“The Israel Lobby”, five years on

One of its authors, Steve Walt, reflects on a tumultuous period and his work’s undoubted influence.

One of the great personal successes, in my view, has been the increasing number of Jews who recognise the devastating result of simply allowing the pro-settler, anti-Palestinian Zionists solely taking the floor. Judaism simply cannot be about backing never-ending colonisation of Arab land.

Here’s Walt:

When we wrote the book, we also hoped that our work would provoke some soul-searching among “pro-Israel” individuals and groups in the United States, and especially those found in the American Jewish community. Why? Because interest-group politics are central to American democracy, and the most obvious way to shift U.S. policy on this issue would be to alter the attitudes and behavior of the interest groups that care most about it and exert the greatest influence over U.S. behavior.

Indeed, we explicitly said in the book that what was needed was a “new Israel lobby,” one that would advocate policies that were actually in Israel’s long-term interest (and would be more aligned with U.S. interests too). The problem, we emphasized repeatedly, was not the existence of a powerful interest group focused on these issue; the problem was that it was dominated by individuals and organizations whose policy preferences were wrongheaded. A powerful “pro-Israel” interest group that favored smart policies would be wholly desirable.

It is therefore gratifying to observe the emergence of J Street, to see groups like Americans for Peace Now and Jewish Voice for Peace become more vocal, and to see writers like Peter Beinart and David Remnick take public stances that are substantially different from ones they might have expressed a few years ago.

Needless to say, these shifts weren’t our doing. Events in the region — especially the 2006 Lebanon war of 2006, the 2008-2009 Gaza war, the continued expansion of Israeli settlements, and the worrisome rightward drift in Israeli domestic politics — also inspired the effort to create a “pro-Israel” organization that would favor smarter policies and be more representative of American Jewish opinion than hard-line groups like AIPAC, the Israel Project, or the Zionist Organization of America, to say nothing of Christian Zionist organizations like John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel.

Our greatest disappointment, however, has been the lack of movement in U.S. Middle East policy.

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