Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Israel Lobby Controversy

Few things have generated as much controversy in the US lately as a study by two Harvard academics of considerable repute attacking what they see as an Israeli lobby that drives the US towards policies that are genuinely not in its interest.

The study by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer starts with a very blunt assessment of the situation that they see:

"For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history."

"Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides."

The answer to them lies in the great influence of what they describe as the Israeli lobby in the US public debate and policy making circles.

First published for a wider audience in the London Review of Books, the study has generated an enormous amount of debate, naturally including major pieces in the New York Review of Books.

As could be expected, the authors have been accused of being anti-Semitic, although that charge has rather had the tendency of strengthening their argument that a rational debate on these issues have become increasingly difficult during the last few years.

Among those taking part in the debate has been Anne-Marie Slaughter, and both her contribution as well as others on that blog are worth reading. You can easily see the heat the debate has generated.

That there are strong bonds between the US and Israel is one thing. Sympathy and support for Israel as a democracy is and should be strong in all of our societies. And threats to the future of Israel are threats to values that are dear and important to all of us.

That's one thing.

But Israel has been investing heavily in influencing policy in the US so that it tolerates the more hard-line approach that has been taken by different Likud-lead governments on the occupied territories. Israel has been able to expand settlements, confiscate land and continue its occupation policies with only the feeblest of protest from the United States.

It can be argued that if it hadn't been for this tacit acceptance by the United States, some of these policies would hardly have been possible.

So it's not illogical that great effort has gone into building up and strengthening the Israeli lobby in the United States.

The question put by the study is whether this has been so succesful as to de facto endanger wider United States national interests in the region and in the wider world.

The debate is certain to continue.