A review of Jewcentricity by Adam Garfinkle, Part 3 of 4: The Israel Lobby

Part 1
Part 2

It angers Garfinkle (doubtless due in large part to his role as speechwriter for Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice) that the influence exerted by the Israel Lobby over the foreign policy of the United States, and other Western nations, provides yet another focal point for “negative Jewcentricity.” Garfinkle’s discussion of this issue centers on the publication and reception of Mearsheimer and Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy in 2007. He notes how:

In recent years, this debate has revolved around the writings of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, notably a paper and then a book they wrote called The Israel Lobby. The authors argue in essence that U.S. foreign policy has been distorted, particularly in the Middle East but really on a global scale, by the exertions of Jews in the United States who have managed to bend the American national interest to that of Israel. The authors believe that the Israel Lobby — they always use a capital L for that word — has made U.S. foreign policy too interventionist, notably in causing the Iraq war, and that U.S. support for Israel is a main source of Islamic terrorism directed against the United States.[1]

Garfinkle freely engages in ad hominem attacks on Mearsheimer and Walt, implying that they wrote their book mainly out of desire for financial gain, rather than from a deeply felt conviction about the misdirection of American foreign policy under the influence of the Lobby. He claims “the authors parlayed the ruckus [over the influence of AIPAC] into the book, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2007, for which the two reportedly received an advance of $750,000 to split between them.”[2] He likewise notes the furor over the book soon died down “despite the authors’ efforts to keep the buzz buzzing, the better to sell more books and promote their views.”[3]

As well as writing their book for mercenary reasons, Mearsheimer and Walt were also, Garfinkle contends, unqualified to offer their thoughts on American foreign policy because they are not “Middle East experts” and do not speak any Middle Eastern language. He writes:

Like many other Israel lobby critics before them, Mearsheimer and Walt are not themselves Middle East experts. Before their Israel Lobby essay and book, neither had written much on the region and anything at all for scholarly, expert audiences. They have never claimed to be regional experts, and rightly so, for neither seems to have studied, let alone mastered, any Middle Eastern language. The many factual errors they make illustrate their lack of familiarity with the basic literature on the subject. … [S]erious scholars are supposed to respect certain standards of logic and rules of evidence, and tenured faculty at prestigious institutions are presumed to be among those professionals.”[4]

Having engaged in some initial character assassination, Garfinkle finally addresses Mearsheimer and Walt’s thesis that American foreign policy has been unduly influenced by an Israel Lobby which has pushed the American government into wars not in the American national interest. Garfinkle claims this assumption is based on a “vast exaggeration” and claims The Israel Lobby is marred by a “fundamental illogic,” despite himself having, as previously noted, acknowledged in other parts of Jewcentricity the existence of a plethora of powerful and well-funded activist organizations “serving parochial Jewish ethnic interests that are simultaneously distinct from broader American interest but not related directly to religion.”[5]

The power of the Israel Lobby in shaping foreign policy is not just an American but a broader Western phenomenon. The sway held by organized Jewry over Australia’s political leaders was highlighted last year when the former Foreign Minister Bob Carr hit out at the “pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne,” saying it wielded “extraordinary influence” on Australia’s foreign policy during his time in former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s cabinet. Asked how the lobby achieved this influence he said: “I think party donations and a program of giving trips to MPs and journalists to Israel. But that’s not to condemn them. I mean, other interest groups do the same thing. But it needs to be highlighted because I think it reached a very unhealthy level.” Carr’s observations were later corroborated by the former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser who said Carr was “absolutely correct” in his view that the Jewish lobby wielded too much power.

Garfinkle’s main counter-argument to Mearsheimer and Walt is that while Jewish activist organizations are indeed highly effective in lobbying Congress (which is surely egregious enough), its influence does not extend to the executive branch of government. He maintains that “when a president knows what he wants, whether it pleases Israel or not, he does it. He does it because, as the steward of American national security and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, he thinks it best for the country. He may be right or wrong in his judgments, but lobbies have never decisively influenced any major U.S. strategic judgment concerning the Middle East.”[6] This argument might have some validity with regard to the Obama presidency, but is patently false with regard to the Bush administration. Regarding the disastrous invasion of Iraq, Garfinkle claims that “trying to pin the blame for it on Israel and its American supporters is a stretch well beyond credulity.”[7]

So the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq was, Garfinkle proposes, made independently of the urgings from the Israel Lobby and the neoconservative establishment. Garfinkle makes no mention of the fact that Israeli plans for a war against Iraq had been in place for several years prior to the 2003 invasion. No mention is made of the mid-1996 policy paper prepared for the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu entitled  A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm which was authored by, amongst others Richard Perle, Douglas Feith and David Wurmser — three influential Jews who later held high-level positions in the Bush Administration — and which called for an “effort [that] can focus on removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right.” Garfinkle also ignores the fact that Netanyahu lied brazenly about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction in order to goad the United States into an invasion. He likewise ignores the many media reports from around the time of the invasion that show that AIPAC was actively lobbying for the invasion of Iraq — not to mention the recent statements of Rep. Barney Frank. For example, Matt Yglesias, writing in in 2007, noted in an article entitled “AIPAC and Iraq” that:

