The Israel lobby-2: Who makes up the Israel lobby and how does it work?

In the previous post, I described the main thesis of University of Chicago professor of political science John J. Mearsheimer and Harvard University professor of international affairs Stephen M. Walt in their book The Israel Lobby and U. S. Foreign Policy.

So who or what constitutes the ‘Israel lobby’? Well aware that criticism of the Israel lobby will immediately result in the lobby trying to label them as being anti-Semitic, Mearsheimer and Walt go to some lengths to deflect that charge. They point out that it is wrong to identify the Israel lobby as a Jewish lobby. Not only are non-Jews key players in the lobby, the Israel lobby very often pursues policies that are not even supported by a majority of American Jews. They provide statistics and surveys that suggest that substantial majorities of American Jews disagree with many of the policies advocated by the lobby.

The authors also take pains to point out that the lobby is not some secretive cabal exercising some sinister power. It functions openly within the framework of American politics, just like the National Rifle Association (NRA), the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), the farm lobby, the health industry lobby, or the military lobby.

Similar groups exist to influence US policy towards other nations. In principle, the Israel lobby’s work is no different from (say) the Cuban-American lobby. In fact, American politics teems with such lobbying groups, all seeking to sway the administration or Congress to implement policies favorable to them.

The key difference is that the Israel lobby is far more successful in its efforts than these other lobbies that seek to influence US foreign policy, and attempts to highlight its activities and the negative consequences for the US of the policies it promotes are met with such strong and swift criticism that public discussion of its role is muted.

So who comprises the lobby? The authors first say what the lobby is not.

The lobby is not a single, unified movement with a central leadership, and the individuals and groups who make up this broad coalition sometimes disagree on specific policy issues. Not is it some cabal or conspiracy. On the contrary, the organization and individuals who make up the lobby operate out in the open and in the same way that other interest groups do.
. . .
[T]he lobby is not a centralized, hierarchical organization with a defined membership. . .It has a core consisting of organizations whose declared purpose is to encourage the U.S. government and the American public to provide material aid to Israel and to support its government’s policies. (p. 112-113)

The authors point out that people who are simply pro-Israel in the sense of those who “support its right to exist, admire its many achievements, want its citizens to enjoy secure and prosperous lives, and believe that the United States should come to Israel’s aid if its survival is in danger” are also not part of the Israel lobby simply by virtue of this fact. They say that most Americans, including themselves, fall into that category.

To be considered a member of the Israel lobby requires more than that kind of vague general support. It means that “one has to actively work to move American foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. For an organization, this pursuit must be an important part of its mission and consume a substantial percentage of its resources and agenda. For an individual, this means devoting some portion of one’s professional or personal life (or in some cases, substantial amounts of money) to influencing U.S. Middle East policy.” (p. 114). They argue that “it is the specific political agenda that defines the lobby, not the religious or ethnic identity of those pushing it.” (p. 115) The authors point out that while “The bulk of the lobby is comprised of Jewish Americans who are deeply committed to making sure that U.S. foreign policy advances what they believe to be Israel’s interests. . .Yet the Israel lobby is not synonymous with America Jewry.” (p. 115). They point out that some groups who are very vocal on Israel’s behalf, such as the Christian Zionists or Christians United for Israel, are not Jewish.

The authors name those whom they see as clearly part of the lobby. They point to key players in groups such as the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, Middle East Forum (MEF), and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Some well-known people in those groups are Dennis Ross of WINEP, John Hagee of CUFI, and Martin Indyck of the Brookings Institution.

The authors argue that strong support for the policies advocated by the Israel lobby also come from the group known as the neoconservatives, who have become a very influential part of the lobby because they occupy key posts in the government and the media. Some of these policy makers are named in the book: Elliott Abrams, Kenneth Adelman, William Bennett, John Bolton, Douglas Feith, the late Jeane Kirkpatrick, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, and David Wurmser.

The authors also name influential people and opinion shapers who are members of the lobby: journalists (the late Robert Bartley, David Brooks, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Bret Stephens, and Norman Podhoretz), academics (Fouad Ajami, Eliot Cohen, Aaron Friedberg, Bernard Lewis, Ruth Wedgwood), and think tank pundits (Max Boot, David Frum, Reuel Marc Gerecht, Robert Kagan, Michael Ledeen, Joshua Muravchik, Daniel Pipes, Danielle Pletka, Michael Rubin, Meyrav Wurmser.).

