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The Israel Lobby Revisited: A Year Since Walt and Mearsheimer’s Paper

israel-in-machinery-of-wh-illust-by-christopher-serra.jpgThere are not too many academic papers that manage to make a splash in the policy world as well as academe. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s paper on the role of the The Israel Lobby has been one of them, and only President Carter’s book that followed has attracted anything near the firestorm of much needed debate on unqualified US government backing of Israel.

It was a year ago this month that the London Review of Books published this landmark essay. A longer version had been submitted as a working paper with the title The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government on 13th March 2006. The Atlantic Monthly had commissioned an article by the authors in 2002, but decided not to go ahead with publication. It was a hot topic.

The paper argued that US Middle East policy is not in America’s national interest and is driven primarily by the “Israel Lobby”, a loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to skew US foreign policy toward a hardliner Israeli Likudnik direction.

Illustration by Christopher Serra in Foreign Policy

Yes, Virginia, there is a well-organised and prominent Israel Lobby and it is not anti-Semitic to note this fact nor to make it a legitimate topic of scholarly debate. The study generated much needed discussion and scrutiny, and elicited, unsurprisingly, the expected denunciations from the primary apologists for Israel in the US such as Alan Dershowitz.

The authors (from the broadly ‘realist’ school of international relations) posited that “the United States has been willing to set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of another state” and that of the myriad groups that make up this influential lobby, “(t)he bottom line is that AIPAC, which is a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress.”

In the year since its publication, the Republican majority in the US Congress has been overturned in the November elections, and the US Democratic Party have been able to reclaim majorities in both houses. With the current crop of Democrats, this is the most pro-Israel Congress ever.

And while the focus of the world was on the US for these November mid-term elections, this almost certainly was used as the cover for a terrible event, an unconscionable massacre by the IDF at Beit Hanoun in Gaza.

The guns were still smoking from the horrific invasion of Lebanon in July and the senseless month-long bombing of its civilian infrastructure. The Israeli government’s long planned for war on Hezbollah in southern Lebanon became a war on the whole country, causing an ecologically ruinous oil spill, threatening the culturally significant heritage sites of ancient Phoenicia and causing a second atrocity at Qana (biblically, the place where Jesus performed his water into wine miracle), in turn coming after prior strikes on Gaza. Lest we forget that 90% of the more than a million cluster bombs were dropped just in the last 72 hours of the conflict by the IDF—when a ceasefire was known to be imminent.

Despite arousing much of the world’s condemnation, the chorus of disapproval and disgust was simply ignored with the imprimatur of US government support. Wholly justified criticism has all too often simply been branded as either anti-semitic (as Walt, Mearsheimer and many others attest) or as “supporting terror.

With a war opening on multiple fronts with its neighbors, and exempting the small but vocal peace movement in the country, Israel’s heart of darkness has revealed a bellicose collective mood. Fear, fervour and paranoia (when its citizens weren’t simply oblivious) have all too easily been generated by a state ideology predicated upon the racist supremacist ideology of militant Zionism which has seen Israel become a regional bully, and a nuclear-armed one at that. It is Israel that has not been a genuine partner for peace, gaining more territory under the cover of war and refusing to define its borders. Policies of ethnic cleansing/”transfer”, racism and resource entitlement have clearly been the order of the day.

The year since the publication of Walt and Mearsheimer’s paper has seen the Israeli government continue its punitive punishment, illegal settlements, urbicide, ghettoisation, apartheid and occupation under a myth of ‘disengagement’, all so far underpinned with assured US support for its long-time policies of genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (oPt).

The resilience and strength of the Palestinian people has been remarkable. Their hardships have been tremendous, bearing the weight of sanctions, sieges, strikes, denial of international aid, raids on banks, human rights abuses, black flag ops, targeted killing, poverty, economic strangulation, discrimination, collective punishment, far-right settlers, the withholding of tax credits, denial of education, destruction of olive groves, illegal detaining, theft of land and house demolitions, and the damaging and traumatic psychological effects thereof.

