The United States, Israel, and the Lobby - Part 2

excerpted from the book

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2007, paperback

Today, Israel is the strongest military power in the Middle East. Its conventional forces are far superior to those of its neighbors, and it is the only state in the region with nuclear weapons. Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel, and Saudi Arabia has offered to do so as well. Syria has lost its Soviet patron, Iraq has been decimated by three disastrous wars, and Iran is hundreds of miles away and has never directly attacked Israel. The Palestinians barely have effective police, let alone a military that could threaten Israel's existence, and they are further weakened by profound internal divisions. The deaths caused by Palestinian suicide bombers are tragic and strike fear in the hearts of all Israelis, but they do relatively little damage to Israel's economy, much less threaten its territorial integrity. Groups like Hezbollah can launch low-yield missiles and rockets at Israel and might be able to kill a few hundred Israelis over the course of months or years, but these attacks do not represent an existential threat to Israel.

Whether a country is democratic is not a reliable indicator of how Washington will relate to it. The United States has overthrown a few democratic governments in the past and has supported numerous dictators when doing so was thought to advance U.S. interests. The Eisenhower administration overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran in 1953, while the Reagan administration supported Saddam Hussein in the 1980s. Today, the Bush administration has good relations with dictators like Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Pervez Musharraf in Pakistan, and at the same time it has worked to undermine the democratically elected Hamas government in the Occupied Territories. It also has an acrimonious relationship with Hugo Chavez, the elected leader of Venezuela.

The United States is a liberal democracy where people of any race, religion, or ethnicity are supposed to enjoy equal rights. While Israel's citizens are of many backgrounds, including Arab, Muslim, and Christian, among others, it was explicitly founded as a Jewish state, and whether a citizen is regarded as Jewish ordinarily depends on kinship verifiable Jewish ancestry.

David Ben-Gurion

Any Jewish woman who, as far as it depends on her, does not bring into the world at least four healthy children is shirking her duty to the nation, like a soldier who evades military service .

The initial draft of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty, which approximates the U.S. Bill of Rights, contained language that promised equality for all Israelis: "All are equal before the law, and there shall be no discrimination on the grounds of gender, religion, nationality, race, ethnic group, country of origin or any other irrelevant factor."" Ultimately, however, a Knesset committee removed that clause from the final version that became law in 1992. Since then, Arab members of Israel's Knesset have made numerous attempts to amend that Basic Law by adding language that provides for equality before the law. But their Jewish colleagues have refused to go along, a situation that stands in marked contrast to the United States, where the equality principle is enshrined in law.

In addition to Israel's commitment to maintaining its Jewish identity and its refusal to grant de jure equality for non-Jews. Israel's 1.36 million Arabs are de facto treated as second-class citizens. An Israeli government commission found in 2003, for example, that Israel behaves in a "neglectful and discriminatory" manner toward them. Indeed, there is widespread support among Israeli Jews for(this)unequal treatment of Israeli Arabs. A poll released in March 2007 found that 55 percent of Israeli Jews wanted segregated entertainment facilities, while more than 75 percent said they would not live in the same building as an Israeli Arab. More than half of the respondents said that for a Jewish woman to marry an Arab is equal to national treason, And 50 percent said that they would refuse employment if their immediate supervisor was an Arab. The Israel Democracy Institute reported in May 2003 that 53 percent of Israeli Jews "are against full equality for the Arabs," while 77 percent of Israeli Jews believe that "there should be a Jewish majority on crucial political decisions." Only 31 percent "support having Arab political parties in the government." That sentiment squares with the fact that Israel did not appoint its first Muslim Arab cabinet minister until January 2007, almost six decades after the founding of the state. And even that one appointment, which was to the minor portfolio of science, sports, and culture, was highly controversial.

Israel's treatment of its Arab citizens is more than just discriminatory. For example, to limit the number of Arabs in its midst, Israel does not permit Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens to become citizens themselves and does not give these spouses the right to live in Israel. The Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem called this restriction "a racist law that determines who can live here according to racist criteria. " Also, the Olmert government is pushing-and the Knesset's ministerial committee on legislation approved on January 10, 2007-a law that would allow the courts to revoke the citizenship of "unpatriotic" citizens. This legislation, which is clearly aimed at Israeli Arabs, was labeled "a drastic and extreme move that harms civil liberties" by Israel's attorney general. Such laws may be understandable in light of Israel's founding principles-the explicit aim of creating a Jewish state-but they are not consistent with America's image of a multiethnic democracy in which all citizens are supposed to be treated equally regardless of their ancestry.

