Sunday, October 1, 2017

Mearsheimer & Walt's 'Israel Lobby' 10 Years On

If Spain had the Inquisition, the United States has the Israel lobby. Such is the fear of 'the lobby' in the United States that the classic book on the subject, Mearsheimer and Walt's The Israel Lobby & US Foreign Policy (2007) almost failed to appear:

"The two men actually gave up on the article and book years before it was published because doors kept closing... Mearsheimer spoke about the idea first at the American Political Science Association meetings in Boston in 2002; and a friend said the Atlantic wanted to commission an article on that very subject. The Atlantic magazine assigned Walt and Mearsheimer in 2002. Then it got cold feet and killed the piece in early 2005. At that time, Walt said, the two scholars thought no other outlet in the United States would publish it, but they could flesh it out as a 'short book,' so they consulted a 'number' of publishers... We got what you would call polite interest but nothing you could call enthusiasm. At one point we basically decided to drop the project entirely... After that, though, an editor who had a copy of the piece showed it to a scholar at UCLA who reached out to Mearsheimer and said the London Review of Books might be interested. The LRB version was eventually published in March 2006, and 'provoked an immediate firestorm,' Walt said. Ironically, once it provoked that firestorm, suddenly publishers... recognized that there was a product people were interested in and suddenly they were contacting us and offering us book contracts." ('The lobby is still as powerful as ever' - John Mearsheimer, ten years after publishing The Israel Lobby, Philip Weiss,, 25/9/17)

The comment by CitizenC in the thread following Weiss's post is a fair assessment of the book:

"The book and article were indeed important landmarks, and brought the issue into the mainstream. But the authors pulled their punches in certain ways. They did not examine the first chapter of the story, the 1940s, when the nascent IL overwhelmed the opposition of the military and diplomatic establishments, and forced support for the partition of Palestine and a Jewish state on the US government. They also claimed that the IL 'is just another lobby, doing its job in US interest group politics.' This was in part defensiveness about the charge of anti-Semitism, which they addressed.

"The IL is not like other lobbies. It has operated at and beyond the margins of the law since its founding. In its early years it moved adroitly thru various legal gambits and incorporations to evade prosecution under foreign agent laws. The Fulbright hearings of the early 1960s forced the founding of AIPAC by existing IL personnel, and were the end of US sovereignty in the foreign agent area, as far as Israel was concerned. Grant Smith has shown all this in an important series of books based on documents unearthed with FOIA. He feels that the USG has essentially lost the ability to enforce the Foreign Agent Registration Act where Israel is concerned.

"Much of Mearsheimer and Walt's defensiveness was due to the refusal of the left, led by Chomsky, to consider the issue, imposing instead the [Israel as] 'strategic asset' dogma. Chomsky wrote some trivial dismissal in response to the article, and ignored the book. The left is unchanged since Mearsheimer and Walt. The IL argument is still viciously attacked as anti-Semitism, notably by Jewish Voice for Peace. Ten years after the article and book appeared, Chomsky's friend Irene Gendzier tried to impose the 'strategic asset' argument on the 40s, in a risibly weak book.

"The IL has also been addressed by diplomats, politicians and academics since the 40s. Paul Findley, George Ball and Michael Cohen are examples. Nonetheless, Mearsheimer and Walt gave the issue renewed prominence, made a major contribution, and paid a price, as Phil says."

I would add to CitizenC's list in the above paragraph - and highly recommend - James Petras' The Power of Israel in the United States (2006).

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