London Review of Books Article on the Israel Lobby:

The London Review of Books has a lengthy article by Professors John Mearsheimer of University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, arguing that given that Israel is such a malevolent country that acts in so many ways contrary to U.S. interets, support for Israel in the U.S. must be primarily, perhaps solely, a result of the power of the pro-Israel political lobby.

The article is so full of misrepresentations and distortions that it would take me an entire day to properly Fisk it. Fortunately, the authors discredit themselves in the very first paragraph.

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 is sheer nonsense [clarification: the nonsense is the purported relationship between U.S. support for Israel and U.S. support for democratization of the Middle East. As I explain below, given that Israel is opposed to the latter policy, it's hard to see how it's a "related" effort]. The Israeli government has never supported an agenda of democratizing the Middle East. Jimmy Carter wanted to democratize Iran, and his administration encouraged the Shah to abdicate. Israel had a fine relationship with the Shah, would have been happy to see him retain power, and was very unhappy with how the U.S. undermined him, leading to the rise of Khomeinism is Iran. Today, Israel wanted to postpone or cancel the Palestinian elections, but relented under pressure from the U.S. Israel has, perhaps foolishly, put its faith in dictators willing to sign peace treaties or otherwise cooperate with Israel, including Egypt's Mubarak, and the monarchies in Morocco and Jordan. The last thing Israel wants right now is for any of these countries to become democracies, as public opinion is extremely hostile to Israel in each country. Israel previously put its faith in Yasser Arafat post-Oslo, precisely because it thought he could impose calm on his subjects. The only major public figure in Israel who has been a proponent of spreading democracy in the Middle East is Natan Sharansky, and he is considered a crank by most Israelis, and even he has been skeptical of U.S. democraticization policy with regard to the Palestinians.

I can't really make out what the authors' argument is in attributing either the invasion of Iraq (even though they acknowledge that top Israeli officials thought Iran was more of a threat to Israel) or the policy of spreading democracy to the Middle East to the pro-Israel lobby, but it seems to be something along the lines of the following: Neoconservatives wanted to invade Iraq and spread democracy to the Middle East; Israel thought it would benefit from the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein (no mention of the fact that Israel does not think it would benefit from democratization); and neoconservatives tend to be strong supporters of Israel.

As I've noted before, neoconservatives were also strong supporters of U.S. military involvement in the Balkans. Does that mean that pro-Israel lobby was behind Clinton's actions in Bosnia?

One expects a lot better from Harvard and Chicago professors than this.

UPDATE: Rosner's blog asks, regarding the study in question:

Do you ignore it - having concluded it is biased, one-sided, foolish, repetitive, and most of all, has nothing new to offer - or do you write about it, knowing that the "Harvard," "Chicago," "professors," "Kennedy school" labels will make it acceptable anyway, even news-worthy, in the eyes of many. In short: Does one need cooperate with the advancement of the cause of academic garbage?

And Rosner, like me, doesn't have the time and energy for a full-scale Fisking: "But let us not start arguing about every little detail in this paper. It will take a long time, and it will be a waste of time, as it is clear that the writers are not here to be convinced that they're wrong."

And from Martin Kramer: "This newest article, obviously the work of Walt more than Mearsheimer, cobbles together a lot of half-truths and untruths that have been out there on the far fringe, and gives them 'academic respectability.'"

Drezner has a reasonably thorough critique, including,"Shot through these papers are an awful lot of casual assertions that don't hold up to close scrutiny."

And here's a New York Sun editorial criticizing the study.

"The Israel Lobby" Update:

Crossing the Rubicon2 has gathered blogospheric reaction to the Walt-Mearsheimer paper I briefly criticized last week. Various commentators, especially James Taranto at OpinionJournal (see posts Monday and Tuesday, and a related one today) and Richard Baehr and Ed Lasky at The American Thinker, have really eviscerated this paper. In times past, a paper like this by a prominent Chicago professor and a Kennedy School dean would have gotten tremendous and largely uncritical play before other academics got around to refuting it, if ever. Today, anyone who cares can Google the authors' names (or Technorati "AIPAC") and finds tons of valid criticism, along with some rather lame defenses. You could also learn today, for example, via OpinionJournal and The American Thinker that Mearsheimer, rather than being some objective observer of American politics vis a vis Israel, is a long-time Israel-hater, having signed a letter in 2003 suggesting that Israel was prepared to use the distraction of the Iraq War to forcibly evict all Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. Score one for An Army of Davids.

