand in a long tradition of ‘realist’ political scientists known for naivety regarding the power and import of ideological fanaticism in international affairs. This naivety is the reason that radical Islam and the enduring crises of modernisation in the region that produced it receive hardly a word in their long attack.
Fourth, American Jewish citizens have a right to express their views without being charged with placing the interests of Israel ahead of those of the US. Mearsheimer and Walt’s attack appears eight years after the terrorist war against the West declared by Osama Bin Laden; six years after Ehud Barak offered a compromise plan to end the conflict and occupation of the West Bank, and Yassir Arafat responded with a terrorist campaign of his own; after countless terrorist attacks all over the world by al-Qaida and its sympathisers, including the London Underground bombings; after repeated acts of terrorist barbarism in Iraq by radical Islamists; after the declaration by the Iranian president that Israel should be wiped out and that the Holocaust was a myth; and, most recently, after the world’s first electoral victory with a solid majority won by an openly anti-semitic terrorist organisation, Hamas. Mearsheimer and Walt further ignore that all of this happened also after Israel withdrew from Lebanon, offered the Barak plan, retaliated to the terrorist campaign as any state – including Britain or the United States – would, accepted the principle of a Palestinian state and thus agreed to withdraw from over 90 per cent of the West Bank, and then withdrew completely from Gaza. If the Palestinians had responded to these offers of a compromise peace, they would perhaps have had a functioning state before radical Islam came to dominate their politics. It was radical Islamist and secular Palestinian militants, not the Jewish Lobby, that destroyed prospects for a compromise settlement.
If the US concluded that it no longer had a vital interest in the continued survival of the only democracy in the Middle East, those now attacking Western modernity might conclude that the Americans could be convinced that the defence of Europe – and Britain – was also not in the American interest.
Jeffrey Herf & Andrei Markovits University of Maryland & University of Michigan
From Michael Taylor
Perhaps you know, perhaps you don’t, that the longer, unedited version of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s essay posted on Harvard and Chicago University websites is being distributed by the PLO in Washington, and is being hailed by AbdulMoneim Abul-Fotouh, a senior member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and by David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader. He had this to say about it: ‘I have read about the report and read one summary already, and I am surprised how excellent it is. It is quite satisfying to see a body in the premier American University essentially come out and validate every major point I have been making since before the war even started.’ He added that ‘the task before us is to wrest control of America’s foreign policy and critical junctures of media from the Jewish extremist neo-cons that seek to lead us into what they expectantly call World War Four.’ I don’t want to be in such company, and neither should you. Please cancel my subscription.
Michael Taylor Old Malton, North Yorkshire
From Alan Dershowitz
As an advocate of free speech and an opponent of censorship based on political correctness, I welcome a serious, balanced, objective study of the influences of lobbies – including Israeli lobbies – on American foreign policy. I also welcome reasoned, contextual and comparative criticism of Israeli policies and actions. But in light of the many errors in John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s article, and their admission that ‘none of the evidence’ they give ‘represents original documentation or is derived from independent interviews’, it is fair to ask why these distinguished academics chose to publish a paper that does not meet their usual scholarly standards, especially given the obvious risk that it would be featured, as it has been, on neo-Nazi and extremist websites, and even those of terrorist organisations, and that it would be used by overt anti-semites to ‘validate’ their claims of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy (LRB, 23 March).
The authors pre-emptively accuse the Lobby of indiscriminately crying anti-semitism: ‘Anyone who criticises Israeli actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle East policy . . . stands a good chance of being labelled an anti-semite’; ‘In other words, criticise Israeli policy and you are by definition an anti-semite.’ This is demonstrably false, though it is a charge made frequently in the hate literature. Several years ago, I challenged those who made similar accusations to identify a single Jewish leader who equated mere criticism of Israeli policy with anti-semitism. No one accepted my challenge, because no Jewish leader has made such a claim. Among the harshest critics of Israeli policy are Jews and Israelis: just read the mainstream Israeli and Jewish-American press.
Mearsheimer and Walt rely on discredited allegations and partial quotation. They twice quote David Ben-Gurion out of context so that he appears to be saying the exact opposite of what he actually did say. First, the authors have Ben-Gurion stating: ‘After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.’ The clear implication is that this would be done by force. Yet, in a follow-up question, Ben-Gurion was asked whether he meant to achieve this ‘by force as well?’ He responded in the negative: ‘Through mutual understanding and Jewish-Arab agreement.’ Mearsheimer and Walt omit this important qualification. Ben-Gurion is then quoted as saying that ‘it is impossible to imagine general evacuation’ of the Arab population ‘without compulsion, and brutal compulsion’, which makes it seem as if Ben-Gurion was advocating ‘brutal compulsion’. They omit what he said next: ‘But we should in no way make it part of our programme.’ Either they were unaware of the context of the quotes because they read only misleading excerpts ripped out of context; or they decided to misuse the quotes so as to mislead the reader.
