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The Israel Lobby by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt

I recently saw an Intelligence Squared Debate where the motion called for the US to step back from its special relationship with Israel. Roger Cohen of the New York Times and Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University argued for the motion and in fact won the debate. The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt makes a similar argument in a comprehensively researched and well written narrative. The genesis of the book was in an article commmissioned by the Atlantic Monthly in the fall of 2002. The authors worked on the project for about two years but their manuscript, incorporating most of the suggestions made by the magazine, was rejected in January 2005. The authors finally managed to publish the article in the London Review of Books in March 2006. The publication of the article led to a storm of protest and controversy, and severe criticism. The book represents the authors' attempt to respond to the criticism and to present a more detailed case with an extensive list of references and notes.

The book is divided in two sections. Part 1 deals with the special relationship that exists between the United States and Israel. The authors examine the reasons advanced by defenders of the relationship - is Israel an important strategic asset or is it actually a liability to US interests in the Middle East? The authors think it is the latter. They also question the moral justification of continued US economic, military and diplomatic support of Israel. Part 1 also identifies the loose collection of lobbyists, journalists and special interest groups that are collectively called "The Israel Lobby". The authors are at pains to emphasize that these groups are not necessarily coordinated or centrally organized and they are well within their democratic rights to influence US policy in a direction they deem most beneficial to both the United States and Israel.
Part 2 extensively discusses the affects of the lobby on US policy in the Middle East. It is in this section that the authors make their boldest claims. At least one of the conclusions, that the United States would not have invaded Iraq had the lobby not existed is difficult to accept. However, the authors make convincing arguments on the looby's potentially harmful long term affects on US interests in the Middle East. The chapters on Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and its conduct of the 2006 war in Lebanon are essential reading.

Debate about the relationship between the United States and Israel is unnaturally muted in the American media and this book makes a strong case for changing the status quo. The authors claim there is more debate within Israel than there is in the US media and their extensive bibliography is testament to that claim. I don't necessarily agree with all of the arguments made by Messrs Walt and Mearsheimer but this is an important book and I highly recommend it.

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