Friday, May 26, 2006

Barbi's playmates

In The Storm over the Israel Lobby Michael Massing identifies faults in Mersheimer and Walt (on which earlier comments are here and here) such as their confusion of Israel's citizenship laws with the right of return, and recalls Noam Chomsky's telling criticism (that their thesis could be used to serve the misguided notion that without the Israel Lobby US policy would be just fine). Most productively, he castigates them for an absence of first hand research:

"Mearsheimer and Walt provide little sense of how AIPAC and other lobbying groups work, how they seek to influence policy, and what people in government have to say about them. The authors seem to have concluded that in view of the sensitivity of the subject, few people would talk frankly about it. In fact, many people are fed up with the lobby and eager to explain why (though often not on the record)".
Massing then goes some way to make up for this fault with some first hand research and reporting on precisely who is involved (that includes the "Barbi" in the title of this post, wife of Larry Weinberg of AIPAC's "gang of four") and just how fast some congressmen/women and senators run to the whistle of money.

For example, "in the current election cycle, [Hillary Clinton] has received $80,000 in pro-Israel money—more than any other congressional candidate". It makes Tim Garton Ash's scenario in which it is president Hillary Clinton who launches the strike on Iran seem about right. One congressman, who asked to remain anonymous, tells Massing:

"We're so predictable, so supportive, so unquestioning, of Israel's actions that in the long run we've alienated much of the Arab world. We've passed any number of resolutions making it clear that we didn't want Clinton or Bush to put pressure on Israel with regard to settlements, or negotiations. If we passed a resolution that fully embraced the road map, it would make an enormous difference in the Arab world, and it would help undermine terrorists. But you would never get a measure like that through the international relations or appropriations committees. Congress would never pass a resolution that was in any way critical of anything Israel has done".
See also the letter by Betty McCollum.

Buried away in Massing's piece is are reference to
Tony Beilenson who suffered in his Los Angeles district because he had wanted to divert one percent of all US foreign aid—including aid to Israel—to help drought victims in sub-Saharan Africa. Israel, a rich country, gets around $500 per head in direct aid from the US. Sub-Saharan Africans get less than a dollar each.

1 comment:

Seva Brodsky said...

I can't really do the source paper proper justice (as I am not fully qualified) -- I leave that to the capable folks at CAMERA -- see the detailed, thorough and excellent analysis by Dr. Alex Safian at http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_print=1&x_context=7&x_issue=35&x_article=1099 -- it leaves no stone unturned.

I will, however, address Massing's review, with occasional references to the problems of the "working paper" as quoted or described in the review. To wit,

1. "The objects of all this controversy are two eminent members of the academic establishment."
"Eminent" according to whose standards? Just assigning a qualification, without justification, is hardly objective.

2. "Mearsheimer is ... the author of three books, including The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. Mearsheimer ... published Taming American Power: The Global Response to US Primacy. As their book titles suggest, both professors belong to the 'realist' school of international relations, viewing national interest as the only effective ground for making foreign policy."

I would suggest that the above book titles suggest something entirely different -- just read the words: "Great Power Politics","American Power", "US Primacy" -- these word combinations tell me "anti-American", "anti-West", "anti-power", etc. Basically, the titles decry the power of the (only remaining) Great Power, and DO NOT "suggest" that the authors "belong to the 'realist' school of international relations, viewing national interest as the only effective ground for making foreign policy."

3. Regarding the "'extraordinary generosity' the US showers on Israel— the nearly $3 billion in direct foreign assistance it provides every year" -- one needs to put things into proper perspective, as the US shows the same kind of "extraordinary generosity" to Egypt by "showering" it with a similar (nearly $3 billion) amount in direct foreign assistance it provides every year.

4. Massing quotes the authors about the unwavering American support, which "'might be understandable if Israel were a vital strategic asset or if there were a compelling moral case for sustained US backing.' In fact, they write, 'neither rationale is convincing.' Israel may have had strategic value ... but that has long since faded. Since September 11, Israel has been cast as a crucial ally in the war on terror, but actually, according to Mearsheimer and Walt, it has been more of a liability... Morally, Israel qualifies as a democracy, the authors write, but it's a deeply flawed one, discriminating against its Arab citizens and oppressing the Palestinians who have lived under its occupation. If neither strategic nor moral considerations can account for America's support for Israel, Mearsheimer and Walt ask, what does? Their answer: the 'unmatched power of the Israel Lobby'."

Israel is indeed a vital strategic asset of the U.S., and there is a compelling moral case for U.S. backing -- it is based on similarity (if not equality of) values and on the fact that Judaism is at the core of the Western (including American) Judeo-Christian values, which form the foundation of the whole Western civilization, which at least to my mind is worth defending.

