The following transcript is from “The Israel Lobby: Does it Have Too Much Influence on US Foreign Policy?” The debate was conducted by the London Review of Books and filmed by ScribeMedia.org. Those interested in viewing the debate can do so here. Reprint permissions can be directed to ScribeMedia via email at pubs [at] ScribeMedia [dot] org.
ANNOUNCER: Good evening. On behalf of the London Review of Books, I would first like to welcome you here. Secondly, I would like to thank you for your enormous patience. I am very sorry that it has just taken so long to get you in here and that is delayed the start of the evening. Finally, I would like to introduce you to our moderator of this evening’s debate, Ann Marie Slaughter. Thank you.
ANN-MARIE SLAUGHTER: Good evening. Let me begin by introducing our panelist. So I am assuming they are going to walk out here a little like a game show.
Our first panelist, Shlomo Ben-Ami who is a former Israeli Foreign and Security Minister and the author of Scars of War.
Our second panelist, Martin Indyk, who is the Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at Brookings.
Tony Judt who is Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies and Director of the Remarque Institute at New York University.
John Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute.
John Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distiguished Service Professor of Political Science.
Dennis Ross is the counselor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
I hope that’s the end of the applause meter approach to this debate. Otherwise we’re not going to get very much said or heard. Let me explain the ground rules. I will open then I will put an opening question. We’re not going to have opening statements and we will have a debate among the participants on stage. At some point, I will turn over to the audience toward the end for questions from the floor, although at this point, it is going to be very hard for me to see you. So let me start by talking about the debate that I think many people in my world, the academic world, the foreign policy world. I think it would be valuable to whole. There are many people who think it would be valuable to have a debate about US policy toward Israel, about Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, about US and Israeli policy in the Middle East more broadly. More specifically, I would like to quote from an article written by Daniel Levy, an Israeli who was a Policy Advisor in Ehud Barak’s office. He wrote this article originally in Haaretz and it was republished in the International Herald Tribune. He offered the following talking points for a debate.
Efforts to collapse the Israeli near conservative agendas into one have been a terrible mistake, writes Daniel Levy. He says second, Israel would do well to distance itself from our friends on the Christian Evangelical Right. Third, I am quoting from Daniel Levy, Israel must not be party to the bullying tactics used to silence policy debate in the United States, and fourth, he writes the Lobby denies Israel something that many other countries benefit from, the excuse of external encouragement to do things that are politically tricky but nationally necessary.
Those are topics, as I said, many think it would be valuable to debate. That’s not the debate that we have been having over the past few months since John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published their article, The Israel Lobby, in the London Review of Books.
We have had some of that debate in the pages of Foreign Policy. We have had a debate about what really drives a US policy toward Israel, but we have also been having a debate about anti-Semitism, about treason, about the very fact that this article was written.
I have concluded it is impossible to have the second debate without having at least some of the first debate and this evening, we are going to open by trying to clear some of those issues and then turn to the more substantive issues in the article. So I would like to open by asking John Mearsheimer, do you think your article was anti-Semitic? (Audience laughter)
JOHN MEARSHEIMER: Obviously, the answer to that is no. I don’t think there is any evidence in the record that Steve Walt and I are anti-Semitic and I don’t think a case can be made that the piece is anti-Semitic. Moreover, I don’t think Mary-Kay Wilmers who is the editor of the London Review of Books would publish the piece if she thought we are anti-Semites, or she thought the piece was anti-Semitic.
Now there are variety of reasons why people sometimes think that the piece is anti-Semitic. Sometimes the people think that when we talk about the Lobby, we are talking about a cabal or an old powerful conspiracy. We’re talking about Jews running the world. We went to great lengths in the piece and we got a great lengths in our discussion of the piece to make it clear that that’s not what we’re talking about.
Basically, what we’re talking about here is an organized interest group. It’s a loose group of individuals and organizations that work assiduously on behalf of Israel and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. What the Lobby is doing is engaging an old fashion interest group politics.
AMS: Okay John, I am going to come back to you because I want to ask who the Lobby is exactly, but I wanna come back on the first question, whether or not the article is anti-Semitic. That’s a separate question, I think from whether you or Steve is anti-Semitic, but let’s hear from the other side on the charge of anti-Semitism since that really has been debated quite publicly… Martin.
MARTIN INDYK: Thank you Anne-Marie. First of all ladies and gentlemen, I have never accused any critic of Israel of….
AMS: You have to speak a little louder.
MI: I have never accused any critic of Israel of anti-Semitism in my long engagement in this kind of discussion, but I do believe that this piece rises a lot of itself to the level of anti-Semitism and it’s for precisely the reason that John Mearsheimer recites here.
His definition of the Lobby is organized loosely-affiliated group of people that work assiduously on behalf of Israel. If he had written a paper about the Lobby which is about AIPAC, which is the Lobby, then I wouldn’t have had any problem with many of the things we had to say about AIPAC. But this notion of this loosely-aligned group of people that all happened to be working assiduously for Israel is indeed a cabal, the very thing he says is he is not referred into. It is exactly what he suggests. And this cabal if you read the paper includes anybody who has a positive thing to say about Israel…
AMS: … Let me….
MI: Editorial writers for the Wall Street Journal, institutions like the Brooking Institution because I happened to be there. Anybody who has anything to do with an opinion that might be pro-Israel is part of this cabal and what is this cabal do Anne-Marie, it distorts American foreign policy. It bends it. All these are words used to suggest that this cabal was doing something that is anti-American.
AMS: Okay, but let me come back in here, so the argument here is that because the Lobby is very broad and suggests conspiracy in cabal that that’s what makes it anti-Semitic. I want to hear other responses on that particular definition of anti-Semitism. Shlomo,
SHLOMO BEN-AMI : Not necessarily that particular definition, but you see when you have a single cause explanation that addresses the Jews in particular then you lend yourself. This is I believe deficient scholarship, not the anti-Semitism, but you lend yourself to such an accusation because you lay the entire blame on the distortion of American Foreign Policy, not really on the Israel Lobby. I think this is not an article on the Israel Lobby, I think the Israel Lobby, the term here is a cover for the Jews basically and not the Christians. The Christians are a constituency, they’re not a Lobby. And in the case of the Jews especially in the Republican administration, I don’t believe they are a constituency.
Now, there is also here an element of scapegoating because, which is again very dangerous, and they’re on the verge of writing an article which is anti-Semitic because of this waking the dog theory because of scapegoating. The American politician is depicted here as innocent. He is the innocent abroad, he is Mark Twain’s "innocent." And there is a group of Jews that are sort of distorting, of imposing the interest of another nation and there is also here the implicit accusation of double loyalty.
AMS: So but you …..
SBA: All this has anti-Semitic connotations, I believe the article is essentially bad scholarship.
AMS: We will come back… we will come back on that….but I ….
SBA: but then it lend itself.
AMS: (Laughing) Bad scholarship is, believe me, from the university, bad scholarship is not anti-Semitic that would certainly increase the amount that anti-Semitism in the world.
SBA: I say…
AMS: No …No I ….
SBA: I say that my self but there are connotations.
AMS: I understand but you said something very interesting and as you said it’s on the verge of anti-Semitism… You can hear both of you are saying this article feeds anti-Semitism. This article feeds those who believe that the Jews are operating through a cabal, through a conspiracy that it shouldn’t have been written because it feeds the anti-Semitism which is a little different and saying the articles itself accuses at the Jews of being that way.
TONY JUDT : Anne-Marie, if I could just say something about that …could you hear me?
TJ: Sixty years ago, very near to this room Arthur Koestler stood up and gave a lecture about, then a fairly new phenomenon, that is the rise of the cold war, the emergence of the Soviet Block, and so on and talked very angrily and very energetically about everything that was wrong with it, wrong with communism and why ratify it, this goes from an ex-communist.
And he was accused in the room while he was speaking of bringing aid and comfort to what was not yet called McCarthyism or what was soon going to be McCarthyism. You are saying the kind of things that verge on McCarthyism, Nixonism as it was then called, you shouldn’t say this kind of stuff, it helps them and his answer that was very simple.
You cannot help it if idiots and bigots share your views for their reasons. That doesn’t mean that you can be taught with their views. You have your views and they should be judged on their merits and it worries me that the very first thing we do when someone writes a controversial essay, whatever it’s academic standing, about the Israel lobby, about relations between this country and Israel. The first question is not, what is the truth or falcity of the substance of it, but how much does it come close to anti-semitism, does it help the anti-semites should we not have said it, because of anti-semitism issue, this seems to me to close down conversation with this country
AMS: Then I said…
AMS: It’s really simple, we… we don’t have as much time as we want and the more you clap the less you hear. You can make that choice but that’s… that will be the choice because it is going to take much longer to continue an actual debate. Dennis you want to jump in now and I’ll turn back to John.
DENNIS ROSS: Yeah I… I’ll keep it short. I have, my problems is with the content of the article more than the, than the suggestion that it verges on anti-semitism. I have to admit they were places in it where I felt there was this tendency to create a very large umbrella where you group people together who have almost nothing in common.
I can tell you that some of the people who you identify as the neocons were the greatest critics of Martin and me when we were trying to work for peace, but we are treated the same as them.
Now for me, when you began to create that kind of very broad umbrella, that does began to raise questions about what is it you’re doing. My problem however is much more with the content of what you say then with the reality of this broad umbrella although I would suggest to you that you should take a much closely look at who you are lumping together in that group.
AMS: Oh. I’m… I’m gonna turn to that next about the… the nature of the Lobby itself but let me… let me… let John come back.
JM: I would appreciate if you just give me a few minutes because there are a lot of very important charges.
AMS: I’ll give some.
JM: First of all, we made it very clear Dennis that there are divisions within the lobby and there’re all sorts of disagreements amongst people…
AMS: You’ve to, I think speak…
JM: There are all sorts of disagreements among the people and inside the lobby.
Secondly, to talk about it is a cabal implies that there is something secretive, something surreptitious, something evil about it, and we were not making that argument at all, and in fact we went to great length to say that we were not making that point.
With regard to the charge of treason or dual loyalty, we did not talk about dual loyalty and we never accused and would never accuse anyone of treason.
The basic argument that we’re making is that all people have multiple loyalties. Loyalties to religion, to family, to other countries, to the United States and it is perfectly legitimate in the United States to have a certain attachment to another country and to promote that countries interest, as is in the case of Indian Americans, Armenian Americans, and Cuban Americans
And it’s perfectly acceptable for people to do that on behalf of Israel. We’re also not only talking about Jews and we were not talking about all Jews. We went to great length to say that not all Jews are in the lobby and the lobby is not exclusively comprised of Jews and I want to conclude by reading a quick quote…
AMS: No… no, no, no…
JM: …just let me read quick quote from one of her harshest critics, Allen Dershowitz which gets at the….
JM: …It’s one of the few things that he’s written that I agree with, your former colleague.
JM: He wrote this in 1991 in the book, Chutzpah. He said, "My generation of Jews became part of what is perhaps the most effective lobbying and fund raising effort in the history of democracy. We did a truly great job as far as we allowed ourselves and were allowed to go."
