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Israeli media condemn, discuss report on US-Israel ties
Some say Harvard report 'riddled with factual errors,' others call it important 'wake-up call.'
By Tom Regan | csmonitor.com
While mainstream media in the United States have been largely silent, media in Israel, and Jewish-community media in the United States, have been reporting on, and discussing a paper by two prominent political scientists who argue that the US's current relationship with Israel is not good for US security. John J. Mearsheimer, a professor of political science and a co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago, and Stephen M. Walt, academic dean of the Kennedy School, also allege that the Israeli lobby in the US, particularly the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has helped exaggerate the importance of making the protection of Israel a key part of US foreign policy.
While much of the Israeli coverage has been very critical, some local commentators have argued that the paper, while flawed, is a wake-up call for both Israel and the US, and that avoiding a discussion of the relationship will neither advance Israeli interests nor improve the US-Israel relationship.
The New York Jewish weekly Forward writes that Jewish organizations in the US, while furious over the paper, are "holding fire in order to avoid generating publicity for their critics." American pro-Israel activists are also fuming, but have also decided to work behind the scenes to counteract the report.
"The truth is that this really wouldn't be worth spending any time discussing if not for the fact of where these people are located and what their reputations are," said Ken Jacobson, associate national director of the Anti-Defamation League. He pointed out that the paper contains no new revelations or insights, is riddled with factual errors and makes arguments that the ADL is accustomed to dealing with from extremists on the margins of America's political arena. Jacobson said that he had prepared a rebuttal to the study, but for the time being it is only being used for internal ADL purposes.
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Study alleges US sets aside own security interest for Israel's
The Jewish Weekly of New York reports that Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, is concerned that the report will promote the claim that "Jewish and pro-Israel groups played a major role in pressing for the Iraq war in 2003."
“We have always been concerned that those opposed to the war have tried to portray it as a Jewish war, an Israeli war,” Foxman said. “Our concern has been that if the war went badly, and there was more public disillusionment, these kinds of conspiracy theories could resurface and grow.” That, he said, is “exactly what’s happening now” as the Harvard report races around the world on antiwar and anti-Israel Web sites.
“The charge isn’t new,” said Martin Raffel, associate director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “But this is Harvard and the University of Chicago we’re talking about; it’s the credibility of the writers. Twenty years from now, when academics are studying these issues, they will go back to these sources. It becomes part of the canon.”
The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday that Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a prominent supporter of Israel who was mentioned in the study as an "apologist" for Israel, told the Post that the study has to be countered because "these are two serious scholars and you need to expose what they have done as ignorant propaganda."
Dershowitz, who is now working on a paper which will refute the claims in the Walt-Mearsheimer article, argues that there is no original material in it and that "the challenge is to find a single idea in the piece that does not already appear in hate websites. There is no scholarship here what so ever."
Daniel Levy, however, writing in the Israeli paper Ha'aretz, says that the Walt-Mearsheimer paper "should serve as a wake-up call, on both sides of the ocean." Mr. Levy, a former adviser in the Israeli prime minister's office, a member of the official Israeli negotiating team at the Oslo Accords and Taba talks, and the lead Israeli drafter of the 2003 Geneva Initiative, says the paper is flawed in some ways – it gives too much credence to the idea of AIPAC's power in Washington, and ignores moments when the US has taken a different opinion than the Israeli government. And he says that it "ignores AIPAC run-ins with more dovish Israeli administrations, most notably when it undermined Yitzhak Rabin, and how excessive hawkishness is often out of step with mainstream American Jewish opinion, turning many, especially young American Jews, away from taking any interest in Israel."
But Levy also says Walt's and Mearsheimer's case is a potent one.
... that identification of American with Israeli interests can be principally explained via the impact of the Lobby in Washington, and in limiting the parameters of public debate, rather than by virtue of Israel being a vital strategic asset or having a uniquely compelling moral case for support (beyond, as the authors point out, the right to exist, which is anyway not in jeopardy). The study is at its most devastating when it describes how the Lobby "stifles debate by intimidation" and at its most current when it details how America's interests (and ultimately Israel's, too) are ill-served by following the Lobby's agenda.
The bottom line might read as follows: that defending the occupation [of land originally captured by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967] has done to the American pro-Israel community what living as an occupier has done to Israel – muddied both its moral compass and its rational self-interest compass.
In an editorial, Ha'aretz also calls for a debate on the paper, saying that even with its flaws, "it would be irresponsible to ignore the article's serious and disturbing message."
The conclusion that Israel can draw from the anti-Israel feeling expressed in the article is that it will not be immune for eternity. America's unhesitating support for Israel and its willingness to restrain itself over all of Israel's mistakes can be interpreted as conflicting with America's essential interests and are liable to prove burdensome. The fact that Israelis view the United States' support for and tremendous assistance to Israel as natural causes excess complacence, and it fails to take into account currents in public opinion that run deep and are liable to completely change American policy.