There are many other factual errors, but I will draw attention to just a few. ‘Israel,’ they state, ‘was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship.’ This mendacious emphasis on Jewish ‘blood’ is a favourite of neo-Nazi propaganda. It is totally false. A person of any ethnicity or religion can become an Israeli citizen. In fact, approximately a quarter of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish, a higher percentage of minority citizenry than nearly any other country. Indeed, Mearsheimer and Walt admit that Israel has 1.3 million Arab citizens – about 20 per cent of its population. The paper’s authors confuse Israel’s law of return – which was designed to grant asylum to victims of anti-semitism, including non-Jewish relatives of Jews – with its law of citizenship.
If Mearsheimer and Walt were truly concerned about racist citizenship statutes, they could have looked right next door to Jordan, which openly and explicitly refuses to grant citizenship to Jews. When asked by the New York Sun about Arab citizenship laws, Walt responded: ‘We were not writing on Saudi Arabia and Jordan.’ Mearsheimer and Walt in fact compare Israel to its Arab neighbours on several occasions, finding – incredibly – that ‘in terms of actual behaviour, Israel’s conduct is not morally distinguishable from the actions of its opponents.’ Walt’s evasive answer reminds me of a remark attributed to another Harvard administrator, A. Lawrence Lowell, who fought fiercely to keep Jews out of Harvard. His reasoning was that ‘Jews cheat.’ When it was pointed out to him that some non-Jews cheat, Lowell allegedly responded: ‘You’re changing the subject. I’m talking about Jews.’
Mearsheimer and Walt contend that the ‘United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around . . . There is no question, for example, that many al-Qaida leaders, including bin Laden, are motivated by Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians.’ In fact, bin Laden was primarily motivated by the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, recall, had asked the United States to defend the Arabian Peninsula against Iraqi aggression prior to the first Gulf War. So it was America’s ties to and defence of an Arab state – from which 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers originated – and not the Jewish state, that most clearly precipitated the events of 11 September 2001. Nor does Israel’s supposed domination of American public life explain the terrorist massacres in Bali, Madrid, London and elsewhere. Europe, after all, is praised for being less susceptible to the Lobby’s manipulation.
Mearsheimer and Walt’s boldest mis-statement concerns the negotiations at Camp David in July 2000. ‘Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s purportedly generous offer,’ they write, ‘would have given the Palestinians only a disarmed and dismembered set of Bantustans under de facto Israeli control.’ Barak has said that the Bantustan accusation was ‘one of the most embarrassing lies’ Arafat told about Camp David. Mearsheimer and Walt do not cite the map Dennis Ross published in his book The Missing Peace, which contrasts the Palestinian characterisation of the final proposal at Camp David with the actual proposal. The second map – the real map offered to the Palestinians at Camp David – shows a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank. Prince Bandar, a member of the Saudi royal family, was so astounded by the generosity of Israel’s offer that he told Arafat: ‘If we lose this opportunity, it is not going to be a tragedy. This is going to be a crime.’
Even if the scholarship were sound and the facts accurate, the paper’s thesis would remain unsound. Their first argument is that the very existence of an Israeli lobby proves that support for Israel is essentially un-American. ‘The mere existence of the Lobby,’ they write, ‘suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organised special interest group to bring it about.’ In other words, any group that needs a lobby must be working against the ‘American national interest’. The most powerful lobby in the US is, in fact, the American Association of Retired Persons. According to Mearsheimer and Walt’s logic, that would mean that the rights of retired people are inconsistent with American national interests, as is equality for African Americans (NAACP) and choice for women. The reality, of course, is that virtually all interest groups and many foreign countries undertake lobbying, but only the ‘Israel Lobby’ is accused of being contrary to American national interest.
Mearsheimer and Walt attribute anything that Israel and America do or aspire to achieve in common to Israeli manipulation. They confuse correlation with causation. The upshot of their argument concerning the invasion of Iraq is that Ariel Sharon duped President Bush into overthrowing Saddam Hussein. They do not consider the more likely explanation: that Bush and Sharon shared the same worldview and vision for the Middle East.
