Friday, March 17, 2006

A Note of Dissent: On the Israel Lobby Piece by Mearsheimer and Walt. Since I returned from Qatar on Thursday, I must have received a copy of the Israel Lobby article by Mearsheimer and Walt from more than 20 different sources, at least. It is clear that this is one of those pieces that get wide circulation over the internet (the internet? that is where Walid Jumblat "found" evidence that Shib`a Farms are not Lebanese). I of course read it with interest. This is what I think. I will be referring to the full text that appeared as a Faculty Research Working Papers Series by the Kennedy School of Government. I guess I am in the minority in the pro-Palestinian camp on this one; I am not thrilled to read the piece. Not that I do not subscribe to criticisms of US foreign policy, but that is not what the authors do. The authors seem intent on blaming all the ills in US foreign policy on the Israeli lobby. There are obvious problems with that approach: it seems to ignore or deny the ills of US foreign policy in regions outside the Middle East. It also absolves the US administration, any US administration, from any responsibility because they (the administrations) become portrayed as helpless victims of an all-powerful lobby. Thirdly, the approach does not take into consideration the interests that certain elements of the US establishment see in maintaining US foreign policy toward Israel. Fourthly, the approach does not situate US foreign policy in the Middle East into the context of the global role of the US, especially in the era of Bush--and Clinton. And the piece, while significant because it comes from two mainstream academics, does not offer anything new or original. But for enthusiasts it is important to read those words in mainstream publications. And there are serious, very serious, problems with their (the authors'') assumptions about the Middle East: and those problems should be identified even if one is pleased with criticisms of Israel and its lobby. On p. 1 the authors, for example, said: "...the related effort to spread democracy throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion." Now that is not true, of course. It was not the "spread of democracy throughout the region" that inflamed Arab/Muslim opinion, but the very reverse. It was the spread of and support for tyrannies that inflamed Arab/Muslim opinion. Arab/Muslim opinion sees what those academics do not see: that the Bush administration, which enjoys a "permanent friendship" with the likes of the Saudi government, has not wavered from the long standing US policy of supporting Arab dictatorship provided that they toe the political and economic lines of US policy. On p. 2, the authors go out of their way to point out that their sources are Israeli. Notice how that is important because if you talk about Israel and its violations of human rights, the victims are not credible as sources. Only the oppressors and occupiers are credible enough to provide you with their sources. On p. 13, the authors identify the lobby as "comprised of American Jews."(p. 13) Now I am not saying that this notion carries a tinge of anti-Semitism, although it may at the hands of some critics of the lobby. I don't understand why people don't see that the most important leaders and implementers of the lobby are the non-Jewish leaders of US Congress. It is they who empower the lobby and who allow it the unprecedented access that it has enjoyed for decades. Reagan, Bush, and Clinton are the real power behind the powers of the pro-Israeli lobby, much more than the particular leaders of the lobby. On. p. 16, there is a disturbing quotation attributed to Morris Amitay. It speaks of "infiltration", and it underlines the Jewishness of Hill staffers as if non-Jewish staffers in Congress are any less pro-Israeli. And the authors, in trying to underline the power of the Lobby, quote a variety of Lobby leaders over the years who spoke about the powers of AIPAC. But that is what lobby leaders, any leaders of any lobby, including the lobby for olive growers of America, do. They have to brag about and exaggerate their powers. You have to see the leaders of "the Arab lobby" when they speak of their achievements. Have you read interviews with James Zogby in Arabic newspapers? Don't, I will spare you the agony, but he also brags about the achievements of the Arab "lobby." That is not evidence in itself. And my doubts are confirmed on page 40 when the authors state that "the Lobby's influence has been bad for Israel." This is it. This shows yet again how the debate on Israel is framed in the US, by those who champion Israel, and by those who are seen as critics of Israel. It is a manifestation of the center of debate on Israel. That even for critics of Israel, the concern or the center of attention is not the victims but the oppressors and occupiers. This is the Tikkun magazine: that occupation should be mildly opposed on grounds that it hurts the occupation soldiers and the "soul of Israel and Zionism." And how could anybody argue that the Lobby has been bad for Israel. It has been great for Israel: and you may measure that from every possible perspective. But it is not palatable to argue in the US that something is bad for the Palestinians. Who cares about the plight of the Palestinians. I know, I know. We, in the pro-Palestinian camp, are so desperate for any mainstream support for Palestinian rights that we are willing to take it from any side, and we are willing to forgive and even not notice the problems that some critics of Israel bring with them. Yes, one should be pleased that criticisms of Israel has reached a mainstream corner, in this case, but we should be vigilant and not ignore our duty to subject support for AND criticisms of Israel to critical scrutiny lest the baggage come back to haunt us. And this approach to criticisms of Israel is not new: it comes from a long tradition of retired US foreign service officers who 10 or 20 years after they leave office they provide criticisms of US foreign policy that absolve them and their government of any responsibility, and it pins all the blame on the powerful leaders of the lobby. This piece does not deviate from the book by former member of Congress, Paul Findley, in his book They Dare to Speak Out. Having said all that, this piece should be a recommended reading for people who are new to the subject, although the shortcomings should be pointed out. Good night.