WASHINGTON, 27 Mar. (IPS) - The pro-Israel lobby in the United States has manipulated Washington's policies in the Middle East to the point where it is the U.S. that does most of the fighting, dying and rebuilding while Israel reaps most of the security benefits, argues a new study by two U.S. scholars.
"This situation has no equal in American political history", says the 83-page study, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy".
Since World War II, the United States has channeled 140 billion dollars in support to Israel
"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?" ask authors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The answer, according to the paper, which is already stirring debate in academic circles and fury among pro-Israel groups, is the influence of the pro-Israel lobby.
These groups include the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy, and more recently, Christian Zionist organisations.
A shorter version of the study was published in the London Review of Books on Mar. 10. The authors say their research is so strong that they doubt that any U.S. mainstream publication would dare publish it.
Based on sources that include Israeli scholars and journalists, international human rights organisations, and testimony from the lobby itself and politicians that support it, the study examines how the pro-Israel lobby built up its influence in Washington and says its intimidation of the press, think tanks and academia has led to a deceptive picture of Israel.
Since World War II, the United States has channeled 140 billion dollars in support to Israel, notes the study, which also challenges the notion that Israel is a "crucial ally in the war on terror, because its enemies are America's enemies".
"Saying that Israel and the United States are united by a shared 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", the authors argue.
"In short, treating Israel as America's most important ally in the campaign against terrorism and assorted Middle East dictatorships both exaggerates Israel's ability to help on these issues and ignores the ways that Israel's policies make U.S. efforts more difficult", they say.
According to the study, pro-Israel lobby groups have exploited the sensitivities of major media outlets and of U.S. politicians to campaign contributions to maintain their sympathy for Israel regardless of what it does in the region.
During AIPAC's annual conference earlier this month, which attracted top U.S. officials and Congressional leaders, the new Republican majority leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, John Boehner, vowed never to allow anti-Israel legislation come to the floor.
"As the new House majority leader, I can assure you that under my leadership, legislation that is in any way perceived as anti-Israel will not be considered in the House of Representatives," said Boehner.
The study also points to Washington's staunch support of Israel at the United Nations. Since 1982, it says, the United States has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel -- a number greater than the combined total of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. And it has blocked Arab states' efforts to put Israel's nuclear arsenal on the agenda of the International Atomic Energy Agency. At home, the lobby has worked hard to suppress its critics; something the authors say has not been good for democracy, especially one that now claims to be promoting freedom in the Arab world.
"Silencing sceptics by organising blacklists and boycotts -- or by suggesting that critics are anti-Semites -- violates the principle of open debate upon which democracy depends", they say.
The study was immediately attacked by a number of pro-Israel organisations. The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, for example, said in a statement that it had many errors, and that, "A student who submitted such a paper would flunk".
Newspapers like the New York Sun, known for its pro-Israel stance, published supportive reactions to the study from a prominent white supremacist and from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as evidence that the authors catered to extreme tastes.
Eliot Engel, a Democratic congressman from New York who is Jewish, said that the paper "really deserves the contempt of the American people," and described it as "the same old anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist drivel".
"We fully recognised that the lobby would retaliate against us", Prof. Mearsheimer told IPS. "We expected the story we told in the piece would apply to us after it was published. We are not surprised that we've come under attack by the lobby".
The study was immediately attacked by a number of pro-Israel organisations
The paper notes that the pro-Israel lobby has also been bolstered by the support of prominent, and some would say extremist, Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as congressmen Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom believe Israel's rebirth is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda.
Neo-conservative "gentiles" such as John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeanne Kirkpatrick, the former U.N. ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will are also committed supporters of the Israel lobby.
While the pro-Israel lobby has managed a number of successes for Israel, the cost for the United States is mounting, the study says.
"This situation is deeply worrisome, because the Lobby's influence causes trouble on several fronts", says the study. These include possible increases in the military danger that all states face -- including Washington's European allies.
