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Jewish World Review
March 23, 2006
/ 23 Adar, 5766
Harvard attack on Israel lobby is actually a targeting of American public
Ruth R. Wisse
A Cambridge luminary fires back
In Boston in the early 1980s, I was asked by an Irish cab driver what language I had been speaking with a
fellow passenger we had just dropped off. When I told him, Hebrew, the language of Israel, the man
exclaimed: "Israel! That's America's fighting front line! Israel fights our battles better than we could fight
Now Professors Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and John Mearsheimer of the
University of Chicago would have us believe that the Boston cabbie was a dupe of the "unmatched power
of the Israel Lobby." Their essay in the latest London Review of Books based on a longer working
paper on the Kennedy Center Web site contends that the U.S. government and most of its citizens are
fatally in thrall to a "coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign
policy in a pro-Israel direction." Though not all members of said "coalition" are Jews, and though not all
Jews are members, the major schemers are such key organizations as the America-Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, joined by
neoconservatives, think tanks, and a large network of accomplices including (they will learn to their
surprise) The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.
The thesis of Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer is remarkably broad and singleminded: A loose association
of special-interest groups has persuaded the country to sacrifice its interests to a foreign power, thereby
jeopardizing "not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world." Israel, it is claimed, hurts
every facet of American life: U.S. emergency aid to Israel during the War of 1973 triggered a damaging
OPEC oil embargo. Israel is a liability in the war on terror: It goaded the U.S. into the war in Iraq, betrays
America through espionage, and destroys American democracy by quashing all criticism. Recently the
Israel Lobby a term the authors render with a sinister capital "L" has begun to intimidate the
universities by trying to create a field of Israel Studies and monitoring anti-Israel bias.
Were it not for the Lobby, the U.S. would have nothing to fear in the world, not even a nuclear threat from
Iran: "If Washington could live with a nuclear Soviet Union, a nuclear China or even a nuclear North
Korea, it can live with a nuclear Iran. And that is why the Lobby must keep up constant pressure on
politicians to confront Tehran." Not Iran but the Lobby is the true threat to America's security by trying to
compel the U.S. to oppose Iran against its interests. Most dangerously, Jews control the man at the top: In
the spring of 2002 "[Ariel] Sharon and the Lobby took on the president of the United States and
triumphed." Given the creative scope of these charges, one is surprised to find no hint of Israel's role in
the spread of avian flu.
Organized as a prosecutorial indictment rather than an inquiry, the essay does not tell us why the "Israel
Lobby" should have formed in the first place. The 21 countries of the Arab League with ties to 1.2 billion
Muslims world-wide are nowhere present as active political agents. There is no mention of the Arab
rejection of the United Nations's partition of Palestine in 1948; no 58-year Arab League boycott of Israel
and companies trading with Israel; no Arab attacks of 1948, 1967 and 1973; no Arab-Soviet resolution at
the U.N. defining Zionism as racism; no monetary and strategic support for Arab terrorism against Jews
and Israel; and no Hamas dedication to destroying the Jewish state. The authors do not ask why Arab
aggression and Muslim "rage against Israel" should have morphed into a war against the U.S. and the
West. Israel's existence elicits Arab and Muslim hostility, hence in their view Israel is to blame for Arab
and Muslim carnage.
Judging from the initial reaction to their article (one of my students called it "wacko quacko"), the two
professors may be subjected to more ridicule than rejoinder. Several Web sites are in the process of listing
all their bloopers, distortions and omissions. Their tone resembles nothing so much as Wilhelm Marr's
1879 pamphlet, "The Victory of Judaism over Germandom," which declared of the Jews that "There is no
stopping them . . . German culture has proved itself ineffective and powerless against this foreign power.
This is a fact; a brute inexorable fact." A parallel edition of these two texts might highlight some American
refinements on the European model, such as the anti-Semitic lie that "Israeli citizenship is based on the
principle of blood kinship." In fact, unlike neighboring Arab countries, Israeli citizenship is not conditional
on religion or race.
Yet it would be a mistake to treat this article on the "Israel Lobby" as an attack on Israel alone, or on its
Jewish defenders, or on the organizations and individuals it singles out for condemnation. Its true target is
the American public, which now supports Israel with higher levels of confidence than ever before. When
the authors imply that the bipartisan support of Israel in Congress is a result of Jewish influence, they
function as classic conspiracy theorists who attribute decisions to nefarious alliances rather than to the
choices of a democratic electorate. Their contempt for fellow citizens dictates their claims of a gullible and
stupid America. Their insistence that American support for Israel is bought and paid for by the Lobby
heaps scorn on American judgment and values.
No wonder David Duke, white supremacist and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, claimed that this
article "validated every major point I have been making since even before the [Iraq] war started." But he
and Walt-Mearsheimer have it backwards: Americans don't support Israel because of the strength of any
lobby; Israel earns American support the hard way, for the very reasons the Boston cabbie cited several
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JWR contributor Ruth R. Wisse is the Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature and professor of comparative literature at
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© 2006, Ruth R. Wisse