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The Israel Lobby: An open response to Professors Mearsheimer and Walt*

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Does the Israel Lobby control US Policy as professor's Walt and Mearsheimer contend?

The Israel Lobby: An open response to Professors Mearsheimer and Walt*

From Maurice Ostroff                                                                                                                 May 7, 2006

Dear Professors,

You deserve kudos for the time and effort invested in preparing your comprehensive response to critics. Since the high interest, which your article aroused, is due mainly to your status as professors at prestigious institutions, I trust you will not be offended if I, as a simple engineer, take issue with your academic approach.

In your closing comment you claim it will not be possible to develop effective policies if it is impossible to have a civilized discussion about the role of Israel in American foreign policy and I hope you will accept this letter in the constructive spirit intended, as a contribution to a civilized discussion about the serious dangers facing the USA generally, rather than a narrow debate confined to the Jewish lobby.

It is my belief that scholarly integrity and intellectual honesty require a readiness to suppress one's biases and to follow the facts wherever they may lead, taking care not to omit evidence that may contradict preconceived views. Yet, a suspicion of bias was conveyed when you wrote about relations between "Tel Aviv" and Washington, rather than Jerusalem (where Israel’s government is seated), and Washington.

It is also vitally important to place events in their proper context, to enable the reader to evaluate them against the relevant background. Statements offered as facts should be unambiguously substantiated and a clear distinction made between facts and opinions with full disclosure of all sources of information. For example you state

“Pipes does not deny that his organization, Campus Watch, was created in order to monitor what academics say, write and teach, so as to discourage them from engaging in open discourse about the Middle East”.

I have no difficulty with your statement that Campus Watch monitors what academics teach. This is plainly obvious from its name. But in a scholarly work I would expect you to mention the fact that several Arab activist organizations perform a similar function and even organize boycotts to prevent some speakers from appearing on campus. More seriously, I would expect you to substantiate your serious allegation that the purpose of Campus Watch is to discourage academics from engaging in open discourse about the Middle East. If Pipes used those words it would be important to quote them and provide the context in which they were written.

Nor would it have been out of place if you had taken a position in the context of attempts to indoctrinate students, which have become common in academia and which is the evident raison d’etre of Campus Watch. Certainly the right of teachers to hold and express political, social, and religious beliefs is sacrosanct, but there has been a tendency to impose such beliefs on students to the exclusion of other viewpoints and to introduce them even when teaching unrelated subjects. There have been reports of students complaining of intimidation to force them to provide answers in exams which please the teacher. Students also complain that they are discouraged from expressing legitimate views, which conflict with a teacher’s interpretation.

The Mission statement of Students for Academic Freedom (SAF) refers for example, to politically influenced grading, which it says is an abuse common at many universities, to professors who express unchallengeable partisan or sectarian passions in the classroom or on campus, and to professors who hold faculty conferences or “teach-ins” of a one-sided, unchallengeable, partisan or sectarian nature or who use departmental funds and facilities for politically partisan or ideologically one-sided events. According to SAF, these are routine occurrences on campuses today.

In these circumstances I hope you will agree that Campus Watch is performing a valuable and much-needed public service.

Thank you, I learned a new word today 'paleo-conservatives.' I assume this means “old conservatives (from the Greek palaeo) as opposed to the neo conservatives. I regret I do not know much about them, but there is much to be said for the critics who contend that you overlook Arab and Islamic advocacy groups and the diplomatic establishment. Your statement that they are no match for the Jewish lobby is not convincing.

Of course there is a Jewish lobby, in fact there are several. Some even oppose each other. But it is plainly unscholarly to denounce any lobby in a serious 82 page document, without seriously evaluating its position relative to the many competing influences, which are integral to the Washington scene.

For example, according to Axis Information And Analysis, (Aia), which specializes in analyzing information about Asia and Eastern Europe, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan who headed the Saudi embassy in Washington in 1983, was considered an irreplaceable participant in backstage intrigues, clandestine negotiations, and billion-dollar deals, all having to do with US interests in the Middle East, with broad links among high-ranking officials in the State Department, the Pentagon, and the CIA. His father, Sultan Bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, had the exclusive right to approve or to disapprove any deal with the American military and aviation industries tied to Riyadh by billion-dollar contracts. He was a leading figure in the ruling dynasty, which decides the extent of military cooperation with the United States. In fact, Aia rated Prince Bandar Bin Sultan as almost the most influential foreigner in the USA.

