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.


  • Chuck

    I reject the idea that the writers of this series of lies are patriotic Americans.

  • Patriotic American

    I am so impressed with the elegance and eloquence of that comment that I have immediately decided to switch sides. Thank you for enlightening me.

  • Dan

    Thank you for that comment, Senator McCarthy.

  • Tim Howells

    Why is it that I can find this lengthy "rebuttal", but I can find nothing of the orginal argument being "rebutted"? There is a fragment of an introductory paragraph about the debate, with links that lead nowhere. Is this your idea of the way in which a free press functions?

  • Christian

    Your article begins with a strawperson. Walt and Mearsheimer argue that a number of powerful and public lobbying groups (and not a small group of jews) steer US policy in a pro-Israel position. Many of these interest groups have no links to Judaism.

    Your claim that the US-Israel relationship is mutually beneficial is doubtful. The US's disproportionate aid to Israel makes us a target of terrorism and delays the two-state solution. The US holds a tremendous amount of leverage over Israel ($3 billion in direct, unconditional aid), and it could successfully pressure Israel to stop settlement in Palestinian territory -- the biggest obstacle to the two-state solution. Yet it does not. Terrorist organizations cite the US's disproportionate support for Israeli policy as a primary motivating factor for their attacks against us, particularly 9/11.

    The two-state solution is critical to Israeli interests. Olmert said it himself: "If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished." <http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/929439.html&gt; Again, the US's disproportionate aid to Israel essentially endorses bad Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories.

    The US and Israel can and probably should still be allies. But a normal ally does does not receive one-fifth of our foreign aid. Israel does. Interest groups push and maintain this bad policy. This is bad for the both Israeli and US interests. That is the argument.

  • Stephen

    You are mistaken, Christian. That is the watered down argument that he gave to the Yale audience. In his and Walt's working essay, he argues that the Zionist Jewish community does exert control over the government.

    The argument that American support is unconditional is ridiculous. American only offers support in military aid, which serves to further America's interests by maintaining its position as the leading weapons supplier to Israel. In addition, Mearsheimer himself said that every American president since 1967 has opposed the building of new settlements and has worked to convince the Israeli government to stop. While America also does not support everything that other countries do, we still often support them, especially when it is in our interest.

    Also, America has been a help, not a hinderance, to a two state solution, constantly trying to bring both sides to the bargaining table. Of course a two state solution is in Israeli interests. Israel (whose political right is often undermining the wants and needs of the state and of peace) needs America to help facilitate that. That is why the relationship between the two countries is crucial. You, like Mearsheimer, are arguing based upon assertions and not facts. There was no connection between Israel and 9/11 until much later, and terrorists do not hate America because it supports Israel. America has done plenty of nasty things in the Middle East (propping up the Shah) that had nothing to do with Israel.

  • SethGB

    Make us proud Shai.

  • Chris

    The best part about all of this is that had people actually read the book, they would understand that every single argument just raised both in the actual piece and all of these comments are addressed and, more importantly, refuted entirely. Read the book. And because we are all intelligent Americans, act in the AMERICAN interest. Israel should get a relationship just like any other American ally, but we can all see that it clearly does not. Go America

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