The ‘Israel lobby’: US aid to and support for Israel


Page last updated 15 March 2019

1. The Israel Lobby
John Mearsheimer & Stephen Walt, London Review of Books, 28/6, 23 Mar 2006.

All previous discussions of US-Israel relations were overshadowed by the publication of this controversial article in March 2006. The authors argued: “the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the ‘Israel Lobby’. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country – in this case, Israel – are essentially identical.”

It provoked a deluge of responses, some critical of the argument, others going further and finding much or most of the argument antisemitic. (And, when the article was developed and published as a long book The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy in 2007, the argument continued.)

The authors responded twice with letters in the London Review of Books, 4th May 2006 and 25 May 2006.

Some relevant critiques

Those critical of the general thesis

Adam Shatz, Dialogue of the deaf, Guardian Comment is Free, 24 Mar 2006
Noam Chomsky, The Israel Lobby?, Znet, 28 Mar 2006
As’ad, A Note of Dissent, Angry Arab News Service, Mar 2006
Tony Judt, A Lobby, Not a ConspiracyNew York Times Op-Ed, April 19, 2006
Joseph Massad, Blaming the lobbyElectronic Intifada (first published in Al-Ahram Weekly), 24 Mar 2006
Stephen Zunes, The Israel Lobby: How Powerful is it Really?, Foreign Policy in Focus, 23 May 2006
Stephen Zunes, The U.S. Invasion of Iraq: Not the Fault of Israel and Its Supporters, (this one published on 4 Jan, but nonetheless effectively a reply)
Norman Finkelstein, It’s Not Either/OrCounterpunch, 1 May 2006
Juan Cole, Breaking the Silence, Salon, 18 Apr 2006 and response by Jeff Weintraub, Jeff Weintraub website, 18 Apr 2006
Richard Kuper, American interest, Red Pepper, Dec 2007

Those going further, and finding shades, or more, of antisemitism

Robert Fine, The Lobby: Mearsheimer & Walt’s conspiracy theory, Engage, Mar 2006
Jeffrey Herf & Andrei S. Markovits; Shalom Lappin; postings on Normblog, 22 Mar 2006 here and here
Alan Dershowitz, Debunking the Newest – and Oldest – Jewish Conspiracy: A Reply to the Mearsheimer-Walt “Working Paper”, 5 Apr 2006
Anti-Defamation League, An Anti-Jewish Screed in Scholarly Guise, 24 Mar  26 Mar 2006
Eliot A. Cohen, Yes, It’s Anti-Semitic, Washington Post, 5 Apr 2006

A large number of links to other articles can be found in Jeff Weintraub’s collection, Some Rebuttals to Mearsheimer & Walt’s “Israel Lobby”

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2. US hegemony, not “the lobby,” behind complicity with Israel
Stephen Maher, The Electronic Intifada, 27 Apr 2010

After the dust had settled… Maher takes a broad view of determinants of US policy in the Middle East and elsewhere.

“A central claim of the ‘Israel lobby’ thesis is that the ‘lobby,’ however defined, overwhelmingly shapes US policy towards the Middle East. Thus, if the argument were true, its proponents would have to demonstrate that there is something qualitatively unique about US policy towards the Middle East compared with that in other regions of the world. Yet upon careful analysis, we find little difference between the purported distortions caused by the lobby and what is frequently referred to as the ‘national interest,’ governed by the same concentrations of domestic power that drive US foreign policy elsewhere.”

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3. Christian Zionism: The New Heresy that Undermines Middle East Peace
Revd Dr Stephen Sizer, Middle East Monitor, 01 Aug 2013

Christian Zionism is a central part of the Israel lobby in the US and its ideas play an imortant part elsewhere in genrating support for Israel.

“It is my contention…that Christian Zionism is the largest, most controversial and most destructive lobby within Christianity. It bears primary responsibility for perpetuating tensions in the Middle East, justifying Israel’s apartheid colonialist agenda and for undermining the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.”

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4.American Jews Have Abandoned  Gaza — And The Truth

Peter Beinart , Forward, 26 April 2018

“In our time,” wrote George Orwell in 1946, “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible.” British colonialism, the Soviet gulag and America’s dropping of an atomic bomb, he argued, “can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face.” So how do people defend the indefensible? Through “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” By obscuring the truth.”

