June 14, 2008

Israeli students slam American 'Israel Lobby' authors

Hebrew University students voice objections to lecture made by two American professors, authors of book claiming Israel is manipulating Washington to promote pro-Israel policies in an alliance that is unhealthy to US foreign policy

Two prominent American professors, who have recently been causing an uproar with their best-selling book critical of the powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington, faced a raucous reception Thursday at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

About 200 students and faculty members crammed into a stuffy lecture hall and grilled John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt for more than two hours about the harsh findings in their book, "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," published last year.

In the book, the pair argues that pro-Israel special interest groups have manipulated the US political system to promote policies that favor Israel, while running counter to American interests. They argue that Israel is often a strategic burden, not an asset, pointing to the 1991 Gulf War as an example, when the Israel-US alliance hindered the US in building a coalition of forces.

Since Mearsheimer, a University of Chicago professor, and Walt, of Harvard University, published their working paper of the same title in 2006, they have drawn the wrath of Jewish American groups and US Administration officials.

"If you bring up the Israel lobby, you are asking for trouble," Walt said as he opened his lecture. He said he knew he was "playing with fire" when he wrote the book, but said he would not be deterred by personal attacks against him.

'AIPAC wields heavy-handed tactics'

Critics have charged them with shoddy scholarship, faulty logic and even anti-Semitism. The attacks have been compounded because *Palestinian nationals, *holocaust revisionists and even *European-American civil rights leader David Duke are among those who have praised the book, though some mainstream analysts have said their work raised legitimate points.

On Thursday Mearsheimer and Walt, both recognized political scientists long before their book came out, outlined their findings in a brief introduction. They argued that the only logical explanation for the US Government handing Israel $3 billion in annual aid, far more than any other US ally, and supporting it unconditionally was the pro-Israel lobby, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

They said AIPAC wields disproportionate power because of deep financial resources and heavy-handed tactics. They were then showered with questions, as the classroom erupted in excited conversation. The exchange was mostly cordial, with the American professors eliciting some laughs from the crowd, but at times it got testy.

Mearsheimer said Israel's "brutal" treatment of Palestinians helped fuel terrorism against the United States and that, unlike in Israel, there was no healthy debate on the matter in America. "The US media coverage is heavily slanted in Israel's direction," he said.

'Like traveling carnival show'

Not all in the audience were hostile. Korina Kagan, a political science lecturer, said she essentially agreed with their thesis and was appalled by the attacks against them, especially from academic circles.

"The smear campaign against them is worse than anything they have ever written," she said, adding that many of their positions are shared by commentators in the Israeli media. "We need to have a free academic exchange."

Mearsheimer and Walt were invited to Israel by the leftist Gush Shalom organization to speak about their book. The two said they decided to initiate the audience at Hebrew University in order to address a more diverse audience. Later Thursday, they were to address Gush Shalom, which invited them.

"It is telling that the guests came to Israel and were hosted by a fringe group and had to solicit themselves to appear here," said Arieh O'Sullivan, director of communications for the Anti-Defamation League in Israel. "It's not academia, it's like a traveling carnival show."

* fixed for correctness
Source: www.ynetnews.com

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