Massing does not subject such flawed sweeping statements to analysis, let alone criticism -- he merely accepts them as the starting point, as he goes on to write, "If neither strategic nor moral considerations can account for America's support for Israel, Mearsheimer and Walt ask, what does? Their answer: the 'unmatched power of the Israel Lobby'." 

5. Massing further unquestioningly accepts the authors including Bernard Lewis into the group of listed Jewish neoconservatives. As it happens, not only is Prof. Bernard Lewis NOT a neocon, he is not even a politician -- he is an eminent historian of the Islamic world, respected both at home and abroad, and not only in the West, but also in the East, including the Arab and broader Muslim world.

Nor does Massing question what is wrong with "critics of the press such as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America" -- CAMERA is a media research, analysis and watchdog group with emphasis on the Middle East, particularly the Arab-Israeli conflict. CAMERA's reports are well-substantiated, thoroughly documented and academic in their methodology and depth of analysis. Since when did a watchdog's alleged affiliation with a "lobby" become a cardinal sin? By the same token we should accuse the U.S. Bureau of Statistics of being the agent of American imperialism. Merely accepting groundless accusations against CAMERA does nothing to advance the reviewer's position, let alone that of the authors.

5. "While other special-interest groups influence US foreign policy, Mearsheimer and Walt say, no lobby has managed to divert it 'as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US and Israeli interests are essentially identical.' The result has turned the US into an 'enabler' of Israeli expansion in the occupied territories, 'making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians'."

See #4 above. As for the apparent acceptance of the alleged "crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians" -- Massing does not bother to put things into perspective in his review. There is a world of difference between the most unfortunate loss of enemy civilians' life when responding to acts of terrorism, and that of the innocent civilians who are the deliberate targets of terrorist attacks. There is no and cannot be moral equivalency between the two, which both the authors and the reviewer apparently seem to miss.

6. Of note is the quote from Tony Judt who "lamented the 'somewhat hysterical response' to the paper in the United States" and who then went on to state that "it will not be self-evident to future generations of Americans why the imperial might and international reputation of the United States are so closely aligned with one small, controversial Mediterranean client state." Judt's animosity toward Israel should be quite evident even from this one short passage.

7. "Hysterical does seem an apt word for the reaction to 'The Israel Lobby'." Here, Massing is just as guilty as Judt who used the word to describe the justified reaction to the screed by the "two eminent members of the academic establishment". His justifications for agreeing with the description really make me wonder what is wrong with the statements of the critics -- reasonable people can disagree on that (I happen to agree with the critics).

8. "It must be said, however, that 'The Israel Lobby' has some serious shortcomings, and that these have contributed to the vehemence of the response. First, Mearsheimer and Walt have made some factual errors."

Why, thank you, Mr. Massing. If he only bothered to read the excellent CAMERA report (referenced above), which came out on March 20 and was updated on April 6 of 2006, well before the June 8 publication of the review, then he would certainly have found a whole lot more wrong with the "working paper". However, Mr. Massing either chose to ignore the report, or, having read it, is being disingenuous, for he then goes on to list the alleged Israeli crimes against the Palestinians, as given by the two authors, without subjecting their nasty claims and statements to rigorous analysis and fact checking. 

All I can suggest here is to read the CAMERA report, which dispels the claims of "the murdering of hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war in 1956 and 1967, the beating of thousands of young people during the first intifada, and the conversion of the IDF into a 'killing machine' during the second" and other such canards, with which "The Israel Lobby" is replete -- something that Massing has demonstrably failed to do. On the bright side, there were no accusations of Jews using the blood of Christian babies for their Passover matzos. How far we have progressed ...

9. Massing accepts the charges of terrorism used by the British against the Jews who fought them in Palestine without bothering to distinguish between the militant actions of the Jewish underground, which were directed at the British military targets, and those of the Palestinian "militants" which are directed mostly against the "soft" Israeli civilian targets. Once again, that same moral equivalence: "There is no doubt that Israeli forces have killed many innocent civilians during the second intifada and deserve to be condemned for it" -- see #5 above.

10. Giving credit where it's due, Massing accused Mearsheimer and Walt's essay of its thin documentation, and he does give a rather detailed analysis of some of the flaws of the "working paper", although a whole lot more could and should be said. And he did do some independent research by contacting some members of the U.S. government as well as some former AIPAC members. However, it appears that the only voices heard in that respect were those of AIPAC's several critics, which presents a rather unbalanced picture of the alleged "lobby". 

