Stephen Zunes | December 20, 2007
It has been 21 months since John Mearsheimer and Steve Walt published their article “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” in The London Review of Books and four months since their publication of a book by the same name. Their main arguments are that unconditional U.S. support for the Israeli government has harmed U.S. interests in the Middle East and that American organizations allied with the Israeli government have been the primary influence regarding the orientation of U.S. Middle East policy. As a political scientist and international relations scholar specializing in the United States role in the Middle East, I certainly had no disagreements with their first contention. I took strong exception to their second, however.
There is no denying that the Israel Lobby can be quite influential, particularly on Capitol Hill and in its role in limiting the broader public debate. However, I found it incredibly naïve to assume that U.S. policy in the Middle East would be significantly different without AIPAC and like-minded pro-Zionist organizations. In response to what I saw as a rather simplistic and reductionist understanding of U.S. foreign policy by these prominent center-right international relations scholars, I wrote the article The Israel Lobby: How Powerful is It Really?
While most the criticisms of Mearsheimer and Walt’s article came from right-wing apologists of the Israeli government, many long-time critics of U.S. support for Israeli occupation, repression, colonization and related policies against their neighbors raised concerns as well. My article became one of the more widely-circulated and detailed critiques from the left.
My analysis drew profoundly negative reaction from those who insisted that it was not oil interests, military contractors, ideological imperialists, and related powerful sectors of America’s ruling class who were responsible for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and other tragic manifestations of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, but was instead the responsibility of a rich cabal of Jews who manipulated the Bush administration to engage in policies it would not have otherwise supported. I was denounced for propagating left-wing “lies” and “myths” by examining some of the broader structural, ideological, economic and institutional inherencies in U.S. foreign policy instead of acknowledging that it was all the fault of the Jews.
Just as the hysterical reaction from right-wing Zionist circles seemed to some to vindicate Mearsheimer and Walt’s arguments that an all-powerful Israel Lobby stifles legitimate debate about U.S. policy toward Israel and the broader Middle East, the reaction to my critique seemed to some to vindicate the notion that those who put the blame on the Israel Lobby are prone to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
Mearsheimer and Walt’s book certainly does not fall into the anti-Semitic rants of many of their supporters. Like their original article, however, the book is still fundamentally flawed.