Saturday, May 20, 2006

Israel and the U.S.

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How it's seen to work by the world at large - courtesy of Aljazeerah

An interesting article in the The New York Review of Books, The Storm over the Israel Lobby. It raises a question I've often pondered, and that is how it is that a country we pour some $3 billion a year into is one that provides no small amount of grief to us in return. I'm talking about Israel in this case, which is the only country that gets that much money and is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid, followed by Egypt which gets somewhere on the order of $2.2 billion a year. We don't get very much out of Egypt for our money, either, but then on the flip side we don't get nearly the trouble as well.

The NYRB article addresses a paper by John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago's Department of Political Science and Stephen M.Walt of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, entitled "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy" which was published in the London Review of Books and then posted to Harvard's The Kennedy School of Government (KSG) web site as a working paper. From the web site we get the following abstract:

In this paper, John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago's Department of Political Science and Stephen M.Walt of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government contend that the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy is its intimate relationship with Israel. The authors argue that although often justified as reflecting shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, the U.S. commitment to Israel is due primarily to the activities of the “Israel Lobby." This paper goes on to describe the various activities that pro-Israel groups have undertaken in order to shift U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.

I didn't read the paper inasmuch as the NYRB article, by Michael Massing by the way, hit on the central issue behind the article, and addressed some of the weaknesses contained within it, and on the whole made a very strong case for why the paper addresses a legitimate issue and problem that this country has with its apparent unqualified support for Israel. What I found especially interesting in Massing's article was how the Mearsheimer/Walt paper has been received, and on the whole it's fair to say that it hasn't been well received by many - Alan Dershowitz, also of Harvard and author of The Case for Israel, apparently has a particularly scathing rejoinder to the paper which can also be found at the KSG working paper site.

What's galling about this are the charges of anti-Semitism that come with many of the comments. Frankly I'm of a mind that many of the Jews who went to their deaths during the Holocaust would have a hard time with how Israel has comported itself lo these last 55 off years, and I'm pretty fed up with anyone who's response to criticism of Israel is to throw the Holocaust in one's face. Many Israelis and not a few American Jews ("not a few", but FAR from all, a point Massing makes in his article regarding specifically those individuals involved with funding the DC lobbying effort and unequivocal support for Israel) need to stop hiding behind the Holocaust, an event which was the emodiment of evil and horrific in its magnitude but it's too often used a manure shield to deflect any criticism of Israel and that's becoming something of a worn record. I also love when I hear "Never again!" - I have such a hard time understanding why anyone says this these days when we have so many hundreds of thousands dying in other countries over these years since the Holocaust, recently many of them Muslims such as in the Sudan, or whatever denomination or ethnicity in a number of other African countries - though few if any Jews - why is it that "Never again!" isn't a rallying cry for action to stop post-Holocaust genocide, with Israelis at the head of the line screaming it at the top of their lungs?

The point Massing makes is pretty simple: there's an Israeli lobbying effort afoot in DC (funded by American Jews, NOT Israel) that can make life hard or easy for many a money-sucking politician. When you read the article you begin to appreciate how much of a problem this really is. I can't tell you how many times I've heard from Middle Eastern and Iranian friends about how they believe that the Jews run our government. That's old hat and definitely not true and frankly too many people from the Middle East have far too much of a fascination with conspiracy theories and paranoia regarding Jews. But have little doubt, this article makes you wonder to what extent our system of government has bent itself to the interests of Israel over the interests of ourselves, and you also get to appreciate why non-Americans looking from the outside in, especially those from the Middle East, begin to think as they do.

I am not suggesting that we not defend Israel's right to exist - unfortunately in this case I believe that the sins of Europe in fact do get to be paid for by the Palestinians and the rest of that region of the world. It's not fair, it's not reasonable, but it's a done deal and I don't see it changing. That said, the Palestinians are owed recompense for what they've given up, they're owed a state, and some dignity, and this country is owed more for well over $75 billion given to support Israel and its often anti-Arab policies than the grief we have to show for it up to now, specifically when it comes to peace in that part of the world.

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