Excerpts from an editorial board meeting Monday with John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, authors of “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
How do you answer the criticism that you see clearly what Israel does wrong, but you are blind to what Israel does right?
Walt: We talk [in the book], for example, about how vibrant and open a democracy they have, particularly for the Jewish citizens. There’s a problem [for] the Arab population of Israel, separate from the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. But even the Arab population of Israel tends to be treated as second-class citizens. There are many features of Israeli democracy that are quite impressive. Moreover, this is a society with lots of cultural and scientific achievements that are deeply admirable. We bear [them] no ill will. We point out that they clearly have faced security problems throughout their history, and they face a terrorism problem today. All of those things are true. …
That said, what policies should the United States be adopting vis-à-vis Israel and the other countries in the region, and in particular, what should the United States be doing when Israel’s conduct or actions are contrary not only to American interests, but to American values?
Mearsheimer: I think what’s going on here is that there is a conventional wisdom in the United States about the state of Israel that we are challenging. And that conventional wisdom tends to portray Israel in the most positive light. And that’s due in good part to the fact that the [pro-Israel] lobby works very hard to shape public discourse about Israel. For example, you know, and everybody who works for a major newspaper in this country knows, that if you write articles critical of Israel, or talk about the U.S.-Israeli relationship in a critical way, you’ll feel a tremendous amount of heat from pro-Israel readers. As a consequence of this, we have a discourse in this country that’s out of sync with No. 1, the history of Israel, and No. 2, what’s going on in the Middle East today.
We don’t love Israel. It’s not that we dislike Israel. Our argument in the book is simply that Israel should be treated like a normal country. (MORE)