The Passover Seder liturgy contains a pessimistic verse: “In every generation an enemy arises seeking to eradicate the Jewish people.” In the last hundred years, those enemies included the Russian czar, Stalin, Hitler, Gamal Abdul Nasser and more recently, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Reviewing recent publications and utterances by some of the most vocal detractors of Israel and its American supporters, it appears that every generation also sees new critics who arise to assail American support for the Jewish state. Sometimes the criticism is actually anti-Semitic utterances masked by euphemisms (I’m not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist). And sometimes the criticism is actually an echo of statements made a generation ago. Indeed, recent anti-Israel essays, claims of “Jewish Lobby” cabals, and accusations that support for Israel runs counter to American national interests are old hat. We’ve heard it before.
THE GENERALS SPEAK
Earlier this year retired general Wesley Clark warned blogger Arianna Huffington that “New York money people” are pushing America into a war against Iran. “You just have to read what’s in the Israeli press,” he said. “The Jewish community is divided, but there is so much pressure being channeled from the New York money people to the office seekers.”
The statement had a malodorous hint of anti-Semitism. Is the term “New York money people” a code for Jews? The statement elicited a distinct memory.
It was an echo of a statement made by Gen. George Scratchley Brown, chairman of the Joints Chiefs in 1974. Brown was smarting from the emergency drawdown of frontline American army equipment that was dispatched to Israel in the emergency airlift during the October 1973 war when Israel repelled an invasion by Soviet-armed Egypt and Syria. No military man wants to have his military toys taken away. Brown unleashed this classic anti-Semitic response at an appearance at Duke University law school on October 10, 1974: “[The American public could] get tough-minded enough to set down the Jewish influence in this country and break that lobby. We have the Israelis coming to us for equipment. We can say ‘we can’t possibly get the Congress to support a program like this.’ And they say ‘don’t worry about the Congress. We will take care of the Congress.’ This is somebody from another country, but they can do it. They own, you know, the banks in this country. The newspapers. Just look at where the Jewish money is.”
Thirty years later, did the “New York money” line slip out of the recesses of Clark’s memory?
In the early 1970s Wesley Clark worked in the office of the Army Chief of Staff in Washington and then taught at West Point. The 1973 Yom Kippur War was a major topic of discussion and instruction. Today, Clark rejects any suggestion that his comments were motivated by anti-Semitism. Indeed, this son of a Jewish father was quick to assure Jewish organizations of his abhorrence of anti-Semitism. More likely, his comments reflect the milieu and culture of a young junior Army officer 35 years ago looking for the reasons his army’s tanks, bombs, and munitions were being taken out of European depots and turned over to Israel’s army.
ECHOING THE PAST
Clark’s comments were not an isolated echo, however. Profs. Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of the last year’s controversial paper (and a new book being released this week), “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” also repeat and amplify the 30- and 40-year-old opinions of two of the most prominent critics of American support for Israel a generation ago: Sen. J. William Fulbright and George Ball, an under secretary of State in the 1960s. Curiously, the Fulbright and Ball names did not appear even once in the professors’ voluminous footnotes in their original study. As Walt and Mearsheimer publish their lastest screed, how many readers will realize that it is a rehash of statements made by two foreign-policy gadflies of a generation past?
Consider the following examples of thematic similarities:
1. Dual Loyalty
In a Senate debate in May 1960 on the Douglas amendment to the Mutual Security Act, which would force the United Arab Republic to open the Suez Canal to Israeli shipping. Senator Fulbright said that “a pressure group in the U.S. . . . seeks to inject the Arab-Israeli dispute into domestic politics. Americans find their foreign policy being whip-sawed by a minority pressure group. The President cannot conduct our foreign policy in the Middle East under these circumstances. That policy is being directed by minority pressure groups. In recent years, we have seen the rise of organizations dedicated apparently not to America, but to foreign states and groups.”
And again, during an interview on Face the Nation on October 7, 1973, the second day of the Yom Kippur War, Senator Fulbright said: “The U.S. government alone is not capable of [putting an embargo on arms to the Middle East], because the Israelis control the policy in the Congress and the Senate and unless we use the U.N. and do it collectively, we know the U.S. is not going to do that. . . . Somewhere around 80 percent of the Senate of the United States is completely in support of Israel and of anything Israel wants.”
In their original working paper on the Israel Lobby, Walt and Mearsheimer argued similarly: “The bottom line is that AIPAC, a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress, with the result that U.S. policy towards Israel is not debated there, even though that policy has important consequences for the entire world.”
