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What They Are Saying

March 30, 2006
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Harvard professor of Yiddish literature Ruth R. Wisse writes in The Wall Street Journal (www. on March 22 concerning the myths about the "Israel lobby:"

"In Boston in the early 1980s, I was asked by an Irish cab driver what language I had been speaking with a fellow passenger we had just dropped off. When I told him Hebrew, the language of Israel, the man exclaimed: 'Israel! That's America's fighting front line! Israel fights our battles better than we could fight them ourselves.'

"Now professors Stephen Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago would have us believe that the Boston cabbie was a dupe of the 'unmatched power of the Israel Lobby.'

"Their essay in the latest London Review of Books - based on a longer working paper on the Kennedy Center Web site - contends that the U.S. government and most of its citizens are fatally in thrall to a 'coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction.' The major schemers are such key organizations as the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee … joined by neoconservatives, think tanks, and a large network of accomplices including (they will learn to their surprise) The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

"The thesis of Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer is remarkably broad and single-minded: A loose association of special-interest groups has persuaded the country to sacrifice its interests to a foreign power, thereby jeopardizing 'not only U.S. security but that of much of the rest of the world.' Israel, it is claimed, hurts every facet of American life … recently the Israel Lobby - a term the authors render with a sinister capital 'L' - has begun to intimidate the universities by trying to create a field of Israel studies and monitoring anti-Israel bias.

"Were it not for 'the Lobby,' the United States would have nothing to fear in the world, not even a nuclear threat from Iran. Given the creative scope of these charges, one is surprised to find no hint of Israel's role in the spread of avian flu.

"Organized as a prosecutorial indictment rather than an inquiry, the essay does not tell us why the 'Israel Lobby' should have formed in the first place. The 21 countries of the Arab League with ties to 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide are nowhere present as active political agents. There is no mention of the Arab rejection of the U.N. partition of Palestine in 1948; no 58-year Arab League boycott of Israel and companies trading with Israel; no Arab attacks of 1948, 1967 and 1973; no Arab-Soviet resolution at the United Nations defining Zionism as racism; no monetary and strategic support for Arab terrorism against Jews and Israel; and no Hamas dedication to destroying the Jewish state. Israel's existence elicits Arab and Muslim hostility; hence, in their view, Israel is to blame for Arab and Muslim carnage.

"Judging from the initial reaction to their article … the two professors may be subjected to more ridicule than rejoinder.

"Yet it would be a mistake to treat this article on the 'Israel Lobby' as an attack on Israel alone, or on its Jewish defenders, or on the organizations and individuals it singles out for condemnation. Its true target is the American public, which now supports Israel with higher levels of confidence than ever before. When the authors imply that the bipartisan support of Israel in Congress is a result of Jewish influence, they function as classic conspiracy theorists who attribute decisions to nefarious alliances rather than to the choices of a democratic electorate.

"No wonder David Duke - white supremacist and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan - claimed that this article 'validated every major point I have been making since even before the [Iraq] war started.'

"But he and Walt-Mearsheimer have it backward: Americans don't support Israel because of the strength of any lobby; Israel earns American support the hard way, for the very reasons the Boston cabbie cited several decades ago."


Benefit of Neutrals? They're as Useful as Umbrellas in Clear Weather

Author Hillel Halkin writes in The New York Sun ( March 21 that an incident in Jericho proves the futility of agreements monitored by "neutrals":

"The Israeli raid on a Jericho jail - which ended with two dead Palestinians, the capture of six prisoners who were about to be set free by the new Hamas government, and the ignominious surrender of dozens of Palestinian policemen - was a trivial episode in Israel's conflict with the Palestinian Authority. It was, however, yet another lesson in the futility of third-party intervention in situations of national conflict.

"The captured men - five of them convicted, in a rare Palestinian trial of terrorists, of assassinating Israeli Cabinet minister Rehav'am Ze'evi - were imprisoned as part of an American-brokered deal that ended a 2002 Israeli siege of Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound, in which they had taken refuge. The agreement was that they would be sentenced to incarceration in Jericho, with U.S. and British observers posted in the jail, where they reportedly enjoyed deluxe conditions, to make sure they didn't 'escape.' It was last week's hasty departure of these observers, concerned for their safety under a Hamas government, that led to the Israeli action.

"In a word, as long as the P.A. was committed, however half-heartedly, to keeping the six men in prison, the observers were unnecessarily stationed outside their jail cells. The minute there was a need for the observers, they vanished, obeying instructions from their superiors.

"What were the observers there for in the first place, if not to do their best to prevent the convicted men from walking out of prison? At the very least, they should have remained at their posts long enough to offer token resistance to the prisoners' being freed and to protest officially in the name of those who sent them.

"Alas, such is the almost inevitable fate of international interventions of this kind. They work perfectly when they are superfluous and collapse the minute they are not.

"Such has been the world's experience with practically every international presence that has tried to intervene in intra-state conflicts without taking sides in them: It happened with the U.N. troops deployed in the Congo in 1960; with UNIFIL in Lebanon, under whose eyes the Hezbollah has operated with impunity for years; with the NATO contingents in Bosnia that ran from Srebrenica in 1995, and in still other cases.

"Governments and soldiers will not fight when they view themselves as neutral parties. Psychologically, this is natural.

"For Israel, the lesson is clear. Neutral 'peacekeepers' between it and the Arab states are always undesirable. They create an illusion of false security, solve no real problems, can never be counted on in a pinch and only tend to get in the way when military action is called for. They are about as useful as an umbrella in clear weather, and about as much of a deterrent to rainstorms when they come."

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