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An AIPAC ‘stranglehold’ on US foreign policy? Huh?

by Neal Sher

November 22, 2006 | 7:00 pm

Fascinating, isn't it, to watch professors Stephen Walt (Harvard University) and John Mearsheimer (University of Chicago) attain near rock star status by resurrecting the tired and discredited canard that U.S. foreign policy is dictated by a devious, dangerous and disloyal cabal known as the pro-Israel lobby -- sort of a Protocols of the Middle-Agers of Zion. Of course, the good professors are convinced that any policies advocated by the cabal are anathema to the interests of this country.

Moreover, it seems that bashing Israel and its U.S. supporters is good business, as the W&M boys are on the lecture circuit and have landed a lucrative book deal with a well-known publisher. Frankly, I'm surprised they didn't appear in "Borat," along with all the other anti-Semitic characters Sacha Baron Cohen has so masterfully exposed.

As the former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) -- the professors main target -- I've had more than a passing interest in what these characters have to say and how their arguments have been received and, in some quarters, blindly accepted.

The most detailed and devastating analysis of the Walt and Mearsheimer thesis comes from Alan Dershowitz, who documents countless examples of flagrant facts and twisted logic, which cannot be written off as oversights or even mere sloppiness; it is must reading for anyone who is even thinking about taking these guys seriously. It can be found at: www.ksg.harvard.edu/research/working_papers/dershowitzreply.pdf.

There are however, several fundamental points that simply cannot be ignored before one buys into the Pat Buchananesque nonsense that Israel and its backers control U.S. foreign policy. I have a confession: I wish most of what they said about wielding power and influencing public policy were true. But alas, like those other stereotypes about Jews being rich and controlling the media and the banks, it's just bubbe meises.

The hard truth is that while the pro-Israel community does wield some influence on foreign policy, recent history is replete with instances where, on issues vital to Israel's security, the United States has shown no reluctance whatsoever to exert strong pressure on Israeli leaders to adopt positions they believed would weaken their nation's security.

Consider the following examples that literally involve life-and-death issues: The Bush administration, which likes to tout itself as the best friend Israel ever had in the White House, this month has pushed the Olmert government to reverse previous policy and accept 1,500 additional armed Palestinian troops to enter Gaza, despite alarm bells rung by Israeli defense and security experts who have seen Gaza become a breeding ground for terror, where tons of smuggled arms and explosives are stockpiled until they are turned loose on Israelis.

Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice also got Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to approve transferring thousands of assault rifles to Abbas's security forces; in the past when this happened, they often were turned on Israelis, not those they were supposed to be used against. Somehow, I don't think that this military buildup was high on the pro-Israel agenda.

Moreover, let's not forget it was Rice who insisted and exerted pressure to ensure that Hamas -- declared by our own government to be a terrorist organization and which refuses to recognize Israel -- be allowed fully to participate in January's Palestinian elections, believing that such "democratic" involvement would have a moderating impact on the organization.

We've seen the results of such foreign policy naiveté: Hamas thugs now wield unprecedented clout, and Israeli blood has been needlessly spilled. I, for one, certainly don't remember the pro-Israel cabal pushing to try to legitimize Hamas.

Speaking of Gaza, one of the reasons that area today -- long after Israeli troops and settlers left -- poses such a threat is Rice's refusal to allow Israel to secure the Sinai-Gaza border, insisting, instead, that that vital assignment be given to Egypt. The result: a porous border through which weapons, explosives and terrorists easily pass every day, later to be turned loose against Israelis.

There have been daily barrages of Kassam rockets, the most recent of which claimed at least one life -- ironically, a Muslim woman married to a Jew. Yes sir, score another one for those wily Israel supporters.

After Israel withdrew from Lebanon, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution requiring Lebanon to control its border with Israel in order to prevent Hezbollah from re-arming, rebuilding its military infrastructure and gaining more power. Predictably, the United Nations did absolutely nothing to implement its resolution.

But our government (and Lebanon) also stood idly by as missile, arms and explosives flowed into southern Lebanon and into the hands of Hezbollah thugs. Indeed, the Bush administration failed to enforce a proviso of the 2001 Foreign Relations Authorization Act, introduced by Rep. Tom Lantos (D-San Mateo), aimed at pressing the Lebanese government to take on Hezbollah.

Our government effectively turned a blind eye to the festering problem, ignoring Israel's warning that southern Lebanon was turning into a volatile Hezbollah stronghold; we saw the results last summer as Jewish blood once again flowed at the hands of terrorists. There it is, yet another piece of evidence that U.S. foreign policy is at the mercy of those disloyal American Jews.

Moreover, how can the Walt and Mearsheimer crowd possibly explain our government's decades-long policy of appeasement of Saudi Arabia, whose citizens, officials and institutions financed and orchestrated the Sept. 11 atrocities.

This in the face of irrefutable proof of Saudis: financing of least 50 percent of the current operating budget of Hamas; providing major financial support, for decades, to Palestinian terrorists; encouraging and inciting violence through Saudi Arabian government-funded textbooks used both in Saudi Arabia and in North American Islamic schools and mosques (including some in the suburbs of Washington , D.C.); using "charities" to fund Al Qaeda; radicalizing an estimated 80 percent of U.S. mosques through the advocacy of the Wahhabi form of Islam, and allowing Hamas to freely operate a command center on Saudi soil.

Despite all this, the administration has adamantly opposed all legislative efforts to hold Saudi Arabia's feet to the fire. Chalk up yet another victory for the pro-Israel conspiracy. And don't think for a moment that the United States won't play rough with Israel. During the first Gulf War, concerned that any Israeli retaliation for the Scud terror missile attacks would jeopardize the U.S-Arab coalition, the State Department "urged" Israel to sit it out, even though it had been repeatedly attacked.

To bring the point home, the Americans made clear that unless Israel played ball, they would stop sharing the crucial "friend-or-foe" code information, which would have resulted in the downing of Israeli planes going near the war zone, no matter how many missiles Saddam fired at the Jewish state. That's what I call the hardest of hardball.

There is no question that AIPAC and the pro-Israel community are highly visible and can muster impressive displays of support, most notably on Capitol Hill. And it's no secret that their activists are sophisticated political players who have been instrumental in election defeats for politicians who had been hostile to Israel. But that is a far, far cry from proving that we have a "stranglehold" on American foreign policy. If we did, the above cited examples (and there are more of them) would have ended much differently.

Neal M. Sher, a New York attorney, is former executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and former director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations.

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