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Eric Alterman on the Israel Lobby Study--The Nation, May 1, 2006

   I have two disagreements with Alterman's critique. One is his
citation of the NRA and Big Pharma and other lobbies as comparable to
AIPAC. However, they are lobbies working on purely domestic issues,
which is quite legitimate under our system of democracy. What is not
legitimate is a lobby working on behalf of a foreign power to determine
our foreign and security policies in a region of the world, the Middle
East. The second is his mistaken view of how much the American oil
companies try to influence our policies in the same region. They surely
used to, at a time when they in effect "owned" the oil they found and
extracted from the oil producing countries of the region, while they
paid only royalties to the governments (or royal families) of those
countries. But since the time that all of those countries nationalized
their oil resources, our oil companies simply became buyers of a global
product whose price is mostly determined by market forces, and our oil
companies are now really not very interested in who rules those
countries so long as conditions are reasonably stable and the oil
continues to flow out. These companies don't even care much about the
prices charged, as they simply pass them on to their customers (our
consumers) and share in the profits the higher prices produce. The
compare Saudi or Exxon influence on our Middle East policies with
AIPAC's is quite unrealistic.


This article can be found on the web at
*http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060501/alterman*

------------------------------
------------------------------------------

*The liberal media* /by/ Eric Alterman


   AIPAC's Complaint

[from the May 1, 2006 issue]

The University of Chicago's John Mearsheimer is among America's most
admired political scientists. Stephen Walt is the academic dean and a
chaired professor at Harvard's Kennedy School. Neither man has ever made
any remotely racist or anti-Semitic utterance in the public sphere. And
yet because they recently published an essay in /The London Review of
Books/ and (with full scholarly apparatus) on the Kennedy School website
that critically and--this is key--unsentimentally examines the role of
the "Israel lobby" in the making of US foreign policy, these two
scholars have been subjected to a relentless barrage of vituperative
insults in which the accusation "anti-Semite" is merely the beginning.
Just a few of the most colorful: "Crackpot" (Martin Peretz); "Could have
been written by Pat Buchanan, by David Duke, Noam Chomsky, and some of
the less intelligent members of Hamas" (Alan Dershowitz); "As scholarly
as...Welch and McCarthy--and just as nutty" (Max Boot); "puts The
Protocols of the Elders of Zion to shame" (Josef Joffe); "resembles
nothing so much as Wilhelm Marr's 1879 pamphlet /The Victory of Judaism
Over Germandom/" (Ruth Wisse); "dishonest so-called
intellectuals...entitled to their stupidity" (New York Representative
Eliot Engel).

One is tempted to point out that the authors themselves predicted the
likelihood of such a reception, and by provoking it they have proved
their point. They note--relying on research by yours truly--that
pro-Israel voices dominate punditocracy discourse and add that the lobby
almost always plays the "anti-Semite" card to stifle debate about
Israel's behavior in general and its own actions in particular.
/Machers/ at official Jewish organizations--accurately characterized in
the paper as far more belligerent than the Jewish community
generally--have suggested in circulated e-mails that Israel supporters
might want to threaten the Kennedy School's funding. The school's
administration has distanced itself from the controversy by removing its
imprimatur from the paper and posting Dershowitz's attack on it at the
same web address. If any young scholars--without the protective armor
that Walt and Mearsheimer's reputations afford, to say nothing of
tenured professorships--are considering research into a similar topic,
well, they won't need a weatherman to know which way this (idiot) wind
blows.

One is also tempted to infer that what scares the character assassins
into such self-revealing fits of ferocity is the fear that the authors
have revealed the unhappy truths they'd rather suppress. We have an
ex-/New York Times/ executive editor admitting that he favored Israel in
the paper's coverage, and it's not even Abe Rosenthal. They quote the
longtime editorial page editor of the /Wall Street Journal/ saying,
"Shamir, Sharon, Bibi--whatever those guys want is pretty much fine by
me." They quote former AIPAC officials bragging about Jewish power and
influence in Congress and the executive branch and supplement this with
a variety of US officials complaining of the power of this network to
get what it wants, regardless of the merits of a given argument. The
authors also focus a laser beam on the lobby's take-no-prisoners
attitude toward any politician who departs from the lobby's line--up to
and including Howard Dean's innocuous pronouncement that the United
States should play an "even-handed role" in the Middle East. Finally,
they demonstrate that while it contains the word "American" in its name,
AIPAC does Israel's bidding, pure and simple.

Still, nothing--particularly when it comes to Jews--is that simple. For
authors whose work I have long admired--I've known Walt a long time,
though casually, and not long ago I was the commentator on a paper
Mearsheimer offered at the Council on Foreign Relations--their paper has
surprising weaknesses. Perhaps because they are relatively new to the
topic, the authors treat the "pro-Israel" American Jewish community as
virtually monolithic. Yet while much of its power and influence rest
with AIPAC and the neocons--who together with many others did do
everything they could to drag America into this catastrophic war--it
also contains many passionate opponents of just these tendencies. These
are Jews who identify as both Jewish and pro-Israel but do so on the
basis of a fundamentally different vision from the one that animates the
likes of Peretz, Podhoretz, Perle and AIPAC's armies of the right.

Second, the authors offer up the lobby as virtually the only determinant
of US Middle East policy, as if the oil states, oil companies and the
vast wealth they represent count for /bubkes/. That's just silly. The
power of oil to determine the course of US foreign policy, like most
things, is not what it once was. But neither is it chopped liver. And
while things have probably progressed to the point where the AIPAC team
can best the Saudis and their minions most of the time, it's still a
fight and sometimes requires retreat and compromise. Why the authors
treat this factor so dismissively is a mystery. (It may, however, have
something to do with the authors' acceptance of a narrative of Middle
East history in which Israel plays no useful strategic role for the
United States--another mystery to this reader and Realist sympathizer.)

Third, while it's fair to call AIPAC obnoxious and even anti-democratic,
the same can often be said about, say, the NRA, Big Pharma and other
powerful lobbies. The authors note this but often seem to forget it.
This has the effect of making the Jews who read the paper feel unfairly
singled out, and inspires much emotionally driven mishigas in reaction.

Do these problems justify the inference that the authors are
anti-Semitic? Of course not. Raising the issue purely on the basis of
intellectual disagreement is shameful--and actually helpful to genuine
anti-Semites, as it diminishes the accusation's potency. While much of
the paper is compelling, its weaknesses will hinder the authors' attempt
to pierce the wall of ignorance and intimidation erected around such
policy debates by the very institutions upon which it seeks to shed
light. This is a damn shame, as AIPAC and its minions are pushing for an
attack, possibly nuclear, on Iran, and, God help us, it seems to be
working--again.

--
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Robert V. Keeley

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