‘THE ISRAEL LOBBY’ IN LIGHT OF DAY
Garibaldi Highlands, British Columbia
I have admired and periodically read your publication for many years. Over the past five years it has distinguished itself as one of the few publications that have boldly grasped the gravity of the current crisis in which the United States finds itself and had the guts to speak out on a whole range of issues. Indeed, it has helped me retroactively to revise some of my understandings of US history.
I felt formally compelled to officially subscribe today as a gesture of support and especially out of admiration and respect for Philip Weiss’s article on Mearsheimer and Walt’s study of AIPAC and its influence on American policy and politics [“Ferment Over ‘The Israel Lobby,'” May 15]. It was an honest and brave assessment, rarely found in the US press these days.
GRAHAM E. FULLER
Former vice chair, National Intelligence Council, CIA
New York City
When he interviewed me for his article on the infamous Mearsheimer-Walt paper, I told my friend Philip Weiss that America would benefit from candid conversations about the pro-Israel lobby in the public sphere. But I also said that if academics are going to venture into this explosive territory, they should be “very careful” to get their facts straight and avoid using simplistic generalizations to sum up very complex events and trends. Mearsheimer and Walt did neither.
As an activist for Israel’s peace camp who has been skirmishing with the conventional Israel lobby for decades, I would have welcomed an informed, scrupulously documented and honest critique of that lobby by two distinguished scholars. What I read was an elaborate attack ad that was riddled with so many inaccuracies, omissions and unsubstantiated assertions that, as Michelle Goldberg put it in Salon, “it seemed expressly designed to elicit exactly the [hostile] reaction it has received. The power of the Israel lobby is something that deserves a full and fearless airing, but this paper could make such an airing less, not more, likely.” Readers should check out Goldberg’s piece at www.salon.com/news/feature/2006/04/18/lobby/print.html and an editorial in the Forward (forward.com/main/article.php?
ref=200603231251) for a sample of the paper’s bad scholarship and slipshod reasoning.
Right-wing American Jews were infuriated by this paper. I was deeply disappointed. These scholars had an opportunity to give people who are inhibited about criticizing Israel some lucid arguments and facts to help them overcome those inhibitions. They blew it. Weiss notes that “Mearsheimer and Walt at times were simplistic and shrill. But it may have required such rhetoric to break through the cinder block and get attention for their ideas. Democracy depends on free exchange, and free exchange means not always having to be careful.” Does he believe it doesn’t matter if two important academics slip and slide around the truth–and alienate the very people they should be trying to educate–as long as they are able to raise a controversial issue? I think it matters very much.
Philip Weiss fails to identify a key factor now weakening the position of the Israel Lobby. As long as the Soviet Union existed, Israel was a valued strategic ally. Someone maintained decades ago that if the United States and the Soviet Union got into a war, Soviet forces in the Mediterranean would have a very brief and very eventful life: Israeli forces would make short work of them. With the USSR out of the picture, the strategic argument for standing by Israel is weaker. Americans sympathetic to Israel now have to depend mainly on ideological arguments like “plucky little Israel” is facing a sinister coalition of oil-rich Islamic powers, Israeli citizens are largely descended from Americans and Europeans, etc.
But the tide of opinion may be shifting. Many Americans may join Mearsheimer, Walt and Weiss in hoping that weaker support for Israel will give our country some protection from terrorism. That may be a vain hope. As the richest and most powerful nation on earth, the United States is too handy a target for demonization. Moreover, we will probably remain committed to the basic existence of Israel. This will infuriate Israel’s enemies at the same time that our shift away from total support may embolden Israel’s antagonists.
‘THE ISRAEL LOBBY’–PART II
“AIPAC’s Complaint,” Eric Alterman’s take on the Mearsheimer-Walt paper [“The Liberal Media,” May 1] is typical of the way liberals have responded to its damning evidence of the Israel lobby’s pernicious influence on US Middle East policy. They praise the authors for raising the issue and then attempt to discredit key elements of their thesis.
Alterman accuses the authors of treating the American Jewish community as a monolith. Not so. They are referring to the organized Jewish community, which indeed, in its support for the Iraq War, was virtually monolithic. The fact that a handful of the scores of Jewish organizations were aggressively so, while others were relatively passive, does not change that fact. Again, in calling for a US confrontation with Iran, the more than fifty organizations in the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish American Organizations have shown the same unanimity.
Second, while Alterman acknowledges that the “power of oil to determine the course of US foreign policy, like most things, is not what it once was,” he fails to acknowledge that despite their recent windfall profits, the oil companies did not support the Iraq War, for the simple reason that the flow of oil from the Gulf requires a stability that no longer can be guaranteed. It is threatened further by the prospect of a US attack on Iran.
Third, Alterman’s comparison of AIPAC with the National Rifle Association and the pharmaceutical lobbies is also out of place, since one is lobbying for a foreign country and the other two are domestic lobbies. While the NRA is one of the few lobbies that, like AIPAC, maintain a potent grassroots operation spread across the country, the issues pushed by both cannot be compared in scale. When the Israel lobby has gone head to head with the pharmaceutical lobby over Israel’s right to export generic versions of drugs to the United States, the Israel lobby has triumphed.
Finally, while writing that the weaknesses of the Mearsheimer-Walt paper “will hinder the authors’ attempt to pierce the wall of ignorance and intimidation erected around such policy debates by the very institutions upon which it seeks to shed light,” Alterman acknowledges that AIPAC is pushing for a war on Iran and that it is apparently going to get its wish. Since there is no other lobby advocating an attack on Iran, this would ultimately vindicate Mearsheimer and Walt’s thesis. Should it come to pass, the world will pay a heavy price for having allowed the Israel lobby problem to be buried for so long.
FBI SNOOPS & THE ANDERSON FILES
Thank you for Eric Alterman’s fine column “Bush’s Other War” [“The Liberal Media,” May 15], opposing the FBI’s heavy-handed effort to rummage through decades-old historical archives donated to my university (George Washington) by the late investigative columnist Jack Anderson.
As the scholar who persuaded Anderson to make his papers available to the public, I can tell you with certainty that nothing would have upset him more than the thought of the government rifling through his files and censoring them, as two FBI agents told me personally was their intent.
Amazingly, in a little-noted but chilling comment, FBI spokesman John Miller has even claimed that First Amendment protections afforded to the press do not apply to universities–suggesting that this Administration thinks even less of academic freedom than it does of journalistic freedom.
OF STEROIDS & HOT DOGS
Worrying whether Barry Bonds uses steroids is like wondering how Wile E. Coyote can fall off that thousand-foot cliff and survive [Dave Zirin, “Sacrifice Play,” May 15]. Who cares? This is pure Roman circus distraction. Don’t the media have anything more pressing to concern themselves about, like global warming, government corruption or the ridiculous price of gasoline while Exxon records billions in profits?
Babe Ruth versus Barry Bonds: Babe did (to a soft baseball) fat and drunk or hung over what Barry did on steroids.
What a laughable comparison! Barry Bonds did it on illegal steroids. Babe Ruth did it on hot dogs.
THE PAUSE THAT REPRESSES
Regarding the human rights records of Coke versus Pepsi [“Letters,” May 22], one can go to www.responsibleshopper.org. It provides a snapshot of the global impact of major corporations on human rights, the environment, trade inequity and more.
OUR PINK SLIP IS SHOWING
In Eric Alterman’s June 12 “The Liberal Media” column, he mentioned 650 employees who have received pink slips over the past six months. They were from the entire Time Inc. enterprise, not just the magazine.