Paul Findley represented Illinois’ twentieth congressional district for 22 years until he was defeated for reelection in 1982. His congressional service was distinguished only by his antipathy to Israel. Using the time afforded him by his involuntary retirement from Congress, Findley wrote They Dare to Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, published in 1985. The book has achieved sufficient success that it was updated and republished in a post-9/11 third edition in 2003. According to the Amazon book description:
The first book to speak out against the pervasive influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on American politics, policy, and institutions resonates today as never before. With careful documentation and specific case histories, former congressman Paul Findley demonstrates how the Israel lobby helps to shape important aspects of U.S. foreign policy and influences congressional, senatorial, and even presidential elections. Described are the undue influence AIPAC exerts in the Senate and the House and the pressure AIPAC brings to bear on university professors and journalists who seem too sympathetic to Arab and Islamic states and too critical of Israel and its policies….In addition, the lack of open debate among politicians with regard to the U.S. policy in the Middle East is lamented, and AIPAC is blamed in part for this censorship. Connections are drawn between America’s unconditional support of Israel and the raging anti-American passions around the world-and ultimately the tragic events of 9/11.
As Findley has elsewhere explained: “September 11 would not have occurred if the US government had refused to help Israel humiliate and destroy Palestinian society.”
Paul Findley is a crank with an obsession. His views, however, have lately been reiterated and amplified by University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer and Harvard Kennedy School of Government Professor (and academic dean) Stephen Walt. Mearsheimer and Walt state their views in a London Review of Books essay (“The Israel Lobby”) and in a pseudoscholarly, heavily footnoted Kennedy School “research working paper” counterpart to the LRB essay (“The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy”). The Amazon description of Findley’s book could serve as the précis of their essay.
Mearsheimer and Walt are chaired professors, respectively, of political science and international relations at two of America’s most elite academic institutions, yet their essay is shoddy almost beyond belief. Among the authorities it relies on are Noam Chomsky and Norman Finkelstein. If it were a student term paper, it might be spared a failing grade in recognition of the effort that went into it. Among other things, its tendentious, highly selective use of evidence marks it as the work of zealots rather than scholars.
Mearsheimer and Walt argue:
The U.S national interest should be the primary object of American foreign policy. For the past several decades, however, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread democracy [in the LRB version, Mearsheimer and Walt insructively place “democracy” in quotes] throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized U.S. security [in the LRB version: “jeopardized not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world”].
This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the United States been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?
Mearsheimer and Walt posit the activities of the “Israel Lobby” as the answer to this question. As for Findley, for Mearsheimer and Walt the “Israel Lobby” consists first and foremost of the “hardliners” among American Jews who support the America Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Both ends of the Mearsheimer and Waltz thesis — that the United States has forsaken the pursuit of its own interest in the Middle East, and that it has done so because of the “Israel Lobby” — rest on extraordinarily weak evidence. According to Mearsheimer and Walt, for example: “Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in 2003, but it was a critical element.” Here a cardinal piece of evidence is a single, fragmentary report of a September 2002 speech by former 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow. In this context, Mearsheimer and Walt refer in passing to “[t]he campaign to manipulate intelligence” as though it were an established fact instead of a discredited charge.
Within the United States, according to Mearsheimer and Walt, “the main driving force behind the Iraq war was a small band of neoconservatives, many with close ties to Israel’s Likud Party.” They assert:
Neoconservatives in the Lobby — most notably Scooter Libby, Paul Wolfowitz, and Princeton historian Bernard Lewis — played especially critical roles in persuading the President and Vice-President to favor war.
Given the fact that none of the key decisionmakers in the administration’s deliberations over the war was either Jewish or neoconservative — President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Secretary Powell, Secretary Rumsfeld, and National Security Adviser Rice — the characterization of “the Lobby” as “the main driving force behind the Iraq war” is tenuous at best. Mearsheimer and Walt concede some responsibility to the leaders of the administration: “With Bush and Cheney on board, the die for war was cast.” In the eyes of Mearsheimer and Walt, however, Bush and Cheney are merely jumping on board the train conducted by the multifarious “neoconservatives in the Lobby.”
The clock strikes thirteen with Mearsheimer and Walt’s description of the most prominent living historian of Islam as a “neoconservative” member of the “Israel Lobby.” Has any serious observer ever described Lewis in this manner before?
Mearsheimer and Walt of course studiously avoid the national security considerations cited by administration decisionmakers themselves as the ground for war with Iraq, or the similar national security concerns shared by the influenetial “neoconservatives” and members of the “Israel Lobby.” If Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby supported the overthrow of Saddam Hussein prior to 9/11, it was because they thought that the security interests of the United States required it.