UPDATE: And here's Harvard's Marvin Kalb as quoted in the New York Sun:

"I do not regard this as a Kennedy School Research Paper, because it clearly does not meet the academic standards of a Kennedy School research paper," Mr. Kalb, who is also the faculty chair for the Kennedy School's Washington programs, told The New York Sun in an e-mail yesterday after reading the paper. "It is a rather sensational example of 'realist' journalism," he continued. "My sense is that Dean Walt would be better advised to stick to scholarship and leave journalism to journalists, who generally check their 'facts' before publishing them."


See also Ruth Wisse in the Wall Street Journal and this letter by Professors Jeffrey Herf and Andrei S. Markovits. And Drezner: It's "piss-poor, monocausal social science."

The Forward on "The Israel Lobby":

My sentiments exactly:

Even more startling, given who they are, is the flimsiness of their work. Countless facts are simply wrong. Long stretches of argument are implausible, at times almost comically so. Much of their research is oddly amateurish, drawn not from credible documents or primary source interviews but from newspaper clippings, including dozens from this newspaper, seemingly dug up in quick Internet word searches aimed at proving a point, not exploring the truth. Some are wildly misquoted. An undergraduate submitting work like this would be laughed out of class. A dean apparently gets to see it posted on Harvard's Web site.

[See links in previous "related posts" listed below for specific criticisms.]

And here's a charming quote from Mearsheimer, in the Asia Times:"We fully recognized that the lobby would retaliate against us. We expected the story we told in the piece would apply to us after it was published. We are not surprised that we've come under attack by the lobby." What retaliation? Last I noticed, Mearsheimer and Walt still had their respective cushy tenured jobs as Harvard and Chicago. What they have faced in not retaliation, but criticism, criticism that Drezner reports they refuse to respond to. And exactly who is "the lobby"? Just in the blogosphere, Mearsheimer and Walt have been criticized by a huge range of bloggers who have no connection with any organized pro-Israel lobbying group, or each other. Is every individual who finds the Mearsheimer and Walt paper to be shoddy scholarship (Mearsheimer has acknowledged, by the way, that none of the evidence represents original documentation or is derived from independent interviews; in other words, it's a rehashing and compilation of material published elsewhere) to be dismissed as a tool of "the Lobby"?

It's bad enough for these professors to write a (as Drezner put it) piss-poor paper endorsing ridiculous conspiracy theories(e.g., that the "Israel lobby" is responsible for the War in Iraq). It's worse when they attribute legitimate criticism to that same conspiracy "retaliating" against them. Come on, Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, you have all of the resources of Harvard and Chicago at your disposal. Explain why your critics are wrong! (If you can!)

Mearsheimer and Walt--Arrogance, Not Anti-Semitism:

As regular VC readers know, I've been highly critical of Mearsheimer and Walt's "Israel Lobby" paper. However, I think many of their critics are erring in accusing the authors of anti-Semitism without supporting evidence. Where some critics see anti-Semitism, I see what is much more likely the result of simple sheer arrogance. As is very clear from the paper, Mearsheimer and Walt have firmly concluded that U.S. support of Israel is CLEARLY neither strategically nor morally justified. They are sufficiently arrogant that they assume that any normal, right-thinking person who looked objectively at the evidence would agree with them. Thus, U.S. policy would naturally not be supportive of Israel. The fact that it is supportive of Israel leads the authors to a conundrum: either acknowledge that reasonable people might disagree with their conclusions (which would provide a non-conspiratorial basis U.S. support for Israel), or assume that there is a wide-ranging conspiracy involving an amorphous "Israel lobby" biasing U.S. policy in favor of Israel. Rather than suspend their arrogant view that everyone sensible agrees with them, the authors adopt the conspiracy theory (not uniquely in this respect), and engage in sloppily researched and ill-reasoned inferences to support it. The Israel lobby also explains, in their view, other anomalies that they can't otherwise explain, like how all reasonable people failed to agree with them that the Iraq War was not in U.S. interests.

