Efraim Inbar wrote an article for the Jerusalem Post at the beginning of May which bears close consideration.
What went wrong?
Jerusalem Post, April 2, 2006.
The recently published study “The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy,” by two important professors of international relations, John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, blames the Jews for pushing the US foreign policy into the wrong direction at great cost to Washington. The researchers portray themselves as “realists” whose cold analysis has only the national interests of America at heart.
The main thrust of the argument is easily refutable. The two professors are clearly wrong in their ascription of US support for Israel to the machinations of the Israeli lobby.
All polls show consistent support for Israel over many years on the part of a large majority of Americans from all walks of life, and most of them were never exposed to the Israeli lobby. Americans like Israel for what it is: a vibrant and embattled democratic society, which is a natural ally for the US. The proposition that the US would be better off by not lending its support to Israel betrays ignorance of what the Middle East really is, and of the real causes of anti-Americanism in the region. The negative attitudes towards the US and the West are deeply rooted in Arab and Muslim culture and have little to do with American aid to Israel.
In reality, the case for supporting Israel as an important strategic ally due to its strategic location and political stability, as well as its technological and military assets, is almost self evident. Methodologically, it is strange to see realists, whose powerful intellectual paradigm relates little importance to domestic politics, ascribe such a powerful role to any lobby.
To put it slightly differently, the power of the Israel Lobby lies not in its money (Arabs have much more) or its numbers (there are already many more Muslims in the USA than Jews, and Jews don’t vote in a block for pro-Israel candidates), but on the compelling logic of the case, on the deep similarities in values and commitments between Israelis and Americans. Not only is Israel the only reliable ally in the Middle East (something W-M seem to have no clue about), but it is America’s only ally not subject to the politics of resentment.
As to the bizarre anomaly of “realists” ascribing importance to domestic lobbies, I believe that Noam Chomsky has weighed in against the W-M thesis on just that basis.
But the methodological anomaly is important — as Imbar explores below. It signals a deep level of self-contradiction in the paper. On the simplest level, the paper is based on the astounding “realist” notion that Arab allies are as good as Israel (and far wealthier and more powerful), and therefore since it makes more “sense” to ally with them, only the nefarious impact of some mysteriously effective “lobby” can explain how US foreign policy could be so far out of wack. As I’ve noted before: this is the basis of French (and more broadly European) foreign policy, the heart of the Eurabian “deal.” If the shape of Europe isn’t enough evidence against such foolishness, I don’t know what is.
However, despite its shallow analysis and the probable desire of the authors to be provocative and take the spotlight, it would be a mistake to ignore the Mearsheimer-Walt paper. This study is not just the result of the frustration experienced by senior academics when their advice against going to war in Iraq went unheeded. The Mersheimer-Walt study is serious because it is symptomatic of the mood in many intellectual circles in the West. Its value judgments are a great source of concern.
These researchers and others have stopped seeing Israel as morally superior to its foes. Unfortunately for Israel, Palestinian interpretation of the conflict is increasingly gaining credibility in the West. Israeli new historians, whose publications were quoted in the Mearsheimer-Walt study despite their poor scholarship, also provide ammunition to the Palestinian case. For many, Israel has become the culprit in the Arab-Israeli conflict. While Israel still has strong bastions of public support, public opinion in most Western countries – America is a clear exception – has shifted in the past decades and is critical of Israel, often taking the Palestinian side.
This is a good a description of the long-range influence of Pallywood, and particularly the impact of Al Durah. It bespeaks the enormous impact that media, especially systematically inaccurate media can have on our thinking.
There is a long-range danger in the emergence of an international consensus questioning the legitimacy of Israel. A new Zeitgeist, which accepts the position that Israel was born in sin, and blames its behavior for the subsequent negative regional repercussions, would make Israel’s elimination expedient – indeed even morally acceptable – to Western regional interests.
And of course the obverse of this is the role of Anti-Zionism as cultural AIDS. As long as you see Israel as the Middle Eastern villain, with all the implications of a reasonable but unjustly treated Arab world as the victim of Israeli perfidy, you’ll come up with the lame and self-destructive foreign policy thinking of W-M, dupes to demopaths, wandering blindly through the straights of Scylla and Charybdis.
Israel is a strong state, but because it is a small country it is more dependent for its well-being than large powers on the vagaries of the international community. Becoming a pariah state is dangerous.
To some extent, Israel itself is at fault for the change in attitudes. Israel bailed out the PLO from its crisis, and brought Yasser Arafat from Tunis to the lawn of the White House in 1993, bestowing unprecedented legitimacy upon him and his cause. Israel’s reluctance to remove the mask of the corrupt and authoritarian PLO leader, who turned a blind eye to terror, allowed the Palestinians to deny their blatant violations of the “peace process.” In fact, its continuation was contingent largely upon Israeli self-delusion.
The frequent references to the casualties of Palestinian terror as the “sacrifices for peace,” helped Arafat hide Palestinian cruelty and cynicism. Portraying the Palestinians as reasonable partners for peace, rather than a society mesmerized by violence, united by abysmal hatred towards Jews, and largely partner to widespread Arab anti-Western sentiments, undermined Israel’s case.
At home, Israel’s undue tolerance of organizations that side with the Palestinians and obstruct Israel’s war effort has played a role in the deterioration of Israel’s moral standing. For example, while various organizations encourage draft-dodging and accuse IDF officers of being war criminals (causing great public relations damage as well as violating Israel’s penal code), the authorities are reluctant to bring such groups to court.
In addition, an education system that exposes the Israeli student to the fabrications of the new historians has undermined the main asset of Israeli society: conviction of the justice of the Zionist cause.
This whole process has been analyzed well by Kenneth Levin in The Oslo Syndrome. And it’s not uniquely Israeli, rather it’s part of a wider pattern of liberal cognitive egocentrism in the grip of an aggressive form of political correctness. It’s a kind of “moral perfectionism” that the Jews have historically excelled at — prophets blaming Israel for being conquered by nasty imperialist regimes like the Assyrians, Babylonians, etc. — and now permeates a wide range of thinking, notable for its foolish inability to appreciate the time for such moral perfectionism and the time to gather stones together.
Israel has to recapture the upper moral ground in its conflict with the Palestinians. With a Hamas-led PA in power the task is easier; but Jerusalem needs clarity of purpose and a sophisticated strategy, as well as determination and resources, to help the enlightened world appreciate that we are fighting the bad guys.
The writer is professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and the director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.
Okay, but what does that last paragraph on the agenda mean? Part of the problem is that merely stating the obvious — the immense moral gap between Arab/Muslim/Palestinian commitment to the values of justice, fairness, civil rights, tolerance, etc. and the Israelis — does not work very well.
Even pointing out to people that in their anti-Zionism they are contributing to their own self destruction has limited effect.
Part of the answer, I think, lies in making clear to people what’s at work in the culturally rare (but in civil society over-abundant) trait of self-criticism. When Israeli “post-Zionists” self-criticize, they manifest, perhaps in pathological quantities, this very rare ability to listen to the outside voices, to accept responsibility, to introspect. This takes maturity and emotional courage, especially when done in public. For people to interpret the work of these men as a blot on Israeli claims to moral superiority when, in fact, they illustrate the immense gap between Israel’s mature and self-critical culture and the demonizing and scapegoating reflexes of Palestinian society, is a colossal mistake.
Part lies in a deep analysis of the psychological resistance to serious moral reasoning… scapegoating (sorry LB), moral Schadenfreude, the roots of moral envy and the politics of resentment.
Part lies in an ability to keep a compass when people seem to have gone morally mad.
Patience, however, may not be a virtue we can afford.