11. Massing paints a rather dark picture of the "Gang of Four", which makes AIPAC appear as a cabal from the infamous "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", and dedicates much of the article's space to his own research into AIPAC, painting a rather unappealing picture thereof. I dare say Massing's portrait is far from unbiased.

"AIPAC has a formidable network of supporters throughout the US. Its 100,000 members—up 60 percent from five years ago —are guided by AIPAC's nine regional offices, its ten satellite offices, and its one-hundred-person-plus Washington staff, a highly professional group that includes lobbyists, researchers, analysts, organizers, and publicists, backed by an enormous $47 million annual budget."

Well, if the reviewer thinks that $47 million annual budget of such a large organization is "enormous" then I would suggest that he take a closer look at the virtually unlimited budget of the multi-billion-dollar anti-Israel lobby, backed by the unfortunately still-abundant Arab oil, which is the source of so much grief in this world.

Then follows anecdotal evidence from some disgruntled former public figures, which is used as the basis of the proof of the correctness of the accusations against the "powerful" "Israel Lobby".

12. "What AIPAC wants can be summed up very succinctly: a powerful Israel free to occupy the territory it chooses; enfeebled Palestinians; and unquestioning support for Israel by the United States. AIPAC is skeptical of negotiations and peace accords, along with the efforts by Israeli doves, the Palestinians, and Americans to promote them."

All this is fed to us as the whole truth. Well, it isn't. What AIPAC, and most mainline Jewish organizations want is a strong Israel indeed, as its military strength is the only guarantee of its survival in the face of the overwhelming odds, especially now that Egypt, which has the strongest military in the Arab world (armed with American weapons), gets as much aid from the U.S. as does Israel. Add to that U.S. aid to Jordan with its American military equipment, and the sales of modern arms to Saudi Arabia, and the picture begins to look much bleaker for Israel.

As for the alleged desire to "enfeeble Palestinians" -- please, Mr. Massing, what's with the conspiracy theories? 

13. "Since the mid-1990s, AIPAC has been devoting much of its energy to warning against Iran's development of nuclear weapons, to denouncing the mullahs in Tehran, and to seeking their overthrow. Mearsheimer and Walt place much emphasis on the lobby's support for war in Iraq, but AIPAC's work on Iran has had far more impact in Washington (assisted as it is by the aggressive rhetoric and actions of President Ahmadinejad). The network with which AIPAC is associated, it should be said, does not constitute any sort of conspiracy or cabal; its various parts and members work independently and often take positions at odds with one another. Still, it would be foolish to ignore the very real ways in which their activities tend to reinforce one another as they agitate for a more muscular US presence in the Middle East and beyond."

All I can say here is kudos to AIPAC for bringing up the issue of nuclear-armed Iran back in the 1990s -- the world would have fared better had the U.S. government paid more attention. 

14. Massing then goes on to "expose" who is who in the Jewish power world, connecting various dots, and calling the Middle East Forum founder, Daniel Pipes, "an energetic neoconservative whose views seem extreme even within that world". Is this Massing's description, or that of Pipes' alleged "neoconservative" critics? If it's the latter, some data to prove the point would be most welcome. The New Republic, a centrist (or left of center, as some would argue) magazine, gets portrayed as a neocon outlet. 

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations ("far less known than AIPAC but nearly as powerful") "is run by its executive vice-chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, who has long been close to the settlers' movement; for several years in the mid-1990s, he served as an associate chair for the annual fund-raising dinners held in New York for Bet El, a militant settlement near Ramallah." Unlike Mr. Massing, I happen to know a number of people from Bet El (a town near Jerusalem), and do NOT find them to be particularly "militant".

"The editor of [AIPAC's] 'Activities Update' is Michael Lewis, the son of Bernard Lewis, the Princeton scholar and interpreter of the Arab world who gave advice to the Bush administration in the months preceding the war in Iraq." Here again, one accusation follows another. First, the distinguished (and rather timid) father (Bernard) is called a neocon, then his son is implicated with AIPAC. Wow, what impeccable logic.

Of course, in Massing's dictionary "neocon" is a swear word. I had previously thought that reasonable people could disagree on that. Apparently, I was wrong. After all, who am I, when stacked against someone who gets published in the venerable New York Review of Books?

15. "The nasty campaign waged against John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt has itself provided an excellent example of the bullying tactics used by the lobby and its supporters."

Ergo, the conclusion. AIPAC is powerful and bad. Critics of the "two eminent members of the academic establishment" are "nasty" and "hysterical". Thus, despite the few flaws and weaknesses that "The Israel Lobby" was shown to have, it is basically good, while the Israel lobby is bad. Q.E.D.

What a house of cards ...

Seva.Brodsky(at)gmail(.)com