The fact that Mearsheimer and Walt reasoned backwards from an inane, apparently arrogance-driven thesis, and wrote a "piss poor" (as Drezner put it) paper to support it, is reason enough to criticize these two well-known "scholars". No need to pile on unsubstantiated allegations of anti-Semitism. Indeed, such allegations drown out more substantive criticisms.

Admittedly, writing about alleged largely Jewish-driven conspiracies gives succor to anti-Semites, and for that reason, individuals sensitive to such concerns would be especially careful about circulating academic work on that theme that's not well-documented and reasoned. But a failure to be sensitive about anti-Semitism, or the anti-Semitic implicatons others will take from one's work, is simply that, and is not itself persuasive evidence of anti-Semitism. To put it another way, all anti-Semites will be insensitive about anti-Semitism, but most individuals who are not sensitive about anti-Semitism are not anti-Semites.

UPDATE: You're really in trouble when an anti-Israel diatribe can't win the support of Christopher Hitchens or even Noam Chomsky (the latter nevertheless praises the authors' "courage" as if criticizing Israel at an elite university is brave).

Peck on the "Israel Lobby":

Via the Independent Institute, which is unfortunately promoting this dreck, I've come across a thoroughly dishonest article by Edward Peck on the controversy over the Mearsheimer and Walt "Israel Lobby" paper. How dishonest?

Peck: "The expected tsunami of rabid responses condemned the report, vilified its authors, and denied there is such a lobby"

"Shrill insistence that no groups promote Israel is ludicrous."

There are many other flaws in this article, which I'd Fisk more throughly if I didn't have to prepare for two classes tomorrow. But for now, I think it's sufficient to address this challenge to "Ambassador" [I hate using former titles as current titles] Peck: Identify any source that denied that there is an Israel lobby (as opposed to those, like me, who argued that Mearsheimer and Walt's definition of the "Israel lobby" is absurdly broad, and contrary to the normal meaning of the word), or that any groups promote Israel.

Okay, I promised no full Fisking, but I can't resist raising one more point. Peck suggests that the "Israel Lobby" (which he never defines) "prevents" "public knowledge, discussion and debate" on the U.S.-Israel relationship. Really? Has Noam Chomsky been arrested? Has Juan Cole been exiled? Have The Nation and the Village Voice been shut down? Is Jimmy Carter an Israeli mole? Have Mearsheimer and Walt been assassinated? Has any U.S. critic of Israel met with any sort of violence at all? For that matter, aren't Middle East Studies departments in the U.S. thoroughly dominated by academics who favor the Arab position in the Arab-Israeli conflict? It's more than a bit odd for a libertarian outfit like the Independent Institute to promote articles claiming that just because a certain perspective has found only a small popular audience, that the holders of that perspective, who have been subject to no state or private force, have been prevented from promoting their views. And it's especially odd when those views are expressed all the time.

UPDATE: Reader "Brian" points out that has also featured a piece (by Michael Scheuer) claiming that critics of Mearsheimer and Walt have denied there is an Israel lobby (along with a bunch of other wacky nonsense). Brian also points out that the geniuses at the Daily News gave David Gergen's op-ed the title "There is no Israel Lobby", but the piece says the opposite: "To be sure, pro-Israeli groups in this country, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, push hard to gain the support of U.S. political leaders. AIPAC is officially registered as a lobbying group, but that does not mean that its members are engaging in something sinister." So, Messrs. Peck and Scheuer--who has denied that there are organizations in the U.S. that lobby for a strong U.S.-Israel relationship?

Followup on Peck and the Israel Lobby:

Edward Peck has submitted a response to criticism by me and James Taranto of OpinionJournal has published the piece on its website, and I encourage VC readers to take a look. You can read Taranto's response here.

