Critics attack “Israel Lobby” paper co-authored by Mearsheimer

By Lauren Osen

A controversial paper co-authored recently by U of C political science professor John Mearsheimer and a Harvard University colleague has ignited a heated debate about relations between the United States and Israel.

In the paper, entitled “The Israel Lobby,” Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the Academic Dean of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, assert that the U.S. has prioritized Israeli interests ahead of American security needs.

The London Review of Books first published the paper two weeks ago, and it also appeared on the Kennedy School’s website in a section that invites faculty members to discuss and debate posted articles.

According to the paper, the “Israel Lobby” is comprised of groups such as the Brookings Institution and American Enterprise Institute, media outlets such as the Chicago Sun-Times and The Wall Street Journal, and individuals such as Senator Hillary R. Clinton and World Bank President Paul D. Wolfowitz.

The authors argue that the Israel Lobby has manipulated U.S. foreign policy to the point that Israel “has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976, and is the largest recipient in total since World War II.”

Mearsheimer and Walt criticize the U.S. Congress, the Bush administration, academia, and the press for falling under the influence of this group, which they say has undermined the image of Palestinians. In addition, they call the group a “critical element” behind the war in Iraq and say that it has made American political leaders “remain sympathetic to Israel no matter what it does.”

So far, the paper has generated a firestorm—exactly what the authors intended.

“My coauthor and I stand behind our paper, and we welcome serious scholarly discussion of its arguments and evidence,” Walt told the Boston Globe this week.

The paper, however, has generated fervent interest outside of academia. A variety of high-profile figures and institutions have started taking sides, including white supremacist David Duke. On March 18, Duke dedicated his entire half-hour Internet radio broadcast show to the paper, claiming that it confirms his long-held beliefs condemning Jews and Israel.

In addition, the paper has attracted the attention of the Arab-operated satellite television network Al Jazeera, the Islamic group Hamas, and the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The paper has received stinging criticism as well. Harvard Law Professor Alan M. Dershowitz—who is himself cited in the paper as a part of the Israel Lobby—accused the authors of anti-Semitism. In a recent interview with the Harvard Crimson, Dershowitz called the paper “one-sided” and its authors “liars” and “bigots.” He also likened the paper to neo-Nazi literature.

U of C political science professor Robert Pape disputed the accusation.

“I have been amazed at the charges of anti-Semitism leveled at [the authors] regarding this article, not only because they are philo-Semites of the first order, but also because this is what they predicted would happen in their piece,” Pape said.

Other academics argue that the paper is factually incorrect and oversteps the boundaries of academic freedom.

In response, Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood released a statement saying that the school “is committed to academic freedom” and that it “does not restrict, interfere with, or take a position on the conclusions reached by its faculty in their individual research.”

The school, however, has removed the Harvard University–Kennedy School logo from the opening page of the paper and now displays a disclaimer stating that the paper “should not be interpreted or portrayed as reflecting the official position” of Harvard or the University of Chicago.

The paper concludes, “[w]hat is needed is a candid discussion of the Lobby’s influence and a more open debate about U.S. interests in this vital region…Open debate will expose the limits of the strategic and moral case for a one-sided U.S. support and could move the U.S. to a position more consistent with its own national interest, with the interests of the other states in the region, and with Israel’s long-term interests as well.”

“Professor Walt’s and my views on these issues are laid out in detail in the article. I would urge interested readers to look at it carefully and make up their own minds,” Mearsheimer said.