Ten years ago, John Mearsheimer and I published a controversial article and subsequent book examining the impact of the “Israel lobby” — that is, a loose coalition of pro-Israel individuals and organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Christians United for Israel, just to name a few. We argued that decades of unconditional U.S. support for Israel — the so-called “special relationship” — is not explained by U.S. strategic interests or by shared values, as is often claimed, but is due primarily to the political efforts and activities of the lobby.
The result, we also argued, does more harm than good to both the United States and Israel. For the United States, the “special relationship” undermines America’s standing in the Arab and Islamic worlds, has encouraged a more confrontational approach with Iran and Syria, and contributes significantly both to America’s terrorism problem and to needless and costly debacles like the 2003 invasion of Iraq. For Israel, unquestioning U.S. support for almost all its actions has allowed the decades-long subjugation of the Palestinians to continue unchecked, undermining the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and threatening Israel’s future as a democratic and/or Jewish state.
We made it clear that the lobby was not a monolith controlling every aspect of U.S. Middle East policy, but rather a collection of disparate groups and individuals united by the aim of defending Israel’s actions and deepening the special relationship. We explicitly rejected the idea that anything nefarious was going on, explaining that AIPAC and related organizations were simply part of a powerful interest group like the farm lobby or the National Rifle Association. Their efforts to influence U.S. policy are “as American as apple pie.” And we used the term “Israel lobby” to highlight that not all American Jews support these policies and that some key members of the lobby (such as Christian Zionists) aren’t Jewish. The book also emphasizes that none of these groups or individuals is solely responsible for the choices U.S. leaders make.
As the article and book predicted, a firestorm of criticism followed their publication, including more than a few accusations that we are anti-Israel or anti-Semitic. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our aim was to elicit a debate that would help move America’s foreign policy in a wiser direction and increase Israel’s chances of achieving a durable, peaceful two-state solution with the Palestinians. By successfully squelching any criticism of Israel in almost any form, and by encouraging military action against Israel’s foes, the lobby — in our view — had led us away from both.
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