William Pfaff

Koreaherald News
Tribune Media Services

PARIS - London`s Financial Times performed an American public service
in its weekend edition, calling editorially for open and honest
discussion of the influence of Israel on American foreign policy.

The call came amid the resounding silence in "responsible" American
circles concerning the paper recently issued by two highly regarded
political scholars, Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of
the University of Chicago, discussing the "Israeli lobby" in Washington
and its effect on American foreign relations.

So far as one can make out, in the mainstream American press,
only United Press International, the International Herald Tribune,
the Christian Science Monitor, the Wall Street Journal and the
Washington Post have carried articles on the paper. The IHT`s was
an opinion piece by Daniel Levy, a former advisor to Ehud Barak,
calling for open discussion of the lobby. The UPI and the Monitor
provided professionally detached news reports.

The other two papers carried attacks - in the case of the Washington
Post, two of them, both featuring the news that the totally
insignificant David Duke, a former head of the Ku Klux Klan, applauds
the Merscheimer-Walt paper. Duke is not a figure whose views are
ordinarily treated as being of national interest by the Post, and
the newspaper`s linking him to the Merscheimer-Wall document was an
act of character assassination by association, just like those that
won Sen. Joseph McCarthy infamy in the 1950s.

The document has not otherwise lacked attention. The blogosphere
is full of it, with both attacks on it and defenses and praise. The
authors themselves predicted that the mainstream media would ignore
or attack their argument, which is essentially that the influence
of Israel on American policy has distorted it to Israel`s advantage,
and sometimes to American disadvantage.

They say that Israel`s friends in the United States have succeeded in
convincing Americans that Israeli and American national interests are
inseparable, which they are not, and have tried and often succeeded
in suppressing or punishing critical discussion of the relationship.

What are very striking are the virulence as well as the volume of the
attacks being made on the authors. The Ku Klux Klan smear has been
the least of it. Their paper has been compared to Nazi propaganda
of the 1930s and to the czarist-era forgery, "The Protocols of the
Elders of Zion" (which still circulates in the Arab world).

In fact, Mearsheimer and Walt are recognized and respected political
scholars in the so-called realist tradition, which regards the defense
and promotion of the national interest of states as the chief purpose
of foreign policy. Their paper is a responsible document of public

The venom in the attacks made on it risks the opposite of its intended
effect by tending to validate the claim that intense pressures are
exercised on publishers, editors, writers and American universities
to block criticism, intimidate critics and prevent serious discussion
of the American-Israeli relationship.

In Israel itself, there has for many years been frank, cool and
reasoned discussion of the subject. Leading figures, including retired
officers and intelligence officials, as well as peace activists,
have in the past warned that the actions of Israel`s friends in
America could eventually rebound against Israel itself, with harm to
Jews elsewhere.

Some also have noted that the leading U.S. lobby group, the American
Israel Public Affairs Committee, is further to the right in its views
than Israeli public opinion, and has interfered in Israeli politics
through support for the Likud party and by undermining Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin.

The note of panic in some of the attacks on Mearsheimer and Walt
contrasts with the fact that what they say is no secret in American
foreign policy circles. People have for years taken for granted the
informal censorship, or self-censorship, exercised in the government
and the press on this issue.

It is a fact of democratic life in the United States that determined
interest groups annex their own spheres of federal policy. Energy
policy is run by the oil companies, and trade policy by manufacturers,
exporters and importers, with an input from Wall Street.

U.S. Cuba policy is decided by the Cuban lobby in Florida, and policy
on Armenia by Americans of Armenian descent. The Middle East, or at
least its part of it, belongs to Israel.

However, in the Israeli case, the lobbying effort is linked to a
foreign government, even if the lobbyists sometimes take a policy
line not that of the government. Moreover, the lobbying involves
issues of war and peace.

President George W. Bush said a few days ago that, in connection with
the supposed threat of Iran, his concern is to protect Israel.

Critics ask why Israel should not protect itself. The same has been
asked about Iraq.

In this respect, the controversy over the Israeli lobby is potentially
explosive. This is why denials, secrecy and efforts at intimidation are
dangerous. David Levy is right when he says that Israel itself would
be served "if the open and critical debate that takes place over here
(in Israel) were exported over there," meaning the United States.