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Revised Israel Lobby Piece

Subject:        Revised Israel Lobby Piece
Date:   Wed, 30 Aug 2006 17:47:48 -0400
From:   Robert Keeley <rkeeley@starpower.net>
To:     Terry Walz <terry@cnionline.org>



Reporting the “Israel Lobby” Forum at the National Press Club

By Robert V. Keeley

On August 29, 2006 the Washington Post published as its Page Two column
an account by reporter Dana Milbank entitled “Pronouncing Blame on the
Israel Lobby.” (The text follows, along with further comment.) This
article was a somewhat clever hatchet job on two distinguished
professors and confirms once again the pro-Israel bias that pervades our
major media. Milbank trashed one of the more interesting public policy
presentations mounted recently in Washington, interesting because it
addressed a topic normally taboo in this town. Professors Walt and
Mearsheimer gave an update on their study of the “Israel Lobby” and its
influence on our Middle East policies first published in London after
being rejected here. They expressed some astonishment that their work
had caused such controversy, since the facts they displayed are well
known and really indisputable. They did not profess to discover anything
new; they simply documented what is known. There is no doubt that the
“Israel Lobby” has captured control of our policies toward the conflicts
in the Middle East, more so today than ever in the past. One irrefutable
piece of evidence is the letter from the head of AIPAC, Howard Friedman,
to its members and supporters bragging about how much control they
maintain over all Washington decision-making with respect to Israel. The
professors noted that what could be considered controversial is whether
these pro-Israel policies are also good for the United States, which is
of course debatable and worthy of discussion. Here is the article.

Pronouncing Blame on the Israel Lobby

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, August 29, 2006; A02

It was quite a boner.

University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer was in town
yesterday to elaborate on his view that American Jewish groups are
responsible for the war in Iraq, the destruction of Lebanon's
infrastructure and many other bad things. As evidence, he cited the
influence pro-Israel groups have on "John Boner, the House majority leader."

Actually, Professor, it's "BAY-ner." But Mearsheimer quickly dispensed
with Boehner (R-Ohio) and moved on to Jewish groups' nefarious sway over
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who Mearsheimer called " Von Hollen."

Such gaffes would be trivial -- if Mearsheimer weren't claiming to be an
authority on Washington and how power is wielded here. But Mearsheimer,
with co-author Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School, set off a
furious debate this spring when they argued that "the Israel lobby" is
exerting undue influence in Washington; opponents called them anti-Semitic.

Yesterday, at the invitation of the Council on American-Islamic
Relations (CAIR), they held a forum at the National Press Club to expand
on their allegations about the Israel lobby. Blurring the line between
academics and activism, they accepted a button proclaiming "Fight the
Israel Lobby" and won cheers from the Muslim group for their
denunciation of Israel and its friends in the United States.

Whatever motivated the performance, the result wasn't exactly scholarly.

Walt singled out two Jews who worked at the Pentagon for their
pro-Israel views. "People like Paul Wolfowitz or Doug Feith . . .
advocate policies they think are good for Israel and the United States
alike," he said. "We don't think there's anything wrong with that, but
we also don't think there's anything wrong for others to point out that
these individuals do have attachments that shape how they think about
the Middle East."

"Attachments" sounds much better than "dual loyalties." But why single
out Wolfowitz and Feith and not their non-Jewish boss, Donald Rumsfeld?

"I could have mentioned non-Jewish people like John Bolton," Walt
allowed when the question was put to him.

Picking up on the "attachments" lingo, Mearsheimer did mention Bolton
but cited two Jews, Elliott Abrams and David Wurmser, as "the two most
influential advisers on Middle East affairs in the White House. Both, he
said, are " fervent supporters of Israel." Never mind that others in the
White House, such as national security adviser Stephen Hadley, Vice
President Cheney and President Bush, have been just as fervent despite
the lack of "attachments."

This line of argument could be considered a precarious one for two
blue-eyed men with Germanic surnames. And, indeed, Walt seemed defensive
about the charges of anti-Semitism. He cautioned that the Israel lobby
"is not a cabal," that it is "not synonymous with American Jews" and
that "there is nothing improper or illegitimate about its activities."

But Mearsheimer made no such distinctions as he used "Jewish activists,"
"major Jewish organizations" and the "Israel lobby" interchangeably.
Clenching the lectern so tightly his knuckles whitened, Mearsheimer
accused Israel of using the kidnapping of its soldiers by Hezbollah as a
convenient excuse to attack Lebanon.

"Israel had been planning to strike at Hezbollah for months," he
asserted. "Key Israelis had briefed the administration about their
intentions."

A questioner asked if he had any "hard evidence" for this accusation.
Mearsheimer cited the "public record" and "Israeli civilian
strategists," then repeated the allegation that Israel was seeking "a
cover for launching this offensive."

