Monday, August 27, 2007

The Israel Lobby Again

From David Remnick's article The Lobby in The New Yorker:

Last year, two distinguished political scientists, John J. Mearsheimer, of the University of Chicago, and Stephen M. Walt, of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, at Harvard, published a thirty-four-thousand-word article online entitled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” a shorter version of which appeared in The London Review of Books. Israel, they wrote, has become a “strategic liability” for the United States but retains its strong support because of a wealthy, well-organized, and bewitching lobby that has a “stranglehold” on Congress and American élites. Moreover, Israel and its lobby bear outsized responsibility for persuading the Bush Administration to invade Iraq and, perhaps one day soon, to attack the nuclear facilities of Iran. Farrar, Straus & Giroux will publish a book-length version of Mearsheimer and Walt’s arguments on September 4th

Remnick's short article is essentially an attack masquerading as a review. Reminick ignores most of the aspects of M&W that I found most interesting, for example:

Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing the amounts provided to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct U.S. economic and military assistance since 1976 and the largest total recipient since World War II. Total direct U.S. aid to Israel amounts to well over $140 billion in 2003 dollars.2 Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance each year, which is roughly one‐fifth of America’s foreign aid budget. In per capita terms, the United States gives each Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year.3 This largesse is especially striking when one realizes that Israel is now a wealthy industrial state with a per capita income roughly equal to South Korea or Spain.

Instead, Remnick attacks them for picking on Israel:

It’s a narrative that recounts every lurid report of Israeli cruelty as indisputable fact but leaves out the rise of Fatah and Palestinian terrorism before 1967; the Munich Olympics; Black September; myriad cases of suicide bombings; and other spectaculars. The narrative rightly points out the destructiveness of the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and America’s reluctance to do much to curtail them, but there is scant mention of Palestinian violence or diplomatic bungling, only a recitation of the claim that, in 2000, Israel offered “a disarmed set of Bantustans under de-facto Israeli control.”

A damning critique, but it doesn't describe the article Mearsheimer and Walt wrote and that I have now read. In fact they do detail at some length various crimes committed in Israel's name, but explicitly note the many parallel crimes in the names of the Palestinians. One facet of their argument is that the "moral superiority" claimed for the Israelis is exaggerated. From M&W:

There is no question that Jews suffered greatly from the despicable legacy of anti‐Semitism, and that Israel’s creation was an appropriate response to a long record of crimes. This history, as noted, provides a strong moral case for supporting Israel’s existence. But the creation of Israel involved additional crimes against a largely innocent third party: the Palestinians.

The history of these events is well‐understood. When political Zionism began in earnest in the late 19th century, there were only about 15,000 Jews in Palestine.29 In 1893, for example, the Arabs comprised roughly 95 percent of the population, and though under Ottoman control, they had been in continuous possession of this territory for 1300 years.30 Even when Israel was founded, Jews were only about 35 percent of Palestine’s population and owned 7 percent of the land.

If Justice were the motivator, Europe and the US would have agreed to give the Jews Bavaria, say, or maybe Austria. The perpetrators should be the ones held accountable.

Israel's tactics were hardly gentle:

To achieve this goal, the Zionists had to expel large numbers of Arabs from the territory that would eventually become Israel. There was simply no other way to accomplish their objective. Ben‐Gurion saw the problem clearly, writing in 1941 that “it is impossible to imagine general evacuation [of the Arab population] without compulsion, and brutal compulsion.”33 Or as Israeli historian Benny Morris puts it, “the idea of transfer is as old as modern Zionism and has accompanied its evolution and praxis during the past century.”34
This opportunity came in 1947‐48, when Jewish forces drove up to 700,000 Palestinians into exile.35 Israeli officials have long claimed that the Arabs fled because their leaders told them to, but careful scholarship (much of it by Israeli historians like Morris) have demolished this myth. In fact, most Arab leaders urged the Palestinian population to stay home, but fear of violent death at the hands of Zionist forces led most of them to flee.36 After the war, Israel barred the return of the Palestinian exiles.

The past, of course, is the past, and cannot be undone. M&S concede that Israel has a right to exist, however illegitimately it came into being - it could hardly be more illegitimate than all the other nations built on genocide, like, for example, the US. M&S do argue that Israel's special place in the hearts of American politicians is not deserved by its history, value as an ally, or for any services it has rendered us. Arguably, it has been a very undependable ally, taking our money, spying on us, selling our military secrets to China and Russia, and compromising our relations with a whole set of states vital to US interests.

It's a long detailed argument. The Israel Lobby doesn't like it, but Americans ought to hear it. The American people have an astonishing naivete about Israel, a naivete carefully nurtured by Israel and its partisans. It is potentially a very costly naivete.

UPDATE: A Dissenting View

The Jewish Daily Forward, a progressive publication, disagrees: here.

I found myself unconvinced.