In early 2007, Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to ultra-Orthodox Israelis with large families for the hardships that were caused by welfare cuts that he had made in 2002 when he was finance minister. He noted, however, that there was at least one important and unexpected benefit of these cuts: "there was a dramatic drop in the birth rate" within the "non-Jewish public . For Netanyahu, like many Israelis who are deeply worried about the so-called Arab demographic threat, the fewer Israeli Arab births, the better.

Netanyahu's comments would almost certainly be condemned if made in the United States. Imagine the outcry that would arise here if a U.S. cabinet official spoke of the benefits of a policy that had reduced the birthrates of African Americans and Hispanics, thereby preserving a white majority. But such statements are not unusual in Israel, where important leaders have a history of making derogatory comments about Palestinians and are rarely sanctioned for them. Menachem Begin once said that "Palestinians are beasts walking on two legs," while former IDF Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan referred to them as "drugged roaches in a bottle" and also said that good Arab is a dead Arab." Another former chief of staff, Moshe Ya'alon, referred to the Palestinian threat as like a "cancer" on which he was performing "chemotherapy. "

Such discriminatory views are not restricted to Israeli leaders. In a recent survey of Jewish high school students in Israel, 75 percent of the respondents said that Arabs are "uneducated." The same percentage said that they are "uncivilized,' while 74 percent of those polled said that Arabs are "unclean." Commenting on this last finding, Larry Derfner wrote in the Jerusalem Post: "To say Arabs are unclean is not a hard-line political statement. It's not an unduly harsh comment on Arab behavior. To say Arabs are unclean is to evince an irrational, hysterical, impenetrable, absolute hatred for an entire ethnic group-which, in fact, happens not to be unclean, no more than Jews are. To say Arabs are unclean is an expression of racism in about its purest, most virulent form." The person who oversaw the survey said, "We were not surprised by the outcome of the research. Anyone who is familiar with the field knows that these warped perceptions exist, but these dings are at the most severe extreme of a disturbing phenomenon.

The Israel Democracy Institute reported in May 2003 that 57 percent of Israel's Jews "think that the Arabs should be encouraged to emigrate. "A 2004 survey conducted by Haifa University's Center for the Study of National Security found that the number had increased to 63.7 percent. One year later, in 2005, the Palestinian Center for Israel Studies found that 42 percent of Israeli Jews believed that their government should encourage Israeli Arabs to leave, while another 17 percent tended to agree with the idea. The following year, the Center for Combating Racism found that 40 percent of Israel's Jews wanted their leaders to encourage the Arab population to emigrate, while the Israel Democracy Institute found the number to be 62 percent. If 40 percent or more of white Americans declared that blacks, Hispanics, and Asians "should be encouraged" to leave the United States, it would surely prompt vehement criticism.

Freedom of the press is alive and well in Israel, where, paradoxically, it is much easier to criticize Israeli policy than it is in the United States.

The bulk of the [Israel] lobby is comprised of Jewish Americans who are deeply committed to making sure that U.S. foreign policy advances what they believe to be Israel's interests. According to the historian Melvin I. Urofsky, "No other ethnic group in American history has so extensive an involvement with a foreign nation." Steven T. Rosenthal agrees, writing that "since 1967 ... there has been no other country whose citizens have been as committed to the success of another country as American Jews have been to Israel . In 1981, the political scientist Robert H. Trice described the pro-Israel lobby as "comprised of at least 75 separate organizations - mostly Jewish - that actively support most of the actions and policy positions of the Israeli government."' The activities of these groups and individuals go beyond merely voting for pro-Israel candidates to include writing letters to politicians or news organizations, making financial contributions to pro-Israel political candidates, and giving active support to one or more pro-Israel organizations, whose leaders often contact them directly to convey their agenda .

There is significant variation among American Jews in their depth of commitment to Israel. Roughly a third of them, in fact, do not identify Israel as a particularly salient issue. In 2004, for example, a well-regarded survey found that 36 percent of Jewish Americans were either "not very" or "not at all" emotionally attached to Israel.

