Date: Thu, 06 Apr 2006 19:58:38 +0300
From: John Whitbeck <
TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck
Transmitted below is William Pfaff's commentary on the Mearsheimer/Walt
paper. I have lifted it from Bill's website. It has not (at least yet)
been published in the INTERNATIONAL HERALD TRIBUNE.
Bill refers in his opening paragraph to a recent editorial in the
FINANCIAL TIMES. While I have not yet been able to obtain the full text
of this editorial, I have received the following excerpts:
"... Reflexes that ordinarily spring automatically to the defense of
open debate and free enquiry shut down -- at least among much of
America's political elite -- once the subject turns to Israel, and above
all the pro-Israel lobby's role in shaping US foreign policy... Moral
blackmail -- the fear that any criticism of Israeli policy and US
support for it will lead to charges of anti-Semitism -- is a powerful
disincentive to publish dissenting views. It is also leading to the
silencing of policy debate on American university campuses, partly as a
result of targeted campaigns against the dissenters... Nothing,
moreover, is more damaging to US interests than the inability to have a
proper debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict... Bullying
Americans into consensus on Israeli policy is bad for Israel and makes
it impossible for America to articulate its own national interests..."
/William Pfaff //is the author of eight books on American foreign
policy, international relations and contemporary history, //including
books on utopian thought, romanticism and violence, nationalism and the
impact of the West on the non-Western world. *His newspaper column,
featured in The International Herald Tribune for more than a
quarter-century, and his globally syndicated articles have given him the
widest international readership of any American commentator.* /
The Mearsheimer-Walt Paper on America's Israeli Lobby
Paris, April 4, 2006 – London’s Financial Times performed an American
public service in its weekend edition, calling editorially for open and
honest discussion of the influence of Israel on American foreign policy.
The call came amidst the resounding silence in “responsible” American
circles concerning the paper recently issued by two highly-regarded
political scholars, Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the
University of Chicago, discussing the “Israel lobby” in Washington and
its effect on American foreign relations.
So far as one can make out from the internet, in the mainstream American
press, only United Press International, The International Herald
Tribune, The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, and The
Washington Post have carried articles on the paper.
The Herald Tribune’s was an opinion piece by Daniel Levy, a former
advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, calling for open
discussion of the lobby. The UPI and the Monitor provided professionally
detached news reports.
The other two papers carried attacks -- in the case of The Washington
Post, two of them, both featuring the news that the totally
insignificant David Duke, a former head of the Klu Klux Klan, applauds
the Merscheimer-Walt paper. Duke is not a figure whose views are
ordinarily treated as of national interest by The Washington Post, and
the newspaper’s linking of him to the Merscheimer-Wall document was an
act of character assassination by association just like those which won
Senator Joseph McCarthy infamy in the 1950s.
The document has not otherwise lacked attention. The blogosphere is full
of it, with both attacks on it and defenses and praise. The authors
themselves predicted that the mainstream media would ignore or attack
their argument, which is essentially that the influence of Israel on
American policy has distorted it to Israel’s advantage, and sometimes to
They say that Israel’s friends in the United States have succeeded in
convincing Americans that Israeli and American national interests are
inseparable, which they are not, and have tried and often succeeded in
suppressing or punishing critical discussion of the relationship.
What are very striking are the virulence as well as the volume of the
attacks being made on the authors. The Klu Klux Klan smear has been the
least of it. Their paper has been compared to Nazi propaganda of the
1930s and to the czarist-era forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of
Zion (which still circulates in the Arab world).
In fact, Mearsheimer and Walt are recognized and respected political
scholars in the so-called realist tradition, which regards the defense
and promotion of the national interest of states as the chief purpose of
foreign policy. Their paper is a responsible document of public importance.
The venom in the attacks made on it risks the opposite of its intended
effect by tending to validate the claim that intense pressures are
exercised on publishers, editors, writers and on American universities
to block criticism, intimidate critics and prevent serious discussion of
the American-Israeli relationship.
In Israel itself there has for many years been frank, cool and reasoned
discussion of the subject. Leading figures, including retired officers
and intelligence officials as well as peace activists, have in the past
warned that the actions of Israel’s friends in America could eventually
rebound against Israel itself, with harm to Jews elsewhere.
Some also have noted that the leading U.S. lobby group, the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee, is farther to the right in its views
than Israeli public opinion, and has interfered in Israeli politics
through support for the Likud party and by undermining Prime Minister
The note of panic in some of the attacks on Mearsheimer and Walt
contrasts with the fact that what they say is no secret in American
foreign policy circles. People have for years taken for granted the
informal censorship, or self-censorship, exercised in the government and
the press on this issue.
It is a fact of democratic life in the United States that determined
interest groups annex their own spheres of federal policy. Energy policy
is run by the oil companies, and trade policy by manufacturers,
exporters and importers, with an input from Wall Street. U.S. Cuba
policy is decided by the Cuban lobby in Florida, and policy on Armenia
by Americans of Armenian descent. The Middle East, or at least its part
of it, belongs to Israel.
However, in the Israeli case, the lobbying effort is linked to a foreign
government, even if the lobbyists sometimes take a policy line not that
of the government. Moreover, the lobbying involves war and peace issues.
President George W. Bush said a few days ago that in connection with the
supposed threat of Iran, his concern is to protect Israel. Critics ask
why Israel should not protect itself. The same has been asked about Iraq.
In this respect the controversy over the Israeli lobby is potentially
explosive. This is why denials, secrecy and efforts at intimidation are
dangerous. Daniel Levy is right when he says that Israel itself would be
served “if the open and critical debate that takes place over here [in
Israel] were exported over there,” meaning the United States.
[The full Mearsheimer-Walt paper is available on the Harvard John F.
Kennedy School website, and a shortened version, published in March in
the London Review of Books, is easily found on the internet.]
Copyright 2006 by Tribune Media Services. All Rights Reserved.