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Does Israel have a stranglehold on Washington, corrupting America’s national interests? Quite the contrary, says Mitchell Bard. He argues that an insidious Arab lobby comprised of big oil companies, weapons firms, Middle Eastern despots, Arab-Americans, mainline Christians, and “Arabist” sympathizers within the United States government are secretly conspiring to undermine decision making in the U.S. capital.
What’s the Big Deal
Four years ago, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published an essay in The London Review of Books arguing that staunch American support for Israel has harmed U.S. national security. The article, and the pair’s subsequent book (The Israel Lobby), unleashed a firestorm of debate over the scope and power of Israeli influence on U.S. foreign policy. Now, as Israel and the Palestinians undertake a new round of peace negotiations, Bard says that the Arab world —not Israel—is the problem.
Buzz Rating: Hum.
Alan Dershowitz showered it with praise, which is to be expected, considering his ideological bent. The book’s also been reviewed by The Forward, Tablet, and other Jewish publications.
One-Breath Author Bio
Though his publisher, HarperCollins, merely refers to Bard as an “authority” on U.S.-Israel relations, he is in fact a former editor of a weekly newsletter put out by AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), the main organization behind the Israel lobby. Bard is currently the head of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, a nonprofit advocate for Israel.
The Book, In His Words
“The point of this study is to highlight how the debate may be distorted because of the vast financial resources of the Arab lobby, and to expose some of its efforts to manipulate public opinion and foreign policy, often beyond public view, in ways that have gone largely unnoticed and demand greater scrutiny.” (pg. xii)
Don’t Miss These Bits
1. “The influence of Big Oil,” Bard writes, “is far more insidious, and far more pervasive than the influence of the Jewish lobby, for oil and influence seep across ideological as well as party lines without public approval or support.” There’s the bulk of the argument.
2. It didn’t have to be this way. Appeasing Saudi Arabia “could have been avoided,” Bard writes, if U.S. policymakers had pursued energy independence or simply “taken a tough stand” and insisted that “the Arab states back American interests.” President John F. Kennedy, for instance, pushed Saudi Arabia to abolish slavery, something Bard cites as proof that “a determined president can demand that the Saudis adhere to Western moral and ethical standards.” For decades, the Saudis have “constantly needed American cash,” yet many administrations have allowed them to “cleverly [play] on U.S. fears” of increased oil prices or collusion with the former Soviet Union.
3. It’s not all about Israel-Palestine. The reason for this manipulation, Bard says, is that U.S. policymakers are under the misguided assumption that “all problems in the region” stem from the conflict. In reality, “close U.S.-Saudi ties ... have provoked ... Muslim hatred of Americans and Osama bin Laden’s terror campaign.” Thus the best way to “prevent terror,” according to Bard, is to “place restrictions on the totalitarian, terrorist-sponsored, and violence-provoking Saudis and strengthen ties with the democratic, terror-fighting Israelis.”
Swipe This Critique
From the get-go, Bard undermines his own thesis. “In some ways the term Arab lobby is a misnomer,” he writes. And indeed, what Bard is really talking about are two separate groups: a Saudi Arabian lobby and a pro-Palestinian lobby. Do these groups have some power? Yes, especially the former, because of the oil issue. But if Bard set out to show the pernicious influence of “the Arab lobby,” what he really offers is a litany of examples of AIPAC outflanking the pro-Saudi and pro-Palestinian lobbies. There is still room for a good book debunking those who think a Jewish cabal controls American foreign policy; a book that argues in favor of the U.S. developing real alternative-energy sources, reducing the influence of Saudi Arabia and Big Oil lobbyists and one that takes Muslim leaders to task for not doing enough on human rights in their own countries. Unfortunately that book needs to be written by a real historian, not a lobbyist disguising truthiness as actual fact.
Prose: Apparently anyone who criticizes Israel is part of a nefarious “Arab Lobby,” or is an “Arabist” who has “gone native.”
Structure: Bard’s chapter on American universities and the so-called Arab lobby is thought provoking. As are others. But there is far too much tangential criticism of Israel’s detractors, such as Jimmy Carter.
Bottom-Line: Lightly footnoted and chock-full of offensive innuendo, The Arab Lobby doesn’t make the case for Israel, which is a shame.