That was Allen Dershowitz and what Allen is telling you is that there is an Israel lobby out there and it has one heck of a lot of influence.
AMS: But John, how is that different from… from what you just read. How is that different than saying all Jews are part of the Israel lobby as you just said.
JM: We made it perfectly clear that all Jews are not part of the Israel lobby and as I said with regard to Dennis, we made it very clear that there are divisions within the lobby on certain policy issues.
AMS: Al right, so, let me turn back to Martin. Suppose that the article had not been tiled The Lobby, it had been titled, "The Influence of a Pro-Israel Lobby of Neo-Conservatives, Fundamentalist Evangelicals and American Likkudniks on American policy in the Middle East," would you have had the same reaction if that had been the title?
MI: Yes… but what I said to you, I would have no problem if Mearsheimer and Walt had done a decent scholarly critique of what is "The Lobby", that is American-Israel Public Affairs Committee.
But what they do is take that and expand it to cover people that have some view towards Israel that is mildly pro-Israel, some… in some cases critical of Israel and… and they lump them all together in "The Lobby" with a capital "L" and then he says, ah yes, but we distinguished some people.
But it’s not true. They’re all in there together as involved in some kind of cabal and he says now … he says now it’s not conspiratorial. But he uses conspiratorial words…
AMS: ..so you would…
MI: He always words like distort and bend, he calls me….
JM:…that’s not conspiratorial
MI: Actually the one thing I liked about the article was… he called me ubiquitous…
MI: No I liked it, why use the word ubiquitous ….
TJ: I often felt the same way…
AMS: Al right, let… let Tony
MI: What… what… what is… what is the use of that word about, if not a sense that there is a conspiracy going on here.
AMS: But… so let me just establish, if he’d written the influence of AIPAC, you would not object. It’s… it’s…
MI: No, if he’d done a scholarly job on it. There’s a… it’s a very…
AMS: We’ll come to the scholarships.
MI: There’s a… it’s a piece of scholarly work as well.
TJ: Could I shift just a little bit, the angle of the conversation.
TJ: Alright, try me. "Distort" seems to me perfectly okay. The NRA distorts policy in many ways as well. When John Bolton went to the United Nations convention on the illicit trade in small arms, prevented it actually coming to a conclusion, he went along the three senior members of the NRA.
I would say that that distorted our foreign policy.
I would also point out that that when I read about that… that one landed on my head with whatever the anti-rifle equivalent of antisemitism and I think this is the crucial point about the Israel Lobby or the group of lobbies, or whatever you want to say.
There are hundreds of distorting lobbies. Its one of the ways in which our political system is defective. This is the only significant Lobby I know of which not only acts to advance the interests of its cause but acts constantly and very effectively to silence criticism of its cause. This is not the case of other lobbies.
(Applause and Booing).
DR: I guessed two points: One is, may be Tony you haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to the NRA. I think they’re pretty good in terms of finding to silence their critics.
DR: Secondly I think again, I don’t want to belabor this because I think I actually would like to deal with the content of the article more but I would say John when do you say that there are differences, if the differences are as profound as Martin and I experienced, then I’m not quite sure what the Lobby means. If people have an entirely different view about whether you should pursue peace, which we felt you should, or you shouldn’t, then it seems to me you’re talking about what are two very different kinds of constituencies. So how can they both be part of the Israeli Lobby.
RASHID KHALIDI: I think that there are several problems with the whole discussion that’s proceeding. And I think one of them has to do with the too narrow definition of what we’re talking about here.
We’re not just talking about foreign policy. We should also be talking about American domestic legislation. We should be talking about the public debate in this country.
And if you have not noticed that in a debate on say, women’s rights for abortion, or on a debate say, right to keep in bare arms per the NRA. There are two very clearly delineated sides in the public debate, then you’ve been watching American politics.
If you believe that there are two sides of the debate in this county on this issue, you are out of your minds. They are not.
In American political discourse there is one side to this debate. In our congress that is one side of this debate.
It’s not true in foreign policy. It’s another issue. I’ll come to that in a minute, but insofar as public discourse is concerned, I think one of the thing that has had happened and you can describe it as you will — it may have to do with the work that you did when you work for AIPAC in the 80s and, you know, produced publications on the napharious things that were happening in campus.
It may have to do with things that groups outside of AIPAC did. A number of organizations that were working in a variety of spheres since the 30s. You can go back to George Antonius and hear what he says about how difficult it was to get a hearing in England as well as in this country.
But there are not two sides to this debate in this county and this is not just because it happens to be the case that, shall we say, the only United States interest in Middle East is seeing things the way Israel is.
AMS: Okay now Rashid, your argument is actually far broader than… than even the argument I think the John Mearsheimer’s and Steve were making.
RK: It is. It’s one of my differences with John.
RK: You know there are differences among many people on this panel and outside.
(Audience laughing and clapping).
RK: …it’s not only between Dennis and… and… Ambassador Ross and Ambassador Indyk, and… and say… Dennis.
AMS: Alright. Unless anybody wants to final comment on this what I’d like to…
MI: You know it is obvious that this article is getting a huge amount of press time and a huge amount of debate. So I don’t know where the censorship is coming in here. If it wasn’t published in America, it was probably because it was such a dreadful piece of scholarship.
AMS: We’re going to turn to the scholarship. Tony… Tony.
(Applause and Booing)
TJ: I just… I just like to say one very quick thing about that. When I submitted an article about the Israeli Lobby debate — that Mearsheimer and Walt kicked off — to a very well known American, North American, newspaper, I was asked by the editorial directors would I mind telling them whether I’m Jewish or not. They felt it was something they would like to know before they published it.
MI: But they published it.
TJ: I told them I was Jewish.
AMS: Alright. So… Martin you said… you said you would have been perfectly happy if the title had been AIPAC and its influence.
MI: No, if the focus had been on AIPAC and its influence.
AMS: Okay. But if it’d been clearly about AIPAC rather than the Lobby, but then you said as long as it had been scholarly job. So do you want to elaborate on… on the… where you see the defects in the scholarship. Not all of them, please. Let me come back to John.
JM: First of all, let me start with the kind of tendentiousness of the article in which it states that it’s based on scholarly work and it is only present facts that are not in dispute; that’s how the piece starts.
Well, there are a hell lot of facts that are in dispute. One of the people that they quote is Benny Morris, they use him. He says, were the Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy — the name of the article — an actual person, I would have to say that he did not have a single honest bone in his body.
And why does he say that is because the facts are taken selectively and then distorted.
This is particularly the case when it comes to what I think is the most important argument they try to make which is about how the Israel Lobby was responsible for taking this nation to war in Iraq. And that is completely bogus. And what they managed to do is first of all they site a couple of Israelis not the Israel Lobby. There is no evidence that whatsoever in the article of what the Israel Lobby did, AIPAC that is, to take this nation to war.
There is selective quote of some Israelis although there were many Israelis who had a real problem with this country going to war against Iraq because they considered the real threat to Israel, Iran
And… and then they then take neo-conservatives who were definitely in favor of the war in Iraq — but because they happened to be Jewish there are named there as part of the Lobby — and so on that basis they even conclude that the lobby had a critical, critical role.
The role of the oil lobby, the role of the Arab States, the role of the president and the vice president doesn’t come into this except the president and vice president are simply manipulated by this all powerful Israel Lobby.
And it’s not based on accepted facts. It’s based on that this whole notion that this is all powerful lobby out there distorting the national interest.
AMS: Okay John, I’m going to give you a chance to respond, I promise you. Shlomo wants to comment.
SBA: Well, yes I… I indeed think that they could have done a far better job in terms of scholarship as I said before. And there are so many cases where it wouldn’t stand the standard I believe of a serious paper.
Too begin with most of the sources are of a secondary nature and another is again if you go through the war in Iraq, it proves that Israel was interested or pushed for it or pressed for it. You bring, I think, the case of, you know, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak writing articles.
I am a far less important person in the history of peacemaking in Israel but I also wrote an article in the Jerusalem Post before the war — 10 pages — where I opposed the idea of going to war. So I don’t know why Ehud Barak’s article had any impact on the American Foreign Policy and my very humble article went unnoticed.
I think both of them were not important for the decision to go to war. And then you have Minister Ben-Eliezer saying clearly — he was the Minister of Defense — saying that for as far as Israel is concerned Iran is the problem, not Iraq, and this was the Foreign Minister at that time, sorry the Defense Minister at that time.
And again the question of democracy. I am sure you know that but for the case of Natan Sharansky, most Israelis —policy makers, people in politics — believe this is a neocon fancy that it has no meaning at all for the region and Israel is against the idea of democratization. This is a lunacy that was propagated and we see the results.
And therefore this is not an attitude of Israel. Every democracy in the Middle East right now is bound to create instability and nobody is interested in this.
AMS: Let me… let me stop you there on the war because we’ve… we’ve heard I mean that’s …that’s a very clear charge, and it’s certainly a charge in the article that we’ve… we’ve got charges that this is not right, this is not good scholarship. What do you say?
You think it is a good scholarship, but what do you say?
JM: In the piece we amply documented the argument that Israel and its leaders were strongly in favor of the war. That certain…
AMS: You… you have to pull it, you have to pull the mic really close to you and turn it.
JM: Down like that, is that better?
JM: Sorry. In the piece, we documented at great length that Israel and its leaders were staunchly in favor of the war, that powerful institutions in the lobby were in favor of the war and I’ll just quote a few things to drive my point home. Recently, Bill Clinton said — this is in the summer — that every Israeli politician I knew believed that Saddam Hussein had to be taken out.
That’s Bill Clinton talking this summer and we provided…
MI: It’s typical of your tendentiousness…
JM: …Excuse me, excuse me. I am…
MI: That’s why …listen… listen
AMS: Listen, Martin, Martin, Martin, let him finish… let him finish.
MI: Because you take his quote from this…
AMS: Let him finish… let him finish.
JM: Excuse me. This is something of an unfair fight because two people get to make rather lengthy comment.
AMS: I am standing here on your side, keep talking.
JM: Okay. Thank you, thank you, but I would appreciate if you give me the chance to answer.
Ah… so there is no question that the Israelis were pushing very hard. There is also no question that the Israeli leadership viewed Iran as a greater threat than Iraq. But the fact of the matter is they viewed Iran, Iraq, and Syria as all threats but although they would rather taken out Iran first they are perfectly content to take out Iraq first because they knew Iran and Syria were No. 2 and No. 3 on their hit list.
AMS: But John, what do you say specifically on that. I am going to give you a chance. I just want to hear your answer the charge that the Defense Minister who is a high Israeli official was, Shlomo says he was opposed, so I…
JM: No, he said that the Defense Minister was more in favor of getting in Iran than he was in favor of getting Iraq — that was Ben-Eliezer — and he is absolutely correct and we cite that in the piece. We talk about his views.