Walt’s Harvard colleague David Gergen – who has a great deal of experience of the decision-making process in the White House – finds the paper’s thesis ‘wildly at variance’ with what he witnessed. Had Mearsheimer and Walt interviewed Gergen they would have learned the following:
Over the course of four tours in the White House, I never once saw a decision in the Oval Office to tilt US foreign policy in favour of Israel at the expense of America’s interest. Other than Richard Nixon – who occasionally said terrible things about Jews, despite the number on his team – I can’t remember any president even talking about an Israeli lobby. Perhaps I have forgotten, but I can remember plenty of conversations about the power of the American gun lobby, environmentalists, evangelicals, small-business owners and teachers unions.
It is not only Mearsheimer and Walt’s words that invoke stereotypes and canards. It is the ‘music’ as well – the tone, pitch and feel of the article – that has caused such outrage. Imagine if two academics compiled an equivalent number of negative statements, based on shoddy research and questionable sources, to the effect that African Americans cause all the problems in America, and presented that compilation as evidence that African Americans behave in a manner contrary to the best interest of the United States. Who would fail to recognise such a project as destructive?
Walt and Mearsheimer repeatedly claim that they wrote their article, at least in part, in order to stimulate a discussion about the influence of the Lobby. They claim that it is the pro-Israel side that seeks to suppress this ‘because an open debate might lead Americans to question the level of support they provide’. My invitation to debate remains open. I challenge Mearsheimer and Walt to look me in the eye and tell me that because I am a proud Jew and a critical supporter of Israel, I am disloyal to my country.
Alan Dershowitz Harvard University
From Frank Solomon
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt write that ‘not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them.’ They thus ignore those American Jews for whom Israel is important but who do not agree with the aims of the Lobby, or do not think that it acts to the benefit of Israel, America or anyone else in the Middle East.
Frank Solomon MIT
From Caroline and Nathan Finkelstein
If the inhumane behaviour of the Israeli government is allowed to continue, anti-semitism will certainly increase and unfortunately it will be real, and no longer merely Israeli apologists crying wolf.
Caroline and Nathan Finkelstein Tannay, Switzerland
From Yair Evron
The current situation in the Middle East is very different from the one depicted by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel, and they, the Gulf States and some North African countries share a vital interest in repelling militant Islam and, in the case of the Gulf States, ensuring their security against Iran. The United States and Israel share this interest.
Yair Evron Jerusalem
From Robert Pfaltzgraff
Having read John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s extensive writings in international relations theory, I assumed that, as realists or neo-realists, they attached primacy to the international setting in shaping foreign policy choices. According to such theory, states act in accordance with national interests which are shaped by the outside world and in response to threats within an anarchical international system and society. If this is the case, their thesis about the alleged influence of the Israeli Lobby on US foreign policy contradicts the essential tenet of the theory on which they have in large part constructed their academic reputations.
However, I have a more immediate concern. The authors allege that ‘over the past 25 years, pro-Israel forces have established a commanding presence’ at US think-tanks, and give a list that includes the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. The basis on which the authors make this assertion escapes me. We have undertaken studies of US policy towards the Gulf States as well as Israel and other countries in and around the Middle East. To the extent that such studies support Israel or any other states in the region, this is the result of an independent analysis of US needs and interests. If Mearsheimer and Walt had taken the time to interview me or any of my colleagues, they could easily have discovered this.
Robert Pfaltzgraff Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, Cambridge, Massachusetts
From Marion Woolfson
More than thirty years ago, I was one of the first British Jewish writers to write about the harsh behaviour of the Israeli authorities towards the Palestinians living under a cruel and illegal occupation. Although I did not write about anything which I had not witnessed, I was accused of lying, of being ‘paid by the Arabs’ and even of ‘having sex intercourse with the Arab gangsters’. I was inundated with letters containing hysterical abuse and anonymous death threats, and attacked verbally and physically. One man wrote to say he considered it his duty ‘to prevent a Jewess from damaging the cause of Israel’. Publications for which I had worked were told that I was ‘a member of a terrorist gang’.
It is a pity that supporters of Israel still reach for the same obfuscations, denigrations and outright distortions of fact. As far back as 1980, the May/June issue of Yiton 77 (a Hebrew literary monthly) published an article by the Israeli writer Boaz Evron on the use of accusations of anti-semitism and reminders of the Holocaust to silence critics. There have been many similar articles in the Israeli media over the years.
