The authors, known as "realists" in international relations circles, have been subjected to vituperative attacks by U.S. promoters of right-wing Israeli policy such as Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, who likened the article to the viciously anti-Semitic "Protocols of Zion" forgeries. Such attacks confirm one of the main points of the authors and many others: that powerful, well-financed right-wing Jewish groups work to stifle any debate, even among Jewish Americans, over the Israeli government's militarist, chauvinist policies with regard to the Palestinian people, and over U.S. support for such policies.
The power these groups exercise in U.S. political life, including electing or defeating candidates, has been written about and documented in progressive publications. In addition to big campaign contributions and aggressive lobbying, they apply pressure and intimidation to institutions and individuals that shape public opinion including the media and, especially recently, academia.
The Mearsheimer/Walt article itself, originally commissioned by The Atlantic, was turned down by that and other U.S. publications, and was finally published in England by the London Review of Books.
What has drawn much of the heat from all sides is the authors' assertion that this lobby, and Israel itself, is the main driver of U.S. policy in the greater Middle East, including in such actions as the Iraq war.
"Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq," they say, "but it was critical." But then they dismiss other factors widely seen as major components of the Bush policy, even by its own architects, and they do not mention the enormous oil, gas and military industry lobbies. "Some Americans believe that this was a war for oil, but there is hardly any direct evidence to support this claim," they say. "Instead, the war was motivated in good part by a desire to make Israel more secure."
Mearsheimer/Walt note that Christian far-right evangelicals and ultra-rightists like Tom DeLay and Trent Lott are key members of the "Israel Lobby." The authors also caution that Jewish Americans differ in their identification with Israel and their views on Israeli politics. They note that "the bulk of U.S. Jewry" is "more inclined to make concessions to the Palestinians, and a few groups - such as Jewish Voice for Peace - strongly advocate such steps." However, such disclaimers get overshadowed when they go on to make generalizations like "American Jewish leaders often consult Israeli officials" and "Jewish Americans have set up an impressive array of organizations to influence American foreign policy." Their loose characterizations, which have an unpleasant ring for many Jewish readers, make it easier for them to be attacked as echoing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.
It is true, however, that right-wing Jewish supporters of Israeli militarism and aggression like Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol play a prominent role in the ideological grouping known as the neoconservatives, which gained unprecedented political influence in the current administration. In their view, undoubtedly, the ultra-nationalist interests of the Israeli right are conflated with the interests of the U.S. ruling class which these ideologues serve. This view meshes with long-standing efforts of right-wing Jewish lobbying groups such as AIPAC - the American Israel Public Affairs Committee - that seek to ensure U.S. support for Israeli expansionist, chauvinist forces.
It is also true, as the authors note, that prominent non-Jewish neoconservatives such as John Bolton, William Bennett and others are strong backers of the "Israel Lobby."
But overlooked by much of the debate thus far is, in my view, the most significant aspect of the Mearsheimer/Walt article: its declaration that Israel has lost its strategic importance for the U.S. ruling class.
While Israel was useful to the U.S. during the Cold War, it has become a liability, they argue. Of course, this suggests that Israel has been a tool of U.S. foreign policy, contradicting the authors' emphasis on Israel and the "Israel Lobby" as the chief drivers of U.S. policy.
In other words, though of course these anti-communist academics don't say this, Israel helped the U.S. install and support anti-communist regimes in the Middle East who stamped out communist, working-class and secular democratic movements - thereby promoting the rise of reactionary political Islamic movements that, ironically, now pose a problem for the U.S.
"Backing Israel was not cheap, however," the authors continue, "and it complicated America's relations with the Arab world."