There is no question that the Israeli elite preferred to deal with Iran before they dealt with Iraq, but my point is when they saw the direction that the United States was going in with regard to Iraq they were perfectly willing to go along with that provided we dealt with Iran and Syria after we dealt with Iraq which was all part of the game plan, so that is point one.
Point two, with regard to the major institutions inside the lobby, this is a quote, it was in the piece from the Foreword that’s worth reading. It comes from May 2004 and the foreword editorial reads like this.
“As President Bush attempted to sell the war in Iraq, America’s most important Jewish organizations rallied as one to his defense and statement after statement community leaders stress the need to rid the world of Saddam Hussein and his weapons of mass destruction.”
It then goes on to say, “concern for Israel safety rightfully factored into the deliberations of the main Jewish groups.”
Now let me conclude by pointing now that there were also a number of people — very prominent people — who had access to the government at the time who said that Israel was a major consideration — if not the major consideration — in the decision to go to war.
Let me read to you what Wesley Clark said before the war. Second, those who favor this attack now will tell you candidly and privately that it is probably true that Saddam Hussein is no threat to the United States, but they are afraid that at some point he might decide if he had a nuclear weapon to use it against Israel.
Philip Zelikow who is now a counselor to Condoleezza Rice said in a famous talk at the University of Virginia in the fall of 2002 that the threat that was driving the United States was not the threat to the United States, it was the threat to Israel.
And let me conclude with the quote from Joe Klein in TIME Magazine, February 10, 2003:
“a stronger Israel is very much embedded in the rationale for war with Iraq. It is part of the argument that dare it not speak its name, a fantasy quietly cherished by the neo-conservative faction in the Bush administration and by many leaders of the American-Jewish community.”
which of course is what the Foreword editorial said. So the idea that Steve and I were making this up is simply wrong.
There is much documentation out there to support our contention that the Israel Lobby was the only force behind the war. In fact we make the argument very clearly that you would not have had a war had it not been for 9/11 and its effect on President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The Israel Lobby by itself could not get the war started. But it seems very clear to me and very clear to other people that the Israel Lobby was one of the principal driving forces behind the Iraq war and in its absence we probably would not have had a war.
(Applause and Booing)
DR: I think you touched at the last, you touched on what is really the key issue: causation. You made, you gave one quote. You offered one quote which said Bush is selling and in an effect the Jewish Lobby was supporting. Bush was selling. Bush made the decisions. Without 9/11 as you just said there would not have been a war.
JM: We said that in the piece.
DR: All right but you are also saying now. You didn’t in the original piece.
JM: In the original piece
DR: In the original piece it’s not what you said. In the original… in the Foreign Policy Piece you said it. In the original piece your focus is much more on the Israeli Lobby being behind the war. Now the point here is, you are looking at causation, two points to make.
Point number one: without 9/11 Bush’s whole approach is different. In fact when the administration came in their policy was smart sanctions. It was about containing Iraq. It wasn’t about regime change. 9/11 changed the view of the world. The same day 9/11, 90 minutes after the attack on the Pentagon, Rumsfeld is making notes focused on Saddam Hussein and talking about hitting Saddam Hussein. No Israel Lobby there, that’s Don Rumsfeld. Number one.
Number two: it matters who is in the Oval Office. If George Bush hadn’t been the president and Al Gore had been the president, you wouldn’t have had a war there regardless of what the lobby’s position was and Al Gore was much closer to the “Lobby,” in quotes, than George Bush. (Applause)
So, if you are going to… if you are going to deal with causation, let’s look at the real root causes and then not look for those outside of that and say, Gee, they provided rationale.
AMS: Okay. Rashid?
RK: This is actually an issue where I differ with John and Steve, but I don’t want to talk about that.
AMS: You have to… you have to speak out.
RK: I’m sorry. This is actually an issue where I differ with John and Steve.
I don’t wanna go into how I differ with them, but I think that anyone who argues that the… not just AIPAC, but a number of major organizations aligned with AIPAC — you can call them the Lobby, you can call them whatever you want — were extraordinary supportive of this war would be grievously mistaken.
There were very few voices in the community that is consistently and regularly supportive of Israel that weren’t vigorously supportive of this war.
Now, I actually believe and I have said in our book that I have published that there were a variety of reasons for this war, which in my view did not primarily include the Lobby. I disagree with you on this. (Applause.)
However… however, and I think this is extraordinarily important, the degree to which the public debate in this country has been shifted, insofar as our whole understanding of the Middle East, has a lot to do with the much broader definition I would argue of the Lobby and I have to go back to the first thing I said. If we narrowly focus on foreign policy and do not understand that we are talking about the broader environment in this country and how we understand and mainly misunderstand the Middle East, then unfortunately I think it’s a little too narrow.
Now, one of the reason that it was so easy for George Bush and his administration to turn on a dime after 9/11 is because of the things that had been created in the public mind about not just Iraq, but also Iran, also Syria, also the PLO, also Hammas, also… also… also.
And I have to say to some extent we are discussing this thing too narrowly. We are discussing our understanding not just what the lobby does and how it affects policy, but we are… we are not really looking at it broadly enough, and I do not blame Steven and John for this. They are IR specialists. They are looking at foreign policy decisions. To some extent that’s also true of Martin and Dennis. That’s the field they work in.
AMS: Rashid, the next debate — I’m not volunteering to moderate — but the next debate could be about the broader issue, so I think there are plenty of things still to debate with respect to this article.
I want to move beyond the Iraq war. We’ve heard both sides on the extent to which it was a factor, it was the factor, it was the principle factor, and it is clearly very relevant to John and Steve’s claim of the power of the Lobby.
I wanted to put the question a slightly different way and agree that we are talking about AIPAC for right now and talk about what kind of power AIPAC does have, not about whether or not it cause the Iraq war, but whether it is credible to claim as John and Steve do that they have tremendous power.
So I… Martin I wanted to come back to you. You recently published a very good OpEd on the need for massive aid to rebuild Lebanon and that it would be in US interest obviously to counter Hezbollah, to provide immediate, massive aid. And you suggested that you said that Israeli ought to ask Washington to reallocate some of its annual 2.3 billion in American military assistance to Lebanon.
So, you’re suggesting that Israel ought to ask Washington to reallocate part of that money. So, my question is, would … would… assuming that has to go though Congress. Do you think that that bill would go through congress?
MI: Unfortunately, the administration never tested by the proposition so it is a little hard to say. It’s a hypothetical question. I think that umm…. it… it really tucks on a whole range of things. There is no question that AIPAC is a very powerful lobby. They are… are quite proud of their power. They advertise, they fund raise on the basis of it. Umm… there is no, I think no disputing that… umm… and the administration and successive administrations have used AIPAC’s power…
AMS: …You have to lower it slightly.
MI: Successive, sorry, successive administrations have used AIPAC’s power on the Hill, not only for the sake of Israel aid, but for Egypt’s aid, for Jordon’s aid, for aid to the Palestinians, the Palestinian authority, the people are for the whole foreign aid budget would not pass without AIPAC’s influence.
The whole free trade agreement process was started with the US-Israel free trade agreement. Why? Because that was the only way the Clint… the… no, … now we’re talking about the Regan administration could get it through Congress was with AIPAC’s help.
And once they established the free trade agreement with Israel it became possible to get free trade agreements and that was the precursor to NAFTA and so on.
So what I’m saying you is that… that to answer your particular question, I think it would have been possible to get AIPAC to support the very idea that I was putting forward.
There wasn’t anybody who criticized me for it. Maybe they thought I was completely crazy, but… but, you know, on the other points of course is that how come if I am the ubiquitous, you know, part of this cabal am I suggesting that Israel might actually cut to say to help Lebanon, have it that fit with the theory of the cabal.
AMS: So, we get two issues on the table. The first is….
MI: Unless of course I am so clever, that is probably John’s answer that I did it to create the cover.
AMS: Like, there’re two issues, one… one is the power of AIPAC as a Lobby and the extent to which that advances US interest or Israel’s interest which I want to come back to. But the other is once again the reaction to the article precisely that what Martin is attributing to AIPAC he says you are attributing to him. Are you?
JM: The power that I’m attributing…?
AMS: Yeah, you… he is saying look this is AIPAC’s agenda. This is not my agenda, but you say he is part of the Israel Lobby.
JM: Again, I want to be very clear. We emphasized in the piece that the The Lobby is a loose correlation of individuals and organizations, and moreover we made it clear that there are differences among organizations and individuals in that Lobby.
With regard to Martin, I do not know exactly what all of his views are vis a vis AIPAC. He was the Deputy Director of Research at AIPAC, then he was the co-founder of WINEP the Washington Institute, which Dennis now serve at, in 1985 and which is closely affiliated with AIPAC, and I do not in my own head view Martin as being significantly different than AIPAC, but I do not know all Martin’s views or all AIPAC views for that matter. (Applause)
AMS: Tony… Tony, actually Shlomo first not Tony….
SBA: I think perhaps the point should be made the limits of…
AMS: … You have to speak right into…
SBA: …the limits of influence of a lobby. It seems to me that a lobby whatever the lobby including a powerful lobby like AIPAC has an influence if it’s atuned to the policies of the administration at a time — not if it goes against it frontally and you have… with… with so many cases.
For example during the first Bush when the lobby clashed frontally with the President, the President prevailed, not the lobby. And when Benjamin Netanyahu was Prime Minister, tried to mobilize the lobby against President Clinton, he was dragged to Wye, to sign the Wye Plantation Agreement against the will of…of Israel… and…. and that of the lobby and again if it were not for Bush father may be even that Shamir would have won the elections, in fact he toppled Shamir against the will of the lobby at that time, and you have so many cases where these were that way.
Did you see for example the Lobby doing anything with regard to the… far reaching concessions that… the Clinton proposed on Jerusalem? Did you see the Lobby prevailing over moving the embassy to… to Jerusalem or… I mean there is hardly one case where a lobby can change the policy… change the policy. It can only serve on it, fine to tune it, not to change it not to force it to eliminate.
AMS: Alright Tony, and then Dennis, and then I will come back you.
TJ: Two quick points, I mean the first point was Shlomo Ben-Ami just said. It doesn’t quite gel with something he wrote very recently in a very important book he wrote where he said the… the only American presidents who have produced peace breakthroughs are those who have been readily to confront Israel head on and then he goes on to say and overlook the sensibilities of the friends in America. And that took the point the way around. It means not that the lobby follows the president, but that the default condition is that this President does not nothing to affront the Lobby and it’s when you get the non-default condition…(applause).
SBA: This is no… no… this is not I say….
TJ: …I’m reading your text.
SBA: What I say is that there is a problem of leadership. It is up to the leader.
AMS: You have to speak right into the mic.
SBA: Lobbies are there, you have all kind of lobbies, but you have a President, you have the intellectual profile of the President. There is nothing in this article about the intellectual profile. You have elected twice a President who is a political theologian without Jewish votes.
