Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Israel Lobby: An Antechamber To Debate

On October 18, 2004, Honest Reporting had a piece entitled Israel-bashing in Medical Journals, which noted:

o In The British Medical Journal, Dr. Derrick Summerfield wrote
The Israeli army, with utter impunity, has killed more unarmed Palestinian civilians since September 2000 than the number of people who died on September 11, 2001.
Clearly, soldiers are routinely authorised to shoot to kill children in situations of minimal or no threat.
o In June 2004 the Diabetes Voice, a quarterly publication of the International Diabetes Federation, had a report on the Gaza Strip, with the following abstract:

The year 2003 marked the 55th anniversary of the Nakba (cataclysm) of the Palestinian people. In 1948, according to the United Nations Conciliation Commission, 760,000 Palestinians were evicted from their cities and villages, hundreds of which were razed to the ground. What remains of the Palestinian people's land is now split between the West Bank of the river Jordan and Qita Ghazzah (Gaza Strip), and remains occupied by Israeli military forces and settlers. In 2003, the second uprising, or Al-Aqsa Intifada against this occupation entered its third year. Panagiotis Tsapogas, Medical Co-ordinator of the Greek section of Mdecins Sans Frontires (Doctors Without Borders) in Gaza, 2002-2003, reports on the difficulties faced by Palestinian people with diabetes in Gaza, and makes a call for the provision of improved diabetes care in the region.

Fast forward to June 17, 2005, when Dana Milbank wrote Democrats Play House To Rally Against the War in the Washington Post, describing how some Democrats conducted a mock-Judiciary Committee hearing about the Iraqi war:
...The session took an awkward turn when witness Ray McGovern, a former intelligence analyst, declared that the United States went to war in Iraq for oil, Israel and military bases craved by administration "neocons" so "the United States and Israel could dominate that part of the world." He said that Israel should not be considered an ally and that Bush was doing the bidding of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"Israel is not allowed to be brought up in polite conversation," McGovern said. "The last time I did this, the previous director of Central Intelligence called me anti-Semitic."

Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.), who prompted the question by wondering whether the true war motive was Iraq's threat to Israel, thanked McGovern for his "candid answer."

At Democratic headquarters, where an overflow crowd watched the hearing on television, activists handed out documents repeating two accusations -- that an Israeli company had warning of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and that there was an "insider trading scam" on 9/11 -- that previously has been used to suggest Israel was behind the attacks.
Howard Dean later condemned the Anti-Semitic literature handed out and the anti-Israel accusations.

Now John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at Chicago, and Stephen Walt, Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard have written a paper The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy:
For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread 'democracy' throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.
A number of blogs have addressed a number of the points that the paper attempts to make. The Elder of Ziyon pinpoints another of issues in the paper, noting parallels with Denmark, the problem of the danger of automatically assigning intellectual honesty to intellectuals, and some sloppiness with the truth. Meanwhile, The American Thinker, James Taranto, Powerline, and CAMERA--among many others take the arguments offered and rebut, critque, and reveal the many flaws in the paper.

This is not surprising. For every Juan Cole who writes:
According to the September 11 Commission report, al-Qaeda conceived 9/11 in some large part as a punishment on the US for supporting Ariel Sharon's iron fist policies toward the Palestinians. Bin Laden had wanted to move the operation up in response to Sharon's threatening visit to the Temple Mount, and again in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless. Khalid Shaikh Muhammad argued in each case that the operation just was not ready.
there is a Martin Kramer who will answer:
Did Cole read the same 9/11 report as the rest of us? There's not a single passage in the 9/11 report mentioning Sharon's (or Israel's) policies, and I challenge him to produce one. Cole just made it up. And in point of fact, the report's narrative definitively contradicts him. The report makes it clear that 9/11 was conceived well before Sharon became prime minister of Israel in March 2001. Chapter 5, section 2 (p. 153) says the following, based on the interrogation of Khalid Shaikh Muhammad (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind:
According to KSM, he started to think about attacking the United States after [Ramzi] Yousef returned to Pakistan following the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.... He maintains that he and Yousef...speculated about striking the World Trade Center and CIA headquarters as early as 1995.
The idea was fully hatched by early 1999 (p. 154):
KSM acknowledges formally joining al Qaeda in late 1998 or 1999, and states that soon afterward Bin Ladin also made the decision to support his proposal to attack the United States using commercial airplanes as weapons.... Bin Ladin summoned KSM to Kandahar in March or April 1999 to tell him that al Qaeda would support his proposal. The plot was now referred to within al Qaeda as the "planes operation."

The selection of Ehud Barak as Israeli prime minister in May 1999 didn't put a crimp in the planning. To the contrary: preparations proceeded apace, and Bin Laden pushed even harder for the operation, which wasn't quite ready. Bin Laden did so again after Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. But that visit took place on September 28, 2000, when Sharon was leader of the opposition. He only became prime minister five months later.

In short, the 9/11 operation could hardly have been "conceived" as a response to U.S. support for Sharon's "iron fist policies." It was conceived, its operatives were selected, and it was put in motion, long before Sharon took the helm. "

The report makes it clear that 9/11 was conceived well before Sharon became prime minister of Israel in March 2001.

...And what of Cole's claim that Bin Laden wanted to launch the attacks "in response to the Israeli attack on the Jenin refugee camp, which left 4,000 persons homeless"? The Jenin operation took place in April 2002, seven months after 9/11. Apparently, in the bizarre universe of the Colesque, Sharon's horrid deeds are always at fault for 9/11, even if he committed them after the event.

But the articles, comments, and accusations come from increasingly respectable places--from medical journals, mainstream political parties, and academia. We're not even talking about Columbia University, where such material is expected.

More disconcerting is the apparent response of an pro-Israel group to the paper:
An official with a pro-Israel organization in Washington said that the authors' disagreement "is not with America's pro-Israel lobby, but with the American people, who overwhelmingly support our relationship with Israel, and with Democrats and Republicans in successive administrations and Congress, who so strongly and consistently support the special relationship between the United States and Israel.
This official misses the point that what is under attack in the paper is not merely American policy, the pro-Israel lobby, or the pro-Israel opinion of the average American. Mearsheimer and Walt attempt to rewrite the events of the 1948 Israeli War of Independence, reinterpret the nature of Israel's democracy and attacks Israel's moral standing.

The American Thinker warned back in February 2005 of this growing trend:

Frank Luntz, a pollster, says there is great danger ahead, because American elite opinion is not sympathetic to Israel, and it is getting worse. Elites view Israel as aggressive and warlike and Palestinians as victims. Academia is the community that is the least sympathetic to Israel, since lefty radicals from the 60s run the faculty at most schools. Columbia University is one of the worst offenders, particularly its Middle Eastern Studies Department, now chaired by former University of Chicago Professor Rashid Khalidi. This has happened despite the fact that Columbia gets 50% of its contributions from Jewish alumni, and more than a quarter of its students are Jewish. Jewish intellectuals, such as Tony Judt writing in the New York Review of Books, have given up on Israel. It has just become too difficult for the spineless and witless to defend Israel at cocktail parties.

Elites are very angry – at President Bush, at Republicans, at evangelicals. A lot of it revolves around the Iraq war. They blame “neocons,” shorthand for the Jews, for promoting the Iraq war, and for controlling Bush. This is just one more justification for their anti-Israel venom.

Let's recognize the paper for what it is and what it does--and where it fits in a growing list of similar writing.

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