July 01, 2013

Knowing Too Much and the Jewish Lobby

This is just a coincidence but an article I wrote many months ago to the New Left Project has been published. I re-post the beginning below with a link to the full article. 

Norman Finkelstein’s recent book Knowing Too Much surveys the trajectory of American Jews' infatuation with Israel in order to show—this is Finkelstein's main point—that it has entered a stage of disenchantment. But are the political implications of this disenchantment the ones Finkelstein himself draws?

One chapter particularly worth reading in Finkelstein’s book is dedicated to a thorough debunking of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's "The Israeli Lobby made me do it" explanation of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, and especially the Iraq War. In an essay and subsequent book, Walt and Mearsheimer famously argued that U.S. support for Israeli policies harms rather than serves American interests, and explained it, along with much of the U.S.'s behaviour in the Middle East, in terms of the machinations of pro-Israel lobby groups.

In his chapter, Finkelstein establishes a core communality of interests between Washington and Tel Aviv. Both fear indigenous local self-assertion that would limit their ability to project power in the region. Yesterday the principle threat was Egypt's Nasser; today it is primarily Iran. Israel is fundamentally 'a creature of the West' and therefore the only U.S. ally in the region whose subservience to the U.S. stems from deep cultural and popular roots. It therefore continues to be useful to the U.S. Moreover Finkelstein argues, correctly I believe, that the probable effect of the 'Arab Spring' in the short-term will be to increase U.S. foreign policy reliance on Israel, as an island of pro-western stability in an increasingly volatile region.

Debunking 'The Israel Lobby'

Finkelstein meticulously exposes the leaps of logic that underpin Mearsheimer and Walt’s theories, such as their claim that the failure of Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon shows that the Bush administration was coerced into supporting it, and their insistence that the Iraq war was contrary to U.S. interests because it failed. (But did the war “fail”? Only if one accepts the ridiculous justifications and pie-in-the-sky metrics offered to the public.)

Finkelstein debunks the theory that different U.S. administrations differed on policy towards Israel because of domestic electoral concerns. He traces the common thread, ignored by Lobby enthusiasts, connecting President Truman's tepid support for Israel's creation with President Eisenhower's purely tactical disagreement with Israel regarding the best way to remove Nasser from office. Finkelstein argues cogently that, their protestations notwithstanding, Mearsheimer and Walt are in fact accusing the American Jewish establishment of disloyalty on the basis of alleged 'Jewish interests', an accusation Finkelstein exposes as both false and based on flimsy reasoning.

The bulk of the proof takes Finkelstein into a deconstruction of the terminology that serves as the basis of the allegations. He takes apart the term 'neo-conservative', revealing the ingrained opportunism of its alleged disciples, their almost full alignment with the mainstream U.S. political vision of the world, and the impossibility of dividing Jewish from non-Jewish advocates for the same U.S. dominance. He runs methodically through the record of the Iraq War to demonstrate that Mearsheimer and Walt's contentions are unsubstantiated and incoherent. The coup de grace is an approving cite of the demolition of their thesis on the Iraq War by Norman Podhoretz, a neoconservative himself. Mearsheimer and Walt's supreme achievement seems to be to have made at least one neoconservative sound reasonable.

Continue Reading at New Left Project


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