“So it is, more than 70 years later, with Israeli policy toward the Gaza Strip. The truth is too brutal to honestly defend. Why are thousands of Palestinians risking their lives by running toward the Israeli snipers who guard the fence that encloses Gaza? Because Gaza is becoming uninhabitable. That’s not hyperbole. The United Nations says that Gaza will be “unlivable” by 2020, maybe sooner.”

“Hamas bears some of the blame for that: Its refusal to recognize Israel, its decades of terrorist attacks and its authoritarianism have all worsened Gaza’s plight. Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority bears some of the blame too. So does Egypt. But the actor with the greatest power over Gaza is Israel.”

5. Under Trump, the Israel lobby is a hydra with many heads

Jonathan Cook, Mddle East Eye, 3 June 2018

“The Trump administration’s recent steps in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should surely lay to rest any doubts about the enormous, and dangerous, power of the Israel lobby in Washington. Under Trump, the lobby has shown it can wield unprecedented influence – even by its usual standards – in flagrant disregard for all apparent US interests…But under Trump, the Israel lobby has come to exercise unrivalled power, because it is now far more than just one lobby. It is a five-headed Hydra worthy of Greek mythology, and only one of its heads relates directly to Israel or organised American Jewry. In fact, the lobby’s power now derives not chiefly from Israel. Since Trump’s election, the Israel lobby has managed to absorb and mobilise an additional four powerful lobbies – and to a degree not seen before. They are: the Christian evangelicals, the alt-right, the military-industrial complex, and the Saudi Arabia lobby.”

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6. Bernie Sanders Criticism of Israel Is Radical. And He’s Taking It Mainstream 

Peter Beinart, Forward, 11 June 2018

“Not many in the media are noticing, which is understandable given the burden of keeping up with Donald Trump, but in the shadow of Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, Bernie Sanders is dramatically challenging Beltway discourse on Israel. In 2020, when Sanders likely runs for president, and journalists begin paying attention, they’re going to be shocked. The Israeli government and the American Jewish establishment will be scared out of their minds. Last month, Sanders crossed one of the red lines demarcating politically acceptable Washington discourse about Israel. He organized the first letter written by multiple senators criticizing Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. Then, last week, he raced past that line again with a video that is unlike anything I’ve ever seen from an American senator.”…

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7. Short Cuts

Amjad Iraqi, London Review of Books, 19 July 2018

Late last month, the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee approved the latest version of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which is now one step closer to becoming law. The bill was introduced to Congress in March 2017, with the aim of prohibiting American companies from assisting international governmental organisations with boycotts against Israel. These organisations include the UN, whose high commissioner for human rights was tasked two years ago with drawing up a database of companies doing business in the illegal settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the EU, whose trade regulations discourage business with settlements but fall short of prohibiting it. Even an individual in the US who supplies information about infringing companies to these bodies could be liable to a civil fine of up to $250,000, or a criminal penalty of up to $1 million. The original version of the bill, which was amended after considerable pressure from civil society groups, would also have imposed prison sentences of up to twenty years.

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8. Young, liberal and critical of Israel

Eric Alterman, Le Monde Diplomatique, February 2019

American Jews are growing more liberal, just as Israel’s government moves to the far right. That has profoundly changed a relationship of 40 years.

Two Christian pastors were among the interesting guests when the US opened its new embassy in Jerusalem. They were John Hagee, who has described Hitler as God’s ‘hunter’ (1), and Robert Jeffress, who believes that all Jews are going to hell. They are leaders of the most reliable pro-Israel voices in the US, rightwing Christian Zionists (2). Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, conservative Jewish casino magnates, who contributed an estimated $113m to the Republicans in 2018, and at least $80m in 2016 (3), also attended.

Mostly absent, and largely uninvited, were Jewish Democrats, although, in election after election, including the 2018 midterms, they manage to secure between 70% and 75% of the vote.

Donald Trump and Binyamin (‘Bibi’) Netanyahu share much more than their reliance on Christian Zionists and Adelson’s millions. They are both vociferous critics of the free press, eager to boost conspiracy theories to justify their failures, and (most shockingly in Netanyahu’s case) remarkably relaxed about the recent rise of neo-Nazism across Europe and the US. During the final days of his presidential campaign, Trump ran a commercial attacking liberal Jewish philanthropist George Soros, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen, all Jewish, claiming they sought to control the world.

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Contents of this section

6. INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

a) The ‘Israel lobby’: US aid to and support for Israel
b) The European Union and Israel-Palestine
c) General commentaries

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