'Israel Lobby' Book May Have Sinister Impact In U.K.

Posted: 11/18/2007 6:42:00 PM
Author: Dave Rich
Source: This article originally appeared in Haaretz on Nov. 12, 2007.

'Israel Lobby' Book May Have Sinister Impact In U.K.
by Dave Rich

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's campaign to expose the power of Washington's Israel lobby through the promotion of their book, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," has now completed its tour of Britain, with more sinister consequences than they perhaps realize.

The two professors are adamant that they bear no hostility to Israel, and that both Israel and America would benefit from the removal of the lobby's control over their relationship. Their concern for Israel's wellbeing will be appreciated by its citizens, but what should we Brits make of them?

This is not an incidental question. "The Israel Lobby " was first published in the London Review of Books, and Britain has a strong and vigorous anti-Zionist campaigning movement, which has managed to persuade several British trade unions to support a boycott of Israeli goods. Mearsheimer and Walt may have written about America, but their book leaves its imprint on Britain.
The professors have strongly rejected the frequent accusation by their critics that they are merely mainstreaming the core idea of modern anti-Semitism: that Jews, in whatever form, conspire to control governments, provoke wars and so on. They insist that the Israel lobby in America is "only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better."

The problem on this side of the Atlantic is that British politics lacks anything approaching the American system of openly declared political lobbies; a similar, AIPAC-style operation in Westminster would not just influence policy, it would also subvert fundamental democratic mechanisms.

This has not stopped people from making similar claims about pro-Israel influence in Britain. In 2003, Labour MP Tam Dalyell claimed that former prime minister and party leader Tony Blair was unduly influenced by a "cabal of Jewish advisers."

More recently, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tonge claimed that "the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the Western world... its financial grips." Those who assume that Zionism has a global reach and unlimited power cannot but assume that what they now "know" - thanks to Mearsheimer and Walt - is done in Washington must have its equivalents in London, Paris and elsewhere.

So the might of Jewish organizations is inflated, conspiracies imagined, to fill the gap between the reality of a Jewish community trying to do its best for Israel, and the fantasy of politicians and prime ministers bowing their knee to the power of the almighty Lobby.

And what does this power consist of? The most recent evidence presented concerns a debate that was held at the Oxford Union in October, on the question "This House believes that one-state is the only solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict."

To argue for the motion, three well-known advocates of the Palestinian cause. And to argue against it, amongst others, Norman Finkelstein, author of The Holocaust Industry and Beyond Chutzpah, and hardly known as a supporter of Israel. When several people informed Luke Tryl, the President of the Oxford Union, that Finkelstein was not normally considered an advocate for Israel, Tryl withdrew the invitation, sparking the predictable claims that this was evidence of the lobby silencing one of Israel's critics.

How do Finkelstein's supporters know that the Israel lobby was behind Tryl's change of mind? Because Tryl, in an email to Finkelstein, revealed that, "Many people expressed concern that the debate as it stood was imbalanced and people felt that as someone who had apparently expressed anti-zionist sentiments that you might not be appropriate for this debate. I tried to convince them otherwise but was accused of putting forward an imbalanced debate and various groups put pressure on me. I received numerous emails attacking the debate and Alan Dershowitz threatened to write an Oped attacking the Union. What is more he apparently attacked me personally in a televised lecture to Yale."

Had Finkelstein originally been billed to speak for the motion, nobody would have objected and the debate would have gone ahead as planned; as in fact happened at the Union in May of this year, when he spoke, ironically enough, for the motion that "This House believes the pro-Israeli lobby has successfully stifled Western debate about Israel's actions." He has already been invited back for 2008. Three invitations to the Oxford Union in two years: so much for being "stifled." Finkelstein made his name writing about the finances of Holocaust compensation. (He should try getting a book about Saudi funding for terrorism past the British libel courts to really feel what it means to be silenced.)

In Britain at least, Israel gets more media coverage than any other ongoing overseas story. The case against Israel is frequently aired in the mainstream media and debated at the conferences of Britain's biggest trade unions. The idea that critics of Israel are in any way gagged is absurd. Yet British anti-Zionists see themselves as holders of a hidden truth, struggling against a mighty and terrifying conspiracy to silence them, and now they have confirmation from the highest levels of American academia. If there is a Jewish conspiracy, it is remarkably ineffective.

Dave Rich is Deputy Director of Communications at Community Security Trust, a U.K. organization for the defense of British Jewry.