Professors Mearsheimer and Walt created quite a stir with their "Israel Lobby" "study," by contending that a nefarious lobby of Zionists has twisted US policy to operate against the interests of the United States, and in favor of Israel. The study has generated a number of rebuttals, including the response of Benny Morris that I discussed previously here.
Morris Ostroff has written another very cogent response to Mearsheimer and Walt that deserves our attention. A portion of it is excerpted below and the entire letter to Mearsheimer and Walt can be found by clicking here
Two things strike me about the thesis and the controversy it has created. The first is the claim, always made whenever anti-Zionists cannot get the center of attention, that the critique of Israel was stifled by the "Israel Lobby" and for that reason could not appear in any journal in the United States and had to be published in the London Review of Books. Evidently, the reach of the Elders of Zion is not that great, since the New York Times published two articles that spoke out in favor of this "study," and numerous other publications did as well. US media such as The Nation have given prominence to the thesis that the "Zionists" are responsible for the war in Iraq in "The Nation". Other US journals published confabulations of journalists like Jack Kelley about bloodthirsty Zionist settlers who specially don their kippot and say a prayer before killing Arabs. It is surprising therefore that anyone would believe that an "Israel Lobby" censors the media in the United States. The agents of the Zionist conspiracy Zion must be failing at their assigned task.
The second thing that strikes me is that a great deal of Mearsheimer and Walt's "study" has nothing much to do with the "Israel Lobby" as such, or its influence on US policy. For example, a point discussed by Ostroff is the claim of Mearsheimer and Walt, based on a puff piece in Al-Ahram (surely a reliable source for an academic study!) that Israel had overwhelming military superiority over the Arabs in 1948. It is not true, as Ostroff and others have shown:
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 myth of Israeli military superiority in 1948is a shibboleth invented for the purpose of "Israel bashing," invented primarily to "explain" to Egyptians and others why they lost a war in which they had clear superiority. A young Egyptian officer who fought in that war was completely disgusted with the corruption and incompetence that had bred the Egyptian defeat despite such favorable odds. He decided to do something about it. His name was Gamal Abdel Nasser. So this myth that Mearsheimer and Walt offer as academic research is just another salvo in the propaganda war against Israel. In any case, what does it have to do with the Israel lobby in the United States? Israel did not get any military aid from the USA in 1948. The Zionist executive did not represent to the American government that they are weaker than their Arab enemies. Quite the contrary. It was the anti-Zionist officials in the US State government, including Secretary of State Marshall, who insisted that the Jews were too weak to maintain a viable state. Partition would require United States military intervention to protect the Jews, and was therefore undesirable. When that failed and the partition plan was approved by the UN in 1947, they developed a "trusteeship plan" which was designed to stall the creation of a Jewish state on the excuse that the Jews could not defend themselves. This trusteeship plan was only derailed by insistent pressure of the real Zionist lobby on President Truman as well as by fact that Jewish successes in fending off Palestinian attacks in April 1948 convinced US officials that the state would be viable. (see President Harry S. Truman and US Support for Creation of Israel ) Thus, the false claim of Israeli military superiority raised by Mearsheimer and Walt is a red herring that has no bearing on the current influence of the Israel Lobby or their professed thesis. It is just another bit of Israel-bashing. Indeed, in their long and supposedly objective piece, they missed very few of the classic claims against Israel, most of which are incorrect, and none of which have any relevance for evaluation of the operations of the "Israel Lobby."
Excerpts from the reply of Maurice Ostroff are below. Refer to the original for the complete text and footnotes.
The Israel Lobby: An open response to Professors Mearsheimer and Walt
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’s “purportedly 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 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.
Complete text of The Israel Lobby: An open response to Professors Mearsheimer and Walt
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