Last year it was hard to believe that “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt‘s paper, was even about the same country as “The Case for Israel,” Alan Dershowitz’s 2003 book.
The latter paints Israelis as nice folks with long, peaceful ties to the land. The former, recently expanded and updated into a book of the same name, sketched them as oppressive, even murderous maniacs who had no moral claim to America’s support. What’s more, Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt argued that America only helps Israel because of a loose “Israel Lobby’s” activism.
Now entering the fray is Abraham Foxman, president of the Anti-Defamation League, with “The Deadliest Lies.”
Obviously, as a representative of Jewish interests, Mr. Foxman is far from unbiased, and he does come absurdly close to calling Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt anti-Semitic. His hair-splitting formulation is that they may or may not be, but they have given credibility to Jewish stereotypes.
But unlike the duo, and unlike Mr. Dershowitz, Mr. Foxman acknowledges the debate’s complexity. He writes that Israel is “a country much like any other, with its problems, its opportunities, its virtues, and, at times, its failings and shortcomings.”
While never denying that Israel has a strong and effective backing in American politics, Mr. Foxman gives examples of the supposedly all-powerful lobby failing in its objectives. He documents Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt’s out-of-context quotations and unfair characterizations of historical events.
Mr. Foxman also makes the case for Israel’s strategic importance to America. Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt argue that supporting Israel hurts our image in the Muslim world.
Mr. Foxman concedes that terrorists cite U.S. support for Israel as a grievance, but adds that they typically rank the complaint below others. He points out that Israel shares our interest in fighting Islamic terrorism. Israel is a Middle East democracy, if a flawed one, and that’s worth encouraging.
None of this proves that the tradeoff between inflaming Muslims and gaining Israelis’ support tips in Israel’s favor, much less that Israel deserves the lavish, consistent U.S. aid it’s been getting. But Mr. Foxman certainly demonstrates that to be arguable — if current policy is possibly right, there’s no reason to assume lawmakers faced undue coercion in crafting it. Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt’s case crumbles without that assumption.
But for all the solid points Mr. Foxman scores, he gets politically correct when it comes to “dual loyalty” and Jewish influence on U.S. politics.
The argument regarding dual loyalty put forward by Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt proves more cohesive than Mr. Foxman’s does. According to them, “it is perfectly legitimate for any American to have a significant attachment to a foreign country. Indeed, Americans are permitted to hold dual citizenship and to serve in foreign armies, unless, of course, the other country is at war with the United States.”
In other words, it’s a free country, and activists can lobby the government on Israel’s behalf if they choose. Lawmakers must balance these interests with those of other citizens.
In contrast, Mr. Foxman skirts the issue and implies that Israel and America share almost all goals. He writes, “virtually every time [pro-Israel Americans] face some choice concerning the policies or philosophy that either of their cherished countries should follow, they find it easy to identify a path that is beneficial to both nations.”
Sure, but that’s called “dual loyalty,” so Mr. Foxman should defend it up front as his opponents did. And in fact, two countries never share every interest — especially when one has to decide how much aid to give the other. More money is always good for Israel, and each year it gets about $3 billion in direct foreign assistance alone.
Also, Mr. Mearsheimer and Mr. Walt cite in the Washington Post that up to 60 percent of private contributions to Democratic presidential campaigns come from Jewish sources, and they point out that “Jewish voters have high turn-out rates and are concentrated in key states.” Mr. Foxman alludes to Jews being “relatively successful, articulate, and politically involved,” yet decries the stereotype to that effect and never really deals with the trend and its effects.
Would that more groups were “successful, articulate, and politically involved.” But it’s not unreasonable to ask whether we have excessively pro-Israel policies because Jewish voters are.
Robert VerBruggen is assistant book editor of The Washington Times.