Marion Woolfson Edinburgh
From Renee Slater
Why do Jeffrey Herf and Andrei Markovits employ the Lobby’s rhetorical tactic of conflating Israel with Jews (Letters, 6 April)? John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are careful to distinguish the Israel Lobby from American Jewish citizens, and never refer to a ‘Jewish’ Lobby. And why do they accuse Mearsheimer and Walt of ‘naivety regarding the power and import of ideological fanaticism in international affairs’? Their article was precisely about the impact of ideological fanaticism not only on international affairs but on American democracy. Finally, does the fact that Likud came third in the recent Israeli elections mean that the majority of Israelis are not in sympathy with all of the policies promoted in their name by the Lobby?
Renee Slater Bristol
From Jeremy Schreiber
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt claim that Golda Meir said that ‘there is no such thing as a Palestinian.’ This reference to Meir is obligatory in anti-Israel polemics. In fact, Meir said something quite different in the interview from which the professors’ quotation supposedly originates. In this interview, with the Sunday Times in 1969, when asked if she considered ‘the emergence of the Palestinian fighting forces, the Fedayeen, an important new factor in the Middle East’, Meir replied:
Important, no. A new factor, yes. There was no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.
A few years later, in the New York Times of 14 January 1976, Meir stated:
To be misquoted is an occupational hazard of political leadership; for this reason I should like to clarify my position in regard to the Palestinian issue. I have been charged with being rigidly insensitive to the question of the Palestinian Arabs. In evidence of this I am supposed to have said, ‘There are no Palestinians.’ My actual words were: ‘There is no Palestine people. There are Palestinian refugees.’ The distinction is not semantic. My statement was based on a lifetime of debates with Arab nationalists who vehemently excluded a separatist Palestinian Arab nationalism from their formulations.
It is clear that even in the original interview Meir was referring to Palestinian nationhood and not Palestinians in general, whose existence she clearly acknowledged both in that comment and in everything else she ever said about them.
Mearsheimer and Walt also write that ‘in 2003, the head of the French Jewish community said that “France is not more anti-semitic than America.”’ The quotation is from an interview with Roger Cukierman in the magazine Forward, in which Cukierman differentiated between French anti-semitism of the traditional French/European variety, and ‘new’ manifestations of anti-Jewish violence in France. As the Forward article explains, in Cukierman’s estimation the latter manifestations ‘were responsible for 95 per cent to 98 per cent of anti-semitic incidents’ in France: ‘This is why “France is not more anti-semitic than America,” he explained, despite the fact that most Muslims in France are French citizens.’ Mearsheimer and Walt distort Cukierman’s assessment by portraying his comments as if he had been referring to all French anti-semitism.
Jeremy Schreiber Columbus, Ohio
From John Gretton
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt do not address the fundamental issue: Israel’s relationship to America is that of a client state. Difficulties arise because Israel, unlike many client states in the past, has a very strong agenda of its own: it wants to exist, preferably at peace with its neighbours, but within boundaries and with a population of its own choosing.
Israel’s way of achieving these goals and dealing with regional opposition to them is, in many people’s eyes – possibly including those of many Jewish Americans – morally repugnant. That America has tended to look the other way is hardly surprising: reining Israel in would be difficult and even more costly than accepting the status quo. These costs can be counted not just in dollars, which the Israeli government is adept at extorting in ever greater quantities, but in terms of Israel’s willingness to act as the agent of pax Americana in a region that is strategically important but potentially very hostile to the United States.
In other words, an Israel Lobby, whatever degree of influence one attributes to it, isn’t really vital to the client-state relationship. Still, it would be surprising if both partners, and Israel in particular, were not having doubts about the viability of the relationship in the longer term. On the one hand, along with anti-Americanism, anti-semitism is creeping back into Europe via the immigrant underclasses. And, on the other, Iraq has shown the world that America is not good at creating and nurturing client states. Would it be any better, if push came to shove, at protecting an already existing one? Should word get around that America will not or cannot defend its Middle Eastern client state, no amount of lobbying in Washington will protect Israel.
John Gretton Birmingham
From Tom Wengraf
It’s interesting that Daniel Pipes does not think his ‘decision to establish Campus Watch’ – a nasty anti-dissent echo of McCarthyism – might be the action of a member of the Israel Lobby because no ‘outside source’ told him to set it up (Letters, 6 April). He doesn’t deny Mearsheimer and Walt’s description of what Campus Watch is trying to get people to do.
You could get the impression, reading Adam Glantz’s letter in the same issue, that Israel and Palestine are two evenly matched warring states. Given the failure of the US media to inform Americans of alternative viewpoints it is hardly surprising that those in the US who ‘follow international events’ give even more ‘support to Israel’ than those who don’t. Glantz is right that world hostility to American fundamentalism and domination can’t be reduced to the issue of Israel, but suggests that through its alliance with an armed and expansionist Israel the US ‘may be purchasing world stability at a bargain price’. As many empires have found, extremist satellite regimes are not always the best bargain in the long term.
