Just over the past day, a new set of reviews by professional diplomatic Historians has become available on an open list to which I subscribe regariding the Mearsheimer & Walt Book, "The Israel Lobby" -- and I recommend reading these, to be found at: http://www.h-net.org/~diplo/roundtables/#8.18 I profoundly disagree with one, and more or less agree with one or two minor points of difference, with the other three. Anyhow, I didn't move on because I wanted to digest these serious reviews.
Where I differ with all of these reviews is the fact that they skipped over what is actually quite unique in M & W's work -- namely their recognition that an extreme of contemporary right wing and literal fundamentalist American Christianity was very much a central player in the Israel Lobby, as M & W describe it, and that understanding the role of this group in the network or loose coalition that is the "Israel Lobby" becomes necessary if one is to comprehend American Foreign Policy in the Middle East. The irony (or at least a part of it) derives from what the Christian Zionists (such as the group Hagee leads) actually believe. and that is the narrative of the Rapture or "End Times" involving the return of all Jews to Israel, the opportunity for all Jews to finally convert, then the battle of Armageddon, and the Rapture -- with the Jews who fail to convert being in the "left behind" cohort. I noticed today that MJ Rosenberg over at Josh's place picked up on my irony -- I have left a few comments there -- and he picked up on describing "End-Times" as "End-of-the-Jews-Times." I like his construction of the Irony. All of this is about a book that finally broke the Taboo of talking about all this.
John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are about as uber-Establishment as one can get in Academic Diplomatic History and Foreign Relations studies. Mearsheimer holds a distinguished chair in the department of International Relations and Political Science at the University of Chicago, Walt holds a named chair at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. They are situated in the midst of the Realist School of Foreign Policy. Back in 2002 they were asked by Atlantic to write a feature article on the influence of the "Israel Lobby" on the decision to invade Iraq -- and over several years the Atlantic editors revised the manuscript, but ultimately decided not to publish. Some months later, the London Review of Books did decide to publish, and both that article, and an extended version published on the Kennedy School website (one that included the vast array of footnotes, but not the logo of Kennedy School) resulted in two phenonema -- the Kennedy School site had over 300 thousand downloads in a week -- and the London Review site sans footnotes, was equally stretched. The authors were immediately attacked as anti-Semites, (mostly by folk who had hardly bothered to absorb the text), and eventually the Council on Foreign Relations organized a forum, (it was on C-Span which is how I found out about the article and the set-to). It was probably the Council's according these scholars a proper venue with clear rules of discourse, that finally allowed the actual content of their article to be considered for what it said.
M&W's Thesis is fairly simple. Understanding that Realists in International Relations/Foreign Policy deal in analysis of policy in terms of National Interests, they propound that the US and Israeli National Interests are not necessarly the same. They were closer during the Cold War, when the possibilities of Soviet Influence spreading more widely in the Middle East were a concern, but since that time, interests have diverged. In essence they suggest that the "Israel Lobby" had been a barrier to the Foreign Policy Community recognizing this change, and adjusting US policy accordingly.
Much of the book (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 2007) is devoted to a description of the components of this lobby. The Authors make clear that American Politics from the get-go have always been about interest groups organizing and making coalitions to empower interests, and that the modern form of the lobby is essentially American, traditional, and not at all illegal or even a conspiracy -- they totally reject any form of conspiracy theory. It is fairly open, and certainly subject to analysis. The only thing that is really wrong is the Taboo -- the private and public pressures against those who would subject it to analysis by a normal scholar, or scholarly method, -- and the reality that any criticism will result in -- well what -- an attack from Alan Dershowitz? Yes that, and many other things. We know about Juan Cole being blacklisted at Yale last year, but just recently I have been reading (with delight) Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.'s Journals, and he tells of an effort (early 1960's) he was involved with organizomg a lunch for Senators, hosted by Bill Fullbright with the Arab Diplomats in DC, and only four US Senators were willing to chance coming to such a lunch. Point being that what M&W describe is not all that new.
But what they do publish is the core role that "Christian Zionists" play in the "Israel Lobby" -- and doing some counting, offer lots more Representatives and Senators than are elected by an essentially Jewish electorate. Perhaps as much to the point, about half of the Jewish Electorate wants not so much a pro-Israel representative, just not a negative one, and otherwise are much more concerned with issues. In essence, the core of the "Israel Lobby" positions may well not be the position of many American Jews. In many respects, this is a negation of the "Israel Lobby" position. As much as anything, many who currently support the "Israel Lobby" want to avoid examination of the Christian Zionist role -- which MJ at Josh's place called the "End-of-the-Jews" lobby, if you take the theology anywhere near seriously.
Mearsheimer and Walt end their book with lots of recommendations, perhaps twenty, and some negations of recommendations from outside. For instance, they do not recommend forming an alternative Lobby. But what they do recommend without any caution is just talking -- get it up and talk about all this. Deal with the taboos on the subjects. I think this their greatest contribution, and in the sense that they locate the Christian Zionists with their narrative of End Times at the center of their side of the alliance, I think discussion is well advised.