Media critic Eric Alterman wrote in 2002 that the debate among Middle East pundits is “dominated by people who cannot imagine criticizing Israel.” He identified fifty-six “columnists and commentators who can be counted upon to support Israel reflexively and without qualification” while only five pundits consistently take a pro-Arab position. (p. 170)

As a result of this largely one-sided view of Middle East politics, the general public in the US has little or no idea of the appalling conditions under which Palestinians in the occupied territories live, and have no sense of the deep injustice felt by them that they have been displaced from their homes and are made to pay dearly for the injustices perpetrated on Jews by European nations. The current construction of the wall that weaves through the occupied territories cruelly splitting Palestinian communities is a shocking thing that would be strongly condemned if it were widely known but largely passes unnoticed in the US. There is little recognition in the US that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians “is contrary to widely accepted human rights norms and international law, as well as the principle of national self-determination.” (p. 191) “Because most Americans are only dimly aware of the crimes committed against the Palestinians, they see their continued resistance as an irrational desire for vengeance, or as evidence of unwarranted hatred of Jews akin to the anti-Semitism that was endemic in old Europe.” (p. 351)

Perhaps the most successful element of the lobby has been its ability to influence members of Congress, by channeling funds and organizing letter-writing campaigns in favor of those who are supportive of the lobby’s agenda and against those who oppose them.

The journalist Michael Massing reports that a congressional staffer sympathetic to Israel told him, “We can count on well over half the House – 250 to 300 members – to do reflexively whatever AIPAC wants.” Similarly, Steve Rosen, the former AIPAC official who has been indicted for allegedly passing classified government documents to Israel, illustrated AIPAC’s power for the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg by putting a napkin in front of him and saying, “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.” (p. 10)

This ability of the lobby explains its success in getting congressional policies that favor Israel passed with overwhelming majorities, even when those policies are opposed by the White House. The authors argue that the lobby played a key role in the ill-fated decision to invade Iraq, although they were not the only factor. The book’s authors are actually quite sympathetic to George W. Bush, portraying him and Condoleeza Rice and Colin Powell as trying occasionally to steer a more balanced course with regard to the Middle East and Palestinian issues but being consistently outmaneuvered by the Israel lobby, whose efforts were often channeled through Dick Cheney’s office or the Congressional leadership. Bush, Rice, and Powell come across as having at least some sense that the policies urged by the lobby were harmful to America’s own national interest, but unable to change course.

But while the lobby has urged US policymakers to go to war with the enemies of Israel such as Iraq and now are urging war against their other enemies Iran and Syria, they are also wary of public perceptions that such wars are being waged on Israel’s behalf because if the wars against Iran and Syria turn out as badly as the Iraq invasion did, then there is a serious risk of a backlash against Israel. (p. 295)

The influence of the lobby was also seen in the passive response by the US government to the tremendous damage wreaked on Lebanon by Israel in 2006, which targeted civilian infrastructure. Not only did the US oppose worldwide calls for an immediate ceasefire, it gave tacit support to the invasion. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice made the extraordinary statement that the appalling destruction of Lebanon signaled the “birth pangs of a new Middle East.” The US did not protest when the Israelis inexcusably dropped a million cluster bomblets in the last three days leading up to the ceasefire, knowing that the ceasefire was imminent. Such cluster bombs often fail to explode immediately and then remain as deadly traps for people long after hostilities have ended, which is why their use has been condemned. (p. 322)

AIPAC was also responsible for the abandonment of a bill requiring Bush to get Congressional approval before attacking Iran and it has thwarted attempts at dialogue with that country (p. 301)

The authors argue that Israel, as a democracy, should be held to the same standards that any other democracy is held, but in fact is not. The recent decision by the Israeli government to curtail electricity to the entire population of Gaza is an appalling act of collective punishment but has received little notice in the US and no condemnation by the US government. In fact, the conditions of the people in Gaza as a result of Israeli government policies are nothing short of a scandal.

Next: Criticism of the lobby increases

POST SCRIPT: Israeli attack on Iran?

The recent release of the US National Intelligence Estimate report that Iran had stopped any nuclear weapons related activities back in 2003 is seen by some as making it harder for the Bush administration to justify an attack on that country. The London Guardian newspaper reports that elements in the Israel government are now suggesting a Israel initiate the attack, with American approval.


  1. Demetrios Zettos says

    Zionism comes from the bowels of the Old Testament. A book written by self-serving Jews for their own interests.

    The Zionist fanatics’ aspiration is to use every means possible to create a incontestable “Eretz Yisrael” (Land of Israel) stretching between the rivers Nile and Euphrates.
    (On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates -- the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites, and the Jebusites.” Genesis 15:18-21)
    To accomplish this, the territorial integrity and, perhaps, the very existence of five nations (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq) has to be compromised. If the world allowed Israel to pursue such a schizophrenic course what would be the consequences? Armageddon?!!!

