Last March, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published an article in the London Review of Books. Entitled “The Israel Lobby: Does it Have too Much Influence on US Foreign Policy,” it drew swift charges of anti-Semitism in the editorial pages of American newspapers.

At root are passages like the following:

…the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the “Israel Lobby”. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country — in this case, Israel — are essentially identical.

Those attacking Mearsheimer and Walt suggest the duo outline a nefarious Jewish cabal with a stranglehold on American Mideast policy. Think smokey back rooms; think political and media domination; think subtle and sneaky manipulation of the unsuspecting, innocent gentile. Think historical stereotype.

Mearsheimer, Walt and their defenders counter that they neither suggest a cabal nor a monolithic Jewry driving the American body politic. Instead, a close alliance of disparate groups form a capital "L" Israeli Lobby that distorts US interests in the region. While this is lead by the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Lobby includes Jews and Gentiles alike:

The Lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom believe Israel’s rebirth is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda; to do otherwise, they believe, would be contrary to God’s will. Neo-conservative gentiles such as John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former UN ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will are also steadfast supporters.

The above debate centers around these two perspectives as the panelists move among issues such as US-Israeli relations, the Middle East peace process, the origins of the Iraq War and Israeli settlement policy to name a few.

Update: the press conference that followed this debate is now available online.

Panelists:

  • John Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science and the co-director of the Program on International Security Policy at the University of Chicago.
  • Shlomo Ben-Ami is a former Israeli foreign and security minister and the author of Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy.
  • Martin Indyk is Director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution.
  • Tony Judt is Erich Maria Remarque Professor in European Studies and Director of the Remarque Institute at New York University.
  • Rashid Khalidi is Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies and Director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University.
  • Dennis Ross is Counsellor and Ziegler Distinguished Fellow of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the author of The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace.

Moderator:

Anne-Marie Slaughter is Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Bert G. Kerstetter ‘66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University.

About The Debate

The above debate took place at Cooper Union in New York City.

Debate Transcript

A transcript for this debate is available on this site. To view it, kindly point your browsers over here. Reprint permissions can be directed to ScribeMedia via email at pubs [at] ScribeMedia [dot] org.

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