The Abraham H. Foxman’s new book, The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control debunks the persistent anti-Semitic canards that the American Jewish community stifles free speech, has divided loyalties and is responsible for pushing the U.S. into war in Iraq. The book explains how Professors Stephen Walt and John J. Mearsheimer, former President Jimmy Carter and others have lent an alarming veneer of credibility to these false accusations.
Foreword by George P. Shultz
In this important book, Abe Foxman does what he has done his whole professional life: he defends groups and individuals – Jews and non-Jews – against defamatory lies. He has had plenty to do. People who hate seem unable to keep from lying about those whom they despise. Others cannot resist using lies and half-truths to exploit the hatred in others to advance their interests or agendas.
He is not arguing against criticism of Israel. If you want to hear harsh criticism of Israel’s policies and leaders, listen to Israelis. It’s a free, democratic, open, and relentlessly self-analytical place. So questioning Israel for its actions is legitimate, as part of a tough debate about national and international issues.
But lies are something else. Lies can be deadly. Throughout human history they have been used, not only to vilify, but to establish a basis for cruel and inhuman acts. Many groups and individuals have suffered as a result. The Jewish people have suffered most of all. The catalogue of lies about Jews is long and astonishingly crude, matched only by the suffering that has followed their promulgation.
The unique history of the Jewish people has, across the centuries, spawned the intellectual disease of anti-Semitism. Jews were persecuted as “perfidious” in the early Christian era, as insufferable zealots by the Romans, as sly exploiters by medieval Europeans, as financial manipulators during the rise of capitalism, as “rootless cosmopolitans” by Communists, and as “Communists” by Nazis. And all too often, the allegations sparked violence, brutality, and death inflicted on the Jews.
So defaming the Jews and disputing their rightful place among the peoples of the world has been a long-running, well-documented, and disgraceful series of episodes across history.
Again and again, a time has come when legitimate criticism slips across an invisible line into what might be called the “badlands,” a place where those who should be regarded as worthy adversaries in debate are turned into scapegoats, targets, all-purpose objects of blame.
These moments become dangerous when otherwise respected and notable figures find themselves – knowingly or unthinkingly – slipping into such territory. The dangers can expand exponentially because ignorant, prejudiced, or even deranged people may act out their worst instincts and fantasies under the cover of authorization from distinguished or prominent public figures.
In America, we protect all speech, even the most hurtful lies. Instead, we count on people such as Abe Foxman to challenge untruths and dangerous exaggerations with facts and reason. This is what he does in this book. It takes on three recent publications: a paper entitled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” by Professors John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; commentary on the same subject by New York University Professor Tony Judt; and former President Jimmy Carter’s recent book entitled “Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid.” Many articles and books have examined these writings. This book clearly, vigorously, and succinctly details their flaws.
I have spent a good portion of my life serving in the government of the United States. I was a member of the Cabinet for a dozen years, six and one-half of them as Secretary of State. So I have had plenty of opportunity to see the workings of our system. We are a people committed to law. But we allow a virtual free-for-all in the process by which laws are adopted, enforced, and interpreted. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent yearly to influence these processes. Thousands of groups vie for influence, pursuing the interests of many causes. Among these are the Jewish groups cited in the writings evaluated in this book as the all-powerful “Israel Lobby.”
Jewish groups are influential. They also largely agree that the United States should support Israel. But the notion that these groups have anything like a uniform agenda, and that U.S. policy on Israel and the Middle East is the result of their influence, is simply wrong. The critics Abe Foxman takes on seem over-impressed with the way of thinking that says to itself, “Since there is this huge Arab-Islamic world out there with all the oil and it is opposed to this tiny little Israel with no natural resources, then realistically the United States has to be on the Arab side and against Israel on every issue, and since that isn’t the case, there must be some underhanded Jewish plot at work.” This is a conspiracy theory pure and simple, and scholars at great universities should be ashamed to promulgate it.
Then there is yet another tried and untrue method for damaging the well-being and security of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. This is the dangerously false analogy. The prominent recent case comes from former President Jimmy Carter’s book titled “Palestine, Peace Not Apartheid.” Here the association, on the one hand, is between Israel’s existentially threatened position and the measures it has taken to protect its population from terrorist attacks driven by an ideology bent on the complete eradication of the State of Israel, and, on the other, the racist oppression of South Africa’s black population by the white Boer regime. Under sharp reactive criticism, President Carter has disavowed his choice of words, but the tendency of mind that lies behind such repulsive analogies remains and is reinforced by the former president’s views, spread across his book, which come down on the anti-Israel side of every case. We must respect President Carter’s clarification of his book but nonetheless bear in mind that once the false analogies start, it is only a short step to the cartoons in the Arab press and European media which portray Israelis as contemporary versions of Nazi storm troopers. And these false analogies stir up and lend legitimacy to more widely based movements that take the same dangerous direction, such as the deplorable recent proposals by British academic and other unions to boycott Israel.