I am perplexed by an ambiguity in your letter. You write that you explicitly stated that the Jewish lobby, by itself, could not convince either the Clinton or the Bush administration to invade Iraq, but that there is abundant evidence that the neo-conservatives and other groups within the lobby played a central role in making the case for war. Does the word “within” imply that the neo-conservatives and unnamed other groups are components of an all-embracing Jewish lobby?

Later in your letter, you claim that were it not for the Jewish lobby, the US would almost certainly not have gone to war against Iraq in March 2003.It is highly relevant to mention that according to Aia, it was Bandar Bin Sultan who in 1990-91, practically pushed President Bush towards the decision to start the military campaign against Iraq. This crucial information throws an entirely different light on the influences under which Washington operates unless perhaps, Bin Sultan was also part of the Jewish lobby.

Aia also refers to U.S.A.-Engage as one of the largest lobbying groups, uniting 640 giants of the American economy (such as Boeing, AT&T and Apple), a tenth of the leading banks, as well as associations of industrialists and farmers. The most prominent and influential members of U.S.A.-Engage work almost permanently in the Congress and have great influence over the mass media (partly because of their advertising expenditure). Many U.S.A-Engage insiders have their own interests in the Middle East and an influential section has close ties to ruling and financial circles in Saudi Arabia.

Whether or not one accepts Michael Moore’s account that 142 Saudis, including 24 members of the bin Laden family, were allowed to leave the USA soon after 9/11 due to special White House treatment, (not necessarily on a special flight) his claim is as credible and as deserving of mention as your unsubstantiated claim that the Jewish lobby is all powerful and influences US policy to its detriment

Your claim that US policy towards Israel contributes to America's terrorism problem also deserves critical examination. As far back as November 2002, Alex Alexiev, in an article published by the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL) pointed out that, Riyadh, flush with oil money, became the paymaster of most of the militant Islamic movements which advocate terror. In its aggressive support for radical Islam, even the most violent of Islamic groups, like Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, receives Saudi largesse.

Official Saudi sources indicate that between 1975 and 1987, Riyadh's "overseas development aid" averaged $4 billion per year, of which at least $50 billion over two and a half decades financed "Islamic activities” exclusively. The SAAR Foundation, alone, which has been closed down since 9/11, received $1.7 billion in donations in 1998. Compared to these numbers, the miniscule Israeli PR budget of about $4million is laughable.

Alexiev draws attention to the fact that Islamist and anti-American agendas dominate the majority of Muslim Student Associations at U.S. colleges. Most of the numerous Islamic centers and schools are financed by the Saudis who focus on spreading radical Islamic concepts in the American black community, with a special program to convert blacks in prison to Islam.

In addition, there are of course several Arab American advocacy groups, of which the two most influential are the Arab American Institute and the recently merged American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee/National Association of Arab-Americans.

Nor should one ignore the influence of the many other lobbies with which the Jewish lobby must compete. Though they are not specifically concerned with Middle East politics they exert varying powerful influences on Washington, some of which may indirectly affect the Middle East. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) for example, has over 34 million members, whose $10 annual membership fees each, create a mighty financial tool for promoting its causes in Congress. The ACLU and The National Rifle Association are also extremely powerful lobbies

Your original document refers to Ehud Barak’spurportedly generous” offer at Camp David, which would have supposedly given them only a disarmed set of "Bantustans." Surely you will agree that whether Barak’s offer was generous or “purportedly generous” is a matter of opinion, which you are imposing on your readers. As a scholar, I believe you owe it to your readers to present them with the facts and allow them to form their own opinions. Your use of the pejorative term "Bantustans" would be perfectly normal in a propaganda leaflet, but I hope that on mature consideration, you will agree that it is completely unacceptable in a scholarly document.

You reject without explanation, Alan Dershowitz’s citation of statements by Ehud Barak and Dennis Ross and you claim that there are a number of competing accounts of what happened at Camp David, many of them agreeing with your claim, but you give no specifics.

One need not rely on Israeli sources to try to understand what happened at Camp David. Here is what an Arab authority, Abdul Rahman Al Rashed, Editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, wrote in 2003 in “Arab View” a credible Arab source, which publishes leading Middle East journalists and editors.

“Yasser Arafat refused at the last minute Clinton’s peace project after going through all the negotiations and receiving most of what he wanted from Ehud Barak. Arafat thought that it would be better to sign the peace plan with the next president because Clinton’s second term was ending. This kind of thinking lost Arafat the deal of a lifetime”.

