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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"There is more criticism being heard here in Israel of the lobby," says Moshe Fox, a doctoral student, referring to AIPAC, "and of the US-Israel relationship in general than there is in the US."Skip to next paragraph
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Indeed, in recent weeks, Israeli politicians and pundits have been speaking more critically about the state of relations between the United States and the Jewish state.
Following President Bush's visit here last month, some commentators worried aloud that the unconditional support he expressed for Israel during its 60th birthday celebrations was blurring the boundaries of Israel's sovereignty and further diminishing Washington's ability to claim a role as a "fair broker" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Additional reservations about the US-Israel relationship have been voiced amid a deeply damaging scandal in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is alleged to have taken more than $150,000 in unaccounted-for cash from a US supporter, raising deeper questions about the influence of American donors on Israeli politicians.
The Israeli government, says Uri Avnery, the head of Gush Shalom, is content with having a very pro-Israel American administration. Supporters of the peace camp, on the other hand, are hoping that November will bring a change in policy and are pinning their hopes on Democratic candidate Barack Obama. Peace advocates were dismayed, he said, to hear Senator Obama's comments to AIPAC last week.
"The first thing Barack Obama did after he secured the nomination was to go to AIPAC to make a speech which is scandalous as far as peace as concerned," Mr. Avnery said. "He said that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel and cannot be divided, but without this, there won't be peace with Palestinians.
"It shows us that without AIPAC, he feels he can't be elected, and that shows us how crucial AIPAC is."
There are fears in Israel, Avnery adds, that a President Obama would rock the US-Israel relationship. "The Israeli establishment is very cautious and they are very suspicious of Obama," he adds. "The Israeli government is quite satisfied with America as it is, and as far as they're concerned, there can't be a better American for Israel than George Bush. We would like American policy to be more even-handed so it will play a role in making peace."
Robert Wistrich, a historian at the Hebrew University who runs the school's center for the study of anti-Semitism, says Walt and Mearsheimer's arguments pander to old-fashioned stereotypes – ones that won't help Israel make moves toward peace.
"Whichever way you turn it around, they're saying that if only there wasn't so much Jewish or Israeli power, everything would be fine in the Middle East, which we know isn't true," Professor Wistrich says. Israelis, he adds, still can't figure out where Obama stands.
"I don't think Jews or Israelis want to go out on a limb and prejudge a man who might be president," he says. "The main worry here is more along the lines of appeasement, such as what he's said about meeting Iranian leaders, and we know where that's led so far."