Kamin and Lefkowitz: On Israel, Mearsheimer misleads

A small group of Jews exerts disproportionate control over the government. Using power and money, it steers the country toward the disasters of our time — wars and a crumbling economy — disregarding the better interests of the nation and the world at large.

If this idea had not come from The New York Times best-selling book written by an acclaimed professor of international relations, one might have thought it was lifted from a work of 19th-century anti-Semitic European propaganda.

But professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, who spoke at Tuesday evening’s Yale Political Union debate, argued on this basis that the United States dismiss its “special” friendship with Israel. At a time when America’s global position is under strain, many rightly argue it has never been so crucial to maintain America’s strong ties with its closest and most stable ally in the Middle East.

America has maintained a close relationship with Israel over the past 60 years, following the United Nations decision to grant the Jewish people a state. Today, as both nations find themselves under daily assault from voracious enemies, this partnership remains enormously beneficial. Despite its justified sense of insecurity in a rough global neighborhood, Israel strives for an open society where Jews, Christians and Muslims coexist, and where all of its policies may be criticized publicly. These values are shared by both the United States and Israel and have made the two states natural allies. Israel’s exchange of security resources with United States has saved many lives — in the Middle East and in America. Clearly, Mearsheimer has applied a pernicious double standard to this relationship by suggesting America cut off aid to the only true democracy in the Middle East while simultaneously offering it to repressive regimes, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Mearsheimer also ignores consistent polling data that shows that a majority of Americans favor a close relationship with Israel. In the most recent Gallup public-opinion survey, 60 percent sympathized with Israel’s position in the ongoing conflict while only 23 percent sided with its neighbors. In the 2008 presidential election, both major candidates have repeatedly expressed their desire for a steadfast support of Israel. Mearsheimer would attribute this sweeping American support to the grip of the so-called “Israel Lobby,” which he depicts as a powerful and nefarious agent bent on steering America away from its own best interests, in favor of Israel’s. But rather than focus on anything official, Mearsheimer defines this enormous pro-Israel lobby as including any American who supports Israel, including those who also support a Palestinian state. This “lobby,” then, is a simply the majority of the American people — a group to whom the government should most certainly cater.

Mearsheimer’s claim that Israel lobbyists were responsible for the Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq is simply unfounded — the record shows that Israel’s supporters were in fact worried about the threat of instability in the Middle East that such an act would bring, and the larger American Jewish community was just as ambivalent about the merits of the war as was the public in general.

We will pass over the numerous and true criticisms of Mearsheimer’s meager scholarship — the quotes wrenched out of context, the tendentious claims and conspiracy theories stated as facts, and other facts completely ignored or misrepresented. These flaws have been noted by scholars more illustrious and eloquent than we (professor Alan Dershowitz has written extensively on the subject).

In short, we reject the idea that America does not need Israel as an ally. We reject the notion that the government and citizens of America have been duped by “the Israel Lobby” to blindly support Israel’s goals. We reject the idea that the majority of Americans in support of the U.S.-Israel relationship, of all religions, ethnicities and races, are acting against America’s best interests. We reject the notion that ending the special relationship with Israel will cause terrorists to drop their weapons and embrace the United States. Finally, we reject conspiracy theory as a legitimate form of social science and societal analysis.

The truth remains that Israel has made consistent efforts to bring about a peace through a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In misrepresenting America’s valuable partnership with Israel, Mearsheimer and his colleagues threaten the most vital strongholds of democracy in our world and the best possibility for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

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