This is an entire American responsibility, or an exclusive American responsibly. He does not need a Jewish Lobby to do the things that he does. So, that’s… that’s my argument. You need to be a leader. You were elected to be a leader and therefore what I say in the book is indeed that those were deaf to… to these kind of… of pressures that are legitimate according to you, were really those, and they did good for the peace process and for all kind of good things in the foreign policy.
TJ: But it seems to me in that case if I may quickly summarize is what you are saying is that what would be good for Israel is for real American leaders to ignore the Israel Lobby.
AMS: Yes. I’m going to come back…
TJ: That’s…. I want to…
AMS: …limit this.
SBA: I’m a disciple… I’m a disciple of Yitzach Rabin who on his first visit to the United State as Prime Minister say to the lobby, let us do our foreign policy, do not interfere and by the way on the… on the… in the same way of Martin Indyk’s remark, he asked the lobby to lobby in Congress for funds for the Palestinians.
TJ: So, I will come back to my second point.
AMS: You can… you can come back to your second point, I just… I wanna pointed out there is a…. there is a separate and I thing a very important issue that has been more debated in Israel than it has been here and I should be more here….
RK: Like most things…
AMS: Fair point… fair point… but whether or not the lobby actually serves Israel’s interest, that’s the separate question. Right now, I want to… I do want to go back to the on the power of the lobby on American policy and then we will go back.
TJ: …Which was exactly the pinpoint I wanted to make and I’m glad because to take out the other one.
My main point was this: That while it’s obviously the intelligent way to proceed to say okay, lets take a concrete example, the Iraq war, and lets see whether your account of how the Lobby works really function in that case and then have to discussion about it.
I agree with Rashid Khalidi that this is dangerously and wastefully because it is a very unusual event we’re in here and it won’t happen again, I assure you, very frequently.
It wastes one opportunity we have, we is to ask a slightly different question. I am not in internal relations expert and I’m not a realistic political theorist, both of which I think the authors of this paper are. They talked about something called the national interest.
And it seems to me that in a democracy, one of the ways, perhaps the only in the long run, the legitimate way, in which something called the national interest gets determined is by public conversation about the various ways in which the country might behave or choose not to behave. And one of the conversations it seems to me that we don’t have in this country is a conversation about our relationship with Israel; and the reason we don’t have that conversation is because its we got it by many people who might or might not be part of the Lobby as unacceptable for reasons that we talked about at the beginning.
That seems to me crucial because without a discussion of that we can’t understand why the Israel Lobby question is so controversial. If you are listening these guys simply saying, well may be Iraqi war was started because of this and maybe that, we can have that conversation any day of week in the pages of the Sun, that’s not issue.
AMS: All right. So, Dennis…
DR: Tony, I… I suspected actually it was the issue that leg Steve and John to write this. So that is the legitimate thing to be debating since it seems to be what I think helped to trigger what they did.
AMS: So, I don’t know if yours is on.
DR: Is it on. Do you hear me now. Can I do telephone commercials.
AMS: Yeah, you have to get really right up to it.
DR: How is this?
DR: All Right. Anyway what I was saying is that…
AMS: Hey, now you got… (laughs), really right in. No… no, its him.
DR: How is this?
DR: I like that. It is legitimate to raise the Iraqi issue precisely because it’s clearly one of the factors that motivated John and Steve, but I would get back to one other point.
You know, the reality is administration go, administration by administration and administration did not make decisions based on what the lobby wants.
I was part of the first Bush Administration. When it came to the issue of the loan guarantees we went against what the lobby wanted. In the Clinton Administration, I can tell you, when we made peace process decisions we made them based on what we thought was right. Had we have been driven by the lobby. We never would have raised the proposals we did on Jerusalem which by the way one point John to bear in mind.
You say we never made an independent proposal. That’s simply untrue. That is factually untrue.
We made many independent proposals, and I can assure you the proposal to divide Jerusalem was certainly not one that the Israelis were keen to receive.
So I think the key here is look at the various administrations. Now it may well be that in this administration you feel that there is a certain point of view that reflects what the lobby would favor, but I will tell you something, this is an administration that if you want to use it is the example you have a problem because look at all the areas where, in a sense, it adopts policies that are different from its predecessors.
If we look at the question of global warming, was the Israeli Lobby responsible for their change on that? If we look at the question of ABM treaty, was the Israeli lobby responsible for that? No. But my point is if you single this administration out is the one that’s your example of the proof of the Lobby, you have to look at a lot of different behaviors. This administration is unique in a lot of its behaviors and you can’t attribute those unique behaviors to the Israeli Lobby.
AMS: Okay, so I am gonna come back to John. We’re then going to Tony’s larger question of the extent to which we need that debate and can we have that debate but part of that debate that we are having as a result of John and Steve’s article does really go to how powerful is the Lobby and we’ve heard a bunch of examples where either Israelis have opposed the Lobby or the Lobby tried to get things and has not gotten it, so I’d like hear you respond on those questions, we will go to the larger issue.
JM: A couple of points, one is Dennis, that Iraq did actually not motivate us to write the piece because we were commissioned to write it by the Atlantic Mmonthly in the Fall of 2002 right before Iraq had heated up as an issue and it was not what motivate us.
What motivated us was events in April of 2002 and I will talk a bit more about that in second. Second on the point that Tony makes that we don’t have a conversation about this subject or at least we heretofor have not had a conversation about the Lobby and America’s relationship with Israel.
The principal reason that is the case because of the Lobby and anytime and anybody raise that subject here she is subjected to being called an anti-Semitic and therefore people are really afraid to discuss this issue; and I could point also its examples of people making that case. With regard to the influence of the lobby, I would just point on the loan guarantees, Dennis, that actually Bush eventually caved in the loan guarantees.
AMS: Speak in, if you’re going to object, do it publically.
DR: We offered loan guarantees after the Israelis met our conditions, that’s when we offered loan guarantees, not until they met the condition, where we had a dollar for dollar reduction in the assistance.
TJ: Rashid, we can’t just take his mic away.
RK: This is a first case of Palestinian given permission to narrate.
DR:You know, no, no, but it’s okay Rashid, because I’ve always believed in empowering Palestinians.
My point on the loan guarantees: we imposed conditions. We said from day one when the Israelis came in, under Shamir, you can have loan guarantees but you have to change your behavior on settlements. Shamir wasn’t prepared to do it. He lost the election.
Rabin came in… Rabin initially thought we would just grant the loan guarantees without conditions. We weren’t prepared to it, even with Rabin, we imposed conditions and it produced a dollar for dollar reduction assistance for the estimate we had what they’re spending on settlements. So we didn’t cave on the loan guarantees, we imposed our conditions.
JM: Okay. I disagree with that on the subjects of settlements which is the issue at hand. The fact of the matter is that every president since Lyndon Johnson has been opposed to settlements and said that settlements are hindrance to peace. Yet no American President has been willing to do anything to prevent the Israelis from continuing to built settlements. And although George Bush tried to do that it first with the loan guarantees, the fact of the matter is he caved and the Israelis continued to build settlements and more settlements were built under labor governments in the 1990s….
SBA: …This is the not the question. The question is, if this is because of the Lobby. This is the question. Were we allowed to continue building settlements because of the Lobby.
JM. No, that’s not my argument at all, my point is that Israel had decided to built settlements. Okay?
The United States Government, the Presidents of the United States from Lyndon Johnson forward who were opposed to those settlements. The question is why couldn’t they prevent Israel from building those settlements.
SBA: Not because of the Lobby.
JM: Yes because of the Lobby.
SBA: No, of course not.
SBA: Why? I will tell you why. I will tell you why. Because you see one thing that does not exist in your article, is Israel. Israel as a counterpart of the United States.
JM: Remember, what I said about the Iraq war, I said that the Israeli policy makers were pushing us to go to war in Iraq but you cannot say, you cannot say, Schomo, that Israel was absent from my article.
SBA: It is absent, as somebody that is an entity that has a current dialogue with United States, that can convince that there is an intimacy of the defense establishment, of the intelligence establishment, etc., with no Jewish Lobby in the middle.
I mean you can make a point. You can make an argument in the contact, in the current contact between the United States and Israel; and this is the thing that matters and not the reason that needs to be taken into account and I am the one who opposed every single settlement in the territories and believe they need to be dismantled. This is not the question.
The question is that many American leaders thought that in order to be able — this is the way thought. not because of the Lobby — in order for them to be able, to have a bearing on the peace process, to influence the Israeli policy making, they needed to save all kind of political crises on the way. And dismantling settlements, for example, would have created such a political havoc that would not have allowed later on to force Israel to go in to a given concession or peace process because of the political price.
These were the considerations, not because the Lobby said build settlements, don’t dismantle settlements.
AMS: I have been promising Rashid a chance to get in, since he gave Dennis the mic
RK: I’d give him the shirt off my back, but it’s too small for you.
I think that the discussion that we’ve just heard — illuminating of course it has been — shows the limitations of the debate around the Lobby.
Let’s try and think why are American Presidents limited, why is it that the first President Bush or the second President Bush both of whom — somebody pointed out correctly I think, Martin perhaps — both of whom did not rely upon Jewish votes to get elected, operated in some measures in the way they did.
I think that’s why we have to talk about a little broader understanding of this debate. Where is the Lobby important, not only and sometimes not necessarily mainly in foreign policy. In things like electoral politics, in things like congress, in things like legislation, not among other things foreign aid, in things like legislation about terrorism and things about how that legislation is interpreted, and things like look at the prosecutions around this country for terror. How many of those prosecutions deal with people who have actually attacked the United States and how many of them have to do with things….
AMS: And you’re saying those are the results of what?
DR: Those are, in large measure, the result of lobbying and of public education; and let me get to this point.
I think shaping the public debate through the creation of think tanks, through credentialing of experts, through undermining of expertise both within the government and without the government that doesn’t share some certain assumptions is part of this larger process and it’s something that has been going on for a very-very long time.
Where it leads us is to the ruling of things as being out of bounds. And I mean not necessarily to the point of saying anyone who criticizes Israel is anti-Semitic, but in some areas, in some zones up to including that. And it mainly has to do with establishing in the public mind — especially in he American political discourse — the kind of thing that is needed to get any, almost any politician in most states elected, the idea that America and Israel have identical interests and identical values.
Now that doesn’t operate in every foreign policy issue, but I think it’s the background against which American politics function and it’s an area where things like work on campus, training young leaders, organizing affectively in a way that’s admirable. I only wish that other groups could do this good job including Arab-American groups.
You have seen this Lobby and some of people, two of the people on this podium, working at the Washington Institute and founder of the Washington Institute. I think themselves measurably aided in this process. So we’re not just talking, in my view when we are talking about the Lobby, about foreign policy important though it obviously is. We are talking about broader scope, a broader range of things.
AMS: Okay let me (Applause), let me phrase that, let me phrase that question in a way I think responds to what Tony was saying.Generally, is it possible in this country to have a reasoned debate about the degree to which American interests and Israeli interests converge, Tony.
TJ: I think not and I think the reason, however, can you hear me? Mic working? Okay the reason is not necessarily you need to be specific to the Israel Lobby. There are a lot of, I am talking right into this thing, can you hear me, okay?
