One of the most controversial academic-oriented articles to arrive in the past decade is “THE ISRAEL LOBBY AND U.S. FOREIGN POLICY” by John J. Mearsheimer (U Chicago) and Stephen M. Walt (Harvard). The article was originally published in the London Review of Books and very soon after appeared as a web-based working paper for the JF Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
The Israel Lobby thesis is simple. U.S. support for Israel goes against U.S. national security interests, yet the U.S. continues to support Israel. According to the authors, “Why has the United States been willing to set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of another state?”
Mearsheimer and Walt (hereafter M&W) argue that it is all due to a highly powerful Israel Lobby, led by American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Somehow, M&W argue, AIPAC has managed to convince the majority of the members of Congress to move in lock-step with AIPAC on all matters related to Israel and foreign policy in the Middle East, even though these interests run against and, at times, even threaten, U.S. national security interests.
M&W then set out to convince the reader that, “…the facts recounted here are not in serious dispute among scholars… Readers may reject our conclusions, of course, but the evidence on which they rest is not controversial.”
If you’ve never heard of this article, you’re not alone. Much of the mainstream media has ignored it. However, an article by Michael Massing of the New York Review of Books entitled, “The Storm over the Israel Lobby,” discusses the article, bringing it further into the mainstream than it has before.
In the NYRB, Massing summarizes the article:
“The result [of the Israel Lobby is that it] has turned the US into an “enabler” of Israeli expansion in the occupied territories, “making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians.” Pressure from AIPAC and Israel was also a “critical element” in the US decision to invade Iraq, they write, arguing that the war “was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure…the lobby has created a climate in which anyone who calls attention to its power is deemed anti-Semitic, a device designed to stifle discussion “by intimidation.”
Massing also summarizes the critiques against the Israel Lobby argument:
“Such points have been made before, but rarely by such hardheaded members of the academic establishment. And the response has been furious. Leading the way has been The New York Sun, whose lead story of March 20 was headed “David Duke Claims to Be Vindicated by a Harvard Dean.” Duke, the white supremacist, was quoted as calling the paper “excellent” and a “great step forward.”…
David Gergen of US News & World Report expressed shock at the professors’ charges, writing that they were “wildly at variance with what I have personally witnessed in the Oval Office” while serving four presidents. “I never once saw a decision in the Oval Office to tilt US foreign policy in favor of Israel at the expense of America’s interest.”
No one, however, was more vociferous than Alan Dershowitz. A professor of law at Harvard and the author of The Case for Israel, Dershowitz was quoted in the Sun as claiming he had proof that the authors had gotten some of their information from neo-Nazi Web sites… Dershowitz went on to note that the implication of the paper?that American Jews put the interests of Israel before those of America?”raises the ugly specter of ‘dual loyalty,’ a canard that has haunted Diaspora Jews from time immemorial.” He ended by challenging Mearsheimer and Walt to a debate.”
After critiquing M&W’s argument on various grounds, Massing then sets out to vindicate the argument using research of his own:
“Through [primary] sources, it’s possible to show that, on their central point?the power of the Israel lobby and the negative effect it has had on US policy?Mearsheimer and Walt are entirely correct.”
Massing of the NYRB spends roughly half of the article presenting his evidence. Massing argues that, ?Despite its many flaws, their essay has performed a very useful service in forcing into the open a subject that has for too long remained taboo.?
However, I will show that Massing?s argument does not manage to rise above the specious, ignorant, and unscholarly dreck that M&W produced. In summary, even Massing?s best evidence goes against what he claims and the article is filled with the sort of errors a freshman political science major would make.
In part 3 of Massing?s article, Massing claims that AIPAC is run by the richest four of its 50 member board. However, he never considers whether there are any built-in organizational structures or rules that prohibit such cabalism. For example, in many organizations, the CEO cannot do as they please; there are rules as to how decisions are made and what kind of decisions are dependent on a majority vote by the stock holders or board of directors. No such discussion is present here.
Massing then argues that candidates running for Congress could face monetary sanctions to their election campaign if they go against AIPAC. As evidence, Massing starts by picking two African-Americans who have run for office, Representatives Cynthia McKinney of Georgia and Earl Hilliard of Alabama. Not caring whether this is a representative sample of even African American candidates, Massing argues that both lost elections because of their opposition to AIPAC. Yet, McKinney managed to win election two years later, meaning that 50% of his two person sample fought against AIPAC and won. Massing then picks three more members of Congress who were critical of AIPAC interests who ?suffered? because of it. Two of these members of Congress won their election anyway. Massing also argues that another politician went against AIPAC, and lost. Yet, there is no discussion of dozens of other, more plausible factors that could have led to that person?s electoral loss. Since this person went against AIPAC, and since the article is supposedly about how you can?t win if you go against AIPAC, Massing wants you to assume that all other factors don?t matter.
Massing then spends five paragraphs on how AIPAC wanted to have the U.S. embassy in Israel moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, because they thought that keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv is tantamount to placating the Arabs. Despite pressuring members of Congress and two Presidents (Clinton and Bush II), AIPAC was unable to get the embassy move. Once again, the all-powerful AIPAC lobby lost.
This is Massing?s best evidence. Yet, as Massing presents each of these as examples of AIPAC?s power, AIPAC continues to lose. Massing even quotes a former AIPAC employee, who says: ?I don’t think they can defeat a member of Congress, not even in New York?? The person quotes goes on to say that Congressional staffers are more likely to be fired for opposing AIPAC, but this is anecdotal evidence with not one hint of quantitative evidence.
Despite the lack of evidence, Massing argues that due to AIPAC?s power, members of Congress will vote for AIPAC policies. How do we know if it?s AIPAC or if their roll-call votes are due to the members of Congress? own ideology? Perhaps they seek out AIPAC, rather than vice-versa, because they know there?s some campaign money in it?
This is precisely what the social science evidence points to. Even though AIPAC is not a PAC, it influences PACs indirectly. According to a University of Washington sociologist, Paul Burstein, who analyzed data on PAC money and roll-call votes, found that there is little relationship between the two. Predictably, political ideology in the form of the ?party line? was far more important. Thus roll-call votes are party driven rather than PAC driven.
Massing then tries to tie together a network of neoconservative members of the media and Congress who have ties to AIPAC as evidence that the tendrils of this all-powerful lobby stretches beyond just Congress and into your living room. In reality, all Massing presents is a junior league attempt at elite network analysis without presenting any evidence of the strength of these ties and whether these ties have actually influenced any outcome.
In sum, not only does AIPAC seem to have little effect on Congress, the argument that AIPAC’s power threatens U.S. national security has no basis in reality.
Massing’s feeble attempt at sociological analysis provides nothing more than the pseudo-science of M&W and many other vast, Jewish conspiracy theorists.