Ruth Wisse: About the Israel Lobby





[Ms. Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at Harvard.]

In Boston in the early 1980s, I was asked by an Irish cab driver what language I had been speaking with a fellow passenger we had just dropped off. When I told him, Hebrew, the language of Israel, the man exclaimed: "Israel! That's America's fighting front line! Israel fights our battles better than we could fight them ourselves."

Now Professors Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago would have us believe that the Boston cabbie was a dupe of the "unmatched power of the Israel Lobby." Their essay in the latest London Review of Books -- based on a longer working paper on the Kennedy Center Web site -- contends that the U.S. government and most of its citizens are fatally in thrall to a "coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction." Though not all members of said "coalition" are Jews, and though not all Jews are members, the major schemers are such key organizations as the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, joined by neoconservatives, think tanks, and a large network of accomplices including (they will learn to their surprise) The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

The thesis of Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer is remarkably broad and singleminded: A loose association of special-interest groups has persuaded the country to sacrifice its interests to a foreign power, thereby jeopardizing "not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world." Israel, it is claimed, hurts every facet of American life: U.S. emergency aid to Israel during the War of 1973 triggered a damaging OPEC oil embargo. Israel is a liability in the war on terror: It goaded the U.S. into the war in Iraq, betrays America through espionage, and destroys American democracy by quashing all criticism. Recently the Israel Lobby -- a term the authors render with a sinister capital "L" -- has begun to intimidate the universities by trying to create a field of Israel Studies and monitoring anti-Israel bias.

Were it not for the Lobby, the U.S. would have nothing to fear in the world, not even a nuclear threat from Iran: "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." Not Iran but the Lobby is the true threat to America's security by trying to compel the U.S. to oppose Iran against its interests. Most dangerously, Jews control the man at the top: In the spring of 2002 "[Ariel] Sharon and the Lobby took on the president of the United States and triumphed." Given the creative scope of these charges, one is surprised to find no hint of Israel's role in the spread of avian flu.

Organized as a prosecutorial indictment rather than an inquiry, the essay does not tell us why the "Israel Lobby" should have formed in the first place. The 21 countries of the Arab League with ties to 1.2 billion Muslims world-wide are nowhere present as active political agents. There is no mention of the Arab rejection of the United Nations's partition of Palestine in 1948; no 58-year Arab League boycott of Israel and companies trading with Israel; no Arab attacks of 1948, 1967 and 1973; no Arab-Soviet resolution at the U.N. defining Zionism as racism; no monetary and strategic support for Arab terrorism against Jews and Israel; and no Hamas dedication to destroying the Jewish state. The authors do not ask why Arab aggression and Muslim "rage against Israel" should have morphed into a war against the U.S. and the West. Israel's existence elicits Arab and Muslim hostility, hence in their view Israel is to blame for Arab and Muslim carnage....



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