AMS: He’s practically swallowed it.
TJ: Right, I will swallow the mic and keep talking, I will try this one, this is okay.
Look traditionally in this country the diasporas — whether they are Polish or Irish or Croat or Greek or others you could name — are politically far more extreme, insecure, resentful, nationalistic, irredentist whatever you want to say then the country that they’ve referred to, that they referred back to, precisely of course because they don’t live there, they live here and so they identify with it in a very particular and in extreme way.
What is, I think, distinctive about the Lobby for American-Israel relations — if you want to think in that way — in this country, is that it has now been going on a very long time, certainly I date it from the mid 60s and I could say more about at that at this time later. And one of the consequences is that the issue of dual loyalty seems to be beside the point. I think that’s a red herring in lots of ways. It’s worse than that.
I think for many American Jews — and although I am American Jew I don’t include myself in this — for many American Jews there is no daylight in their thinking between American’s interests and Israel’s interests. From their point of view, the interests are one and the same so they don’t think about themselves well let’s make sure there is no criticism of Israel because criticism of Israel is in some sense un-American.
The two have blended and that makes it extraordinarily difficult to talk about the subject because if you talk about the problem of our relationship with Israel, people can only assume that you have some other agenda because it wouldn’t be rational to separate the two in any other way, so the other agenda must be anti-Semitism of one kind or another.
And I think what has happened is that there is kind of codependency that’s opened up between the two countries in the thinking, and I will finish on this, that people have here about them such that Israel encourages America’s misreading of the Middle East in recent years and America affectively conspires in Israel’s failure to face the Palestinian problem head-on, and it’s very difficult to see in this country how people would learn to separate out the two and it goes back as I said to the mid-60s and on this I will finish.
Amos [inaudible], the very senior ex-journalist who was a foreign editor of Haretz, back in the 1960s, was at a party in Washington to say goodbye to a longstanding Israeli ambassador. And he asked the ambassador, what do you regard — off the record — what do you regard as your greatest achievement during your time here? And the ambassador said to him, Amos my greatest achievement has been to convince Americans that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism and I think that this is…
SBA: Who was the ambassador or…
TJ: I’ll tell you some other time (laughs).
…This is our problem we have to somehow unravel this connection and then we could have an intelligent debate about what is or what is not America’s interest and Israel’s interest.
DR: Tony I want to ask you a question. The question I want to ask: you say we are reluctant to force the Israeli’s to take the Palestinian issue head-on. In the first Bush administration there was no question the decision was the Shamir government to force them to take the issue of peace head-on, in the Clinton administration there wasn’t any hesitancy in terms of forcing certainly the Netanyahu government — we didn’t have to force Rabin because he made the decision — but certainly the Netanyahu government to take the issue head-on.
This is why I come back to this administration. It seems to me you draw large conclusions based on the behavior of what’s existed from 2001 until today, but the behavior of this administration isn’t unique only on this issue, it’s on almost every issue. So, if you are going to project from this administration it seems to me that you make a mistake.
TJ: I didn’t say that this administration that this… the behavior of this administration characterizes the behavior of all American administrations since we began to align with Israel in the late 50s, early 60s, I didn’t say that. I do think, however, that while it is true that earlier administrations — sometimes quite [inaudible] in the case of the first Bush administration — said that they thought Israel should behave differently from the way it was behaving. They were not willing to force the issue, that’s the point.
AMS: I’ve got to let Shlomo come in on that and then Rashid because… no, no, no… the question that can America force Israel to do…
SBA: Well…aa… if America can force Israel?
AMS: Well Tony said I think… that American presidents have said they don’t want Israel to do things, but they haven’t forced Israel to do things.
RK: What do you mean forced. I mean…
AMS: …Right into the mic.
RK: From the moment… from the moment that the United States got into the peace process as from 1977 with Sadat… Many Arabs thought that the peace process is about delivering Israel.
America didn’t think that way. America thought that it is about mediating, trying to reach this precarious line of equilibrium between the positions of the parties. That… that… that is not forcing that is being a broker, and the broker they were with a number of presidents with others less so and again not because of… of the lobby, but because of the intellectual profile of the president.
For example, you have two presidents — Reagan and Bush — the two of them have a world view. One fought against the communism, the other against terror, and therefore they allowed, it was there view… it is there view. They allowed the Palestinian-Israeli problem to be diluted and therefore they did not press because these was their philosophy, not the philosophy of a given pressure group.
So that’s… because we are we are talking about your article, we are not talking about American foreign policy. I am very much in favor of this administration changing its policy with regard to the peace process. I don’t believe that today the interest of the United States as expressed by this administration coincide with the interest of the State of Israel.
But again, who decides what is the national interest? I am in a minority vote. My view is not today the official national interest because I am not in office. I am a minority. But if I am asked I would tell you that I would not include Hamas in the war against terror, because I don’t think this is the Qaeda brand and then I… I am not sure that my two colleagues here Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross agree with me. I would not see the Iraq war, I opposed it before it started and I think it was disastrous for the interest of the State of Israel because it emboldened Iran. It created instability and it goes against the interest of the State of Israel
If I were today in office, I will say ‘Yes’ to talk with the Syrians which goes against the will of the current administration
…If I were in office today, I would say ‘Yes,’ reactivate the peace process with the Palestinians. So, it does not coincide. And why? Not because there is Jewish Lobby in the middle
AMS: Okay, we would elect.
RK: …It doesn’t coincide because this is the world view of this administration.
AMS: Thank you I… I know… Rashid has been very patient. Are you directly on this point or…
RK: I was gonna say something.
AMS: Okay say, I just wanna make sure you’re on this point and then Martin’s been trying to get in and I’ll go back to John.
RK: Well… I… I wanna say a couple of things, so just give me a sec.
…I beg of you.
…Just a sec.
AMS: I’m counting.
RK: I think that the case of Hamas is an interesting example. I mean, I agree with Dennis. I occasionally do agree with Dennis… that this administration is by no means characteristic of American policy on the Middle East in many, many respects. I don’t think that this administration necessarily is acting in the interest of the United States or the American people and I happen to be a part of a large majority who feel that way insofar as Iraq is concerned
But I think that Hamas gives us a perfect example of how a broader understanding of the Lobby explains why we are struck, where we are struck vis-a-vis Hamas. Some of these things have now been cemented into legislation and I am gonna tell two quick anecdotes, one about a former colleague of yours and several of ours, Itamar Rabinovich, who at the time was the chief negotiator with Syria in the bilateral negotiations and the Israeli ambassador to Washington.
He came to Chicago when I was teaching there and held a session with academics which he laid out the need to make peace treaty with Syria; and he was met by every single one of the academics except myself with arguments which, I mean — given that this is a man who had written a book on Syrian Bath and was the expert on Syria in Israel, the Ambassador of Israel to the United States, the chief negotiator with Syria, you would think would be listen to. No. This audience over time had acquired an expertise through the dint of effective propaganda. essentially, which put them in a position where they disagreed with the Ambassador of Israel. At one point, he turns to me at a bar and says can you help me with these people. I said this is the result
(Applause and Laughs)
…of decades of propaganda. I didn’t do this and I am going to tell one more story, excuse me…
RK: It will be quick, I promise you… When we were engaged in the bilateral negotiations after Madrid were you were ambassador and Dennis was involved as were others… other… other people who… who we could talk about here. One of the things that I realized was that, one of the considerations that the people who were serving as expert advisors to Secretary of State Baker and President Bush — George Herbert Walker Bush — and some of whom like you later served as advisors to President Clinton — where looking at was, what was the ceiling of what you thought would be acceptable to Israel. I think on many cases, you are completely wrong about that, but equally importantly, what was the ceiling which in terms of domestic American politics could sell and here it had to do leave aside whether you are right or wrong. It had a lot had to do with this… these things that I am trying to talk about. A framework beyond which you cannot go and in which you are constrained in American politics, so I am not… I am not arguing that in foreign policy, it’s not possible for a president to oppose Israel or oppose the Lobby. They do it all the time when it’s… when they see it is in… in terms of their ideology or their… their view of the national interest. Okay, we are talking about some things that are poured in concrete.
AMS: Okay. So, from… from… from Rashid, he said that American presidents do oppose the Lobby and do it all the time, I… I detect a certain division on this side, but I am gonna go to Martin and then John.
MI: Rashid, you are both right and wrong. You are right, I agree with you completely that there are certain things that the lobby, not the Lobby that John is doing and not the cabal but the lobby, a Congress has put a straight jacket on administrations in a way that has not been productive for American interests. That was true of the legislation on the PLO for instance which put the Clinton administration in the absurd position of not being able to engage with the PLO when we knew the Israelis were dealing with the PLO because it was against our laws. And the case of the ILSA legislation, he is… is… is a point where John, I do agree with John the case of ILSA legislation.
AMS: You wanna define the ILSA legislation.
MI: Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, was… was legislation, which was counterproductive to our efforts to try to change Iranian behavior because it split us from our Allies — the Europeans — and so in that sense…
RK: So, how do you disagree?
RK: How do you disagree?
AMS: Aa… (Laughs).
MI: I know, where… where I disagree
RK: With me and with John.
MI: Is that… that when the administration decide that it’s… it’s going to try to achieve something in the Middle East, let’s say in particularly in the peace process, it will work with Israel for two reasons that have nothing to do with the Israel Lobby.
The first is that Israel is the one that is making peace here. It’s not the United States. It is we… we are trying… we were trying to get Israel into a position where it could take risks for peace that would make a just and viable solution possible, and so we have to take into account what they were prepared to do.
Now, Tony has a very different approach to how you make peace. His approach is you impose it on Israel. You force, you used the word force, you imposed it on Israel. And successive administrations have made the judgment that that would not work, that all that would do would create a situation in which rather than take risks for peace, Israelis would dig in their heels and make us look ineffective because we could not move Israel. And so it’s… it’s I know it’s a complicated argument but it’s a question of how you use diplomacy effectively. And in that context you have to take Israel’s interest into account just as you had to take Palestinian’s interest into account and try to find a way to move forward. It was much easier to move forward when we had Israeli governments who wanted to make peace.
AMS: Ok. So we have….
MI: Let me just finish with this. Particularly, the Rabin Government or the Barak Government. But when you had the change of government you had the Netanyahu Government then we did press it on Netanyahu Government and we did take a lot of heat from the Israel lobby. Small ‘l’ lobby. I have got the scars to show it. You know, I am branded by them, not as a member of the Lobby but as a member of the anti-Israel Lobby.
AMS: We have got agreement here that there are things that the Lobby does in Congress that are counterproductive in the peace making process and elsewhere. I am gonna come back to John then I am going to ask the question that we started to raise, but I think it is very important which is the perception in Israel or in this country as to whether or not the Lobby actually serves Israel’s interest and then I am gonna return to floor. John.
JM: I just would start by saying Shlomo, I wish you were in charge in Israel.