As evidence that the American public does not agree with the Israel
lobby, the political scientist cited a USA Today-Gallup poll showing
that 38 percent of Americans disapproved of Israel's military campaign.
He neglected to mention that 50 percent approved, and that Americans
blamed Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and Lebanon far more than Israel for the
conflict.

Walt kicked off the session with a warning that we face a "threat from
terrorism because we have been so closely tied to Israel." This produced
chuckles in the audience. Walt allowed that this was "not the only
reason" for our problems, but he did blame Israel supporters for the
hands-off position the Bush administration took during the Lebanon fighting.

"The answer is the political influence of the Israel lobby," Walt said.
He also hypothesized that if not for the Israel lobby, the Iraq war
"would have been much less likely."

Up next, Mearsheimer ridiculed U.S. leaders for "falling all over
themselves to express support for Israel." And he drew groans from the
crowd when he spoke about a lawmaker who, after questioning Israel's
policy, "met with various representatives from major Jewish
organizations, who explained to him the basic facts of life in American
politics."

When the two professors finished, they were besieged by autograph- and
photo-seekers and Arab television correspondents. Walt could be heard
telling one that if an American criticizes Israel, "it might have some
economic consequences for your business."

Before leaving for an interview with al-Jazeera, Mearsheimer accepted a
button proclaiming "Walt & Mearsheimer Rock. Fight the Israel Lobby."

"I like it," he said, beaming.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company

(Additional comment by Robert V. Keeeley.) I was there, as no doubt was
Milbank. The sponsoring organization was Islamic, but only a small
minority of those in attendance were Muslims, far outnumbered by media
representatives and public policy people. The session was well-covered
by TV, with a live broadcast (1.5 hours) on C-SPAN, thus reaching a much
larger audience than those present in the small Holeman Lounge at the
Press Club.
I had a good view of the lectern and I can assure you that Mearsheimer’s
knuckles did not whiten, a real and unnecessary canard. Milbank objects
to the professor’s identification of certain leading neocons responsible
for the pro-Israel policies as Jewish and doesn’t like the reference to
“attachments,” a rather mild term for fanatic pro-Israel activists. And
in a really low blow the reporter notes the blue eyes and Germanic
surnames of the two professors, implying that their critics who accuse
them of anti-Semitism might be on to something, though he doesn’t go so
far as to recall the Nazis and the Holocaust.
Milbank considers “gaffes” the fact that Mearsheimer mispronounced Rep.
Boehner’s name—Boner for Bayner—and I believe the latter pronunciation
is closer to the Germanic, if it is Germanic. And the professor did
transform Rep. Chris Van Hollen from a Dutchman into a German (Von for
Van). So the professor is not on a first name basis with Rep. Boehner,
as Milbank no doubt is? So what? Who is more likely to be objective
about the good Representative, someone like Milbank who covers him
regularly, or someone like Mearsheimer who doesn’t? But that is trivial.
The Van Hollen story was the point: Chris sent a letter to Secretary
Rice boldly and courageously calling for an immediate cease-fire between
Israel and Hezbollah. He then had to face angry reactions from some of
his Jewish constituents. When the audience “groaned,” as Milbank put it,
they were responding to the point that it was naïve for any politician
to think that he could get away with touching the most dangerous third
rail in American politics. They “groaned” out of sympathy for the
embattled politician who was forced to backtrack.
The audience applauded heartily four times, Mr. Milbank, in contrast
with the usual mild hand-clap that such fora receive in this overexposed
town. The reason was the rarity of a public session on a taboo subject.
I have sent a complaint to the ombudsman at the Post. Unfortunately she
is on vacation, but I doubt you’ll read anything about this when she
returns to work. The point is that Milbank’s column should have been put
on the op ed page, along with a bias warning. This report is not news
reporting. It is opinion, and nasty opinion at that. Is Milbank a German
name? Is it a Jewish name? Who cares? We are not responsible for the
names we are born with. We are responsible for our opinions. And for our
professionalism.
The bottom line, as the two professors proved conclusively, is that the
Israel Lobby is now in control of our Middle East policy, controlling
the executive and legislative branches of our government, and both
political parties in this specific area of our foreign relations and
national security. I cite just one example from the two professors’
presentation. Israel has for years ignored a host of UN Security Council
resolutions calling on it do certain things in the interest of peace.
When other countries defy UNSC resolutions (e.g., Iraq, Iran) we propose
to apply sanctions to force them to comply. And even threaten them with
our military power. In Israel’s case we protect that state from such
action as sanctions and since 1982 have vetoed 33 UNSC resolutions that
were critical of Israel, a number greater than the combined total of
vetoes cast by all of the other four veto-wielding SC members. In many
cases proposed resolutions affecting Israel never come to a vote after
we have indicated that we will veto them.
If you think that the Bush administration’s unconditional and absolute
support for Israel’s policies and actions has not caused serious damage
to the national interest of the United States, then I simply ask you to
educate yourself on this subject as much as you can, and then make up
your own mind. That is very American and very democratic and very
responsible.

--

Robert V. Keeley
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