LeMonde, UK Guardian and New Statesman on America’s Israel Lobby problem

The Europeans help us look at ourselves.

Is criticism of Israel anti-Semitic asks Mariano Aguirre in this month’s LeMonde

The New York Post editorial on 5 January 2007 read: “How did this man ever become president of the United States?” Readers might have thought this was a crack about President George Bush in a paper owned by Rupert Murdoch. But the editorial went on: “He’s gone from failed president to friend of leftwing tyrants and global scold of anything that represents America’s legitimate interests”; he wanted to “demonise Israel” and had secretly given “PR and political advice to Yasser Arafat”. The Post was damning not Bush, but Jimmy Carter, and it said Democrats should “cut all their ties” to him for “when he flatly condones mass murder, he goes beyond the pale”.

UK Guardian’s Ed Pilkington has this story about Walt and Mearsheimer:

When two eminent US scholars wrote about the ‘Israel lobby’ they were vilified by colleagues and the Washington Post. This week Barack Obama joined the attack.

Pilkington puts his finger on a major flaw of the book:

Take the slanging match over the causes of the Iraq war. Walt and Mearsheimer rightly lay a large part of the blame for this disastrous escapade on the neoconservatives within the Bush administration, but they then go on to define those neocons as an integral part of the Israel lobby. Books have been written about the various motivations of the neocons. Sympathy for Israel is one, but there are many others – the desire to spread democracy, a belief in the positive uses of military intervention, denigration of international institutions. To suggest that the neocons and the Israel lobby are one and the same is a conflation too far.

But he also validates W/M’s claims about AIPAC:

But the authors have brought into the open aspects of American intellectual life that needed airing. They cast light on the overweening activities of specific pro-Israeli groups, most importantly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Aipac is a self-avowed lobby (it calls itself America’s pro-Israel lobby) and has been ranked the second most powerful such body in the US. With a staff of more than 150 and a budget of $60m, it wields extensive influence among Congressmen, working to ensure criticism of Israel is rarely aired on Capitol Hill. The Guardian invited it to comment, but it declined.

Though Foxman insists the furore is proof that debate is alive and kicking, Walt and Mearsheimer have also put their finger on the limits of acceptable discourse in the US. It is notable that none of the candidates standing for president in 2008 have a word of criticism for Israeli state behaviour; this week Barack Obama pulled an advert for his campaign from the Amazon page selling The Israel Lobby, denouncing the book as “just wrong”.

BBC correspondent and one-time NYT op-ed writer Andrew Stephen in Saying the Unsayable in the UK’s New Statesman welcomes the publication of Walt Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby “in the hope that it will finally open a vital discourse that has been stifled for 35 years.”

Stephen isn’t an unqualified fan of Walt and Mearsheimer’s book, by any means. But he does have a lot to say about the Lobby:

Yet anybody who has lived in Washington as long as I have knows that the Israel lobby can be extraordinarily ruthless and unpleasant, and I’m not just talking about the deranged letter-writers and threat-merchants. Take the example of my good friend Tim Tyler, who was the US Navy’s Israel desk officer during the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a young naval officer, before he joined the Pentagon’s secretive Defence Security Assistance Agency, where he performed various important roles including that of chief of the Middle East South Asia Division.

He then worked at Nato as a defence planner with special expertise in Pershing II and cruise-missile deployment, before returning to the Pentagon to be “deputy director plans”, when he was directly involved in international sales of major weapons systems.

He has recently retired, and is thus free to speak to me for publication. He tells a chilling story, however. In the 1980s he recommended that the Pentagon stop funding the development of Israel’s own multibillion dollar Lavi jet fighter, but offer them America’s own F-16s instead. His recommendation, much to the fury of the Israelis, worked its way up the Pentagon hierarchy and was eventually accepted. I will let him recount the sequel in his own words:

“Through all of this I remained friends with Marvin Klemow [negotiator for the Israelis] and one holiday I was at his house for a party. It was a good party, and the only slight hiccup was the rather brusque manner of an Israeli colonel who was there – but I thought nothing of it. Then Marv pulled me aside. He said something along the lines of, ‘You won’t believe this, but I just got chewed out for inviting you to this party.’ I asked him why, and he told me that he had just been informed that I was on the [Israeli] embassy’s anti-Semite list because I didn’t support the Lavi programme. We were both flabbergasted. But, sadly, I was never invited back to Marv’s house.”

To be fair, being socially snubbed by an Israeli general for not supporting a lucrative arms contract hardly seems shocking. What else should the Israelis ( or any business for that matter) do, thank Tyler? What is not clear, however, is if there literally was an “anti-Semites” list or if it was simply a poor way to say that Tyler was no longer a friend of the Israelis. That Stephens offers no evidence to suggest Tyler suffered in any way beyond not being invited to a few parties suggests it was the latter, or that if such a list existed it wasn’t taken seriously.

The story of another friend is no less chilling. Former Senator Chuck Percy is now nearly 88 and far from well, but until 1985 was a vigorous and moderate Republican senator who was chairman of the all-powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He started to ruin his career, though, when he refused to sign a letter sponsored by AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the best-known and most powerful individual lobby – which had been drawn up to protest against President Ford’s proposed “reassessment” of Middle East policy. Then he said publicly that Yasser Arafat was more moderate than some other Palestinian leaders and – despite having a generally pro- Israeli record – began to be perceived by AIPAC from then on as an enemy.

The final blow, in fact, came when he supported the sale of Awacs aircraft to Saudi Arabia. Huge sums of money duly poured in from AIPAC supporters all over the country to support Percy’s Democratic opponent in the 1984 elections, and despite huge popularity in his native Illinois, Percy narrowly lost – and never returned to politics. Mearsheimer and Walt quote Tom Dine, then executive director of AIPAC, saying after Percy’s defeat: “All the Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy. And the American politicians – those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire – got the message.”

They certainly did, and some of the handful of politicians who have dared to defy AIPAC have got the Percy treatment, too.

There is genuine debate about how powerful AIPAC really is. But on a certain level, it doesn’t matter. The perception, which few more than AIPAC have worked to nurture, is that to go against them is to commit political suicide. And that perception has profound impact.That said, it’s important to remember that most of the substance of foreign policy happens not in Congress but inside the Administration and at the State Department.

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