Mark Lichbach, Professor, Comparative Politics Chair of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland and Alan Zuckerman, Professor of Political Science at Brown University will convene a formal conference this summer of invited distinguished scholars to formally academically critique the work of Walt and Mearsheim, Jimmy Carter and others which have gained so much attention recently.
In spring 2005, two well known political scientists, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, of the University of Chicago and Harvard University respectively, wrote a much discussed essay about the “Israel Lobby” and American foreign policy. Suddenly, the rumors of the power of American Jews were brought from the fringes of American politics into the faculty club, or rather the pages of The London Review of Books. In September 2007 Professors Mearsheimer and Walt published their book, The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, to a continuing storm of controversy. In winter 2006, former President Jimmy Carter wrote a book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. In defending his book in major news outlets, Carter repeatedly fell back on canards about the power of the Jews to influence political dialogue and public policies in America. The storm over President Carter’s book also continues
This conference and an edited volume is thus a response to an American embarrassment. Historians and political scientists have known for decades that the far right and the far left thrive on crackpot conspiracy theories of American society and politics. Among the most enduring of these fantasies is that American Jews, whose six million members comprise two percent of the American population, exert disproportionate control over the nation’s foreign and domestic policies. Before the Second World War and the Holocaust, such ideas were respectable enough to be found in country clubs and corporate offices. But it has been many decades since professors at distinguished universities and former Presidents of the United States have lent credence to ideas that had been the stock in trade of modern anti-Semitism. At their core lay the notion that the Jews, few in number yet possessed of much intelligence and no morality, ran affairs of state behind the scenes to the detriment of the vast non-Jewish majority. Whether the “Israeli Lobby” is responsible for the current war in Iraq and a future war with Iran is now debated on PBS, with the national director of the Anti-Defamation League serving as a witness for the defense. In the words of a Leonard Cohen lyric from the 1960s, “That’s right, it’s come to this, yes it’s come to this, and wasn’t it a long way down, wasn’t it a strange way down.”
We propose to ask political scientists, historians, and experts with experience in American politics and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East to discuss the ways that they think the world really works. In this interdisciplinary context, the group will examine role of Jews in American politics among the various influences on American foreign policy in general and towards the Middle East in particular. They will examine public opinion, the media, parties and elections, interest groups, ethnic politics, corporations, the Congress, the State Department, the Department of Defense, and foreign countries. They will also focus on the role that depictions of powerful Jews have played in the past in anti-Semitism in the United States and abroad and what role such ideas play in American politics today. We expect that the assembled academics will also examine the meaning of terms such as idealism and realism in the history of American foreign relations as well as study the mix of motives of ideals and national interests that led to and sustains American support for the state of Israel.
Our panel will also examine the origins and consequences of the contemporary discourse on Jewish power in America. In studying what Richard Hofstadter once called “the paranoid style in American politics,” participants will reflect on why this style migrated between 2005 and 2007 into some of our mainstream universities and other public forums.
We intend to contact the proposed participants and to exchange ideas with them about the details of the essays they would contribute. We would ask them to address questions such as the following:
1. When and why did the United States conclude that the survival of the state of Israel is in the vital national interest of the United States? In view of the hostility of the Arab and Islamic world to the Jewish state, and in view of the presence of vast amounts of oil in the Arab states, how, when and why did American foreign policy make the defense of Israel a priority? When, how and why did some American diplomats and military leaders change their views on this issue?
2. Why did the United States go to war in Iraq and what, if anything, did that have to do with American support for Israel? Who were the key decision makers and what did the decision process look like? What role did “Jewish neo-conservatives” play in these decisions? As the war did not proceed as key decision makers hoped and expected it would, when and in what form did the focus on “Jewish neo-conservatives” and the “Israel Lobby” emerge?
4. What role does public opinion, the mass media, and elections play in deciding American foreign policy toward the Middle East? And who or what moves opinions, media, and elections?
5. How does the Congress and the executive branch, particularly the State Department and the Department of Defense, influence U.S. foreign policy toward the Middle East? And who or what influences these decision-makers? How important is the “Israel lobby” compared to these other influences?
6. What is the connection between the lobbying efforts of American Jewish organizations, most famously but not only the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or AIPAC, and the formation of American foreign policy? What arguments have supporters of Israel made to politicians and why have these arguments struck a responsive chord? How do the lobbying efforts of supporters of Israel compare to efforts of other ethnic or religious groups or interest groups (African Americans, Irish, or, for that matter, non-ethnic lobbies such as big oil, the auto industry, high-tech) in general?
7. With respect to the Middle East, has the financial and corporate worlds – including Big Oil – taken sides? And which side on which issues have they taken?
8. What have Israel’s foreign policy priorities been in recent years and what do they have, if anything, to do with the war in Iraq? What were Israeli leaders saying about Iraq and Iran before and after 9/11?
9. What is the connection between American support for Israel and the rise of the terrorism of Islamic radicalism-Bin Laden’s declaration of war of 1998; bombings in Africa; 9/11; and general spread of anti-Americanism in the Middle East and Europe? What is the connection between anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism? Why did anger at Israel grow as international terrorism became more destructive, frequent and vile?
10. Regardless of the authors’ intent, does the Mearsheimer/Walt and Carter statements stand in a longer tradition of anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic analysis? If yes, why and if not, why not?
As the list of contributors is not yet complete, it will not be announced until it is formalized.