The Israel Lobby by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt is certainly a controversial book, and as such, it is one I planned on reading since I heard about it. Similarly to The Bell Curve, its authors’ commitment to truth in the face of adversity and public-shaming is inspirational and made it a book I really wanted to read.
Well, I finally had time to do so this past week and I was not disappointed. The Israel Lobby is a book that many conservatives and liberals love to hate; in it, Mearsheimer and Walt call out Israel’s conduct, Palestine’s conduct, the lobbying and blackmail efforts of AIPAC, the willingness of politicians to take campaign contributions from the Israel lobby, and many other dark aspects of our political system and foreign policy in regards to Israel.
But, it’s certainly not an anti-Semitic book, just as The Bell Curve wasn’t a racist book. Rather, it’s an educational but controversial work that every single one of you should read. You’ll learn a lot about how lobbying and campaign contributions have eroded our foreign image and led to disastrous and expensive foreign policy blunders.
Summary of The Israel Lobby
While somewhat chronological, The Israel Lobby isn’t really a beginning to end story that charts Israel’s influence in the US, as you might imagine it would be.
Instead, Mearsheimer and Walt use each chapter to describe a specific way in which the Israel lobby has influenced US policy decisions or has gained influence in Washington.
The book, when discussing foreign policy, charts everything from Israel’s 1948 founding to its current attempts to push us into a war with Iran. The authors describe in intense and anger-inducing detail how a cadre of lobbyists, flows of campaign donations to specific candidates, and baseless accusations of Antisemitism have caused the US to make some of it’s worst policy decisions in the Middle East.
The First and Second Intifadas, the invasion of Iraq, Israel’s 2006 war with Hezbollah, and many other conflicts in the Middle East are all brought up as examples as to how US policy has been shaped by the Israel lobby.
While the authors certainly condemn some of the decisions that have been made because of pressure from what they term the Israel lobby (which is a collection of individuals with lots of money to donate to campaigns, fanatical Christian zionists, and pro-Israel lobbyists and government affairs specialists in DC), they take pains to point out that what that lobby is doing is perfectly legal and constitutional. That distinction helps make it clear that The Israel Lobby is more meant to show the public what is really going on and present an alternative viewpoint, rather than do away with the lobby entirely.
Additionally, the authors show why Israel is undeserving of US support. For one, it’s an economically successful country. So, we have no business at all sending them free money for economic development; Israel is already developed. Also, and perhaps more importantly, Israel is no longer an important strategic partner for the US.
Why is that? A number of reasons. The first is that the cold war with Russia is over. We no longer need a client state to balance out and monitor Soviet clients. Similarly, Israel has little current strategic value for the US. We can’t partner with it to fight wars because then no Arab state would partner with us, its treatment of Palestine causes resentment that leads to more terror, and Arab states can provide more intelligence and anti-terror fighting power than Israel can when we’re fighting in nations like Iraq. Finally, as to that point, Israel isn’t a good client state. It often does what it wants to rather than submitting to US interests and only goes along with what we, its benefactor, want if it absolutely has to.
Finally, the authors make what is perhaps their most controversial point when they state that Israel is not morally worth the US’s support. It massacres Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, attacks civilian infrastructure, and has created an apartheid-like state for Arabs in Israel.
While we have certainly partnered with nations like that in the past (and present, I suppose), that was always out of strategic necessity and was never framed as a moral responsibility. But for some reason our relationship is. In the past, when Israel’s survival as a state was threatened, maybe that was true. Now, especially in light of its war crimes, that thesis is dubious at best.
Analysis of The Israel Lobby
I thought that The Israel Lobby was absolutely fascinating to read. Yes, I disagreed with some of its authors’ conclusions, but overall it thought it was a great book.
My personal view is something of a middle ground on the subject.
On one hand, I think (as do Mearsheimer and Walt) that America needs to stay as uninvolved in boots on the ground wars in the Middle East as much as possible. The era of American interventionism ushered in by Bush and the neoconservatives has created misery for everyone involved and left the sour taste of resentment in the mouths of almost every Arab who interacted with us in those fights.
Furthermore, the very nature of many of the battles we fight and have fought in what author Robert Fisk termed “The Great War for Civilization” are antithetical to American values and certainly are battles fought while “fighting for freedom.” So, it would make sense for us to leave those battles for democracy in the Middle East behind us and instead focus on simply keeping the region stable.
That focus on regional stability would mean that we would need to back off our relationship with Israel. No, of course we wouldn’t have to sever ties with it entirely, but we would need to stop wholeheartedly endorsing every operation the Israelis carry out, no matter how indiscriminate or vile. While that would be difficult, it would be necessary and is our national obligation.
The only way we would be able to do such a thing is by blunting the Israel lobby’s influence on American politics. The authors propose doing that through campaign finance reform. I, however, think that the proper way to do it is to encourage more Americans to speak out against our imbalanced policy towards Israel. If more politicians hear what their constituents have to say, perhaps they would be more reticent to unconditionally support it. Even better, that public outcry might have forced otherwise great leaders to address the folly of our involvement in the Middle East. For example, McRaven should have done that in his book Make Your Bed.
That being said, I wasn’t in complete agreement with the authors. They paint Israel as a state that if not evil, certainly isn’t better than its contemporaries. I could not disagree more with that statement. While far from perfect, Israel is a more or less stable Democracy that mostly lives up to Western values. Sure, it could improve some, but most of the wars it fights it only fights because it needs to. Also, its citizens don’t push homosexuals off rooftops or stone their sisters to death for being raped. Only the “religion of peace” does that. Consequently, in the grand scheme of things, Isreal isn’t that bad, even if it encourages us to unnecessarily kill people like Qasem Soleimani every once in a while.
So, as I said earlier, I favor a somewhat middle of the road type path. On one hand, we should try to free ourselves from foreign interference of any kind in our foreign policy and domestic politics. That means being just as aware of Israeli influence as we are of Russian or Chinese influence. I also think it means we need to focus on the fights worth fighting, such as the new Cold War with China, rather than staying bogged down in the Middle East because Israeli lobbyists convince our leaders that there are no limits to Iran’s influence and that whatever Iran wants is very sinister.
At the same time, however, we shouldn’t stop supporting Israel entirely. It’s a stable democracy and mostly enforces Judeo-Christian values despite being surrounded by barbaric neighbors that seem to live in the Dark Ages. We should simply dial back our support and make it conditional on Israel acting in our interests and not acting in an evil manner towards the Palestinians.
This article doesn’t toe the Republican line and The Israel Lobby itself definitely wasn’t written by Republicans. But, it’s necessary to have a realistic view of the world and speak openly when others refuse to.
Hopefully, y’all agree and will give The Israel Lobby a shot. It’s controversial and may seem repulsive at first, but the more of it you read, the more objective it seems. It’s not Antisemitic or even anti-Israel; it’s just the truth. Try reading it. You won’t be disappointed.
By: Gen Z Conservative