USC Students for Justice in Palestine

history, analysis, news, and event updates on the struggle for justice in palestine

The watchdog, not the master: Israel, the “lobby,” and the United States

Posted by uscsjp on April 2, 2007


THE DEBATE about the relationship between Israel and the U.S, in particular about the power of the Israel lobby, has been raging since spring 2006 when two respected academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, published a paper, “The Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy.” This led to a flood of articles, a well-publicized debate at Cooper Union in New York, and now a book by James Petras, The Power of Israel in the United States.

Mearsheimer and Walt are University of Chicago and Harvard political scientists who represent the “realist” school of American foreign policy; that is, they advocate policies they believe are in the best interests of the U.S. ruling class. Their paper is well researched and has—despite or perhaps as a result of the Israel lobby’s attacks—forced an important argument about the U.S.-Israel relationship into the mainstream. They write:

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? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the U.S. provides. Instead, the overall thrust of U.S. policy in the region is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the “Israel Lobby.” Other special interest groups have managed to skew U.S. foreign policy in directions they favored, but no lobby has managed to divert U.S. foreign policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that U.S. and Israeli interests are essentially identical.1

Despite some valid arguments Mearsheimer and Walt make about the role of the pro-Israel lobby in squelching debate about U.S.-Israel relations, their central contention, that an all-powerful lobby dictates U.S. policies in the Middle East that run counter to the interests of the United States, must be rejected. This “tail wags the dog” argument reverses the dynamic of the relationship between the United States (the dog) and Israel (the tail), and flies in the face of any logical assessment of how the United States determines its own foreign policy. It is simply not credible to argue that the American Empire is being hoodwinked into acting against its own interests by the Israeli state in cahoots with a powerful lobby in Washington and their latest converts to Zionism, evangelical Christians. Multibillion-dollar yearly aid to Israel, military intelligence, political cover for Israel’s ongoing terror against the Palestinians, and America’s pugnacious Middle East policies all serve U.S. imperial interests. Israel is the watchdog, not the master. (continued)


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