Since then, too, the Likud-Zionist influence has been seen in neocon US foreign policy toward Iran, threatening a possible conflagration that the Israel Lobby has again long been shrilly propagating, as it did with Iraq. This threatens to ignite the entire region.

But cracks are emerging in the influence of the Israel Lobby. Other Jewish groups are making a noise on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere, speaking up against the intimidation of groups like AIPAC who they say do not speak for them. Numerous international boycottscultural, academic and economic—have been urged, in addition to divestment campaigns.

Cracks in the Lobby fortress are also emerging with challenges in the prevailing directions of the governing elite. As James Petras argues, a split can be seen between what he calls the traditional economic empire builders (EEB) and the civilian militarists/ Zion-cons. At least one article has recently speculated about the possibly waning influence of the neocons.

As a good friend of mine involved in the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa has reminded me, it is just when things are at their worst and most unbearable, that a tipping point is often reached. This tipping point may come suddenly, but it is a spark that is made possible by, and generated in, the long electric struggle for justice.

mearsheimer-john-professor.jpgAbout Walt and Mearsheimer

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. His most recent book is Taming walt-stephen-professor.jpgAmerican Power: The Global Response to US Primacy.

John J. Mearsheimer is the Wendell Harrison Professor of Political Science at Chicago, and the author of The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.

The response to the article prompted the LRB to hold a debate in New York on 28 September around the question ‘The Israel lobby: does it have too much influence on American foreign policy?’ The panelists were Shlomo Ben-Ami, Martin Indyk, Tony Judt, Rashid Khalidi, John Mearsheimer and Dennis Ross, and the moderator was Anne-Marie Slaughter.

lrb-cover-v28n0623march-2006.jpgRecommended first ports of call is to first read the article if you haven’t already done so. Read it as it appeared in the London Review of Books (.pdf, 12pp), reprinted courtesy of the Goals for Americans Foundation or its online version either at LRB or the slightly longer working paper at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Listening to or viewing the subsequent LRB debate in New York is also recommended.

The authors wrote a follow up article published after the war on Lebanon (thanks Fanonite) and a book is on the way. If the reception of the article is any indication, it portends a similar campaign and debate as that President Carter has courageously helped generate.

Further references and selected review articles on this important topic are appended.
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Post-Israel Lobby Articles by Authors:
* John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, Unrestricted Access, Foreign Policy, May/June 2006
* John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, The Israel Lobby, Middle East Policy, V. XIII, No. 3, Fall 2006, pp. 29-87

In Their Own Words:

  • “The core of the Lobby is comprised of American Jews who make a significant effort in their daily lives to bend U.S. foreign policy so that it advances Israel’s interests.”
  • “Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them.”
  • “There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy; the Lobby’s activities are not a conspiracy… For the most part the individuals and groups in it are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better.” However, “the mere existence of the Lobby suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organized special interest group to bring it about.”
  • “Can the Lobby’s power be curtailed? One would like to think so … But that is not going to happen anytime soon.”
  • “the [Iraq] war was due in large part to the Lobby’s influence, especially the neoconservatives within it.”
  • “No discussion of how the Lobby operates would be complete without examining one of its most powerful weapons: the charge of anti-Semitism. Anyone who criticizes Israeli actions or says that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over U.S. Middle East policy – an influence that AIPAC celebrates – stands a good chance of getting labeled an anti-Semite.”
  • “The Lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay…all of whom believe Israel’s rebirth is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda; to do otherwise, they believe, would be contrary to God’s will.”
  • “In addition, the Lobby’s membership includes neoconservative gentiles such as John Bolton, the late Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley, former Secretary of Education William Bennett, former U.N. Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick, and columnist George Will.”
  • “Over the past 25 years, pro-Israel forces have established a commanding presence at the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Center for Security Policy, the Foreign Policy Research Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).”
  • “Jewish-Americans have formed an impressive array of organizations to influence American foreign policy, of which AIPAC is the most powerful and well-known.”
  • “Many of the key organizations in the Lobby, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, are run by hardliners who generally support the Likud Party‘s expansionist policies, including its hostility to the Oslo Peace Process.”
  • “AIPAC itself, however, forms the core of the Lobby’s influence in Congress.”
  • “The Lobby doesn’t want an open debate, of course, because that might lead Americans to question the level of support they provide.”
  • “Were it not for the Lobby’s ability to manipulate the American political system, the relationship between Israel and the United States would be far less intimate than it is today.”
  • “Israel is the only recipient of US aid that does not have to account for how the aid is spent.”
  • “Since 1982, the United States has vetoed 32 United Nations Security Council resolutions that were critical of Israel, a number greater than the combined total of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members together.”
  • “A final reason to question Israel’s strategic value is that it does not behave like a loyal ally.”
  • “More important, saying that Israel and the US are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards; the US has a terrorism problem because it is so closely aligned with Israel, not the other way around.”
  • “In fact, Israel is a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states.”
  • “…Yitzhak Shamir, once a terrorist and later prime minister of Israel declared that ‘neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism as a means of combat.'”

IMMEDIATE RIPPLES (March-May, in chronological order)

* Noam Chomsky, The Israel Lobby?, ZNet, 28 March 2006

* Justin Raimondo, The Lobby Strikes Back,, 31 March 2006

* Joshua Holland, Harvard Takes On the Israel Lobby, AlterNet, 4 April 2006

* Michael Neumann, The Israel Lobby and Beyond: Why the US May Be Acting Against Its Own Interests in the Middle East, Counterpunch, 4 April 2006

* Norman Solomon, The Lobby and the Bulldozer: Mearsheimer, Walt and Corrie, t r u t h o u t, 13 April 2006

* Jim Lobe, Iran Showdown Tests Power of “Israel Lobby”, IPS/ AlterNet, 14 April 2006

* Uri Avnery, The influence of the Israel lobby in the USA, Redress, 23 April 2006

* Norman Finkelstein, The Israel Lobby: It’s Not Either /Or, Counterpunch, 1 May, 2006

* Eric Alterman, AIPAC’s Complaint, The Nation, 1 May 2006 issue

* Tony Judt, The country that wouldn’t grow up, Ha’aretz, 5 May 2006

* Phillip Weiss, Ferment Over ‘The Israel Lobby’, The Nation, 15 May 2006 issue


* Jeffrey Blankfort Interview, Signs of the Times, 21 Feb 2006 (in French at

* Russ Wellen, A Different Blowback, Intervention Magazine, 23 May 2006

** Justin Raimondo, Enough is Enough: People have had it up to here with the Lobby,, 26 May 2006

* Liel Leibovitz, Middle East Wars Flare Up At Yale, The Jewish Week, 2 June 2006 (Juan Cole)

* Michael Massing, The Storm over the Israel Lobby, New York Review of Books, Volume 53, Number 10, 8 June 2006

* Betty McCollum, A Letter to AIPAC, New York Review of Books, Volume 53, Number 10, 8 June 2006

* Kathleen and Bill Christison, The Power of the Israel Lobby: Its Origins and Growth, Counterpunch, 16 June 2006

* Stephen J. Sniegoski, Israel-lobby denial: The bankruptcy of the mainstream Left as illustrated by Stephen Zunes, The Last Ditch, 18 June 2006

* Justin Raimondo, The Assassins,, 19 June, 2006

* John Pilger, The Last Taboo, ZNet, 7 July 2006

* Alexander Cockburn, The Triumph of Crackpot Realism: Bush, Rice and Israel’s Hack Legions, Counterpunch, 31 July 2006

* George Monbiot, The king of fairyland will never grasp the realities of the Middle East, The Guardian, 1 August 2006

