« How Ya Doing, Europe? | Main | It's The Nationalism, Stupid »

October 07, 2007

Talkin' Bout The Israel Lobby

By Ezra

Daniel Levy has a great review of the book in Haaretz, and I think he gets it exactly right. The core of the Israel Lobby argument, the book's first half, is quite compelling. You really do need some way to account for Dick Armey's 2002 statement that "my number one priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel," and they open that discussion, and offer a very plausible hypothesis. Interest group capture is not rare or controversial. It accounts for a host of other policy decisions, from farm subsidies to the embargo on Cuba, and its existence here should be openly debated.

This section has shortcomings, to be sure. in particular, I agree with Levy's point that Walt and Mearsheimer give short shrift to cultural explanations, namely, a rippling Islamophobia which has made Israel more generally symbolic than it otherwise would be. "Pro-Israel sentiment is strengthened not by Israel's moral case," writes Levy, "but by an immoral negative stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims by many mainstream media outlets since 9/11. But Walt and Mearsheimer are less good at seeing America's warts, and totally overlook this trend."

The second half of the book is somewhat less compelling. They marshal much evidence to show that the Israel Lobby enthusiastically advocates for a belligerent American foreign policy. But they never prove that it's support is anything approaching causal for such undertakings as the Iraq War. As Levy puts it, "All of the examples are taken from the Bush era, post 9/11 and this brings us to the book's core weakness. Walt and Mearsheimer see too much continuity and not enough exceptionalism in this period." Agreed. In their rush to prove the Lobby's influence, they appear to suggest its dominance, which isn't likely. They do a useful service by clarifying the involvement of the Israel Lobby, and for that matter, Israeli politicians, in what should be domestic political decisions, but they mistake advocacy for causality. But like the rest of the book, it opens a discussion well worth having.

October 7, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Very informative. Thanks for the link.

Posted by: WB Reeves | Oct 7, 2007 12:47:26 PM

That the Israel Lobby convinced Armey to say "my number one priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel" isn't a plausible hypothesis: it's idiotic. Armey is an evangelical Christian who believes that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews. That's been a popular view among Americans for hundreds of years, since before there was an America or an Israel. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, said, "It seems to me that it is entirely proper to start a Zionist State around Jerusalem ... and [that] the Jews be given control of Palestine." Was he a tool of the Israel lobby too?

Posted by: Ragout | Oct 7, 2007 1:19:55 PM

That the Israel Lobby convinced Armey to say "my number one priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel" isn't a plausible hypothesis: it's idiotic. Armey is an evangelical Christian who believes that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews. That's been a popular view among Americans for hundreds of years, since before there was an America or an Israel. Teddy Roosevelt, for example, said, "It seems to me that it is entirely proper to start a Zionist State around Jerusalem ... and [that] the Jews be given control of Palestine." Was he a tool of the Israel lobby too?

Posted by: Ragout | Oct 7, 2007 1:20:51 PM

Thanks for the discussion - perhaps you could talk a bit about the Gelb article too.


My reaction to this article was that, however daintily it is phrased, it is fairly crushing - Levy says that W/M construct their argument to omit a glaringly obvious explanatory factor (hence their case falls apart), and they simply fail to show that their factor is causal and not coincident (hence their case falls apart). I take it from your post that you agree.

Note that these same objections were raised about the original M/W article, and they must have been aware of them and felt their force. It's a real shame that it was expanded into a book without mending these obvious flaws, esp. given the sensitive subject. If it had reached supportable if much less sweeping conclusions it would have been less controversial and commercially successful, but it would have provided a much more valuable service, and it would have avoided being charged by critics of AIPAC and the settler movement with anti-Semitism and spared us from the lengthy unenlightening non-debate that's been held here.

Posted by: rilkefan | Oct 7, 2007 1:31:58 PM

Rilkefan, would it be correct to assume you have read an advanced copy of the book?

