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Pro-Israel lobby dictates U.S. policy, study charges

By Emad Mekay | Last updated: Apr 5, 2006 - 4:22:00 PM

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WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) - The pro-Israel lobby in the United States has manipulated Washington’s Middle East policies to the point where the U.S. does most of the fighting, dying and rebuilding while Israel reaps most of the security benefits, argues a new study by two U.S. scholars.

“This situation has no equal in American political history,” says the 83-page study, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”

“Why has the United States been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?” ask authors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

The answer, according to the paper, which is already stirring debate in academic circles and fury among pro-Israel groups, is the influence of the pro-Israel lobby.

These groups include the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, and more recently, Christian Zionist organizations.

A shorter version of the study was published in the London Review of Books on Mar. 10. The authors say their research is so strong that they doubt any U.S. mainstream publication would dare publish it.

Based on sources that include Israeli scholars and journalists, international human rights organizations, and testimony from the lobby itself and politicians that support it, the study examines how the pro-Israel lobby built its influence in Washington and says its intimidation of the press, think tanks and academia has led to a deceptive picture of Israel.

Since World War II, the United States has channeled $140 billion in support to Israel, notes the study, which also challenges the notion that Israel is a “crucial ally in the war on terror, because its enemies are America’s enemies.”

“Saying that Israel and the United States are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: rather, the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around,” the authors argue.

“In short, treating Israel as America’s most important ally in the campaign against terrorism and assorted Middle East dictatorships both exaggerates Israel’s ability to help on these issues and ignores the ways that Israel’s policies make U.S. efforts more difficult,” they say.

According to the study, pro-Israel lobby groups have exploited the sensitivities of major media outlets and of U.S. politicians to campaign contributions to maintain their sympathy for Israel regardless of what it does in the region.

During AIPAC’s annual conference earlier in March, which attracted top U.S. officials and congressional leaders, the new Republican majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, vowed never to allow anti-Israel legislation come to the floor.

The study also points to Washington’s staunch support of Israel at the United Nations. Since 1982, it says, the United States has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel—a number greater than the combined total of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. And it has blocked Arab states’ efforts to put Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the agenda of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

At home, the lobby has worked hard to suppress its critics, something the authors say has not been good for democracy, especially one that now claims to be promoting freedom in the Arab world.

“Silencing skeptics by organizing blacklists and boycotts, or by suggesting that critics are anti-Semites, violates the principle of open debate upon which democracy depends,” they say.

The study was immediately attacked by a number of pro-Israel organizations. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, for example, said in a statement that it had many errors, and that, “A student who submitted such a paper would flunk.”

Newspapers like the New York Sun, known for its pro-Israel stance, published supportive reactions to the study from a prominent White supremacist and from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as evidence that the authors catered to extreme tastes.

Eliot Engel, a Democratic congressman from New York who is Jewish, said that the paper “really deserves the contempt of the American people,” and described it as “the same old anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist drivel.”

“We fully recognized that the lobby would retaliate against us,” Mr. Mearsheimer told IPS. “We expected the story we told in the piece would apply to us after it was published. We are not surprised that we’ve come under attack by the lobby.”

The paper notes that the pro-Israel lobby has also been bolstered by the support of prominent, and some would say extremist, Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as congressmen Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom believe Israel’s rebirth is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda.

Neo-conservative “gentiles” such as John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the former UN ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will are also committed supporters of the pro-Israel lobby.

While the pro-Israel lobby has managed a number of successes for Israel, the cost for the United States is mounting, the study says.

“This situation is deeply worrisome, because the Lobby’s influence causes trouble on several fronts,” says the study. These include possible increases in the military danger that all states face, including Washington’s European allies.

By preventing U.S. leaders from pressuring Israel to make peace, the lobby has also made it impossible to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which gives extremists a potent recruiting tool and enlarges the pool of potential militants, the authors say. And new attempts by the lobby to “change regimes” in Iran and Syria could lead the United States to attack those countries, with potentially disastrous effects.

“We do not need another Iraq. At a minimum, the Lobby’s hostility toward these countries makes it especially difficult for Washington to enlist them against al-Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency, where their help is badly needed,” it says.

The authors counted a number of other negative effects on both the United States and Israel. These include how the U.S. is now supporting Israel’s expansionist policies in the West Bank, which they say makes Washington appear complicit in human rights abuses.

U.S. backing has emboldened extremists to reject a number of opportunities for peace deals with Arab countries like Syria, with the Palestinians and the implementation of the Oslo Accords, the study says.

Mr. Mearsheimer said he and co-author Walt were prompted to write the piece after many years of studying U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

“It was clear to us that many people understood the problem that we describe in the piece, but were afraid to talk about it ... because the lobby would retaliate,” he told IPS.

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