Tom Wengraf London N10
From Joseph Palley
Harry Truman recognised the state of Israel fifteen minutes after it declared itself a nation. ‘In all of my political experience,’ he said, ‘I don’t ever recall the Arab vote swinging a close election.’ But it’s wrong to blame uncritical US support for Israel on the Lobby. British Jews are as well organised, well funded, almost as numerous relative to population and, understandably, just as pro-Israel as American Jews. Yet European and US public – and therefore government – attitudes to Israel are very different.
Until 1967, Israel was admired equally on both sides of the Atlantic. Its subsequent colonisation of East Jerusalem and chunks of the West Bank – on top of the 78 per cent of Palestine it already had – gradually alienated most Europeans, whose overstretched governments had just given up their colonies. In a 2003 European Commission poll in 15 EU countries, 59 per cent of those who responded named Israel as a threat to world peace; significantly fewer named Iran, Iraq, North Korea or Afghanistan.
Americans, however, kept the faith. In the 1980s, Republican support for Israel hardened as a result of the growing Christian fundamentalist movement, which believes Jerusalem’s holy sites belong in Western hands. Then there’s the analogy between the Zionist ‘recovery’ of Palestine and the early North American settlers’ flight from religious persecution in Europe. Could America’s support of Israel be driven in part by identification with its own history?
Joseph Palley Richmond, Surrey
From Michael Grenfell
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt claim that Israel has become a ‘strategic burden’ to the US and give as an example the use of Patriot missile batteries in the 1991 Gulf War ‘to prevent Tel Aviv doing anything that might harm the alliance against Saddam’. This is bizarre: the reason the US had to supply Patriots to Israel was to defend it against attacks by Saddam, who attacked Israel as a response to the US/ coalition action against Iraq, which was itself a defence of Kuwaiti independence and wider US strategic interests in the region. If this instance shows anything, it is that Israel’s security was jeopardised as a result of US action in support of US and Kuwaiti strategic interests that had nothing to do with Israel – virtually the opposite of the case the authors are trying to make.
Michael Grenfell Edgware, Middlesex
From Yitzhak Laor
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt almost acquit the American war machine of what is happening here. ‘The bottom line,’ they write, ‘is that AIPAC, a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress, with the result that US policy towards Israel is not debated there.’ Suppose AIPAC weren’t there: would American policy in the Middle East be different? I doubt it.
Yitzhak Laor Tel Aviv
From Kenneth Cuno
The development of Jewish Studies and Israel Studies programmes in US universities is motivated in large part by a desire to promote Jewish identity (often utilising Israel as an anchor for that identity), but within America, as an antidote to assimilation. In some respects this is a very un-Zionist agenda, as it aims to create a space in which one can be Jewish and American at the same time. While I agree with Mearsheimer and Walt that often it is difficult to discuss Israel or the Israel Lobby without having one’s motives impugned, this situation tends to push commentary to the extremes, and their article is an unfortunate example of that.
Kenneth Cuno University of Illinois, Champaign
From Editors, ‘London Review’
Besides those published here and in the last issue, we have received a great many letters in response to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s piece – not all of them edifying, though we haven’t received any death threats, as one correspondent from New Jersey feared we would. There have been a number of accusations of anti-semitism, as Mearsheimer and Walt predicted, and some very unpleasant remarks about Arabs, but also dozens of messages praising the article. Most readers understood that Mearsheimer and Walt were writing about US foreign policy and its effects on the Middle East, though there have also been a few congratulatory messages of an anti-semitic nature. The letters accusing Mearsheimer and Walt of having written an ‘anti-semitic rant’ and those congratulating them for having exposed a ‘secret Jewish’ – or, as one individual felt the need to spell it, ‘J E W I S H’ – ‘conspiracy’ have something in common: they come from people who appear not to have read the piece, and who seem incapable of distinguishing between criticism of Israeli or US government policy and anti-semitism.
We don’t usually publish letters of simple praise, which meant that only letters putting the case against Mearsheimer and Walt appeared in the last number of the LRB. This led one correspondent to write: ‘Your obvious slant in the letters you have chosen to publish regarding the Israel Lobby establishes, once again, that Israeli apologists are alive and well and living at the London Review of Books.’ It may be impossible to write or publish anything relating to Israel without provoking accusations of bias.
Mearsheimer and Walt will reply to the correspondence we’ve published and discuss the wider response to their article in the next issue.
Editors, ‘London Review’