Israel Lobby And Beyond
By Michael Neumann
05 April, 2006
Professors Walt and Mearsheimer's
"The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" is an important
contribution to the Israel/Palestine debate. It's too bad the important
stuff got lost in the melodrama.
The melodrama is about the
Israel lobby, aka the 'Jewish lobby'. One whiff of Jewish conspiracy
theory, and squads of columnists march off to fight the Nazis lurking
in academia. But at a bit of a distance, it's hard to see why tales
of the lobby are so fascinating.
Various self-styled Jewish
organizations and pro-Israel outfits, like so many political pressure
groups, brag about their success. No one suggests they're lying. Exactly
how much influence do they have over US policy? To what extent are they
responsible for getting the US into Iraq?
We have no idea. US policy-making
is a complicated business. Some of it is secret. People's motives and
thought processes are often hidden. And to what extent are the lobbyists
pushing decision-makers down a path they already want to go?
I don't even find these questions
What really matters is whether
support for Israel serves US interests. If it does, why on earth would
we care about a pro-Israel lobby? If it doesn't, then the lobby is a
bad thing even if it didn't conspire to get us into Iraq.
Walt and Mearsheimer are
among the very few to address this important question head-on. They
say: "Israel is in fact a liability in the war on terror and the
broader effort to deal with rogue states." They argue forcefully
for their claim. They also bear some of the blame for failing to get
this message across, because this material doesn't deserve the second-billing
they gave it.
Not that the message should
need much getting across; it really is a no-brainer. No doubt the US
is very concerned about Middle East oil; it's often suggested that this
is America's main interest in the region. Well, how is that interest
served by cozying up to the one country in the area that all its oil-producers
love to hate? Some pundits tell us, with an air of sagacity, that Israel
is useful for controlling the oil, and suggest the Big Oil Companies
benefit from the arrangement. But how exactly does Israel help control
Israel would have to shove
through Syria or Lebanon or Jordan to get near any oil. That would cause
a major conflagration and - guess what - destroy enormous amounts of
oil-producing capacity. Besides, the US doesn't need Israel to control
the oil. The US could occupy any oilfield in the Middle East all on
its own, without Israeli help.
Not that anyone needs to
occupy any oilfields. Every country in the Middle East is quite happy
to sell the US oil. Saddam Hussein had no problem with the idea, and
it's we who won't buy oil from Iran, not the Iranians who won't sell
it to us. If it ever were necessary to place military pressure on Middle
Eastern countries, the US could sit in the Persian Gulf and astride
the pipelines out of the oil producing regions to control the flow of
that oil completely. So no, Israel isn't exactly keeping our SUVs on
the road for us.
Why then does the US support
Israel? Here I do tend to disagree with Walt and Mearsheimer. Maybe
the influence of the Israel lobby is the only logical explanation, but
that doesn't mean the explanation is right. Nations do not always behave
The US alliance with Israel
grew out of 1950s Cold War politics. America supported Egypt against
England, France, and Israel in 1956. But when Nasser started buying
arms from the Soviet bloc, things changed. The United States, obsessed
with visions of a communist Middle East, felt the need for an ally and
a base of operations from which it could intimidate the countries it
most suspected of veering towards the Soviet camp: Egypt and Syria.
The more Israel's military capabilities improved, the more valuable
an ally it appeared to be.
With the end of the Cold
War, the rationale for this alliance ceased to exist, but the alliance
did not. There is a great deal in the government and conduct of nations
that runs on inertia, and the US is no exception in this respect. Just
as it has taken decades for European nations to outgrow their sentimental
attachment to the Americans who defeated Hitler, so it is taking decades
for Americans to outgrow their sentimental attachment to Israel, its
ally in the fight against communism.
Maybe I'm wrong and Walt
and Mearsheimer are right; it really doesn't matter. What matters is
that the US no longer has any reason to support Israel, and huge reason
not to. Just imagine if the US stopped backing Israel and gave even
moderate support to the Palestinians. Suddenly Islam and America would
be on the same side. The war on terror would become a cakewalk. The
credibility of American democracy would skyrocket in the Middle East.
And it would all be a hell of a lot cheaper. This seems a tad more important
than which Jewish neocon said what to whom.
Professor Joseph Massad ("Blaming
the lobby", 23 - 29 March 2006) makes a reasonable
case that the influence of the
Israel lobby on US policy has been exaggerated. However his explanation
of what drives U.S. support for Israel is less successful, and promotes
an interpretation extremely detrimental to the Palestinian cause.
Professor Massad asserts
"The United States
is opposed in the Arab world as elsewhere because it has pursued and
continues to pursue policies that are inimical to the interests of most
people in these countries and are only beneficial to its own interests
and to the minority regimes in the region that serve those interests,
including Israel. "
One could say of such interpretations
exactly what Professor Massad says of interpretations blaming the Israel
lobby: "...the problem with most of them is what remains unarticulated".
What are those policies, and why does the US pursue them? Massad seems
to refer to his earlier remark that "The United States has had
a consistent policy since World War II of fighting all regimes across
the Third World who insist on controlling their national resources,
whether it be land, oil, or other valuable minerals. This extends from
Iran in 1953 to Guatemala in 1954 to the rest of Latin America all the
way to present-day Venezuela."
But this hardly explains
current US policy in the Middle East. Middle Eastern regimes are not,
properly speaking, Third World, and it is not the case that the United
States has consistently fought Middle Eastern regimes that insist on
controlling their resources.
On the contrary, the US has
excellent relations with the oil-rich Gulf State nations, and these
nations have throughout their history insisted, with increasing emphasis,
on such control.
The same can be said of US
oil companies, who quite obviously prefer cooperation to military force
when it comes to operating in the Middle East. They have stuck to this
preference even when it meant considerable reduction of their profits.
For similar reasons, the
really large US oil companies did not support the invasion of Iraq:
leading oil economists such as Daniel Yergin and Fareed Mohamedi to
provide convincing arguments for this view. So Professor Massad's explanation
will not do.
is a professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, Canada.
Professor Neumann's views are not to be taken as those of his university.
His book What's
Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche has just
been republished by Broadview Press. He contributed the essay, "What
is Anti-Semitism", to CounterPunch's book, The
Politics of Anti-Semitism. This essay is excerpted from
Neumann's new book, The
Case Against Israel. He can be reached at: .email@example.com.