* Justin Raimondo, The New Munich: Lebanon, 2006, and Czechoslovakia, 1938 – the historical parallels,, 7 August 2006

* Jean Bricmont, The De-Zionization of the American Mind, Counterpunch, 12-13 August 2006

* Rodrigue Tremblay, AIPAC, the Religious Right and American foreign policy, Online Journal, 29 Aug 2006

* Justin Raimondo, Two Elephants in the Room: Israel and its amen corner,, 30 August 2006

* Jonathan Cook, Human Rights Watch, Lebanon and the Israel Lobby, Counterpunch, 7 September 2006

* Terry Walz, The Cooper Union “Israel Lobby” Debate, CNI/ ei, 4 October 2006

* Stephen Lendman, James Petras’ New Book: The Power of Israel in the United States,, 29 October 2006

* James Petras, Texas v Tel Aviv: US Policy in the Middle East, PEJ News, 1 November 2006

* Chris Hedges, Get Carter, The Nation, 8 January 2007

* Matthew Yglesias, Is There A Kosher Way to Criticize the Israel Lobby?, The American Prospect, 26 January 2007

* Ramzy Baroud, The Final Punch, Palestine Chronicle, 22 Feb 2007

* Scott McConnell, Bloggers vs The Lobby, American Conservative, 12 March

* The Economist, Taming Leviathan, 15 March 2007

* Gregory Levey, Inside America’s Powerful Israel Lobby, Slate, 16 March 2007

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18 comments on “The Israel Lobby Revisited: A Year Since Walt and Mearsheimer’s Paper

  1. Graeme
    14 March, 2007

    Great post. i bookmarked alot of these links (they are full of good info). We have to keep yelling and screaming that saying something bad about Israel does not mean that we have any sort of problem with Jews.

  2. Curtis
    14 March, 2007

    An excellent post…I seem to repeat those words a lot at this site, but this post particularly is a Trojan horse of invaluable information and a stunning representation of the wonderful work you’ve been doing here.

    Charges of anti-Semitism and terror support are unfortunately effective devices in the arsenal of the Lobby, but it’s been my observation that they take second and third fiddle to uninformed complacency and disinterested malaise, in my country perhaps more than anywhere else.

  3. Pingback: The Israel Lobby Revisited « Can’t See the Forest

  4. peoplesgeography
    14 March, 2007

    Graeme, thanks for coming by and I entirely agree. Jews deserve our wholehearted support and they often cop it the worst with intimidatory tactics and being labelled traitors and self-hating Jews and so on. The percentage of American Jews against the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was higher than that for the general population for example. This reflects a number of things as you know, including the fact that the position of the zionist hawks of AIPAC and other groups in the Lobby stand in stark contrast to the much more diverse community of American Jews, who are certainly not spoken for by them.

  5. peoplesgeography
    14 March, 2007

    Curt, many thanks and well said. Past saturation of these so far effective silencing devices is at least resulting in their dilution, one hopes. I think they are starting to wear thin in some quarters.

    I do have to apologize for the haphazard insertion of links, I’ll go back and endeavour to clean up this rather rushed post, but its nice to have had them noticed.

  6. Servant
    14 March, 2007

    // I do have to apologize //

    Ha. That’s so funny. That’s the funniest thing you’ve said ever. Love it when you make jokes. Brilliant and self deprecating. Let me see your union card! Uh huh! Just as I suspected. Better get caught up on those dues, Love. We don’t take kindly to humorous delinquents in this business. Especially the well healed academics who can actually pay. We take our silliness very seriously.

    Bravo, Ann! It’s so nice to know that someone is keeping these issues out of the memory hole. This is the highest concentration of information I’ve seen anywhere on this subject. And ordered by impact too.

    Sincere Thanks

  7. peoplesgeography
    14 March, 2007

    :) “The sufficiency of my merit is to know that my merit is insufficient”.