JM: I think both Israel and the United States would be awfully better.
AMS: Speak right into the mic.
JM: But your comments and Martin’s comments hinted at fact that the United States has been sort of an even-handed mediator. It has tried to be fair and give both sides equal treatment. I do not think that is the case. I think the United States has been much more closely alike with Israel then it has with the Palestinians or the Arabs more generally. (Applause).
AMS: John when do you think that? All the way through?
JM: I would note that both Martin and Dennis were key advisors to Bill Clinton at Camp David, and you, of course, were there. And Martin and Dennis are in my opinion at the core of the Lobby. (Applause)…… and I would add that I think it is no accident that Dennis’ deputy, Aaron Miller, said that at Camp David “we too often acted as Israel’s lawyers.” It’s a quite remarkable statement. (Applause)… Okay.
AMS: You are gonna get a chance.
JM: So, what I am trying to say here is…
JM: What I am trying to say here is that the idea that the United States has been even-handed in this process over time is wrong. Second point I wanted to make was just about Bush administration. I think this Bush administration gets an unfair rap because this Bush administration did try and put pressure on Israel early on — in the 2000s — and what happened was that the Lobby bit back but as many of you remember in the Fall of 2001 when it did not look like we were doing too well in Afghanistan, President Bush began to put pressure on the Israelis and this is when…..
RK: Fall of 2002?
JM: No 2001.
RK: Right after the 9/11.
JM: No it was the Fall of 2001. It was during the Afghanistan war. Right, this is when.
AMS: That was right after 9/11.
JM: This is when Ariel Sharon said that he would not be Neville Chamberlain and there was a real dustup. But the big fight came in the Spring of 2002, April 2002, when Sharon reoccupied the areas that the Palestinian’s had been given as a result of the Oslo Peace Process and both Condi Rice and President Bush told Sharon to evacuate those areas immediately.
Sharon basically telephoned the Lobby and the Lobby went to work and one week later — to no one’s surprise — in the Rose Garden, President Bush said that Ariel Sharon was a man of peace (Audience Laughter) and he backed off.
And then there was another case in the summer of 2003, when the Israelis much to the chagrin of the Bush Administration conducted seven targeted assassinations in five days and the Lobby again went to work and told Bush that he was not to criticize this, and he was to fall line behind Israel which of course is what he did.
But the point is, if you look at the Bush Administration’s behavior and its early incarnation it actually tried to put pressure on the Israelis a number of times because it thought it was very important to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict. But as is almost always the case we’re just not able to bring pressure to bear on Israel which I believe is not in the American national interest and which leads into Ann Marie’s next subject. I do not think is an Israel’s national interest either.
AMS: Okay, we are coming to that but Dennis (the audience claps):
DR: John you sort have tossed that out. You know he… Bush makes a decision but the Lobby does not like it. They call him up and he salutes and he immediately changed his policy.
JM: We documented it.
DR: Oh common.
DR: Jesus, this is …. That is ridiculous.
JM: You can read the piece. We are not making this up.
DR: You… look you quote selectively. You… you basically identify certain things that you think support your case. You ignore every bit of evidence that contradict your case and then you make these kind of strong statements.
But it is interesting. The period you are talking about is a period when there were six suicide bombs in six days, the last one at the Park Hotel a…. in…a… on the first night of Passover.
Yeah, Israel went back into the West Bank. The administration did put pressure on them. It was not because suddenly you know Bush became under pressure and he backed off. When has he come under pressure from any group or certainly from the Congress when he has backed off. He does not respond that way. You can agree with him or disagree with him but that’s not the way he functions. Point one.
But point two. On the issue… I just want to get back to the issue of does the Lobby have influence on Congress Yes, it’s a fact. They have influence on Congress. Did we have to spend a lot of time up on the Hill during the Clinton administration trying to deal with some of the constraints? Absolutely, we did. Were there times when I had to fly back from the Middle East all night and go directly to the Hill which was the last thing in the world that I wanted to do? Yes, I did.
But you know something? There is a value in having to explain your policies. There is a value in having to get up there, make the case for your policy, think them through, and explain them and actually when you do you are probably better off for it. Maybe one of the problems we have had in this administration is too little effort to explain policies, not too much.
AMS: So, let me… let me read your quote from the Israeli author and commentator Tom Segev… Segev. I am not sure pronouncing that right. So, he says, “Had the US saved Israel from itself life today would be better. The Israel Lobby in the US harms Israel’s true interest."
That’s from an Israeli commentator.
SBA: Well you see, he … he expresses the same kind of frustration that is expressed in the article of Walt and Mersheimer. That is… we, the Israelis, elected a government that has a given policy. This government does not do what we, Tom Segev or others want, so this must be the blame of the Jewish Lobby. And then you elect your president, as I say, a political theologian, and he runs the policy that he runs all over the world not only in the Israeli-Palestinian situation. In South America, in Asia, what have you. And then you are at a loss. You… you want to explain why the hell he behaves in such a distorted way. So, you go to the Jewish Lobby.
The Jewish Lobby is…
I am not saying irrelevant. It is absolutely relevant. They say that it is especially affective. It may be indeed affective. But the problem is in your political culture, in our political culture, in the kind of leaders that we elect, in our political system — it is an impossible political system in terms of conflict resolution — and therefore you find people like Tom Segev that magnify, blow up the meaning of the Lobby as the obstacle.
The obstacle is Ehud Olmert, Sharon, is Barak.These are the obstacles. And the obstacle here is probably Bush and the American politicians. And the Lobby is there. It plays a role because foreign policy is an amalgam. Foreign policy in a democratic country is an interplay of factors and actors. And the Lobby is one of them. Obviously. But the onus, the responsibility, is on the elected leaders.
AMS: Tony has been. I think it’s Tony. Oh… Go ahead….Alright. Martin and then John.
MI: If I could just follow up on this point.
I think underlying a lot of this discussion and is particularly in John’s piece is this a assumption that Israel is… that United States is capable of telling Israel what to do. Or in the case of Tom Segev — as Shlomo points out — that if Israel were only pressed by the United States to do what he wants it to do it would be so.
There’s this is whole notion that somehow Israel is not an independent and sovereign state with a democratically elected government. The United States has relationships with a lot of countries around the world in which we would like them to behave differently but in many cases they have the ability to say no, and to pursue what they consider in their national interest. And that’s something that I think is missing from this debate. Israel does have the ability to say no to the United States when it thinks United States wants it to do something against its interest. Who… who are the people saying no?
AMS: But could not…
MI: …It happens to be the elected government. Inevitably, the people who are in the government come to Washington and say you have to do our dirty work for us. You have to get the Israel government to do what we want it to do. Well that’s fine. That’s what Tom Segev is saying.
But understand — and John Mearsheimer should understand that since he is a realist better than anybody else — t hat States have interests and Israel is a State which has interests and Unites States can try to influence it because it has [Inaudible]. But in the end it cannot stop Israel from pursuing settlements, not because of the Israel Lobby but because elected Israeli governments have been hostage to the set list who have been driving this process for 30 years. That’s why United States is unable to do it. Not because of the Lobby.
AMS: Okay so Tony and then John and I am going to the floor.
TJ: It is a kind of naïve quality to that view of the way the world works. Because there are these little countries out there they behave in ways that annoy or irritate us, we try to influence them but very often we just can’t.
There is a lot of evidence that very often we just can — and have — and even if I base …
MI: Can you give us some examples of how we prevail?
TJ: The complicating factor is not whether or not we can make another country do our bidding. It’s when it does the things that we do not like. We then take a position which makes it very clear just how much runs against out interests and in taking that position warn that smaller, weaker, very dependent country — Israel in this case but others as well — that it’s perhaps not in its interest to keep on doing these things which annoy us so much.
So, it is not that we are completely powerless in these matters.
Let’s take a concrete, recent, brief case. Many Israelis supported —overwhelming majority actually — supported the recent incursion into Lebanon. Many people in the rest of world thought this was perhaps a bad idea. And many people in United States — including people in policy making positions — worried that this was not conducive to the long-term making of Middle Eastern peace. But what did the Secretary of State of this country say that we should effectively stand by and do nothing because this was, remember, the "birth pang" of a New Middle East.
The consequences of this particular birth pang have been catastrophic for Israel — and that is one discussion that one could have — but they are believe me profoundly catastrophic for this country — as well as the country I come from, whose Prime Minister backs the same position — because we are seen then to be two things: one of completely supporting a mistaken policy by a small client State, and two, unable to do anything about it, apparently.
So we are perceived simultaneously as complicit and how that could possibility in our interest defeats me. And if it is not in our interest than why do we not do something much more effective? Why do we not strong arm, the way, for example — excuse me, excuse the language of force and strong arm but sometimes it has applied the way we have strong armed in some countries in Europe which I know much more about into backing us on the International Criminal Court; heavily leverage, heavy financial pressure, heavy legal pressure, heavy promises or threats of withdrawal promises. We do it. We can do it. We don’t seem do it the case of Israel.
AMS: John, I promise, quickly… I mean… I think that the lines are clear.
JM: Okay, I want to go to Shlomo’s point and I want to know that if you look at your new book carefully which I have done…
AMS: …He probably knows it…
JM: …It seems to me that the arguments that you’re making in that book support very clearly the Tom Segev line of argument that you seem to be arguing against here tonight. But let me point out that in the book you say that there are two presidents who have done the most to facilitate peace between the Arabs and the Israelis and those two presidents are Jimmy Carter and the first president Bush.
And you say that the reason they were successful as they, quote, “managed to produce meaningful agreements,” right, because they were, quote, “not especially sensitive or attentive to Jewish voices and lobbies”. They were, then to quote you again, “ready to confront Israel head on and overlook the sensibilities of her friends in America.”
Seems to me that what you’re saying there is that the two presidents who have done the most good for Israel were two presidents who were willing to take on the Israel Lobby head on; and that in effect gets back to the very question that Ann-Marie opened with.
SBA: I addressed that already when Tony, the same quotation, and I hope you were listening because he quoted the same quotation before and I addressed…
JM: …It is though I would drive the point.
SBA: …and I addressed it, and I addressed already.
Indeed… indeed I believe by the way you would add a third president, I think that Clinton was obviously very active in trying to make peace and very assertive in that and I think he went further than anybody else, any statesman all over the world and certainly in this country in terms of an Israeli-Palestinian peace.
And I repeat my point… there is a lobby, it has an influence, it has an impact, but at the end of the day it is fairly, I would dare say even easy, because Clinton, I’m not sure at all that he confronted any lobby when he went to Camp David, when he suggested to transfer the sovereignty to the Palestinians, for Temple Mount for Jerusalem, all this kind of things.
I was there, I never heard the Lobby. I came to Washington quite frequently. I never encountered any Lobby pressure. So, the… the Lobby is there… there is no question about it. The problem is, where is American leadership? And I… your… your article, more than a critique of the lobby needs to be seen as a critique of American leadership.
