- By Stephen M. WaltStephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.
Over at the New Republic, Jonathan Chait is in a lather about J Street, Ezra Klein, and me, mostly because we’ve independently suggested that unconditional and uncritical support for Israel might not be good for the United States or for Israel either. The essence of his argument is mostly guilt-by-association, but along the way he also hurls a barrage of nasty adjectives at my book with John Mearsheimer on the Israel lobby. And like some other critics, his comments suggest that he didn’t bother to read it first.
To be specific, Chait says the book "portrays Israel as a force for evil throughout its existence." He offers no evidence to support that false claim. Had he read the book, here are some passages that might have given him pause.
There is a strong moral case for Israel’s existence, and there are good reasons for the United States to be committed to helping Israel if its survival is in jeopardy" (p. 5).
The authors of this book are ‘pro-Israel’ in the sense that we support its right to exist, admire its many achievements, want its citizens to enjoy secure and prosperous lives, and believe the United States should come to Israel’s aid it is survival is in danger" (pp. 113-14).
Israel’s creation and subsequent development is a remarkable achievement." (p. 355).
My co-author and I were critical of some Israeli policies, while emphasizing that:
[We are] not focusing on Israel’s conduct because we have an animus toward the Jewish state, or because we believe that its behavior is particularly worthy of censure. On the contrary, we recognize that virtually all states have committed serious crimes in their history. . . and that some of Israel’s Arab neighbors have at times acted with great brutality" (pp. 80-81).
We also noted that:
almost all of the many gentiles and Jews who now criticize Israeli policies or worry about the [Israel] lobby’s impact find [anti-Semitic] views deeply disturbing and categorically reject them. . . They believe that Israel acts like other states, which is to say that it vigorously defends its own interests and sometimes pursues policies that are wise and just and sometimes does things that are strategically foolish and even immoral. This perspective is the opposite of anti-Semitism. It calls for treating Jews like everyone else and treating Israel as a normal and legitimate country. Israel, in this view, should be praised when it acts well and criticized when it does not….Americans who care about Israel should be free to criticize it when its government takes actions that they believe are not in Israel’s interest" (p. 195).
In short, Chait’s characterization of our book is a fiction; he just made it up. He undoubtedly thinks that attacking us in this way will help keep Israel safer. He’s wrong. The policy of unconditional and uncritical support that the New Republic has fervently defended for years isn’t working for either the United States or for Israel — and plenty of other staunchly pro-Israel individuals — e.g., Daniel Levy, Matt Yglesias, Roger Cohen, Ha’aretz editor David Landau, M.J. Rosenberg, Gershom Gorenberg, Gideon Levy, Akiva Eldar, Aaron David Miller, etc. — have figured this out too.
Why is Chait so exercised? I think it’s because he realizes the discourse about Israel in the United States is changing before his eyes, and that increasing numbers of people — both Jewish and gentile — now realize that a more normal relationship would be better for both countries. If Chait were a true friend of Israel, he’d agree.