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WASHINGTON – They’re all here – and they’re all ready to party. The three United States presidential candidates – John McCain, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Madam House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Most US senators and virtually half of the US Congress. Vice President Dick Cheney’s wife, Lynne. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. And a host of Jewish and non-Jewish political and academic heavy-hitters among the 7,000 participants.
Such star power wattage, a Washington version of the Oscars, is the stock in trade of AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the crucial player in what is generally known as the Israel lobby and which holds its annual Policy Conference this week in Washington at which most of the heavyweights will deliver lectures.
Few books in recent years have been as explosive or controversial as The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, written by Stephen Walt from Harvard University and John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago, published in 2007. In it, professors Walt and Mearsheimer argued the case of the Israeli lobby not as “a cabal or conspiracy that ‘controls’ US foreign policy”, but as an extremely powerful interest group made up of Jews and non-Jews, a “loose coalition of individuals and organizations tirelessly working to move US foreign policy in Israel’s direction”.
Walt and Mearsheimer also made the key point that “anyone who criticizes Israeli actions or says that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle East policy stands a good chance of being labeled an anti-Semite”. Anyone for that matter who “says that there is an Israeli lobby” also runs the risk of being charged with anti-Semitism.
All the candidates in the House say yeah
Republican presidential candidate McCain is opening this year’s AIPAC jamboree; Clinton and Obama are closing it on Wednesday. Walt and Mearsheimer’s verdict on the dangerous liaisons between presidential candidates and AIPAC remains unimpeachable: “None of the candidates is likely to criticize Israel in any significant way or suggest that the US ought to pursue a more evenhanded policy in the region. And those who do will probably fall by the wayside.”
Take what Clinton said in February at an AIPAC meeting in New York: “Israel is a beacon of what’s right in a neighborhood overshadowed by the wrongs of radicalism, extremism, despotism and terrorism.” A year before, Clinton was in favor of sitting and talking to Iran’s leadership.