Posted by: WB Reeves | Oct 7, 2007 1:45:24 PM

Ragout, yes, Walt and Mearsheimer consider parts of the evangelical movement to form a part of the Israel lobby. Not tools but components. That is why they object when reviewers insist on claiming they're calling it a Jewish lobby.

Posted by: mad6798j | Oct 7, 2007 1:57:39 PM

I wonder if the best example of interest group capture is the last several years is not the Iraq War per se, but that starting a war that has now cost somewhere between a 100,000 and one million lives and created 2 million refugees was seen as a "more realistic" option than even marginally adjusting American politicians' rhetoric regarding the continued spread and expansion of illegal settlements on the West Bank.

The key to winning the "war" against Al Qaeda has always been more about further marginalizing the status of radical terrorists within the Islamic world than winning military victories in Islamic countries. Nothing would have served us more than to have been seen as being a little more "even-handed" in our approach to Israel/Palestinian issues. I suspect that it is what motivated Walt and Mearsheimer in the first place.

Foreign policy interest group lobbies are nothing new, but the inability of our political process to resist their influence rather than embrace it, whether it be the Cuba lobby, the China lobby or the Israel lobby, is a sign of a very immature and careless polity. The blame rests more with the rest of us than with those who seek to advocate on behalf of policies and countries they care about.

Posted by: Ben Brackley | Oct 7, 2007 2:57:08 PM

Ezra (& Ben),

Great post and comment. But, at the risk of riding a hobbyhorse, when did 'advocate' stop being a transitive verb? One sees it everywhere, but it still throws me off when I see 'advocate for'.

Posted by: J | Oct 7, 2007 4:17:19 PM

"But they never prove that it's support is anything approaching causal for such undertakings as the Iraq War."

Hey, pls be fair! Nobody so far has proven which causal chain of events led to the Iraq war. That's because most documents aren't available by FOIA abd then major players aren't exctly forthcoming with testimonies. Why do you expect Walt and Mearsheimer to be able to do something everybody else has failed at? This isn't a valid argument against them.

Posted by: Gray | Oct 7, 2007 5:40:49 PM

Israel is not a problem for the oligarchies of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia but an asset, a demon they can use to distract their own populations.

I an finding this seriously approaching crazy. Israel has no money, no oil, no strategic significance. "The secret basis of our entire ME policy" makes no sense at all, except on the behest of our allies that do have money, oil, strategic significance. All the banks, multinationals, and Foreign Policy Experts are not crzy millenialists. This is serious weird.

I am thinking the left is using Israel as the ME oilgarchs are, as a distraction. I am startiog to distrust Ezra & MY.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Oct 7, 2007 5:54:34 PM

mad,

It's true that Mearsheimer and Walt try to claim that evangelical Christians are part of the Israel lobby. But it is very strange to call the top Republican House leadership members of a "lobby." Do they lobby themselves?

Throughout much of their writings, it is clear that M&W are using "lobby" in its traditional sense, as in a small special-interest group like "the farm lobby." They write that "it is AIPAC itself, however, that forms the core of the Lobby’s influence in Congress." They write:

Furthermore, special interest groups enjoy disproportionate power when they are committed to a particular issue and the bulk of the populaton is indifferent. Policymakers will tend to accommodate those who care about the issue in question, even if their numbers are small, confident that the rest of the population will not penalize them. The Israel Lobby’s power flows from its unmatched ability to play this game of interest group politics. In its basic operations, it is no different from interest groups like the Farm Lobby, steel and textile workers, and other ethnic lobbies. What sets the Israel Lobby apart is its extraordinary effectiveness.
But evangelical Christians aren't a "small" group looking out for their own narrow interests! They're a large group, committed to Israel for ideological reasons: because the Bible tells them so!

Posted by: Ragout | Oct 7, 2007 9:12:24 PM

Very informative review by Haggai at American Footprints.

Posted by: rilkefan | Oct 8, 2007 4:29:56 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.