    I was in earnest my friend, there was rushed awkward syntax and spelun mistakes to be corrected.

    And these infelicities were not as poetic as your tiny spelling slip — you write “well-healed” academic. That’s so much nicer, to my mind, than merely being “well-heeled”. ;)

  8. Pingback: Tears For Lebanon 961 Lebanon A must read:The Israel Lobby Revisited: A Year Since Walt and Mearsheimer’s Paper «

  9. homeyra
    15 March, 2007

    I have to take the month of to read all the links!
    I have started with the article in the London review of books.
    It is really disturbing. Everyone understands the needs of any country to protect itself etc. but from what I gather through this one article, the lack of most basic human concerns is hardly believable. It is really sad to think that so many intelligent highly educated, rich people simple ignore, for instance a person “right” to have “drinking” water, let alone a nation or nations.
    If with all this wealth and education and strong lobby, we cannot respect such a trivial matters, well… I don’t even know what to conclude!

  10. homeyra
    15 March, 2007

    of = off etc…

  11. homeyra
    15 March, 2007

    My favorite sentence in this report:
    “A front-page headline in the Wall Street Journal shortly after the war began says it all: ‘President’s Dream: Changing Not Just Regime but a Region: A Pro-US, Democratic Area Is a Goal that Has Israeli and Neo-Conservative Roots.’”!

  12. peoplesgeography
    15 March, 2007

    Join the mispellers club, Homie! ;)

    Glad to read you’re reviewing the article. Like others, I’m sympathetically critical — applauding the fact that such an article has been written, whilst still being cognizant of its shortcomings and the authors’ positionality in the Imperium.

    It is dismaying, as you write, to read about the lack of concern displayed by some comfortable sectors of any populace towards people that are denied basic human rights. It is ultimately in their—and our—enlightened self interest to care (“Ask for not whom the bell tolls” etc), anyway and hopefully that’s becoming more apparent in a more interconnected and integrated world.

    Thanks for highlighting the sentence above. I’m also struck by it, and would only add speech marks to “democratic”, for this imperial project is wholly lacking in democracy, as you know—lacking it in both in its execution/ operation, as well as in the vaunted respect for the democratic wishes of various populations in the region as well as outside of it.

    Thanks for your observations.

  13. JollyRoger
    15 March, 2007

    Unless and until the US pulls the rug out from under Israel, there is almost no chance that the Israelis are going to become any more inclined to seek peace than they are now.

    This does a disservice to all the people of the region, including the Israelis. If they were forced to come to some kind of accord with the surrounding Arabs, there might actually be a chance that Israelis could start relaxing again about things like a walk to the grocery store. The status quo is helpful to absolutely no one. Radical Zionism is no more desirable than radical Islam.

  14. Bluebear2
    15 March, 2007

    I haven’t known much about this issue beyond what little spin has been in the news as well as some discussions at various blogs.

    With your help and research here it looks like I’ll be able to learn much more. I’m with Homeyra in that it will take a month or so to digest.


  15. peoplesgeography
    15 March, 2007

    Indeed, Jolly Roger. As you say, there can be no real security with this unsustainable status quo, for Israel or its neighbours. The entitlement and victimhood mentalities need to be jettisoned as much as violence renounced and mutual recognition proffered. Thanks for coming by.

  16. peoplesgeography
    15 March, 2007

    Thanks BlueBear, I hope it helps. So many articles, so little time, I agree with you and Homeyra (the review articles tend not to be as long as the original M&W one, at least). I was somewhat taken aback at the number of links (had I really posted that much?) but its also useful to have most of them in one spot, branches off a single tree trunk, so to speak.

  17. Pingback: US: The Israel Lobby Re-Visited « Progressive Muslima News

  18. euandus2
    11 November, 2009

    In my view, when a sacred cow lobbies for another country, something is wrong. I think real leadership risks reelection to take it on. I recommend the following post on the blog:

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