A little digging into relevant documentation may have led you to the conclusion that Arafat had no intention of accepting any offer at Camp David, as the subsequent outbreak of violence had been planned in advance of the talks. Al-Ayyam, the Palestinian Authority daily newspaper, reported on December 6, 2000, that Palestinian Minister of Communications Imad el-Falouji declared that, in accordance with instructions given by Chairman Arafat himself, the Palestinian Authority had made advance preparations for the outbreak of the current intifada to begin the moment the Camp David talks would conclude.

These actions appear to be consistent with Arafat’s barely concealed agenda as revealed by another moderate Arab, the late Faysal Al-Husseini, who interpreted the Palestinian actions from first hand knowledge. He described the Oslo Accords as a Palestinian Trojan horse and unequivocally declared that the "Palestinian Strategic Goal" was a state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. ( Al-Arabi, (Egypt) June 24, 2001).

I regret that I have difficulty understanding the gist of your response to Dershowitz about Ben Gurion’s attitude to the use of force. It is completely unsurprising that while the state-to-be was threatened with annihilation as soon as it was born, there was speculation not only by Ben Gurion, but by countless others all over the world, about the eventual need to use force if unavoidable. The statements attributed to Ben Gurion in your following sentence are unremarkable and it is difficult to understand what you wish the reader to infer from them.

“As a number of Israeli historians have shown, Ben-Gurion made numerous statements about the need to use force (or the threat of overwhelming force) to create a Jewish state in all of Palestine”

Dershowitz’s interpretation that Ben-Gurion's subsequent statement, “we should in no way make it part of our programme” shows that he opposed the transfer of the Arab population and the 'brutal compulsion' it would entail, takes the available evidence i.e. Ben Gurion’s words at their face value. On the other hand, your contention that” Ben-Gurion was not rejecting this policy: he was simply noting that the Zionists should not openly proclaim it”, is pure conjecture, in all likelihood influenced by preconceived opinions.

One cannot help wonder about the source of the claim in your original letter that Contrary to popular belief, the Zionists had larger, better equipped and better led forces during the 1947-49 War of Independence. This claim may perhaps be partially supported in a special 50 year (1948 – 1998)1 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly which claimed that “The combined Arab armies were outnumbered on the battlefield” and that “On 15 May the total Jewish fighting force comprised 64,000 men armed with the modern and sophisticated weapons which the Arabs lacked”.

Even accepting Al Ahram’s exaggerated figure of 64,000 men, intellectual honesty would require at least a mention of the indisputable fact that the total Jewish population at the time was only about 600,000 including women, children, the elderly and invalids who faced the armies of five hostile Arab countries with a total population of about 50 million. These armies, which invaded as soon as the state was declared, publicly announced their declared intention of destroying it. They included the British trained and equipped Jordanian Legion, the well-equipped Egyptian army, navy and air force and the armies of Lebanon, Iraq and Syria.

In “Moshe Dayan a biography”, by N. Lau-Lavie we read

“At that stage when the Jewish population of Palestine numbered about 600,000 its leaders were preparing for the possibility of an armed struggle. There were now 40,000 men in the Hagana of whom only 1,600 in the Palmach were well trained. The arms at their disposal included some 10,000 rifles, less than 500 sub-machine guns, about 125 machine-guns and 4,000 revolvers.

Other authorities give figures of about 30,000 for total Israeli manpower, based on Ben-Gurion's own estimate in his war diaries. Israel had no, tanks, bombers or fighter aircraft at the outbreak of the conflict. Many of the Israeli troops were untrained newcomers, who had survived the death camps, only to be thrown directly into battle.

Elementary research shows that the claim that the Israeli army was better equipped is plainly absurd. Until May 15, the British who controlled Palestine prevented Jews from acquiring armaments and confiscated whatever arms they found. The underground Hagana self- defense force was severely harassed and light arms including the unreliable Sten gun, were secretly manufactured underground. The guns, which Dayan's biographer enumerated, were acquired clandestinely.

For the content of your article to be understood in context, readers are entitled to know that on the day Israel declared independence, Arab League Secretary, Azzam Pasha declared "jihad". He said publicly "This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades".2 The Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin Al Husseini stated, "I declare a holy war, my Moslem brothers! Murder the Jews! Murder them all!"3

In “The Rabin Memoirs” the late Yitzchak Rabin tells how immediately prior to the declaration of the state, convoys were organized to try to keep besieged Jerusalem supplied with food and essentials and how soldiers guarding the convoys were obliged to conceal their weapons from inquisitive British eyes. He refers to homemade armored cars quickly improvised at the time. They were known as “sandwiches” because the amour plating comprised timber between two sheets of steel, mounted on old trucks. Some remains of these “sandwiches” which did not make it to Jerusalem are still to be seen alongside the Tel Aviv Jerusalem highway preserved as monuments.

