Vol. 1 No. 2 2007


REVIEWING

Fear Be Thy Name


The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

By John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt

Reviewed by Fred Beauford


photo mearsheimer & walt

I witnessed first hand the tremendous power of the Jewish Lobby in this country as a journalist in the 80’s. I watched as a marginal Louis Farrakhan was almost instantly elevated as one of the most important leaders in the black community, even though, outside of his home base in Chicago, he wasn’t even on the radar screen of most Americans, even black Americans.

The truth, as we saw it, was that Farrakhan was just the leader of the Nation of Islam, a small religious sect that had its heyday under the leadership of the charismatic Malcolm X, but now enjoyed little support in black communities nationwide.

Yet, soon after Farrakhan started making critical remarks, aimed directly at Jews, he was in all the magazines, on the front page of newspapers, on the nightly television newscasts; and, in a sure sign that he had made it big time, a sit down on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace.

All the while, hundreds of thousands of fund raising letters from the organized Jewish community were being sent out to people like me asking for a donation, to help combat “The rising tide of anti-Semitism in the black community.”

A joke circulated among my fellow journalists at that time, whispered quietly, of course: “Ah hah, say something Jews don’t like – that’s how to become famous.”

While we knew that Farrakhan was guilty as charged of not thinking much of Jews, most of us, however, deeply resented the suggestion that he spoke for us, and that a large army of anti-Semites was running amok in the African American community. We knew that nothing could have been further from the truth; that most blacks didn’t even know what a Semite was, and Jews were just plain “white folks,” enjoying all the many privileges that white folks traditionally have enjoyed in this country, and nothing more.

We said nothing, although we felt that our community was being unfairly defamed in the name of fund raising, because what was unspoken among us was naked fear. We, who once faced down heavily armed nightriders with nothing but our conviction that America should become a true democracy, now understood that what we were now faced with, real or imagined, was a new brand of white folks, whose principal weapons were not guns and the rope, but name calling, media influence, an acute awareness of where the levers of political power are located and tons of money.

We knew, again, real or imagined, that this power meant the lost of a job, standing in the community and being made a social pariah, unfit for human company.

It is this same fear that is at the heart of The Israel Lobby.

Despite all the innuendos surrounding this book, of dark Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion type of secret cabals and hidden conspiracy, most of the “what” in The Israel Lobby is fairly common knowledge-- at least to those people who look beyond Entertainment Tonight and In Touch magazine for their information.

For example, it’s hardly a closely held secret that Israel is the largest recipient of America’s foreign aid. As the authors points out, “as of 2005, direct U.S. economic and military assistance amounted to nearly $154 billion….the aid that the United States provides to several of Israel’s neighbors is at least partly intended to benefit Israel as well. Egypt and Jordan are the number two and three recipients of U.S. foreign aid, but most of the money should be seen as a reward for good behavior—specifically, their willingness to sign peace treaties with Israel.”

All this, as they also point out, for a prosperous, modern industrial power with a population a little less than New York City.

And, are we to be surprised that the political positions of the neoconservatives are the same as Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. Or that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is “without question the most effective lobby in Congress.” Or that no one running for high public office will question our unconditional support for Israel.

“What explains this behavior?” the authors ask in exasperated disbelief. “Why is there so little disagreement among the presidential hopefuls regarding Israel, when there are profound disagreements among them on almost every other important issue facing the United States and when it is apparent that America’s Middle East policy has gone badly awry?”

Professors Mearsheimer and Walt soon answered their own question. “Because the Israel lobby has gradually become one of the most powerful interest groups in the country, candidates for high office pay close attention to its wishes. The individuals care deeply about Israel, and they do not want American politicians to criticize it, even when criticism might be warranted and might even be in Israel’s best interest. Instead, these groups want the U.S. leaders to treat Israel as if it were the fifty-first state. Democrats and Republicans alike fear the lobby’s clout. They all know that any politician who challenges its policies stands little chance of becoming president.”

Anyone who has followed the recent so-called presidential “debates,” knows full well the truth of that statement.

But again, all of this is well known. What are not as well known is not the “what,” but the “how,” and the “why.” And that is what is most deeply disturbing about this book.

The writer’s make clear that the Israel lobby is doing nothing underhanded nor illegal. Hundred’s of lobbyists are doing the same thing everyday. The only difference is that the Israel lobby has so far been better at what they do than anyone else. And, whatever else one thinks of the results, one can’t help but admire-- as we follow the path of the arguments the authors put forth-- the sheer brilliance of the Israel lobby at its intelligent , sober, systematic application of knowledge, organization, discipline, money and single-mindedness to work its will on the American government, and the American public.

But one pauses when professors Mearsheimer and Walt make the most provocative statement in The Israel Lobby over and over again, the major theme in this book that is sure to people’s hair standing on edge in both America and Israel: “Backing Israel may have yielded strategic benefits in the past, but the benefits have declined sharply in recent years while the economic and diplomatic costs have increased. Instead of being a strategic asset, in fact, Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States. Backing Israel so strongly is making Americans more vulnerable—not less—and making it harder for the United States to achieve important and urgent foreign policy goals.”

In addition, later in the book they make another hair-raising statement in regards the Palestinian, Israel conflict, which is at the heart of the problems in the Middle East: “The United States has enormous potential leverage at its disposal for dealing with Israel and the Palestinians. It could threaten to cut off all economic and diplomatic support for Israel. If that were not enough, it would have little difficulty lining up international support to isolate Israel, much the way South Africa was singled out and shunned at the end of the last century.”

Mearsheimer and Walt positions regarding Israel can’t get any clearer than that, and we are certainly not used to hearing opinions like that expressed in America. Apparently, the fear of being called an anti-Semite isn’t what it used to be.

Despite the pair’s strong feelings and the plan they lay out for what could be done to counter the Israel lobby, at the end the reader may suspect that it is a little like closing the barn door after the old gray mare has already run off, to use an old fashioned cliché; that nothing really can, or will be done about the “corrosive” affect of the Israel lobby.

If this is true, all it means is, because of the cumulative effect of money and highly motivated single issue groups on the democratic process, that the American people, in effect, have lost their democracy. For example, all polls indicate that most Americans not only hate illegal immigration with a passion, but most also would like to see a slowdown in legal immigration. But pressure and money from business and special interest groups have in effect, erased the American border and have declared that this is a “universal economic opportunity,” and not really a country, and anyone who can get here, anywhere in the world, should be welcomed with open arms.

You would think that such a dramatic ending of the notion of the United States being an independent nation state with a culture, a history and borders to defend would at least be put to a vote. And is it any wonder that the vast majority of Americans now hold the Congress and the office of the President in such low esteem for betraying us so?

Now, in our Brave New World, Americans can not help but conclude, especially after reading a book like The Israeli Lobby, and reading how all segments of our government all grovel in mortal fear, and bow down to the awesome power of groups like the Israel lobby-- that there is now a new sheriff in town, and his last name isn’t Smith, or Jones, but sometimes goes by the moniker Pesos, or Euros, or most common, Dollars; and his message is blunt, and to the point: “My way, or the highway.”

Fred Beauford is editor and publisher of this publication.

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy
By John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt
$26, Hardcover, Farrar, Straus and Giroux; (August 2007)
ISBN-10:0374177724
ISBN-13: 978-037417772



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