27 November 2007

The Israel Lobby: A Preview

I got Mearsheimer and Walt's new book on the Israeli Lobby, an expansion of their controversial article from last year, out of the library today. On the bus home I was perusing it when a man seated behind me noticed what I was reading.
"That should be a bigger book," he remarked.
The book is almost 500 pages long, counting endnotes and other back material.
"It's a big lobby," the man explained.

I've gotten almost 100 pages into the book and the authors haven't really dealt with the lobby itself in detail yet. They've opened with a summary of U.S.-Israel relations from 1948 to the present and a further summary of Israeli history vis-a-vis their neighbors, taken in large part from Israeli historians. The purpose of the summary is to smash any notion that Israel is morally entitled to unwavering, unambiguous support from Americans, and they do a pretty effective job. At the same time, they reiterate that they're not trying to hold Israel to a double standard or rejecting Zionism as a concept. In fact, they accept the central premise of Zionism on page 92:

"There is no question that Jews suffered greatly from the despicable legacy of anti-Semitism and that Israel's creation was an appropriate response to a long record of crimes. This history provides a strong moral case for supporting Israel's founding and continued existence. This backing is also consistent with America's general commitment to national self-determination."

On the strength of that passage, Mearsheimer and Walt are more Zionist than I am, since I think the remedy for anti-Semitism is for all nations to treat all their citizens with absolute equality, not to grant Jewish people some compensatory right to conquest. Yet the hard-core pro-Israel media in the U.S. treat these two as if they've published the next volume of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The authors are actually quite perceptive about this point. The legacy of the Protocols forgery has made it nearly impossible for anyone to suggest that any Jewish people or institutions are behaving unjustly or exerting disproportionate influence without getting accused of a libel on the level with the original forgery. The morons who made up that book are the ultimate boys who cried wolf, and the present writers are paying the price. I will try to be more fair as I work my way through the rest of the book.

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