The Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ decision to cancel a forum about a controversial upcoming book on the influence of the pro-Israel lobby on U.S. foreign policy has sparked a heated debate about free speech.

“The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” a book due out in September by University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer and Harvard University professor Stephen Walt, argues that the pro-Israel lobby has had a negative effect on U.S. foreign policy.

Expanding on a previous academic article that caused uproar and protest, Mearsheimer and Walt argue that the Israel lobby — including Jewish organizations, Christian fundamentalists and neo-conservatives — helped, among other actions, to stop diplomatic talks between the U.S. and Syria and hampered efforts to solve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is a non-partisan organization founded in 1922 that holds public forums on international issues such as immigration and world trade. The organization also conducts public opinion polls about foreign affairs.

The council had planned to hold a public discussion of the book in September with the two authors. But in late July, the council decided to scrap the program.

Council President Marshall Bouton, who made the decision to cancel, said he was not trying to stifle free speech nor shy away from public discussion of a controversial issue. Rather, Bouton said, he preferred that the authors appear in “an appropriate forum” balanced by an opposing viewpoint. Neither council board members who are Jewish nor pro-Israeli groups influenced his decision or pressured him, Bouton said.


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