It is their responsibility and whenever an American president wanted to carry out a given foreign policy, they did it, with the lobby or without the lobby. By the way, in other spheres as well, take China with a Taiwan lobby, take whatever you… this is the question. I don’t believe — and this is unlike the case of Tom Segev — I don’t believe that the lobby is an insurmountable obstacle. It is there. This is the deus ex machine. If we bring it down or bring it up, we will solve everything… Simply not the case… Simply not the case.
SBA: It’s question of leadership.
AMS: Alright… we’re gonna go to the floor. We’re going to give you pretty much your full two hours here, so we have got about 15 minutes because I know we started late. I can’t see you. Alright, so here are the ground rules. No speeches, I will… I will cut you off, this is not the time for speeches. This is the time for questions… Questions are short, they are to the point, and they are aimed at one member of the panel. Please. I’m gonna collect about three questions at a time and then I will turn to the panel to respond. I got to do it this way so as many people as possible have a chance to ask questions. Okay. Go ahead.
QUESTION: I have question for Rashid Khalidi. You’ve said that the influence of the lobby is in fact far greater than John Mearsheimer claims. Your argument reminds me of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a book.
All you people here who believe in freedom of speech will allow me to finish… please allow me to ask my question. It is a question. The Protocols of the Elder of Zion, a book very popular in Muslim countries, how would you distinguish your views? How great is the Jewish domination of America?
SBA: Okay. Thank you. Next question.
AUDIENCE: My question is for John Mearsheimer. I want to put an argument and going to respond to it, if that’s okay.
The argument that I feel hasn’t been addressed and I want you to respond to it, is that many people — some people — feel as if, you know, yes, Israeli and American policy is harmful to Palestinians. Obviously it’s terrible. But they don’t blame that on the lobby, they blame that on the government and they say they say that there are alternative reasons for the support of these policies, which is simply that the US favors an Israeli Sparta which is very militarized. It’s an offshoot of the American economy, you know, it’s a local police office… so I want you to respond to that and also can you point to examples where the Lobby has stood up to the administration on the important issues like selling military technology to China, and it has not fallen in line?
AMS: Thank you. Next question.
AUDIENCE: My question is for professor Mearsheimer. On page 147 of the 9/11 Commission Report it states that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed masterminded 9/11, says he attacked us because of our biased foreign policy favoring Israel, so my question is: given the stranglehold of the Lobby on the politicians and the media, is it ever going to be possible to have an even-handed policy towards the Palestinians and the Israelis?
AMS: Okay, thank you. Next, last one and I’ll come back to the panel.
AUDIENCE: My name is Michael Saramara. I am a Web journalist for [Inaudible] dot com. According to… my question is…
AMS: Directed to someone in particular.
AUDIENCE: First I want to say that according to JJ Goldberg, in his book "Jewish Power," he is the current editor of the Forward Jewish Weekly, he states, with footnotes, that 45% of the Jewish PAC money funds to Democratic Party for the national elections, meaning, congressional, US Senate and the presidency and 25% of the Jewish PAC money is funded for the Republican Party. How can you say that Israel is not a domestic issue, and that’s to Dennis Ross?
AMS: Thank you, okay, so… Rashid?
RK: I think the question that you heard shows part of the problem in this country. I actually think I said that the impact of the Lobby is both greater and less than John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt said.
I would argue that its impact on foreign policy — and I think I gave a couple of examples — is in some respect less than they would argue. And I would argue that its impact on other areas like legislation, I specified — I wasn’t talking about Jewish power, I wasn’t talking about the Protocols of the Elders of Zion — I tried to be specific, and on public discourse, is greater. In fact it’s a subject that they don’t deal with in my view sufficiently in the article.
To talk about the extent to which the way in which people in this country are allowed and not allowed to talk about things like Palestine, occupation, Israeli policies, American support for those policies, to simply open these issues and say debate on them is extraordinarily restricted, I don’t think means you’re talking about — to quote the speaker — how great is the Jewish domination of America.
I think we have a problem. If I were a Israeli, I would say I think Israelis have a problem with that fact that you cannot rationally, calmly debate many of these issues whether in the media, whether in — certainly on the Capitol Hill — partly because of the much broader influence in my view John and Steve talk about. I would disagree with them on many other things.
RK: …and I don’t think that anything I said in anyway resembles the Protocols of Elders of Zion or anything in that matter.
AMS: Alright. I see a good line of questioners, so I’m gonna ask the responses to be as brief as we can so we can get more questions and John and then Dennis and we’ll go back to the floor.
JM: Yeah. I had two questions. The first one was the question of whether or not it’s not the US Government that’s the cause of our foolish policies in the Middle East, not the Lobby or Israel for that matter, and in fact many people argue that Israel is not the tail that wags the dog, in fact, what Israel is is a client state of the United States and it does the United States’ dirty work.
I think this is largely an empirical question and my studying of the issue tells me that this is basically a case of the Lobby and Israel having much more influence on the US Government than it is the case of the US Government getting Israel to do its dirty work.
On the second question, about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed from page 147 of the 9/11 Commission Report. I actually brought a copy of that to read if it was appropriate, but the report makes it clear that KSM’s animous towards the United States stem not from his experiences there as a student but rather from his violent disagreement with US Foreign Policy favoring Israel.
The whole subject of the relationship of our policy towards Israel and the Palestinians and how that influenced the events of 9/11 is a subject — as the woman indicated — that simply can’t be discussed in the mainstream media in the United States. And that is quite shocking because when you look carefully at what has been uncovered by the 9/11 Commission Report as evidenced by this quote I just read you from page 147 there is a considerable amount of evidence that there is a linkage between the two.
AMS: Let… let Dennis…
DR: I’ll comment quickly on that and answer the question.
You take one quote at a 9/11 Commission Report and say, boy, that proves that it was because of Israel that 9/11 took place. There was no peace.
Think about the fact that 9/11 Commission Report shows the planning for this was being done when everybody in the Arab world thought we were going to succeed in making peace. Precisely because they thought we might make peace is the reason they were doing this.
Number of… now in terms of the question, the money that was sighted. Yes, it turns out that Jewish community contributes money for political purposes. Not the only reason they contribute money is for Israel. There obviously, there are probably people who can commit it because they have also domestic interests as well, but last time I checked, actually, this is the way the American system works. And it is interesting, I might just add, given the nature of what we’ve discussed tonight, we have focused on the Israeli Lobby and therefore put all of our attention on Israel and Israel’s behavior. Israel’s behavior is also influenced by what it faces in the neighborhood. We haven’t had any discussions about…
DR: …threats that it faces or the behavior of its neighbors because the nature of this conversation was geared only towards the Israeli Lobby in a sense and its influence.
AMS: Okay back to the floor.
SBA: Can I ask a question to Mearsheimer?
AMS: No… no I’m gonna go back to the floor. There is another afterwards.
AUDIENCE: My questions is to Ambassador Ben-Ami. US Government, this year, banned some of the Arab channels because it is related to the Hezbollah and I think some of the groups tried to advocate to banning of some Arab radical channels not just [in the] United States but all over the world. You know, [in the] European Union and other countries.
Do you think it is in the interest of the Israel Government to try to ban those kind of Arabic channels and how about, you know, Al-Jazeera or other kinds of chanells which could be through the cable?
AMS: Did you understand the question?
AUDIENCE: Well given the fact that …
AMS: We’re gonna hold him. Hold that one, okay next one.
AUDIENCE: I’m very concerned about the media’s ignorance of discussions such as this. I wonder if there are ABC, CBS, CNN or Fox cameras here, whether we will see this tonight when we go home or tomorrow, I sort of…
AMS: Can you ask a question please?
AUDIENCE: The question to Dr. Mearsheimer is, has the media reception of your article corroborated its thesis?
AMS: Okay, next question.
AUDIENCE: I’d like to ask this question of Tony. Since Israel has the same GDP per person as Spain and South Korea why are we giving them any money at all? (Applause) And since Israel is widely reported to have 200 nuclear weapons why is it in our interest (Applause) to have the United States vetoing proposals in the UN to discuss that subject, particularly in that all of the you seem to agree that the United States, Israel, and Iran are a central topic?
AMS: Not sure who is the right person. Okay. Shlomo go ahead.
SBA: Well during the Lebanon War we tried to destroy Al-Manar television so I guess that this is not against Israel’s will to see such a channel to be closed. So I think that if you ask me if it is in our interest or not at that particular moment during the war it was in the interest because it was part of war.
As a whole I don’t think we should intervene in that. It is an American decision. It has nothing to do with Israel. It is your policy, you are in the War against Terror, in a global war against terror. We, the Israeli, should not be the part of the global war against terror because we have a political problem with the Palestinians, with Hamas.
We should not present ourselves as they spearhead of sought of a sort of clash of civilizations in that part of the world. I’m against that kind of vision because I think we have ve one particular problem that is solving the political dispute. (Applause).
AMS: Okay. John.
JM: I think the sincere piece came out, the media has paid it serious attention. The mainstream media that is.
I’m not too sure though that the media the mainstream media has paid much attention to the two big issues that we raised. One was criticism of Israel, and two was criticism or serious dialog about the US-Israeli relationship. If you look at the recent war in Lebanon there was hardly a piece in any newspaper in the mainstream media that criticized Israel or criticized US policy towards Israel and I don’t think you see many pieces today in the mainstream media today question question the US-Israeli relationship.
(Audience Commotion) .
AMS: Eh…Eh. that’s…Okay. So Tony, please… please we’ve maintained. Please be quiet.
TJ: I can’t see the speaker but would he allow people to answer the questions even if you don’t agree with them as I often do not. Please.
TJ: I was asked two questions. Why do we give so much money to Israel if it does not need it? I take it that is the gist of the question. And secondly why won’t we talk — and why don’t we let others to talk — about Israel’s nuclear weapon?
Why we give so much money to Israel is a historical question. It goes back — and you have to tell the story — beginning in the 60s of Americas increasing involvement Israel which doesn’t actually date back at all to the beginning of the state. But in the way what we do is now is analogous to what we used to do to France in the early 1950s. We poured huge amounts of money into France — believe it or not — which helped the French economy boom into its great postwar development but allowed the French to divert many-many tens of million of dollars in their own currency to fight a useless war in Indo-China. We effectively underwrote French bad behavior.
AMS: Tony make it short please.
TJ: That’s what we’re doing with Israel. We are underwriting Israel’s bad behavior. Why we continue to do it I think has been answered in the conversation here. We have vetoed many-many resolutions in the Security Council concerning Israel.
The reason Israel doesn’t want to talk about its nuclear weapon — officially, it has never acknowledged of having one — is a question that would have to be addressed to Israel. The reason we are uncomfortable with it, obviously, in raising the issue, is because effectively Israel doesn’t behave in ways with regard to this and many other questions that we demand of other countries both in that region and in the world. Forcing it do something that we’ve decided we don’t want — in our interest — as we see it or in Israel’s, and so won’t allow the conversation to come up. It doesn’t look well for us seen from the outside.
AMS: Okay. Two sentences.