In an interview published Friday with Forward, Prof. John Mearsheimer alleges that the pro-Israel lobby is so powerful that he and Stephen Walt would never have been able to find an American publisher for their paper.
"I do not believe that we could have gotten it published in the United States," Mearsheimer told the Forward. He said that the paper was originally commissioned in the fall of 2002 by one of America's leading magazines, "but the publishers told us that it was virtually impossible to get the piece published in the United States." Most scholars, policymakers and journalists know that "the whole subject of the Israel lobby and American foreign policy is a third-rail issue," he said. "Publishers understand that if they publish a piece like ours it would cause them all sorts of problems." ...
Asked if the study may have been initially rejected by the American publisher because of poor research, Mearsheimer said that the "evidence in the piece is just the tip of the iceberg," and that the study's observations are supported by a large body of evidence. He did concede, however, that none of the evidence represents original documentation or is derived from independent interviews. All the additional supporting material ― just like the references footnoted in the paper ― is of a secondary nature: citations of books and newspaper articles, Mearsheimer said.
Mr. Mearsheimer said that he and Mr. Walt expected to be accused of being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, so they made a point of writing in the paper that the establishment of Israel was "morally justified," and that in principle, America's support of Israel is also justified.
• Column One: The Jewish threat (Jerusalem Post)
• Evangelical have plans for a Christian-style AIPAC (Israpundit)
• Israelis want Aipac-backed bill softened (Forward)
• Suppression of witness names underlines battle in Aipac case (JTA Wire Service)
• Breaking the silence about Iraq (MSNBC)
• Feedback appreciated. E-mail Tom Regan.
Harvard distances itself from criticism of Israel lobby
By Shmuel Rosner
WASHINGTON - Harvard University has decided to remove its logo from a study that denounces the pro-Israel lobby's impact on American foreign policy, in order to distance itself from the study's conclusions.
The university also appended a more strongly worded disclaimer to the study, stating that it reflects the views of its authors only. The former disclaimer said merely that the study "does not necessarily" reflect the university's views.
The controversial study, published this week, was authored by Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. It charged that American foreign policy has been subordinated to Israeli interests and accused the pro-Israel lobby of responsibility for America's invasion of Iraq.
The study's many critics claim that its academic quality is poor, and that it is essentially a political polemic rather than genuine academic research. Well-known researchers such as Marvin Kalb, also of Harvard's Kennedy School, said this week that the study fails to meet minimal academic standards.
However, it has aroused great interest among the Arab media and been widely quoted there. The PLO's office in Washington distributed it by email to thousands of subscribers, and lobbyists for Arab states have been passing it around. The study also earned praise from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
One of the study's claims is that American opponents of Israel are consistently silenced by charges of anti-Semitism from the pro-Israel lobby. Congressman Eliot Engel of New York, in an interview with Haaretz this week, termed the study itself a form of anti-Semitism and said that it deserved the American public's contempt.
According to the study, the pro-Israel lobby is an octopus whose tentacles affect congressional legislation, administration policies, the press and other agencies. The paper focuses on the main pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, but also discusses other organizations, such as the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and devotes considerable attention to pro-Israel government officials - many of them Jewish - such as former deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz in the Bush administration and former assistant secretary of state Martin Indyk in the Clinton administration.
The study also accused the pro-Israel lobby of monitoring academics to ensure that they do not diverge from the pro-Israel line. They will undoubtedly see proof of this contention in Harvard's decision to distance itself from the study due to pressure applied by pro-Israel donors. According to the New York Sun, Robert Belfer - who gave the Kennedy School $7.5 million in 1997 in order, among other things, to endow the chair that Walt now occupies - called the university and asked that Walt be forbidden to use his title in publicity for the study.
Israeli officials have been concerned over the study, saying it is liable to be used to delegitimize Israel among the American intelligentsia. As of yesterday, however, it did not seem to have won much support among academics specializing in American foreign policy. According to one such academic, who asked to remain anonymous, "the study obviously contains many correct facts, but their presentation is skewed and the conclusions [the authors] derive from them are unfit for publication. For instance, it completely ignores the enormous influence of the Arab oil lobby on American policy, and presents a one-sided and utterly politically biased picture of the world."
Other academics - some of them not known as fans of AIPAC - also cited many professional flaws in the study, such as omitting relevant facts, relying on unofficial sources (including Haaretz), and leaping to conclusions that are not necessarily supported by the facts.
In addition to reiterating the well-worn charge that Jewish neoconservatives in the Bush administration were responsible for America's invasion of Iraq, the study accuses the pro-Israel lobby of inciting the American government and people against the Palestinian Authority, tilting American policy against Syria and other Arab states, and trying to push the United States into aggressive action against Iran's nuclear program.
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