Most extraordinary is that Peck continues to assert that critics of Mearsheimer and Walt's "Israel Lobby" paper deny (indeed, "shrilly" deny) that an Israel lobby exists. In an email David Theroux of the Independent Institute, which has been publicizing Peck's original piece, sent me, Peck identifies David Gergen and Eliot Cohen as having denied that such a lobby exists. What Cohen actually wrote was

Mearsheimer and Walt conceive of The Lobby as a conspiracy between the Washington Times and the New York Times, the Democratic-leaning Brookings Institution and Republican-leaning American Enterprise Institute, architects of the Oslo accords and their most vigorous opponents. In this world Douglas Feith manipulates Don Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney takes orders from Richard Perle.

This is not a denial that there is a lobby for Israel, nor that it is an effective lobby. This is a denial that the "Israel Lobby" as conceived by M & W is anything more than a figment of a conspiratorial imagination; their idea that every American who supports Israel is part of a "lobby," and that this lobby controls U.S. foreign policy vis a vis, e.g., Iraq, is absurd (Cohen thinks it anti-Semitic; I'm willing to give M & W the benefit of the doubt on that point).

And, as I pointed out previously, Gergen explicitly states that there is an Israel lobby, if not the "Israel Lobby" of M & W's imagination.

The idea that anyonoe would deny that there is a pro-Israel lobby in the U.S. is absurd on its face, given that AIPAC's website trumpets the organization as "America's pro-Israel lobby."

And I'll reiterate that Peck's original piece is dishonest, beyond the allegation that people are denying there is an Israel lobby. For example, Peck writes: "The expected tsunami of rabid responses condemned the [M & W] report, vilified its authors, and denied there is such a lobby—validating both the lobby's existence and aggressive, pervasive presence and obliging Harvard to remove its name." So "The Lobby" was allegedly powerful enough to force Harvard to take its name off a study by one of its professors. But in fact, while the authors did voluntarily add a disclaimer that the views in the paper don't reflect those of their institutions, Harvard's name is still there, right on the cover page, identifying Professor Walt as a Harvard-Kennedy School professor. And the paper's abstract can still be found on the Kennedy School's website, identifying the paper as a Harvard University/Kennedy School of Government working paper.

As for the Independent Institute, I take it that the Institute's interest in Peck's work primarily results from a desire to encourage a more non-interventionist U.S. foreign policy, in line with a strain of libertarian thinking that advocates non-interventionism. However, Peck is affiliated with the Council for the National Interest, which advocates not non-interventionism, but a more "balanced" U.S. foreign poicy in the Middle East. From CNI's website:

Our Mission

CNI seeks to encourage and promote a U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that is consistent with American values, protects our national interests, and contributes to a just solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, as well as to restore a political environment in America in which voters and their elected officials are free from the undue influence and pressure of a foreign country, namely Israel.

Our Goals

*Total withdrawal of Israel from all occupied territory (the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights). * A shared Jerusalem, the capital of two states, Israel and Palestine. * An end to all acts of aggression, provocation, and retaliation by Israel and the end of all violence and attempts to solve the problem by military means. This includes terrorism committed against Israelis as well as the state terrorism committed by Israel against Palestinians. * American recognition of a totally independent state of Palestine. * The elimination of all unaudited U.S. aid to Israel. * Normalized relations with Israel, her neighbors, and regional organizations such as the Arab League.

Peck himself recently went on a CNI Mission to the Mideast, during which he interviewed Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar. Given the opportunity to question one of the great terrorist leaders of our time, whose organization has consistently attempted to scuttle any rapproachment between Israel and the Palestinians, he asked such hardball questions as "How would you be able to -- or what would you do to control those elements in Hamas and elsewhere that tend toward violence?" and "So a coalition would be something you would work towards?"

Frankly, when libertarians start promoting the Middle East policy views of individuals who don't even pretend to be libertarians, and who are friendly with the likes of Hamas, I begin to wonder whether it is really libertarian foreign policy perspective, rather than simply anti-Israel animus, that is motivating them.