Joe Leibowitz, who served in the nascent Israel Air Force in 1948 and now lives in Netanya, Israel tells that that on May 10 the "Air Force" comprised two Rapides, a Fairchild and a Bonanza. He became what was known as “bomb-chucker" on one of the Rapides. The door of the plane was removed to enable the "chucker" to lean out and throw the improvised bomb.

Gradually Israel acquired some critically needed arms and military aircraft starting with two Spitfires and the three B -17s and ironically fifteen Messerschmitt Me 109’s from Czechoslovakia.

The claim that Washington provides Israel with consistent diplomatic support is also subject to qualification. Contrary to the thrust of your dissertation, the US, like every other country, places its own interests first. During the cold war, the U.S. under President Eisenhower sided with Egypt against Israel and pledged military and economic support to any Middle East nation threatened by communism.

In 1956, Egyptian President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, cut off Israel's only link to the Red Sea and encouraged guerrilla raids from the Sinai into Israel. Britain and France plotted with Israel to regain control of the canal. Israel successfully invaded Sinai, but the plan for Britain and France to drop troops into Egypt had to be aborted under US pressure, when Eisenhower threatened to withhold a $1 billion loan to Britain. Moreover, the US sponsored a U.N. resolution demanding Israel's immediate withdrawal from Egypt, which was overwhelmingly approved.

I refer also to a reply to your paper posted on March 17 by As’ad in The Angry Arab News Service4 Writing as a minority in the pro-Palestinian camp, he claimed that you seem intent on blaming all the ills in US foreign policy on the Israeli lobby and he pointed to very serious problems with your assumptions about the Middle East, adding that those problems should be identified even if one is pleased with criticisms of Israel and its lobby.

He wrote that it was not the "spread of democracy throughout the region" that inflamed Arab/Muslim opinion, but the very reverse. It was the spread of and support for tyrannies that inflamed Arab/Muslim opinion. Arab/Muslim opinion sees what those academics do not see: that the Bush administration, which enjoys a "permanent friendship" with the likes of the Saudi government, has not wavered from the long standing US policy of supporting Arab dictatorship providing they toe the political and economic lines of US policy.

As'ad refers to what he calls a a disturbing quotation attributed by you to Morris Amitay underlining the Jewishness of Hill staffers, as if non-Jewish staffers in Congress are any less pro-Israel. He says that you quote lobby leaders over the years who spoke about the powers of AIPAC adding

"But that is what lobby leaders, any leaders of any lobby, including the lobby for olive growers of America, do. They have to brag about and exaggerate their powers. "


As’ad says those in the pro-Palestinian camp, are so desperate for any mainstream support for Palestinian rights that they are willing to forgive and even not notice the problems that some critics of Israel bring with them. He warns they should be vigilant and not ignore their duty to subject support for Israel and criticisms of Israel to critical scrutiny “lest the baggage come back to haunt us.”

In referring again to your closing comment that it will not be possible to develop effective policies if it is impossible to have a civilized discussion about the role of Israel in American foreign policy, I suggest that by focusing on Israel only, you are diverting attention from the serious threat of Muslim extremism and the fear it has generated in the Western world as evidenced so starkly during the Danish cartoon riots. Alexiev’s message that the Jihad ideology motivating radical-Islamist terrorism is not only unrepresentative of the Islam practiced by the vast majority of Muslims, but in many ways runs counter to it should be taken seriously as should his appeal for support for his group’s campaign to de-legitimize the extremists. So too should the message conveyed by pro-Palestinian As’ad be taken seriously.

May I ask you again to accept this letter as a constructive contribution to a civilized discussion about the serious dangers facing the USA generally, rather than a narrow debate about a Jewish lobby.


Morris Ostroff


* This version has been edited and adapted for Web publication.


2Howard M Sachar, A History of Israel (New York: Knopf, 1979), p. 333

3. Leonard J. Davis and M. Decter (eds.). Myths and facts 1982; a Concise Record of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Washington DC: near east report, 1982), p. 199

4 http://angryarab.blogspot.com/2006/03/note-of-dissent-on-israel-lobby-piece.html


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