    In a display of chutzpah even more galling than the Balfour Declaration, the first Zionists invented a God who “commanded them” to commit genocide. After declaring that their “God gave them” land which had belonged to other peoples for thousands of years, the spiritual ancestors of today’s Zionists embarked upon a campaign of mass murder:
    …”In the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has “commanded” (Deuteronomy 20:16-17).
    The Jebusites were the people of Jerusalem, and like the other nations that were slated for destruction, they had no quarrel with the Israelites. Nevertheless, there can be no doubt that The People Of The Book were bent on genocide according to the modern definition of the word:
    “They should be utterly destroyed and should receive no mercy but be exterminated, as the Lord commanded Moses . . Utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling…”(Joshua 11:20 . . . First Samuel 15:3).

    By the end of the 19th century, using the lessons provided by their religious books, they managed to elevate themselves to positions of economic and political power ( The Rothchilds, Disraeli Prime Minister of England) which enabled them to influence the decisions of the Superpowers that eventually allowed them to reclaim part of the land which they had originally grabbed, claiming that “God had promised it to them”. But that land was already occupied for thousands of years by the Palestinians (descendants of ancient Canaanites and Philistines); and the Palestinians had to be evicted sometimes by the same methods that the ancient Jews used: Genocide and extermination.

    Item: Israel has perpetrated many well documented massacres as well as ethnic cleansing operations against Palestinians (

    Item: For the past 59 years, Israel has pursued a policy of brutal oppression against a people whose homeland was arbitrarily taken away from them. During the same period, Israeli occupation forces have killed thousands of Palestinians and never hesitated to kill unarmed Palestinian children or to arrest and torture them in order to elicit from them information regarding members of resistance organizations including possibly their parents.

    Item: It is documented that a large portion of the US financial aid to Israel is used for the construction of settlements most of which are on illegally occupied territory. Many of the settlement homes are used by American and European Jews as summer vacation or retirement homes.

    Item: Whereas Israel owes its existence to a United Nations resolution, it has repeatedly violated the provisions of the U.N. charter and with the concurrence of the United States arrogantly thumbed its nose to subsequent U.N. resolutions regarding its borders, and its persistent violations of the human rights and civil liberties of Palestinians.

    Item: The U.S. legislative and executive branches, kowtowing to the powerful Zionist lobby (11 Senators, 26 Congressmen, tens of pro-Zionist organizations, many Zionists in key decision-making positions), have blindly aligned themselves with Israel giving over two hundred billion dollars of US taxpayers’ money in economic and military aid to Israel’s oppressive regime. US arms were -and are still being- used against Palestinians. (The total cost in lives and financial resources incurred by the United States in its support for Israel to date is immense). This selective, one-sided, US policy has aptly branded the US as an accomplice to Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians and is the root cause of many terrorist acts against the United States.
    Item: In the absence of any other rational explanation for the blind subservience to Israeli interests, would it be unreasonable for one to assume that some of the aid funds are sent back to the United States and are given to American-Jewish organizations or individuals who, in turn, pass them on as political contributions to both party candidates for office in order to secure their support for the Israeli cause?

    Item: There are some people who say that Israel is a friend of the United States and deserves such unquestioned support. The intentional Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in 1967, killing 34 and wounding 172 American servicemen ( is indicative of the absurdity of such blind support of Israel. As one of the survivors of the attack stated: “With friends like Israel, the U.S. needs no enemies”

    Item: During WWII, in virtually all the Nazi-occupied countries in Europe, the patriotic resistance against the occupiers was encouraged and actively supported by the United States. Many of the freedom-fighters did not hesitate to place their own lives on the line in the cause of freedom from their Nazi oppressor. The similarity with the acts of Palestinians against the Israeli occupation forces is evident and a distinction should be made between freedom-fighters and terrorists.

    Item: Many of the past and present Israeli political and military personalities had also been leaders or members of Zionist terrorist organizations such as the “Irgun Z’vai Leumi”, “Stern Gang”, “Haganah”, “Giddy Paglin”, “Palmach” etc. (The assassination of U.N. mediator Swedish Count Folke Bernadotte was an act of one of these organizations). These Zionist organizations “wrote the book” on modern terrorism which, until their appearance, constituted but random and isolated acts by anarchists.

