The following revisits debates from recent decades that still weigh upon American Jews and supporters of Israel, but leaves aside blatant antisemitic conspiracy theories. How do we fairly assess the impact of the “Israel Lobby” and the neoconservatives on the al Qaeda attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, and on the US response — including its misadventure in Iraq?
Even reputable mainstream academics — most prominently, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard — have blamed an ill-defined Israel lobby (seeming to discredit dovish pro-Israel groups as well) for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Mearsheimer and Walt’s main conceptual failing was in equating neoconservatives with this so-called Israel Lobby — noxiously impugning the patriotism of both, and reducing the neocons to their Jewishness (not all are Jews) and their Jewishness to a right-wing species of Zionism (also a reductionist leap). As you will see, I don’t deny that neocon officials and public intellectuals contributed to the Iraq fiasco, but Mearsheimer and Walt elevated secondary and third-level appointees to decision makers in an administration that had no Jews of cabinet rank at the time.
Moreover, the good professors were so intent on equating neocons with pro-settler Zionists that they totally misread a reference to Paul Wolfowitz, a neocon who served as deputy secretary of defense under Donald Rumsfeld. In a scathing Forward editorial, J.J. Goldberg, then its editor-in-chief, decried their single-minded tendentiousness, catching a glaring error in their “cherry-picking” of sources:
In one egregious case, they attempt to prove how deeply Paul Wolfowitz is “committed to Israel” by quoting the Forward, which “once described him as ‘the most hawkishly pro-Israel voice in the Administration.’” A check of the endnotes shows that the words did appear in the Forward, but they were describing the conventional wisdom, not the Forward’s view. The article was about a pro-Israel rally where Wolfowitz was booed for defending Palestinian rights. The point was that the conventional wisdom was wrong.