Anyone who thinks that Jewish groups constitute a homogenous “lobby” ought to spend some time dealing with them. When Soviet persecution of Jews renewed in earnest after World War II, for example, Jewish groups were all over the place on what should be done. Some called for and funded the creation of a Jewish “homeland” within the Soviet Union. Some supported Israel’s approach of quiet diplomacy. Most adopted the techniques of the civil rights movement and made lots of noise. Some advocated and used force. The tension among these groups – all dedicated to saving Soviet Jews – was electric. When the doors began to swing open, many American Jews wanted to allow the Soviet Jews to choose to come to the United States instead of going to Israel. Israel fought hard against these Jewish groups, arguing, among other things, that U.S. law should not discriminate against Israel as a haven for Jewish refugees. Many other examples could be cited, including my decision to open a dialogue with Yasser Arafat after he publicly met our longstanding conditions. My decision evoked a wide spectrum of responses from the government of Israel, its various political parties, and the many American Jewish groups who weighed in on one side or the other.
Many examples can also be cited in which the U.S. rejected Israel’s view of an issue, or the views of the American Jewish community. This book cites several, including the arms sales to Saudi Arabia. A very dramatic case was President Reagan’s decision to go to the cemetery at Bitburg, Germany, on his trip to commemorate the end of the war in Europe and peace among former adversaries. When the decision was made, he did not know that the cemetery included SS officiers of the Nazi machine. Jewish groups as well as the Government of Israel protested vigorously. We looked hard at the issue. After hearing from Elie Wiesel and other great, moral figures, we concluded that the president should not go to Bitburg now that we knew who was buried there. But our important ally, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, had announced the trip. We asked if another site could be substituted for Bitburg. Chancellor Kohl said that he could not politically sustain that change. He had stood up courageously to his commitment for the deployment of Pershing missiles in Germany in late 1983, a turning point in the Cold War. President Reagan concluded that America’s interests required him to stand by his commitment. He did so, despite the pressure and understandable outrage directed against him. So, even where we agreed with the Jewish leadership, we were able to reject their position and act in America’s best interests, as we judged them to be.
The United States supports Israel, not because of favoritism based on political pressure or influence, but because both political parties and virtually all our national leaders agree with the American people’s view that supporting Israel is politically sound and morally just. Those who disagree with this policy, such as the authors whose writings are examined in this book, seem to assume they could not be wrong, and so they contend that the American people and its leadership must have been deceived, time and time again, by Israel and its supporters.
The United States has vigorously disagreed with many Israeli policies. We have made explicit our view, shared by most Israelis and American Jews, that a Palestinian state should be created alongside of Israel. But any fair-mined person would have to recognize that Israel cannot achieve this objective without a Palestinian partner. When Egypt and Jordan were ready to make peace, Israel took the necessary steps and risks of doing so.
President Carter, more than anyone else, knows the great effort required for both Egypt and Israel to overcome years of warfare and hostility. He was instrumental in helping them to do so. His call for justice for Palestinians is heartfelt and sincere. But he knows better than to suggest that Israel has created a system of “apartheid” either within Israel or in the territories. Using this word is a dangerous exaggeration, and not an appropriate way to secure the attention he recently admitted he sought in doing so.
My problem with blaming Israel and the pro-Israel lobby for U.S. government policies and actions goes beyond the points ably made by Abe Foxman. We are a great nation, and our government officials invariably include brilliant, experienced, tough-minded people. Mostly, we make good decisions. But when we make wrong decisions – even one that is recommended by Israel and supported by American Jewish groups – it is our decision, and one for which we alone are responsible. We are not babes in the woods, easily convinced to support Israel’s or any other state’s agenda. We act in our own interests. And when we mistakenly conclude from time to time – as we will – that an action or policy is in America’s interests, we must take responsibility for the mistake. We must take into account any effort to mislead us, as appeared to be the case with certain expatriates from Iraq. But we will fail far more frequently if we blame others for our mistakes than if we accept them as our own.
So, at every level, those who blame Israel and its Jewish supporters for U.S. policies they do not support are wrong. They are wrong because, to begin with, support for Israel is in our best interests. They are also wrong because Israel and its supporters have the right to try to influence U.S. policy. And they are wrong because the U.S. government is responsible for the policies it adopts, not any other state or any of the myriad lobbies and groups that battle daily — sometimes with lies – to win America’s support.
It has taken not a little courage to write The Deadliest Lies. Perhaps what impresses me most of all is the fair-minded and carefully judicious tone of Abe Foxman’s voice as it is heard in these pages.
This is not an angry riposte, but the responsible and admirable effort by a good man to return the discourse to a civil, sane, and constructive level.