Morton A. Klein, National President
Dr. Daniel Mandel, Director, Center for Middle East Policy
Zionist Organization of America
The University of Chicagos John Mearsheimer and Harvards Stephen Walt claim in their new book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, that the U.S. has given unwavering support to Israel because of the power and influence of the pro-Israel lobby, beyond any call of morality or American national interest. Yet this basic thesis is demonstrably untrue.
Former Secretary of State George P. Shultz recently described as conspiracy theory the idea that, because Israel is small and has few resources, U.S. support for Israel against the wishes of the large and oil-rich Arabs can only be explained by recourse to the power of the Israel lobby. Shultz is right, for several reasons:
First, Israel is democratic, has a fine record on basic human rights like freedom of political and religious expression, womens rights and so on. It is an ally that shares intelligence, buys U.S. weaponry, and has taken care of itself without necessitating American troops coming to its aid. This is quite the opposite of some formal U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, to whose defense in 1990 America had to dispatch nearly half a million troops. The Saudi state is also autocratic, sponsors the hateful and terrorist jihadist ideology, and is repressive of human rights, minorities and women. Nor is any other Arab state democratic or closely aligned with American interests. Why would America prefer them over Israel on either moral or practical grounds?
Second, American support for Israel has hardly been unwavering. In 1957, President Eisenhower threatened Israel with sanctions if it did not unilaterally withdraw from Sinai. In 1981, the U.S. condemned Israels destruction of Saddams Osirak nuclear reactor. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush withheld loan guarantees from Israel until it agreed to American demands to create no new settlements. The current Bush Administration has often condemned Israeli counter-terrorist action, including the elimination of Hamas leaders. These examples could be multiplied.
Third, Jewish and non-Jewish organizations are divided on basic questions, such as whether the U.S. should support the creation of a Palestinian state and if Palestinians should receive U.S. funding. An example: the Zionist Organization of America opposes further concessions to the Palestinian Authority, whereas other pro-Israel groups, like Israel Policy Forum and the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee, argue the exact opposite. To which group is the U.S. government listening, if any, and if we could know the answer, would that fact make that particular group an opponent of the American national interest?
Fourth, many groups lobby in Washington to affect policy, as all groups have the right to do, yet Mearsheimer and Walt ignore that Arab-American, Muslim-American and oil lobbies advocate vigorously against any sort of pro-Israeli approach. Thus, they are singling out the pro-Israel lobby for reasons of their own ideological hostility, not because it is the only lobby with influence in Washington, let alone because it is supposedly causing America to do things contrary to its alleged interest.
Their elementary falsification of facts and perversion of logic aside, Mearsheimer and Walt would remain wrong even if the pro-Israeli lobby did speak with one voice and was opposed by no other interest group, for this fifth reason — the U.S. government and Congress in particular support Israel, not because of arm twisting in Washington, but because a solid majority of Americans support Israel. The evidence for this is clear and abundant.
A March 2007 poll by the respected pollsters, McLaughlin & Associates, found that, by an overwhelming margin of 10 to 1 (45% – 4.6%), Americans support Israelis over the Palestinians. The same poll found that, by a margin of 5-to-1 (60% – 11%), Americans believe that Israel should not make more land concessions to the Palestinians and that by a margin of 2-to-1 (45% – 22%), Americans believe that a Palestinian state would be a terrorist state rather than a peaceful democracy.
If the American public did not support Israel, the lobbying efforts of pro-Israel groups would fall on deaf ears, especially given the competing pressures on Congress generated by anti-Israel lobby groups. Former Congressman Lee Hamilton once admitted in the early 1990s at an anti-Israel conference in Washington D.C. which Morton Klein attended that he had numerous churches and virtually no synagogues, yet he had to support Israel because his Christian constituents were pro-Israel.
Moreover, even alleged Jewish voting power in a few key states does not explain Congressional support for Israel. If it did, Mearsheimer and Walt would have to explain why congressmen from states with miniscule Jewish populations (Alabama, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, Tennessee, Wyoming) also strongly support Israel.
Thus, Mearsheimer and Walt are not merely wrong but are saying in effect that the majority of Members of Congress are treasonous. What else can be their meaning in arguing that Congress supports Israel in defiance of American interests and morality? This is an extraordinary charge and, if true, they should be calling for an investigation into Congress. But they arent, because their goal is to demonize Israel and its supporters, not Congress. Mearsheimer and Walt aim to harm with a false polemic about undue Jewish political influence, an old trope that has been hand-maiden to every anti-Semitic fantasy across the ages.
Morton A. Klein is National President of the ZOA and editor of The Dangers of a Palestinian State (2002). Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Evatt and the Establishment of Israel: The Undercover Zionist (2004).