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John Mearsheimer’s Sinking Ship

The Israel LobbyJohn Mearsheimer, co-author of the The Israel Lobby, posted a essay entitled "Sinking Ship"  on the website of The American Conservative (June 29, 2010). It is an insightful piece that predicts the long-term demise of both Israel and its American Zionist lobby. His time line for the lobby seems to be about ten years. I agree with much of what Professor Mearsheimer has to say. However, I would like to add to it my own observations and concerns. Here are some of them.

1. Professor Mearsheimer interprets the Gaza aid flotilla debacle as an indication that Israel is "addicted to using military force yet unable to do so effectively." If force fails, the only answer the Israeli leadership seems to have is to use even greater force. Thus, its approach to its foreign policy problems is to hit out repeatedly and ever harder. In the case of the Palestinians, Mearsheimer believes that this policy of force has been going on so long that "it is almost impossible for [for the Israelis] to break the habit" It all adds up to "a disastrous course that [Israel] seems incapable of reversing." Thus, Israel is just about the only country on the planet where the national press is constantly speculating on where country’s "next war will be." Yet none of this militarism really works and the country’s problems only get worse.
 
Mearsheimer has correctly identified the consciously cultivated militaristic nature of the Israeli nation. From the beginning of the Zionist movement there was a desire to create the "new Jew." This would be someone who consciously repudiated the ghetto villages of the Pale and the alleged passivity they bred. Instead of the tinkers of Eastern Europe, the new Jew of Israel would be a warrior. This was Israel’s way of realizing in practice the slogan "never again." The result was a national thought collective of Spartan, or perhaps Prussian, nature. Unfortunately for the Zionists, there is no room in the modern world of nuclear armaments for a latter day Sparta or Prussia. It is no accident then that, as Mearsheimer notes, respondents to a 2010 worldwide opinion poll done by the BBC said Israel was among the top three countries in the world exercising the "most negative influence." In this poll Israel outranked North Korea.
 
2. Israel is not only characterized by a cultivated militaristic outlook. It is has also produced a cultivated racist imperialism.  Thus, Mearsheimer correctly observes that Israel’s leaders are "not interested in allowing the Palestinians to have a viable state in Gaza and the West Bank, but instead are bent on creating a ‘Greater Israel’ in which the Palestinians are confined to a handful of impoverished enclaves." The logical end here is that "Greater Israel" will be an "apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa." Already, as Jimmy Carter has observed, "the citizens of Palestine are treated more like animals than human beings."

Just like a Sparta or a Prussia, the modern world is unlikely to long tolerate a new racist apartheid state, particularly one that claims to be a truly Western country. Already Israel is becoming more isolated. In truth its only remaining connection to the West has nothing to do with common values, or the Holocaust, or even the non-Jew's fear of being accused of anti-Semitism. It is the strength of lobby politics in the democratic countries combined with the distortions of a biased media that keeps Israel connected.  But a combination of bribery, blackmail and illusion does not constitute a reliable long term basis for a country’s foreign relations.
 
3. Presently bribery, blackmail and illusion works best in the United States. Mearsheimer tells us that "for decades Israel’s supporters have striven to shape public discourse in the U.S. so that most Americans believe the two countries’ interests are identical." Even when they are shown to be not identical, "most of the key individuals and institutions in the [American Zionist] lobby have sided with Israel" exposing the fact that they are "primarily concerned about Israel’s interests, not Americas." Professor Mearsheimer correctly senses the dangerous nature of this fact. The fact that these Americans now function, for all intents and purposes, as agents of a foreign power could someday result in a "wicked backlash against Israel’s supporters as well as Israel."
 
In the long run, the American Zionist lobby cannot maintain its influence while Israel moves swiftly toward apartheid status and keeps using war as its main mode of solving foreign disputes. Mearsheimer notes that already there is open debate over whether Israel is damaging U.S. interests in the Middle East. Of course, to an objective observer, the answer to this question is an obvious yes. Thus, America’s support for Israel is a major reason for the enmity felt by millions of Arabs and Muslims toward Washington. That is why, barring catastrophe, Mearsheimer gives the Lobby only another ten years of life.
 
4. It is the catastrophe element in the equation that worries me. Mearsheimer sees present day Israel as a "sinking ship." Apartheid just characterizes its final, if prolonged, stage of national death. Yet, during the next ten years, using Mearsheimer’s time line, AIPAC and its allies will maintain enough influence with Congress and the American political parties to maintain the fatal alliance between the U.S. and Israel. That means we still face a period of time when, if the Israeli ship sinks, it may well take us down with it.
 
A key element in this catastrophic picture is Israel’s "addiction to the use of force." Thus Mearsheimer tells us "there is a danger that Israel might attack Iran...which could have terrible consequences for the United States....But Netanyahu might do it anyway if he thinks it is good for Israel, even if it is bad for the United States." In other words, we have tied ourselves hand and foot to a nation whose leaders have little regard for the interests of its sole ally. Why are they so dismissive of U.S. concerns?  Because the notion of "shared interests" is a sham.  The real basis of the relationship is the coercive power of the Zionist lobby. If Israel attacks Iran its lobby operatives will use that coercive force to secure our government’s support of their action and thereby drag us into their war. The resulting destruction will almost guarantee another 9/11 attack.
 
It is one of the real problems of human nature that once you have a strong tradition in place it usually takes catastrophe to break it. Thus, the scenario described above might very well shock the American public enough to force an end to our "special relationship" with Israel. But how much damage will already be done? What will be left of our already eroding domestic freedoms in the wake of this experience? What will be left of America’s already eroding ability to "lead" in the world? On the other hand, what will be the status of the American Jewish community? How much home grown anti-Semitism will erupt in the midst of Professor Mearsheimer’s feared "wicked backlash"? And what about organized Judaism itself? The scenario described above may well be its death knell too.
 
All of this is has the quality of a nightmare. Millions of people sleepwalking in the vicinity of a very steep and deep cliff. The dreamer can see the danger but all his warning shouts are of no avail. Will they we all walk off the cliff or won’t we? We don’t know. The nightmare is not over.


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