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History of “Israel Lobby” Controversy Has “Proven Us Right,” Says Stephen Walt

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
December 2017

Ten years ago Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer published a controversial  
article and subsequent book concerning the impact of the “Israel lobby.”  
Writing in The Forward (Oct. 2, 2017), Walt, Professor of International  
Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School, notes that, “We argued that decades of  
unconditional support for Israel — the so-called ‘special relationship’ — is  
not explained by U.S. strategic interests or by shared values, as is often  
claimed, but is due primarily to the political efforts and activities of the  
lobby. The result, we argued, does more harm than good, to both the U.S. and  
In Walt’s view, “For the U.S., the ‘special relationship’ undermines  
America’s standing in the Arab and Islamic worlds … and contributes  
significantly both to America’s terrorism problem and to needless and costly  
debacles like the 2003 invasion of Iraq. For Israel, unquestioning U.S.  
support for almost all its actions has allowed the decades-long subjugation  
of the Palestinians to continue unchecked, undermining the Israeli-  
Palestinian peace process and threatening Israel’s future as a democratic  
and/or Jewish state.”  
The article and the book predicted that it would face much criticism, which,  
Walt reports, included “more than a few accusations that we are anti-Israel  
or anti-Semitic. Nothing could be further from the truth.”  
The past decade, Walt argues, “provide ample evidence that our core argument  
is still correct. Nevertheless, shifts inside the pro-Israel community and  
in Israel itself may yet lead to positive shifts in U.S. Middle East policy  
and to a healthier relationship between the two countries … The clearest  
illustration of the lobby’s enduring power … is the Obama administration’s  
failure to make any progress in settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  
President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry were strong supporters of  
Israel and both believe a two-state solution is, as Obama put it, ‘in  
Israel’s interest, Palestinians’ interest, America’s interest and the  
world’s interest.’ But even with backing from pro-Israel, pro-peace  
organizations such as J Street, their efforts to achieve ‘two states for two  
peoples’ were rebuffed by Israel, working hand in hand with AIPAC and other  
hard-line groups. So, instead of seriously pursuing peace, Israel expanded  
its settlements … making it more difficult than ever to create a viable  
Palestinian state.”  
The two-state solution, which the U.S. has long sought and Prime Minister  
Netanyahu has long opposed, is, Walt believes, “now farther away than ever.”  
Still, he points out, “Despite the lobby’s continuing influence … there is a  
more open discussion of Israel-related issues today than there was before we  
wrote the book … The ability to speak more openly about Israel is likely to  
diminish the lobby’s impact on U.S. foreign policy in the future … Despite  
joining forces with Netanyahu to oppose the Iran deal, AIPAC was unable to  
convince Congress to reject the agreement … Furthermore, the taboo of  
publicly criticizing Israel … has been broken. In recent years, writers such  
as Peter Beinart, John Judis, Dan Fleshier and others have written important  
works examining the role of pro-Israel groups in American politics and  
criticizing their impact on U.S. foreign policy. Prominent journalists such  
as Thomas Friedman, Andrew Sullivan and Roger Cohen have penned their own  
criticisms of Israel’s policies and the lobby’s activities.”  
Walt also points to “a growing divide within the American Jewish community.  
The creation of the pro-peace lobby J Street and the rapid growth of  
progressive groups like Jewish Voice for Peace and the success of  
controversial online journals critical of Zionism, such as Mondoweiss, show  
that attitudes about Israel are more complicated than in the past. Reflexive  
support for whatever Israel does is no longer the default condition for many  
American Jews. The vast majority of American Jews remain deeply committed to  
liberal values, while Israel has been moving away from them for many years  
The future, Walt concludes, may be conducive to positive change: “… the  
fissures within the lobby and in the American Jewish community more broadly,  
are likely to widen. If the balance of power in that community shifts in  
favor of more moderate and pro-peace groups, then there may be a glimmer of  
hope … Political pressure from a powerful pro-Israel and pro-peace lobby …  
is probably the only development that would convince U.S. leaders to act as  
fair-minded mediators and persuade the Israeli government to grant the  
Palestinians a viable state of their own.”  
Discussing AIPAC’s many varied activities, The Forward (Oct. 24, 2017)  
carried an article with the headline, “Did AIPAC Secretly Write Your Rabbi’s  
It notes that, “Each week AIPAC sends out two prewritten sermons to rabbis  
across the U.S. pushing AIPAC’s legislative agenda. Each week AIPAC reminds  
rabbis that they shouldn’t tell congregants where they get the pre-written  
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of the rabbinical human rights group  
T’ruah , said: “You would think that if there’s an idea they would want to  
get in the world they would be proud of it."  
One recent sermon, distributed Oct. 9, used the biblical story of Cain’s  
murder of Abel, related in that week’s Torah portion, to discuss an AIPAC-  
backed bill calling for increased sanctions on Hezbollah. An Aug. 14 sermon  
connected to Moses an argument for increased foreign aid to Israel. •

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