American Jews have formed an impressive array of civic organizations whose agendas include working to benefit Israel, in many cases by influencing U.S. foreign policy. Key organizations include AIPAC, the American Jewish Congress, ZOA, the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), the American Jewish Committee, the ADL, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Americans for a Safe Israel, American Friends of Likud, Mercaz-USA, Hadassah, and many others. Indeed, the sociologist Chaim I. Waxman reported in 1992 that the American Jewish Yearbook listed more than eighty national Jewish organizations "specifically devoted to Zionist and pro-Israel activities ... and for many others, objectives and activities such as 'promotes Israel's welfare,' 'support for the State of Israel' and 'promotes understanding of Israel' appear with impressive frequency." Fifty-one of the largest and most important organizations come together in the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, whose self-described mission includes "forging diverse groups into a unified force for Israel's well-being" and working to "strengthen and foster the special U.S.-Israel relationship."

The lobby also includes think tanks such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Middle East Forum (MEF), and WINEP, as well as individuals who work in universities and other research organizations. There are also dozens of pro-Israel PACs ready to funnel money to pro-Israel political candidates or to candidates whose opponents are deemed either insufficiently supportive of or hostile to Israel.

Of the various Jewish organizations that include foreign policy as a central part of their agenda, AIPAC is clearly the most important and best known. In 1997, when Fortune magazine asked members of Congress and their staffs to list the most powerful lobbies in Washington, AIPAC came in second behind AARP but ahead of heavyweight lobbies like the AFL-CIO and the NRA. A National journal study in March 2005 reached a similar conclusion, placing AIPAC in second place (tied with AARP) in Washington's "muscle rankings." Former Congressman Mervyn Dymally (D-CA) once called AIPAC "without question the most effective lobby in Congress," and the former chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Lee Hamilton, who served in Congress for thirty-four years, said in 1991, "There's no lobby group that matches it ... They're in a class by themselves."

AIPAC was transformed from an intimate, low-budget operation into a large, mass-based organization with a staff of more than 150 employees and an annual budget (derived solely from private contributions) that went from some $300,000 in 1973 to an estimated $40-60 million today.

Membership on AIPAC's board of directors is based on each director's financial contributions, not, observes Massing, on "how well they represent AIPAC's members . The individuals willing to give the largest amounts to AIPAC (and to sympathetic politicians) tend to be the most zealous defenders of Israel, and AIPAC's top leadership (consisting primarily of former presidents of the organization) is considerably more hawkish on Middle East issues than are most Jewish Americans.

Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times

Ever since Mr. Rabin and Mr. Arafat shook hands they have received only the most tepid support from mainstream American Jewish groups, like the Conference of Presidents, and outright hostility from the orthodox and fringe Jewish groupings. It is as if these organizations can only thrive if they have an enemy, someone to fight.

The [Israel] lobby's drift to the right has been reinforced by the emergence of the neoconservatives. The neoconservative movement has been an important part of American intellectual and political life since the 1970s, but it has drawn particular attention since September 11.

... Neoconservatism is a political ideology with distinct views on both domestic and foreign policy, although only the latter is relevant here. Most neoconservatives extol the virtues of American hegemony-and sometimes even the idea of an American empire-and they believe U.S. power should be used to encourage the spread of democracy and discourage potential rivals from even trying to compete with the United States." In their view, spreading democracy and preserving U.S. dominance is the best route to long-term peace. Neoconservatives also believe that America's democratic system ensures that it will be seen as a benign hegemon by most other countries, and that U.S. leadership will be welcomed provided it is exercised decisively. They tend to be skeptical of international institutions (especially the UN, which they regard as both anti-Israel and as a constraint on America's freedom of action) and wary of many allies (especially the Europeans, whom they see as idealistic pacifists free-riding on the Pax Americana). Viewing U.S. leadership as "good both for America and for the world," to quote the website of the neoconservative Project for New American Century, neoconservatives generally favor the unilateral exercise of American power instead.

Very importantly, neoconservatives believe that military force is an extremely useful tool for shaping the world in ways that will benefit America If the United States demonstrates its military prowess and shows that it is willing to use the power at its disposal, then allies will follow our lead and potential adversaries will realize it is futile to resist and will decide to "bandwagon" with the United States." Neoconservatism, in short, is an especially hawkish political ideology.

