compulsory reading, US Politics

Israel, the AIPAC, and US foreign policy

In today’s IHT, Daniel Levy, who was an advisor to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, discusses a recent paper entitled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” by John J. Mearsheimer (University of Chicago) and Stephen M. Walt (John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University). The context Levy provides is interesting – his emphasis is on a growing rift between an increasingly inward looking Israel and an continously expansive AIPAC (America Israel Public Affairs Committee) – Levy’s article is entitled “America: So pro-Israel that it hurts“.

If I remember correctly, AIPAC’s influence on American foreign policy is as mythical as it has been cyclical. As Levy notes, the recently increasing debate about the AIPAC’s influence on and the assumed natural alignement of Israeli and US interests in the Middle East could, in light of a growing rift between Israeli policy and the AIPAC, possible precede realignments in American foreign policy. If he’s right, the honest broker might be looking for a come-back. He would certainly be welcomed.

“A recent study entitled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” should serve as a wake-up call on both sides of the ocean. It is authored by two respected academics – John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government …

The tone of the report is harsh. It is jarring even for a self-critical Israeli. It lacks finesse and nuance when it looks at the alphabet soup of the world of American-Jewish organizations and at how the “Lobby” interacts with both the Israeli establishment and the wider right-wing echo chamber.

Yet the case built by Mearsheimer and Walt is a potent one: Identification of American with Israeli interests can be principally explained by the impact of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington in limiting the parameters of public debate, rather than by the fact that Israel is a vital strategic asset or has a uniquely compelling moral case for support (beyond, as the authors point out, the right to exist, which in any case is not in jeopardy).

The study is at its most devastating when it describes how the lobby “stifles debate by intimidation” and at its most current when it details how America’s interests (and ultimately Israel’s, too) are ill-served by the lobby’s agenda.

The signs that Israel and the pro-Israel lobby are not on the same page are mounting. For Israel, the withdrawal from Gaza and future evacuations in the West Bank are acts of strategic national importance; for the pro-Israel lobby, they are an occasion for confusion and foot-shuffling. For Israel, the election of Hamas raises complex and difficult challenges; for the lobby it is a public-relations home run and an occasion for legislative muscle-flexing.

The lobby’s influence, write Mearsheimer and Walt, “has discouraged Israel from seizing opportunities…that would have saved Israeli lives and shrunk the ranks of Palestinian extremists….

“Using American power to achieve a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians would help advance the broader goals of fighting extremism and promoting democracy in the Middle East.”

This is not about appeasement; it’s about smart, if difficult, policy choices that also address Israeli needs and security.

In short, if Israel is indeed entering a new era of national sanity and de-occupation, then the role of the pro-Israel lobby in U.S.-Israel relations will have to be rethought, and either reformed from within or challenged from without.”