US policy and the pro-Israel lobby: A university in Jerusalem takes on the debate
The authors of 'The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy' said Thursday that the special-interest group is leading the charge for attacking Iran and damaging US interests.
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Warming things up that much more, two academics who have cast a critical light on the nature of US-Israel ties came here Thursday as part of a larger Middle East tour, during which they called on America to end its "special relationship with Israel and treat it as a normal country."
Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, professors at Harvard University and the University of Chicago, respectively, published "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" last fall, raising a maelstrom of reactions: criticism from some corners and praise from others.
In pro-Israel circles, the book is viewed – along with former US President Carter's "Peace Not Apartheid" book – as an attack on a pillar of American foreign policy.
Critics of Profs. Walt and Mearsheimer say that the book and the arguments they make in it has anti-Semitic overtones and paints the pro-Israel lobby in the US as an all-powerful interest group doing damage to American and international interests.
But the two men, who were brought to Israel as guests of the left-wing group Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc) and later invited by colleagues to speak at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said their words had often been misread and misinterpreted.
"Giving Israel unconditional support is not making America more popular around the world, and it is not making Americans more secure at home," said Walt. Israel's role as a democracy is also not a strong enough reason for such strong political and financial backing, he said. "There are a lot of other democracies around the world and none of them get this level of support, with no strings attached."
He said that anyone who questions that relationship is "playing with fire" and risks "being smeared" as anti-Semitic.
"These policies have been misguided. They're not good for the US, have not been good for Israel, and are not good for the Middle East overall," Walt said. "But we said at least a dozen times in the book: It's not a cabal and it's not a conspiracy. And we meant it."
In the talk, Mearsheimer charged that Israel and the Israel lobby – which he said also included many Christian Zionists and Evangelicals, and therefore was not synonymous with being a "Jewish lobby" – was trying to push America into military action against Iran.
"There is only one country that is putting pressure on the US to attack Iran, and that is Israel," Mearsheimer said. "AIPAC is pushing hard for an attack on Iran, and no other lobby in America is," he said, referring to the pro-Israeli lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
That the two men were invited to speak at all was the subject of some controversy, with several Israeli professors questioning whether the invitation was appropriate. The university did not widely advertise the lecture, which was held in a moderate-sized lecture hall unable to contain the number of students and faculty who had arrived. But most seemed to agree that, especially at the school that is viewed as Israel's leading university, diverse views should be aired.