Neoconservatives occupy influential positions at a variety of organizations and institutions. Prominent neoconservatives include former and present policy makers like Elliott Abrams, Kenneth Adelman, William Bennett, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, the late Jeane Kirkpatrick, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, and David Wurmser; journalists like the late Robert Bartley, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Bret Stephens, and Norman Podhoretz; academics like Fouad Ajami, Eliot Cohen, Aaron Friedberg, Bernard Lewis, and Ruth Wedgwood; and think-tank pundits like Max Boot, David Frum, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Robert Kagan, Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchik, Daniel Pipes, Danielle Pletka, Michael Rubin, and Meyrav Wurmser. The leading neoconservative magazines and newspapers are Commentary, the New York Sun, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, and the Weekly Standard. The think tanks and advocacy groups most closely associated with these neoconservatives are the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the Center for Security Policy (CSP), the Hudson Institute, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Middle East Forum (MEF), the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP).


Given their hawkish orientation, it is not surprising that the neoconservatives tend to align with right-wing elements in Israel itself. For example, it was a group of eight neoconservatives (led by Richard Perle and including Douglas Feith and David Wurmser) that drafted the 1996 "Clean Break" study for incoming Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That study advocated that Israel abandon the Oslo peace process and use bold measures including military force-to topple unfriendly Middle Eastern regimes and thereby "transcend" the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Many neoconservatives are connected to an overlapping set of Washington-based think tanks, committees, and publications whose agenda includes promoting the special relationship between the United States and Israel. Consider Richard Perle, one of the most prominent neoconservatives, who is a fellow at AEI and also affiliated with the right-wing C SP, the Hudson Institute, JINSA, PNAC, MEF, and FDD, and also serves on WINEP's board of advisers. His fellow neoconservatives are similarly well connected: William Kristol is the editor of the Weekly Standard, cofounder of PNAC, and previously associated with FDD, MEF, and AEI. The Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer is a past recipient of AEI's Irving Kristol Award (named for William's father, one of neoconservatism's founding figures), a signatory of several PNAC open letters, a contributing editor at the Weekly Standard, and is also affiliated with FDD. The list of past and present connections would delight a network theorist: Elliott Abrams (CSP, Hudson, PNAC); William Bennett (AEI, CSP, PNAC); John Bolton (AEI, JINSA, PNAC); Douglas Feith (CSP, JINSA); David Frum (AEI, Weekly Standard); Reuel Marc Gerecht (AEI, PNAC, Weekly Standard); Michael Ledeen (AEI, JINSA); Jeane Kirkpatrick (AEI, FDD, JINSA, PNAC, WINEP); Joshua Muravchik (AEI, JINSA, PNAC, WINEP); Daniel Pipes (PNAC, MEF, WINEP); Norman Podhoretz (Hudson, Commentary, PNAC); Michael Rubin (AEI, CSP, MEF); Paul Wolfowitz (AEI, PNAC, WINEP); David Wurmser (AEI, MEF, FDD); and James Woolsey (CSP, JINSA, PNAC, FDD).

The various think tanks, committees, foundations, and publications have nurtured the neoconservative movement operate much as other policy networks do. Far from shunning publicity or engaging in hidden plots, these groups actively court publicity for the explicit purpose of shaping public and elite opinion and thereby moving U.S. foreign policy in the directions they favor.

Russell Kirk, conservative political theorist

What really animates the neoconservatives ... is the preservation of Israel. That lies in back of everything.

Jews comprise the core of the neoconservative movement. In this sense, neoconservativism is a microcosm of the larger pro-Israel movement. Jewish Americans are central to the neoconservative movement, just as they form the bulk of the [Israel] lobby.

The [Israel] lobby includes ... the Christian Zionists, a subset of the broader politically oriented Christian Right. Prominent members of this constituency include religious figures such as the late Jerry Falwell, Gary Bauer, Pat Robertson, and John Hagee, as well as politicians like former House Majority Leaders Tom DeLay (R-TX) and Richard Armey (R-TX), and Senator James Inhofe (R-OK). Although support for Israel is not their only concern, a number of Christian evangelicals have become increasingly visible and vocal in their support for the Jewish state, and they have recently formed an array of organizations to advance that commitment within the political system. In a sense, the Christian Zionists can be thought of as an important "junior partner" to the various pro-Israel groups in the American Jewish community.

The origins of Christian Zionism lie in the theology of dispensationalism, an approach to biblical interpretation that emerged in nineteenth-century England, largely through the efforts of Anglican ministers Louis Way and John Nelson Darby. Dispensationalism is a form of premillennialism, which asserts that the world will experience a period of worsening tribulations until Christ returns. Like many other Christians, dispensationalists believe that Christ's return is foretold in Old and New Testament prophecy, and that the return of the Jews to Palestine is a key event in the preordained process that will lead to the Second Coming.