MI: First of all on the issue of aid, the fact that matter is that Israel now receives $240 million in economic support funds and $2.3 billion in military support funds and within the next two years, the economic support fund would be eliminated completely. So in terms of supporting its economy we are not doing that, what we are doing is supporting its ability to defend itself as far as the nuclear issue is concerned.
TJ: That’s what I saw say.
MI: One more sentence.
MI: Rather the question was about why we are subsidizing Israel’s economy when it has the economy of Spain and the answer is we are reducing that to zero in the next few years. The question of Israeli’s nuclear weapons is I think a critical issue. It is a very complicated issue. The difference is the understanding we have with the Israel. Israel keeps its bomb in the basement and that has served for last 20 years to ensure that the Middle East has not gone nuclear until this menace of Iraq has emerged, but the Arab states, because Israel kept its bomb in the basement, but Arab states did not see the need to go nuclear and that has served the interest of the region and our interest very well.
AMS: Okay, that is our whole other of debate. Last round of questions please.
AUDIENCE: Okay. Now this question is for professor Mearsheimer.
In the opening pages of your paper you state that one of the reasons America is facing terrorism and hostility from the extreme factions in the Muslim world is because of its alliance with Israel and you imply that perhaps as a result the US should reevaluate its alliance with Israel. Don’t you think there is a danger in advocating foreign policy with the zero weight on loyalty and only weight on here, now and the present and what is good for us at this moment?
AMS: Thank you.
AUDIENCE: My question is for professor Mearsheimer and I want to know do you think it is possible that the majority of the American people who are primarily not Jewish, primarily do not live in New York, and primarily have never been anywhere near a think tank neo-con dominated or otherwise, might just like Israel and recognize shared values and have over the last 50 years urged their legislators not always to go with Israel in the name, but towards Israel because there was something about the place that they liked and recognized as admirable?
AMS: Last question.
AUDIENCE: Hi, I write for the American Free Press in Washington DC, it’s done a lot of coverage of this and I have really basically kind of one and half question for you. First of all.
AMS: For whom.
AUDIENCE: What would happen…
AMS: For whom is your question directed.
AUDIENCE: Okay, to the entire panel.
AMS: No, no choose somebody. (Applause)
AUDIENCE: Okay. To Mr. Dennis Ross.
AMS: Okay. Dennis Ross.
AUDIENCE: Two questions. Number one: What would happen if Egypt or Jordan or any other country in the Middle East mounted the scale of espionage operations that are now going on through the Mossad? That’s number one. Number two: Don’t you feel that one of the factors in the drift towards war is the growing British influence in this country?
AMS: Okay so…
AMS: Al right… Quite please, we’re going to… I’m going to let John and Dennis answer, and you’re gonna close at the same time. I’ll give everybody literally two sentences to close and then we will adjourn, but let’s start, so you’re gonna be answering the questions briefly and closing briefly. John, you’re first.
JM: Yeah, I had two questions. The first was, did I not think that terrorism was principally caused or caused in good part by our relationship with Israel and wasn’t it short sided to think about ending the alliances as a result of that causal linkage that I see.
I do want to make it clear that I think Israel and our relationship with Israel, especially with its policies, is one of the main causes, it’s not the only cause. It’s one of the main causes of our terrorism problem. My argument is not that the United States should end its alliance with Israel. My argument is that the United States should put significant pressure on Israel to change its policies; and then if Israel doesn’t change his policies and the United States comes to the conclusions that those policies are not in its interest, the United States and Israel should go their separate ways.
JM: The second… second question, an excellent question, is one that says: isn’t it the case that the majority of the American people closely identify and support Israel and therefore what’s happening here is that the American government is merely reflecting the will of the American people.
I’ve two point to make on that. First of all there is no question that the American people are quite sympathetic to Israel but much of that is due to the fact that the discourse in this county is so stunted that it’s impossible to have an honest discussion about Israel
(Applause and Booing)
My… my… my argument is that if we had an open and free whealing debate about Israel what you would see is that people would be quite critical. My second point on this is actually if you look at public opinion polls on how the American people think about dealing with Israel, they’re actually much more hard nosed then you would think and they don’t, in any meaningful way, mirror the policies of the American government.
AMS: No reading John, really.
JM: I can’t read any polls but…
JM: …I do have a few, so I will leave it at that.
(Applause and Laughter)
AMS: Okay, thanks. Dennis and please resist the tendency to… (laughs) respond again.
DR: I think the American government and certainly all the administrations I was a part of takes a very dim view on anybody who engages in espionage against us. So the reality is if someone does it, they’re gonna pay a price for this. As for the British being responsible for aa… I drift towards war I suspect if somehow if Tony Blair was seen as having much more influence on the United States he would have fewer problems within Britain but may be Tony… Tony Judtis responsible for the drift. I don’t know.
TJ: Or I would simply say this that there are two people in the world to the best of my knowledge who believe that Britain has a lot of influence of American Foreign policy and one of them is just about to lose his job as British Prime Minister because of that.
AMS: Rashid, you get a final two sentences.
RK: I wasn’t asked a question I think.
AMS: No, I said everyone, those of you weren’t get… get a closing brief remark.
RK: Okay, well thank you. Umm… I… I would agree with the questioner here about the fact that many Americans support Israel because they feel that Israeli and American values are in consonance. But I think that part of the problem is that we don’t have — as John correctly says — a free willing debate on this subject and I don’t think that we realize that these values are frankly understood quite selectively.
We believe that all men are created equal. Its very clear, but that is not something that’s reflected in our policy. We do not deal equally with the Palestinians and the Israelis for example.
We Americans believe that we should support democratic values abroad. It’s one of the strongest arguments in support of Israel, which internally is of course a democracy. It has of course for 40 years ruled over another people, but leave that aside for a second…
AMS: Okay, briefly…
RK: I’m finishing, thank you. We certainly have not shown any kind of — we as a county — have not shown any kind of support for democracy where it comes to comes to Lebanese democracy or Palestinian democracy over the past several months.
Finally, finally this is a country that was created on the idea of a natural independence, self-determination, and while we have supported Israel’s self-determination from the very instant that the partition plan was passed 1947, I do not think with all due respect to people who think the United States have done a great deal to favor Palestinian self-determination, we’ve done any such thing. So I do not think that we are really applying our values in a fair and equal manner, and I really think that’s because the debate has not even allowed to begin on these issues in this country.
AMS: Okay, so Martin.
(Applause and Whistles)
MI: I don’t think that anybody could go away from this evening’s discussion and feel that John Mearsheimer hasn’t had a chance to have an open, vigorous debate and he himself has admitted his… his piece has been openly and vigorously debated.
I have a feeling that he himself is trying to play the underdog here and it’s unjustified. That’s a reference to his paper where he claims that Israel is the underdog and that’s unjustified.
But I do want to say in closing that one thing we didn’t discuss here and isn’t discussed in the paper and should be discussed and maybe John will write a companion piece about the role of Arab states in lobbying for American foreign policy and their influence on American foreign policy and their influence on the decision to go to war in Iraq because it is amazing that all this focus is on Israel because we can get a bit of a rise out at this, but the fact that you totally ignore, totally ignore the influence of the oil lobby, the influence of Saudi Arabia — which has been constantly since Saddam invaded Kuwait, has been constantly coming to Washington and telling us to take Saddam out — and were much more important in the decision of George Bush to go to war than Israel was, and the fact that you ignore it, I think, and the fact that we never discussed here, is an indication that you are not approaching this in a fair, balanced, and scholarly way.
AMS: Okay (applause). Shlomo, we are going to give you the last words.
SBA: Well, some very brief…
AMS: A brief last words…
SBA: Of course what was missing in this debate inevitably because there is no time is that the essential equation is Israel and the Arab World. This is the essential equation that needed to be addressed and another thing is the need to see the predicament of Israel. It is not very easy to convey that when you have a man like David Grossman who was a peacenik who supported the war in Lebanon at the beginning, at least, because it was about upholding the validity of an internationally recognized border and this was very important for America at that particular stage.
I am not condoning the means that were used, but the principle if you want to put pressure or to deliver Israel or to force Israel to recognize an international border, you need to understand that degree of sensibility.
Another brief reflection the… the subsides that will be given to Israel as from 2008, $2.4 billion, indeed there are subsidy, but they are also subsidy to arms industry in this country because this is US dollar money that is spent here and they would like to see the reaction of the arms lobby here if this is eliminated in its entirety.
AMS: The last sentence now.
SBA: The only point about the responsibility of Israel for terror.
I mean America is sharing the predicament of all superpowers in history. Ask Perfidious Albion, look at the black legend for the Spaniards, colossus are hated always all over the world throughout history and you needed to know that. There is no historical perspective in your article.
It is extremely technical, brief, encircled in an enclave that doesn’t tell much about what is going on beyond that and what is going beyond that is more important than what you write about, and this is one weakness of your article. An intrusive colossus that is hated throughout the Arab World not because of the Palestinian question, but because they support the autocrats the… the Arab autocrats just as Hamas was elected not because of Israel, but because this was a protest against the incompetence, corruption of the Palestinian authority so…
AMS: All right.
SBA: The things are much more complicated. This is really I mean you and… and Walter are very serious scholars and I appreciate things you have written in the past, but I think this is a very, very poorly written article and my…
SBA: … and my last question to you
AMS: No… no… no.
SBA: My last question to you… my last question to you is and this is a rhetorical question. I was less benign in my book to Israel’s wars than you are to Iraq to Saddam Hussein. You wrote his decision to invade Kuwait was neither mindlessly aggressive, nor particularly reckless. Saddam’s decision to invade Kuwait was primarily an attempt to deal with Iraq’s continued vulnerability. Can you think of some sense of vulnerability in Israel? I was less benign to Israel than you were to, to Saddam Hussein in your article
AMS: One sentence is enough.
TJ: I am sure Anne-Marie is going to say something specific, but I just want to point out that this is in a way very an unusual debate. Its been… its unusual because I didn’t think it normally get this particular mix of people, saying this particular mix of things in the same panel, whether it is in New York or middle of Kansas — but not certainly not in the middle of Kansas —and I do think you should reflect upon the fact that it is the London Review of Books that put it on.
AMS: So I think in closing it is clear that the…
DR: I didn’t get my…
AMS: You got your to answer a question. I told you all when you answered questions.
DR: That was it?
AMS: That was it. Sorry. Look, it may that the British do have an extraordinary influence in the United States.
We have had a remarkable debate. We have had I think the kind of debate that John and Steve argued is not had. They argued it couldn’t be had. We have had it, it is clear that we could have another 2 hours and another 2 hours after that.
I started by saying there was a debate we hadn’t had and there was a debate that we had, we had both of those, we had others, we opened other questions, and I hope there were will be other fora.
I want to thank the audience. I want to thank you for your questions. I want to thank you your patience, and I want to thank you for really helping the quality of the debate. I want to thank all the panelists. It is a privilege for me to listen to you, and I want to thank the London Review of Books and the Cooper Union. Thanks very much. Goodnight