Book Review: The Israel Lobby and US

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt – The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, Allen lane 2007.

By Ruth Tenne

The Israel Lobby is a groundbreaking book, though paradoxically, perhaps, it may not be considered as revelatory since it addresses a reality which is perceived as a common knowledge by the American electorate-yet not publicly acknowledged.

Mearsheimer and Walt lay open the controversial issue of the power of the Israel lobby by clinically dissecting its full implications for the US foreign policy. Step-by step they examine the empirical evidence by employing a commanding expertise which throws light on the diverse facets and trajectories of the powerful Israel lobby.

They demonstrate the unprecedented scale of financial, military and political support provided to Israel by the US. This amounts to more than three billion dollars per annum of which 75 percent is given in military aid that "has helped transform Israel’s armed forces into one of the most technologically sophisticated militaries in the word". The direct aid figures, according to the authors, "omits a substantial number of other benefits and thus significantly understates the actual level of US support" which includes loan guarantees of nearly 9 billion dollars (2003) and $2 billions in private donations that help subsidise Israel’s colonisation of the Occupied Territories .The cooperation between the two states extends also to US intelligence services and nuclear policy. America tacitly supports Israel’s nuclear armament by exerting no pressure on the country to halt its military programme and to sign the Non -Proliferation Treaty. That, of course, stands in a stark comparison to the dealing of US with Saddam Hussein and the current aggressive policy against North Korea and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

On the diplomatic front, US provide Israel with consistent support. Between 1972 and 2006 America vetoed 42 UN Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel. A great number of resolutions never reached the Security Council due to America’s threat to veto them down. Likewise the US routinely backs Israel whenever the UN General Assembly passes one of its (no-binding) resolutions which condemn the Israel state.

Having demonstrated the full scale of America’s backing of Israel, Mearsheimer and Walt address the issue whether Israel should be considered as a strategic asset or liability. They argue convincingly that US full support of Israel policies fuels anti-American hostility in the Middle East and is encouraging extremists’ actions and recruitment.

The moral case for aiding Israel is also regarded by the authors as "increasingly weak". They argue that "Israel’s past and present conduct offers little moral basis for privileging it over the Palestinians, or for undertaking policies in the region that are not in America’s strategic interest". While Jews in the Middle East are viewed by the American public as victims, the Arabs, and especially the Palestinians, are regarded as the victimizers, bearing a marked similarity to the anti-Semite who persecuted Jews in Europe. The image of weak Israel surrounded by strong hostile Arab states is carefully nurtured by Israeli leaders "but the opposite is closer to the truth" – contend the authors. In contrast to prevailing views, Israel enjoyed military superiority in all its wars against the Arab states, and the 1967 which was portrayed as a war for survival by the Israeli leadership was, according to the late Israeli Premier – Begin, a "war of choice" in which "Israel purposely decided to attack Egypt ".

The writers question America’s backing of Israel as a "fellow democracy." They enumerate startling evidence of Israel’s discriminatory law and practices against its 1.36 million Arab population and quote a recent poll (2007) where 75% of Israeli Jews remarked that they would not live in the same building with Arabs citizens of Israel.

In conclusion, M&W contend that "both the moral and strategic arguments could not account for America’s remarkable relationships with the Jewish state"… and "therefore something else must be behind the striking pattern of the ever-increasing US support".

This "something else" is the Israel lobby which is consisting about 75 organizations, mostly Jewish,” whose declared purpose is to encourage the US government and the American public to provide material aid to Israel and to support its government’s policies".

The core of the lobby is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti Defamation League (ADL) and the Christian United for Israel (CUFI). From a pre-1967 low-budget operation AIPAC has become a massive organization with more than 150 employees and an annual budget of estimated 60 million dollars.

The recent drift of the lobby to the right has been reinforced by the emergence of the Neoconservatives who believe in the role of the military in shaping the world and are committed to the Israeli state which they consider as "a key tenet of Neoconservatism". Another significant group is the Christian Zionists who believe that the return of Jews to Palestine is the key event that will lead to the Second Coming of Christ, and whose avowed purpose is to encourage support for Israel.
Marshier and Walt argue that the "lobby benefits from the absence of effective opposition". They point out that as a group, Arab Americans are "neither as wealthy, well organized, numerous, or politically active as Jewish Americans", and are unlikely to voice a unified voice on Middle East issues.