The founding of the state of Israel in 1948 gave new life to the dispenstionalist movement, but the Six-Day War in 1967, which its leaders saw as a "miracle of God," was even more important for its emergence as a political force. Dispensationalists interpreted Israel's seizure of all of Jerusalem and the West Bank (which, like Israel's Likud party, they refer to as Judea and Samaria) as the fulfillment of Old and New Testament prophecy, and these "signs" encouraged them and other Christian evangelicals to begin working to ensure that the United States was on the "right side" as the Bible's blueprint for the end-times unfolded."' According to Timothy Weber, former president of the Memphis Theological Seminary "Before the Six Day War, dispensationalists were content to sit in the bleachers of history, explaining the End-Time game on the field below... But after [the] expansion of Israel into the West Bank and Gaza, they began to get down on the field and be sure the teams lined up right, becoming involved in political, financial, and religious ways they never had before." Their efforts were part of the broader rise of the so-called Christian Right (not all of whom are strongly committed to Israel) and were clearly aided by the growing political prominence of the evangelical movement.

Arab petrodollars or energy companies were driving American policy, one would expect to see the United States distancing itself from Israel and working overtime to get the Palestinians a state of their own. Countries like Saudi Arabia have repeatedly pressed Washington to adopt a more evenhanded position toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but to little avail, and even wielding the "oil weapon" during the 1973 October War had little effect on U.S. support for Israel or on overall American policy in the region. Similarly, if oil companies were driving U.S. policy, one would also have expected Washington to curry favor with big oil producers like Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Muammar Gaddafi's Libya, or the Islamic Republic of Iran, so that U.S. companies could make money helping them develop their energy resources and bringing them to market. Instead, the United States imposed sanctions on all three of these countries, in sharp opposition to what the oil industry wanted: Indeed in some cases the U.S. government deliberately intervened to thwart business deals that would have benefited U.S. companies. If the oil lobby were as powerful as some critics believe, such actions would not have occurred.

One reason why Arab oil producers have only limited influence is their lack of an indigenous base of support in the United States. Because they are forced to rely on professional lobbyists and public relations firms, it is easier for critics to denigrate their representatives as mere agents of a foreign power... The Israel lobby, by contrast, is a manifestation of the political engagement of a subset of American citizens, and so its activities are widely and correctly seen as a legitimate form of political activity.

American corporations appear to be discouraged from trying influence U. S. Middle East policy by the fear of retaliation from well-organized pro-Israel groups. In 1975, for example, the revelation that Gulf Oil had underwritten a number of pro-Arab activities in the United States led to public condemnations by the Conference of Presidents and the Anti-Defamation League. In response, 'Gulf bought a half-page ad in the New York Times in which it apologized for its action and told readers, "You may be certain it will not happen again." As [Robert] Trice notes, "A vigilant, sensitive, and reactive pro-Israel lobby is one reason why U.S. corporations have tended to avoid direct participation in domestic political debates on Middle East questions."

On balance, wealthy Arab governments and the oil lobby exert much less influence on U.S. foreign policy than the Israel lobby does, because oil interests have less need to skew foreign policy in the directions they favor and they do not have the same leverage. Writing in the early 1970s, the Columbia University professor and former Assistant Secretary of State Roger Hilsman observed, "It is obvious to even the most casual observer, that United States foreign policy in the Middle East, where oil reigns supreme, has been more responsive to the pressures of the American Jewish community and their natural desire to support Israel than it has to American oil interests." In his comparison of the Israel and Arab lobbies, Mitchell Bard acknowledges that although oil companies like Aramco have conducted lobbying campaigns in the past, the effort "has had no observable impact on U.S. policy." Or AIPAC's former legislative director, Douglas Bloomfield, told BBC. News in 2003, "AIPAC has one enormous advantage. It really doesn't have any opposition."

The Israel lobby is the antithesis of a cabal or conspiracy; it operates out in the open and proudly advertises its own clout. In its basic operations, the Israel lobby is no different from interest groups like the farm lobby, steel and textile workers, and a host of ethnic lobbies, although the groups and individuals who comprise the Israel lobby are in an unusually favorable position to influence U.S. foreign policy. What sets it apart, in short, is its extraordinary effectiveness.

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

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