Mearsheimer and Walt argue that there is neither a moral nor a strategic case to be made for supporting Israel, so the only explanation for American policy must be the “Israel lobby.” The alternative, of course, is that they are wrong, and that there are good reasons why Israel has enjoyed the support (consistently, albeit to varying degrees) of eleven consecutive administrations of both parties, and a large majority of the American people for over half a century. Which is more likely: that all of these people have been bamboozled by a sinister “Lobby,” or that there are, in fact, good but unacknowledged (by Mearsheimer and Walt) reasons for our historic support of Israel?
Perhaps the most damaging implication of Mearsheimer and Walt’s essay is that America’s alliance with Israel brought about 9/11. They assert that to say Israel and the United States face a common terrorist threat “has the causal relationship backwards: rather, the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around.”
Aside from the opinions of a few pundits, Mearsheimer and Walt rely here on 9/11 Commission staff report no. 16. In relevant part, the staff report appears to be based largely on debriefings of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Neither the staff report nor Mearsheimer and Walt consider other evidence, such as the 1996 and 1998 fatwas issued by Osama bin Laden. As Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon observe in The Age of Sacred Terror, the 1998 fatwa consists of three counts, each dealing with a different land: the Arabian peninsula (occupied by the United States “in the holiest of places…plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers,” etc.); Iraq (the Americans are trying to repeat the horrific massacres and the United States is annihilating what is left of Iraq’s people, etc.); and the Middle East (“the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state…”) Read together, the two fatwas suggest that bin Laden’s primary grievance was with the placement of American troops in Saudi Arabia. Consider this passage from bin Laden’s 1996 fatwa:
The latest and the greatest of these aggressions, incurred by the Muslims since the death of the Prophet (ALLAH’S BLESSING AND SALUTATIONS ON HIM) is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places — the foundation of the house of Islam, the place of the revelation, the source of the message and the place of the noble Ka’ba, the Qiblah of all Muslims — by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies. (We bemoan this and can only say: “No power and power acquiring except through Allah”).
Chapter 2 of the 9/11 Commission report itself covered the evolution of bin Laden’s war on the United States in terms that follow Benjamin and Simon. Mearsheimer and Walt’s failure even to mention the bin Laden fatwas is striking, as is their larger failure to take note of jihadist ideology that supports the war against the United States.
Mearsheimer and Walt’s consideration of the “Israel Lobby” or “the Lobby” is also striking:
We use “the Lobby” as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to shape U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction….. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them.
Many of the key organizations in the Lobby, like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations (CPMJO), are run by hardliners who generally support the Likud Party’s expansionist policies, including its hostility to the Oslo peace process.
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, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives. They believe Israel’s rebirth is part of biblical prophecy, support its expansionist agenda; and think pressuring Israel is 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 Jeane Kirkpatrick; and columnist George Will.
“The Lobby” is not a finely tuned concept; it’s mostly but not entirely Jewish, and membership apparently takes nothing more than admiration for Israel or America’s alliance with it.
Not just AIPAC, but people ranging from Ralph Reed to George Will (!) are members of the Lobby. Will (like the others) is part of the “Lobby,” not because he is paid by Israel or because he actually lobbies Congressmen, but because he has made logical and persuasive arguments in support of Israel. So I guess we’re all part of the “Lobby.” But since we haven’t actually done any lobbying, maybe the simplest explanation of why the “Lobby” has been successful is that the pro-Israel arguments are stronger than the anti-Israel arguments. The “Lobby” appears to consist, in other words, of everyone who disagrees with the authors.
Despite their condemnation of the “Lobby,” Mearsheimer and Walt helpfully distinguish it from other famous Jewish conspiracies: “The Lobby’s activities are not the sort of conspiracy depicted in anti-Semitic tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise the Lobby are doing what other special interest groups do, just much better.”
Elsewhere in their essay, however, Mearsheimer and Walt characterize AIPAC as “a de facto agent of a foreign government,” and the foreign government of which AIPAC is allegedly a de facto agent is one that they assert has interests inimical to those of the United States. The “Lobby’s” activities certainly comprise a different sort of conspiracy. Unlike the fictitious conspiracy portrayed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the conspiracy of the “Lobby” depicted by Mearsheimer and Walt has done serious damage to the United States.
Mearsheimer and Walt throw distortion and defamation like rice at a wedding. Perhaps the most absurd element of the essay is the fancy that the “Lobby” seeks to stifle debate on campus and conducts a campaign to eliminate criticism of Israel from college campuses. Like Paul Findley, Mearsheimer and Walt fancy themselves the brave dissenters from a sinister pro-Israel orthodoxy. “Anyone who criticizes Israeli actions or says that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over U.S. Middle East policy…stands a good chance of getting labeled an anti-Semite.” These tenured faculty members of distinguished academic institutions dare to take the chance. For its sheer crudity, however, their essay subjects them to the even greater chance of getting labeled charlatans.