The authors maintain that neither Arab governments nor the oil lobby pose significant counterweight to the Israel lobby.

This lack of influence is, in my view,  truly regrettable as the Arab states have the capacity to become a major player which could push forward the stalled peace negotiations by wielding the oil weapon and using their immense financial, economic and trade power.

The escalating oil prices offer a powerful tool whereby major oil exporters could discretionally, reduce, or increase, production to back their political demands. In March 2007 the Arab League reissued the original Saudi Peace Plan (2002) which offered Israel normal relations with the 22 members of the League in return of withdrawal from the Occupied Territories and the Golan Heights, the establishment of Palestinian sovereign state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and reaching an agreed solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. However, the Israeli Prime Minister -Olmart-showed little interest in this plan and launched a diplomatic campaign blaming the Arabs for the failure of the peace initiative.

Although M&W take similar lines to those set out by the Saudi Peace Plan they, however, feel that the right of return could not be exercised in full but should be replaced by a generous finance programme of reconstruction aid, organized by the US and EU, "to compensate the Palestinians who would terminate all claims for their actual return". 

Any such plan, I believe, ought to be acceptable to the majority of the Palestinian refugees in the region and to the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) which represents them.

The Palestinians are in urgent need for a realistic and achievable resolution to their enduring plight. Thus, a genuine pressure has to be exerted on the State of Israel in order to enforce her to enter into genuine negotiations with the Palestinian representatives, including Hamas. 

Jewish peace organisations in US, Europe and Israel should forge an active pressure group alongside grassroots direct action in the form of Boycotting Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Such a movement has been taking roots in recent years with the increasing cooperation of trade unions and professional associations in Britain, Ireland, Canada and Europe, including prominent figures in academia, arts, and the media. 

In Britain a newly-established group – Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG) is actively involved in a broader BIG campaign supported by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC).

In the absence of American pressure, a consolidated action is required on the part of other major players, namely, the Arab League and the European Union.

The EU- Israel Association Agreement, which grants Israel a beneficial tariff and privileged access to the European market, should be suspended. The Green Party, with the support of a significant number of British constituents, is driving for such an action arguing that "suspending the trade agreement and attaching the necessary conditions to any future trade policy with Israel would allow the EU an opportunity to play a significant role in bringing peace and stability to the Middle East."

Likewise, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority wrote recently to the EU requesting it to re-consider a proposed agreement to upgrade Israel relation with the European Union, due to be signed at the end of the year.

Their attempts have so far failed. Yet, in the light of the escalating oil prices, the crisis of Western economy, the forthcoming US election and the political volatility of the West, a unified front of the Arab League pushing for negotiations on the Saudi Peace plan is likely to gain a considerable impact. 

A new UN resolution should outline the parameters of the proposed negotiations whose chief negotiators will include the PLO, the Arab League, the EU, the US and local representatives of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. The resultant agreement should be sanctioned by the UN Security Council and be regarded as a binding treaty which carries behind it coercing measures alongside economic and political incentives.

The new Palestinian state will need to have internationally secured borders and air space as well as an access to sea and air ports via contiguity with the Gaza Strip. A mandatory timetable for the Israeli military’s withdrawal, followed by settlements’ evacuation, will be put into action. 

Drawing on The experience of Algeria in the 60s, the illegal Jewish settlers in the OT are likely to leave their colonies as soon as their protective Israeli army pulls back to the pre-1967 borders.

Mearsheimer and Walt conclude their seminal book be remarking that "what needed is candid civilized discussion of the Lobby’s influence and a more open debate about the US interests in the vital region". I argue that a mere discussion is not enough but what needed is placing the Palestinians on the international agenda and taking active steps to resolve their insufferable plight. That should be achieved by a consolidated action in which the Arab League’s member-states will be exercising their oil and economic power alongside a grassroots direct action in the form of BDS – thus, creating a "clout sans frontiers" to counteract that of the Israel Lobby.
-Ruth Tenne is an Israeli peace activist and a member of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods – (J-BIG). She contributed this article to (Ruth Tenne wrote this article in a private capacity.)

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