2. Anti-Semitism Used to Silence Critics
As George Ball put it in his article “How to Save Israel in Spite of Herself,” (Foreign Affairs, April 1977), “Because many articulate Americans are passionately committed to Israel, the slightest challenge to any aspect of current Israeli policy is likely to provoke a shrill ad hominem response. To suggest that America should take a stronger and more assertive line in the search for Middle East peace is to risk being attacked as a servant either of Arab interests or of the oil companies, or being denounced as anti-Israel, or, by a careless confusion of language, even condemned as anti-Semitic.”
Again, Walt and Mearsheimer are recycling an old charge: “No discussion of how the Lobby operates would be complete without examining one of its most powerful weapons: the charge of anti-Semitism. Anyone who criticizes Israel’s actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over U.S. Middle Eastern policy stands a good chance of being labeled an anti-Semite.”
3. American Aid to Israel
Here is Ball again in that same article in Foreign Affairs, now discussing American aid: “Last year, [U.S.] public sector aid [to Israel] amounted to $2.34 billion, which means more than $600 for every man, woman and child in Israel. . . . Our contribution will again be a very high percentage of our total foreign aid programs. Rarely before have so many done so much for so few.”
Here are Walt and Mearsheimer following suit: “Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing the amounts provided to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976. Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli..It is hard to think of another instance where one country has provided another with a similar level of material and diplomatic support for such an extended period.”
4. American Interests, Israeli Interests
As Ball would have it, “How far should we go in continuing to subsidize a policy shaped to accommodate understandable Israeli compulsions which do not accord with the best interests — as we see it — either of Israel or the United States, but are a threat to world peace? The hard fact is that the national interests of the United States and Israel cannot, in the nature of things, be precisely congruent. . . . The time is ripe for the United States to take a strong hand to save Israel from herself.”
Walt and Mearsheimer come to the same conclusion: “Israel itself would probably be better off if the Lobby were less powerful and U.S. policy more even-handed. . . . What is needed is a candid discussion of the Lobby’s influence and a more open debate about U.S. interests in this vital region. . . . . Open debate will expose the limits of the strategic and moral case for one-sided U.S. support and could move the U.S. to a position more consistent with its own national interest, with the interests of the other states in the region, and with Israel’s long-term interests as well.”
So what does it mean that Fulbright’s and Ball’s arguments against America’s strong support for Israel are parroted 30 years later by two prominent professors?
First, it is curious, even troubling, that the Walt and Mearsheimer paper failed to cite those two prominent foreign-policy mavericks who so clearly influenced their opinions. Did they take Fulbright’s and Ball’s material and rewrite it as their own? They sound like Ball/Fulbright disciples, but did they conclude that Ball and Fulbright were perceived as so one-sided on Middle East issues that their opinions had little currency, and did the two professors keep those sources out lest their work suffer the same fate? And if they didn’t know of Ball and Fulbright’s influential works, what does that say about their scholarship?
Second, on the publication of Walt and Mearsheimer’s expanded polemic, it is important to recall that there is not much new here — not the anti-Israel accusations, not the charges of dual loyalty, nor the challenges to the rights of American citizens who effectively petition their government.
Third, Walt and Mearsheimer were university students studying international relations and political science when Fulbright and Ball were at their peak challenging the American policies in Vietnam and the Middle East. How much were the two influenced by Ball and Fulbright who, for many on campus, were heroes? Were positions stated then filed away in their heads much the same way Wesley Clark may have been influenced by Gen. George Scratchley Brown?
The possible residual effect of the professors’ anti-Israel and anti-Semitic declarations is troubling. Will the campus debates and anti-Israel demonstrations today produce the biased Walts and Mearsheimers 30 years from now? Walt and Mearsheimer claim that the amorphous, omnipotent “Lobby” is “policing academia,” that it has “worked hard to stifle criticism of Israel” on campus, and that “there is much less [criticism] on campuses today.” Walt and Mearsheimer put the lie to their own charge of stifled debate on campus. Their claim that the accusation of anti-Semitism muffles critics was not true in Ball’s day, nor is it today.
An urban legend claims that the quacks of geese and ducks do not create an echo. But it doesn’t take sound laboratories to prove the legend false. The gaggles of Israel’s detractors do indeed have echoes, even over the broad expanse of 30 years.
– Lenny Ben-David served as deputy chief of mission in Israel’s embassy in Washington.