    Item: When Ariel Sharon became Prime Minister of Israel, he had adopted the satanic ploy of demanding from Palestinian Chairman Arafat to “rein-in the terrorist groups”. This impossible-to –comply-with demand had allowed Sharon to launch his hard line campaign of assassination and destruction with presumed impunity. Unfortunately, this absurd demand had also been echoed by President Bush. Given the facts that there are almost 3.5 million Palestinians living in Israel the West Bank and the other occupied territories and that every Palestinian family has been brutally victimized by the Israeli occupation forces, how in the name of reason could Yasser Arafat know who the next Palestinian -who had had sufficient reasons to seek revenge and, in his or her desperation, was determined to sacrifice his or her life to achieve it- be reined-in? Furthermore, How could Arafat arrest resistance fighters when the Israeli occupation forces systematically targeted Palestinian police installations and policemen? Needless to say, similar irrational demands are constantly made on the Palestinians by the intransigent Israeli government. Such demands seem to have one purpose: to stonewall any final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

    Out of the tragedy of the terrorist atrocities of September 11th, renewed hopes had also emerged that a permanent solution would be found to the 59-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead of a solution, and in spite of the obvious ability of the U.S. -as the sole Superpower- to impose one, we became witnesses to a severe deterioration of the situation with hostilities from both sides. In light of this, the US foreign policy, blatantly supportive of Israel’s aggressive posture, has to be re-evaluated using more pragmatic and objective criteria. For a correct assessment of that situation, one has to view the above historical facts through their proper perspective. By so doing, one will discover one of the real causes of the September 11th attack on the United States. (The other being the unabashed U.S. support of oppressive regimes in Muslim nations.)

    Is there a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? The answer is yes. But the solution has to be fair and just, based on international laws and treating both parties impartially and without prejudice.

    In order to bring an end to the wanton killings and to the suffering of millions of people, and since the United States government is the key sponsor and supporter of Israel, the initiative rests with the United States. However, any final agreement has to be endorsed and enforced by the United Nations.

    Following are some suggestions for a viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:

    A. To begin with, and under pain of U. N. sanctions, an immediate cessation of all hostilities must be IMPOSED on both sides.

    B. The city of Jerusalem should be completely demilitarized and declared a neutral “Holy City”
    protected by the United Nations.

    C. Israel must be compelled to:
    1) Declare unequivocally that it has no aspirations to any land other than that whose boundaries were defined in the U.N. Declaration which established it as a state.
    2) Withdraw from the occupied territories including all the illegal settlements and the Golan Heights.
    3) Accept the creation of an independent Palestinian State.
    4) Allow the return of Palestinians who were forced out of their homes under the Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign.
    5) Provide just compensation for the homes and lands previously owned by Palestinians and forcibly appropriated by Israel or return such homes and lands to their rightful owners.
    6) Accord and guarantee equal human rights and civil liberties to all Palestinians who choose to live within Israel as stipulated by the U.N. resolution which created the state of Israel.
    7) Adhere to all U.N. resolutions aimed at establishing peace in the region.
    8) Sign the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and allow inspections of its nuclear facilities.
    9) Recognize the authority and jurisdiction of the World Court as the sole arbiter of disputes regarding international law.
    10) Provide the World Court with all necessary assistance to prosecute anyone within Israel guilty of crimes against humanity.

    D. The Palestinians:
    1) Must accept that the existence of the state of Israel is a fact with which they must live.
    2) They must refrain from future hostile acts against Israel.

    When Israelis and Palestinians have fulfilled their obligations, the Palestinians can redirect their energies into building a peaceful and prosperous nation without animosity for their neighbors. Time can be relied-upon to heal many wounds opened by both sides.

    Both sides must exclude the religious fanatics from the peace-making processes.

    The Arab Union nations must also recognize Israel as an independent sovereign state.

    Unless both sides can “bite the bullet” and sincerely work towards establishing permanent peace, it is obvious that the world can anticipate the open wound of their conflict to become an incurable gangrene that would cause the demise of the afflicted and perhaps the entire humankind.

  2. Dan K says

    I have a friend whose dad is Palestinian. She told me the story of how her grandpa’s house was bulldozed when the Israelites started moving in. For years, no country has granted him citizenship because he’s Palestinian. He lived in a refugee camp for a long time in Lebanon and a couple years ago Israel started bombing the whole city because a few people who blew something up in Israel were staying there as guests. Last I heard, she hasn’t heard from a lot of her relatives and she assumes they’re probably dead.

  3. Anonymous says

    The problem with ‘both nations must exclude the religious fanatics from the process’ is that in both nations religious fanatics are in the government. Given the current makeup of the Olmert coalition, Avigdor Lieberman has a great deal of influence in Israeli political society. And Hamas is the democratically elected leader of the Palestinian Authority.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *