The Way The Israel Lobby Steers The Policy Of The Biggest World Power
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Prof. Stephen Walt, Dean of John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, USA, about the influence of the 'Israel lobby' on the US policy
In order to understand the US policy of the last decades one must realize the fundamental fact: the United States are the closest ally of Israel and the defence of Israeli interests is a priority of the American policy. The relationship has been evident in the American policy in the Middle East. The special relationships between the biggest world power and Israel result from the activities of the Israel lobby, the most influential group on the American political scene (and not only this scene). These conclusions were reached by two American professors: Stephen Walt, Harvard University, and John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago, the authors of well-documented study entitled 'The Israel Lobby'.
I have made an interview with Prof. Stephen Walt for 'Niedziela'.
Wlodzimierz Redzioch: Together with Prof. John Mearsheimer you have written a study about the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. Who belongs to the lobby?
Prof. Stephan Walt: The 'Israel lobby' is a loose coalition consisting of various people and groups that do their best to make American policy pro-Israel. The lobby is neither a centrally managed organization nor a clique nor conspiracy. Its core consists of mainly Jewish-American organizations like The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), although many American Jews do not share its extreme stand. Other members include many non-Jews, predominantly members of evangelical groups.
- Who are these Christian Zionists?
- Christian Zionists are Christian Protestants who think that the state of Israel is the fulfilment of the biblical prophecy, which will forward the second coming of Christ. They want Israel to possess the whole territory of Palestine, and thus they think that the United States should support Israeli expansionism.
- Could you give some concrete examples of the special relationships between the United States and Israel?
- The United States offer Israel economic and military help in the amount of about three billion dollars, which is 500 dollars for every Israeli. The US helps a country that has a very well developed industry and per capita income roughly equal to that of South Korea or Spain. The US also provides Israel with consistent diplomatic support. For example, they veto every UN resolution critical of Israel, and are keen to support Israeli actions in crises (which we can see in the present Lebanese crisis).
- That explains why since 1982 the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel and why Israel can ignore the UN activities. What methods does the Israel lobby use to exert influence on American political life?
- It uses the ways tested by all interest groups: it makes campaign distributions for those politicians who favour the lobby and tries to remove all opponents; it sends letters to the Congress and is active inside the Congress; organizes think tanks and groups that influence public debates is such a way that Israel is always shown in a positive light; it tries to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it, sometimes it resorts to accusations of anti-Semitism. In a word, the Israel lobby does what any other interest group does but it does it much better.
- You have stressed that the Israel lobby destroys its opponents by using a powerful and deceitful weapon: accusation of anti-Semitism. What is your opinion about that?
- Anti-Semitism is a repugnant phenomenon and no serious man wants to be accused of anti-Semitism. The problem is that the Israel lobby, accusing its critics and the critics of the Israeli policy of 'Anti-Semitism', tries to discourage people to speak about these issues.
- How does the Israel lobby manage to convince American public opinion to share its bias policy?
- In the US people feel sympathy for Israel partly because Americans have accepted a series of myths related to Israel's origin and policy. So one can witness a strong conviction that the state of Israel was a proper answer to the ages of persecutions of the Jews in Europe and in other parts of the world. The problem is that supporting the state and its rights to exist does not mean that the United States must unconditionally accept all activities of the Israeli government, especially the constant occupation of the Palestine territories.
- What is the political price the US pays for its unwavering support for Israel?
- Apart from economic costs the unwavering US support for Israel weakens America's position in the whole Arab and Muslim world. It is grist to terrorist groups' mill, such groups like Al-Kaida. Even the close US allies question our opinions. Moreover, such an unwavering support for Israel does not help Israel itself because it made the country take wrong political decisions that turned against it (one example, the long-term campaign to make expansion on the West Bank and Gaza).
- At the beginning of the 1980s Jonathan Pollard, American Jew, gave Israel large quantities of secret materials concerning e.g. nuclear weapon (which it reportedly passed on to the Soviet Union in return for more exit visas for Soviet Jews). Whereas in 2004 Larry Franklin, a key Pentagon official, passed classified information to an Israeli diplomat. Does it mean that Israel can spy with impunity on its powerful ally?
- Pro-Israeli propaganda shows Israel as 'democratic David' who must keep fighting with 'totalitarian Islamic Goliath'. Is this propaganda picture true?
- Israel is a democratic country but its democracy is not perfect. In Israel Arabs are second-class citizens and Palestinians are refused their full political rights. Besides, Israel is not a weak 'David' facing strong Arab 'Goliath'. On the contrary, Israel is the biggest military power in the Middle East and has at its disposal an arsenal of over 100 nuclear weapons. This argumentation cannot justify the unwavering US support for Israel. The United States should treat Israel like any other country, i.e. support it when American interests coincide with its interests and do not support it when they do not.
- How does the Israel lobby influence the US government in matters concerning the present Lebanese crisis?
- The groups of this lobby are working all the time to show the Israeli opinion about the conflict in the United States and explain the extreme Israeli reaction to the provocation of Hezbollah. Whereas in other countries, including Europe, the reactions were more objective. It was rightly estimated that the massive attack of the Israeli army would not improve the situation but make it worse. The problem is not whether Israel has the right to defend itself against aggression (naturally it has!) but whether its activities in Lebanon and Gaza contribute to increase its security. There is much discussion about this in Europe and Israel, but in the United States we lack an open discussion.
- Thank you for the conversation.
Prof. Stephen Walt is Dean of John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, the most famous higher school in the United States. He lectures on international affairs. Earlier he lectured on social sciences at Princeton University and the University of Chicago. He was a counsellor for many prestigious institutions: Institute for Defence Analyses, Center for Naval Analyses and National Defence University. He has been a board member of many periodicals (Foreign Policy, Security Studies, International Relations, Journal of Cold War Studies), and currently he is a co-publisher of Cornell Studies in Security Affairs, at Cornell University. In May 2005 he was appointed Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
He is the author of numerous books, including 'Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy' (W. W. Norton 2005). His study entitled 'The Israel Lobby' is accessible on the page of London Review of Books: www.lrb.co.uk (search: Stephen Walt).