By preventing U.S. leaders from pressuring Israel to make peace, the lobby has also made it impossible to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which gives extremists a potent recruiting tool and enlarges the pool of potential militants, the authors say. And new attempts by the lobby to "change regimes" in Iran and Syria could lead the United States to attack those countries, with potentially disastrous effects.
The Israelis tend to see Iran as their most dangerous enemy because it is the most likely to acquire nuclear weapons.
"We do not need another Iraq. At a minimum, the Lobby's hostility toward these countries makes it especially difficult for Washington to enlist them against al Qaeda and the Iraqi insurgency, where their help is badly needed", it says.
The authors counted a number of other negative effects on both the United Sates and Israel. These include how the U.S. is now supporting Israel's expansionist policies in the West Bank, making Washington appear complicit in human rights abuses.
U.S. backing has emboldened extremists to reject a number of opportunities for peace deals with Arab countries like Syria, with the Palestinians and the implementation of the Oslo Accords, the study says.
On Iran, the report notes that “the Israelis tend to describe every threat in the starkest terms, but Iran is widely seen as their most dangerous enemy because it is the most likely to acquire nuclear weapons. Virtually all Israelis regard an Islamic country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons as a threat to their existence. “Iraq is a problem . . . But you should understand, if you ask me, today Iran is more dangerous than Iraq”, the defence minister, Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, remarked a month before the Iraq war”.
“Sharon began pushing the US to confront Iran in November 2002, in an interview in the Times. Describing Iran as the ‘centre of world terror’, and bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, he declared that the Bush administration should put the strong arm on Iran ‘the day after’ it conquered Iraq. In late April 2003, Ha’aretz reported that the Israeli ambassador in Washington was calling for regime change in Iran. The overthrow of Saddam, he noted, was ‘not enough’. In his words, America ‘has to follow through. We still have great threats of that magnitude coming from Syria, coming from Iran”.
“The neo-conservatives, too, lost no time in making the case for regime change in Tehran. On 6 May, the AEI co-sponsored an all-day conference on Iran with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and the Hudson Institute, both champions of Israel. The speakers were all strongly pro-Israel, and many called for the US to replace the Iranian regime with a democracy. As usual, a bevy of articles by prominent neo-conservatives made the case for going after Iran. “The liberation of Iraq was the first great battle for the future of the Middle East . . . But the next great battle – not, we hope, a military battle – will be for Iran”, William Kristol wrote in the Weekly Standard on 12 May”.
“The administration has responded to the Lobby’s pressure by working overtime to shut down Iran’s nuclear programme. But Washington has had little success, and Iran seems determined to create a nuclear arsenal. As a result, the Lobby has intensified its pressure. Op-eds and other articles now warn of imminent dangers from a nuclear Iran, caution against any appeasement of a ‘terrorist’ regime, and hint darkly of preventive action should diplomacy fail. The Lobby is pushing Congress to approve the Iran Freedom Support Act, which would expand existing sanctions. Israeli officials also warn they may take pre-emptive action should Iran continue down the nuclear road, threats partly intended to keep Washington’s attention on the issue”.
“One might argue that Israel and the Lobby have not had much influence on policy towards Iran, because the US has its own reasons for keeping Iran from going nuclear. There is some truth in this, but Iran’s nuclear ambitions do not pose a direct threat to the US. If Washington could live with a nuclear Soviet Union, a nuclear China or even a nuclear North Korea, it can live with a nuclear Iran. And that is why the Lobby must keep up constant pressure on politicians to confront Tehran. Iran and the US would hardly be allies if the Lobby did not exist, but US policy would be more temperate and preventive war would not be a serious option”.
Mearsheimer said he and co-author Walt were prompted to write the piece after many years of studying U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
"It was clear to us that many people understood the problem that we describe in the piece but were afraid to talk about it... because the lobby would retaliate", he told IPS. ENDS ISRAEL US 27306
The above article by Mr. Mekay was posted by Inter Press Service on 24 March 2006.
Some passages were added by Iran Press Service, which made some editing.