WASHINGTON, March 20 (UPI) -- Two of America's top scholars have published a searing attack on the role and power of Washington's pro-Israel lobby in a British journal, warning that its "decisive" role in fomenting the Iraq war is now being repeated with the threat of action against Iran. And they say that the Lobby is so strong that they doubt their article would be accepted in any U.S.-based publication.
Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, author of "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics" and Professor Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kenney School, and author of "Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy," are leading figures American in academic life.
They claim that the Israel lobby has distorted American policy and operates against American interests, that it has organized the funneling of more than $140 billion dollars to Israel and "has a stranglehold" on the U.S. Congress, and its ability to raise large campaign funds gives its vast influence over Republican and Democratic administrations, while its role in Washington think tanks on the Middle East dominates the policy debate.
And they say that the Lobby works ruthlessly to suppress questioning of its role, to blacken its critics and to crush serious debate about the wisdom of supporting Israel in U.S. public life.
"Silencing skeptics by organizing blacklists and boycotts -- or by suggesting that critics are anti-Semites -- violates the principle of open debate on which democracy depends," Walt and Mearsheimer write.
"The inability of Congress to conduct a genuine debate on these important issues paralyses the entire process of democratic deliberation. Israel's backers should be free to make their case and to challenge those who disagree with them, but efforts to stifle debate by intimidation must be roundly condemned," they add, in the 12,800-word article published in the latest issue of The London Review of Books.
The article focuses strongly on the role of the "neo-conservatives" within the Bush administration in driving the decision to launch the war on Iraq.
"The main driving force behind the war was a small band of neo-conservatives, many with ties to the Likud," Mearsheimer and Walt argue." Given the neo-conservatives' devotion to Israel, their obsession with Iraq, and their influence in the Bush administration, it isn't surprising that many Americans suspected that the war was designed to further Israeli interests."
"The neo-conservatives had been determined to topple Saddam even before Bush became president. They caused a stir early in 1998 by publishing two open letters to Clinton, calling for Saddam's removal from power. The signatories, many of whom had close ties to pro-Israel groups like JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) or WINEP (Washington Institute for Near Eastern Policy), and who included Elliot Abrams, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, William Kristol, Bernard Lewis, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz, had little trouble persuading the Clinton administration to adopt the general goal of ousting Saddam. But they were unable to sell a war to achieve that objective. They were no more able to generate enthusiasm for invading Iraq in the early months of the Bush administration. They needed help to achieve their aim. That help arrived with 9/11. Specifically, the events of that day led Bush and Cheney to reverse course and become strong proponents of a preventive war," Walt and Mearsheimer write.
The article, which is already stirring furious debate in U.S. academic and intellectual circles, also explores the historical role of the Lobby.
"For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel," the article says.
"The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread 'democracy' throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the U.S. been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state?" Professors Walt and Mearsheimer add.
"The thrust of U.S. 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 U.S. interests and those of the other country - in this case, Israel -- are essentially identical," they add.
They argue that far from being a strategic asset to the United States, Israel "is becoming a strategic burden" and "does not behave like a loyal ally." They also suggest that Israel is also now "a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states.
"Saying that Israel and the U.S. are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: the US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around," they add. "Support for Israel is not the only source of anti-American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question that many al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, are motivated by Israel's presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. Unconditional support for Israel makes it easier for extremists to rally popular support and to attract recruits."
They question the argument that Israel deserves support as the only democracy in the Middle East, claiming that "some aspects of Israeli democracy are at odds with core American values. Unlike the US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship. Given this, it is not surprising that its 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens."
The most powerful force in the Lobby is AIPAC, the American-Israel Public affairs Committee, which Walt and Mearsheimer call "a de facto agent for a foreign government," and which they say has now forged an important alliance with evangelical Christian groups.
The bulk of the article is a detailed analysis of the way they claim the Lobby managed to change the Bush administration's policy from "halting Israel's expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories and advocating the creation of a Palestinian state" and divert it to the war on Iraq instead. They write "Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical."
"Thanks to the lobby, the United States has become the de facto enabler of Israeli expansion in the Occupied Territories, making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians," and conclude that "Israel itself would probably be better off if the Lobby were less powerful and U.S. policy more even-handed."