One of the odder notions to take hold in recent years is that AIPAC specifically, and the so-called “Israel lobby” more generally had absolutely nothing to do with the Iraq War, and that anyone who says otherwise is an anti-Semite. As John Judis writes for The New Republic, however, this is just false:

“At the time, a Senate staff person with a responsibility for foreign policy told me of AIPAC’s lobbying. But I don’t have to rely on my memory. AIPAC’s lobbying wasn’t widely reported because AIPAC didn’t want Arab states, whose support the Bush administration was soliciting, to be able to tie Bush’s plans to Israel, but it lobbied nonetheless. In September 2002, before Congress had begun considering the administration’s proposal authorizing force with Iraq, Rebecca Needler, a spokeswoman for AIPAC, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, “If the president asks Congress to support action in Iraq, AIPAC would lobby members of Congress to support him.” Then at an AIPAC meeting in New York in January 2003, before the war began, but after Congress had voted to authorize Bush to go to war, Howard Kohr, AIPAC’s executive director, boasted of AIPAC’s success in lobbying for the war. Reported the New York Sun, “According to Mr. Kohr, AIPAC’s successes over the past year also include guaranteeing Israel’s annual aid package and ‘quietly’ lobbying Congress to approve the use of force in Iraq.”

And, obviously, other institutions of the hawkish “pro-Israel” establishment — the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Saban Center, JINSA, The New York Sun, The New Republic, etc. — all advocated strongly in favor of invasion.

Ignoring all of this, Garfinkle maintains that:

If, as Mearsheimer and Walt argue, even against their own realist convictions, a domestic lobby is responsible for U.S. policy decisions at the highest level and with the greatest consequence — not least the U.S. war in Iraq — and if their own argument is as new and revelatory as they claim it is, then it follows that their book should have had a major impact on how U.S. foreign policy is made and what its basic tenets are. Yet no such thing has happened. The Bush administration did not throw up its hands in surrender after the Mearsheimer-Walt book was published, and shift its policy on cue. None of the Democratic or Republican primary contenders in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election mentioned the Mearsheimer-Walt book or said anything remotely endorsing their case against the Israel lobby.[8] 

Garfinkle’s bizarre logic seems to be that if the Israel Lobby did have undue influence over the direction of U.S. foreign policy, then exposure of this influence alone should have been enough for it to cease. In truth, the fact that Mearsheimer and Walt’s book had no discernible impact on the direction of U.S. foreign policy can be taken as confirmation of their thesis. Political survival in the contemporary United States is contingent on garnering and maintaining the broad support of the organized Jewish lobby. Defy this lobby and you are destined for the political scrap heap. This is the reason why Mearsheimer and Walt’s book had no discernible effect on U.S. foreign policy. Elsewhere in his book Garfinkle acknowledges that:

Without questioning the right of Jews, or any other ethnic group of U.S. citizens, to organize and lobby for their interests, Jewish lobbying has become so proficient, so well-financed, so unvarnished, and so persistent as to have generated a certain amount of ambient resentment. Not even political animals who get elected to Congress like to be pushed around, and to put it generously, Jewish lobbying tactics are not always subtle. There is something almost the equivalent to nouveau riche behavior in the way some Jewish organizations lobby for what they want. Instead of ‘Look I can afford to pay five thousand dollars for a lamp I don’t even like,’ it’s ‘Look, I can contribute five thousand dollars to this guy’s congressional race and in effect exercise a veto over what he says about Syria.’[9]

It is common knowledge that Jewish organizations throughout the West respond immediately and aggressively to any individual who makes statements in the public sphere critical of Jews or Israel. These actions range from having the individual prosecuted under “hate speech laws” to getting them fired from their job and/or forcing the individual to engage in some humiliating act of public contrition and obeisance to Jews. Garfinkle admits that Jewish activists are quite willing to use underhand tactics to defend their interests. He cites the March 2009 decision by Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair to make Charles Freeman director of the National Intelligence Council. As soon as Freeman’s appointment was leaked, Freeman was assailed by Jewish activists and journalists (who are frequently one and the same). This criticism centered on the fact that Freeman, a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, had made comments critical of Israeli settlements and occupation policies. Garfinkle notes that:

[W]hile AIPAC took no formal position on Freeman’s nomination, a smear campaign against him mounted by American Jewish partisans of Israel sprinted into high gear from a standing start. Some of this criticism linked into insinuations that Freeman had acted as an unregistered agent for foreign governments — Saudi Arabia and China were mentioned — which is illegal. But no evidence was produced that this was so. Some criticisms of Freeman sought, in a manner of extreme political polemic, to collapse any difference between Freeman’s criticisms of Israel and those of a more extreme sort. Much of this was tactical, in the sense that the polemicists knew that what they were doing and did it anyway.”[10]

Having had his appointment rejected thanks to the efforts of the Jewish lobby, Freeman, as he headed for the door, wrote a scathing post on Salon.com that is worth quoting at length:

The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired, still less to factor in American understanding of trends and events in the Middle East. The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency and include character assassination, selective misquotation, and willful distortion of the record, the fabrication of falsehoods, and an utter disregard for the truth. The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process through the exercise of a veto over the appointment of people who dispute the wisdom of its views, the substitution of political correctness for analysis, and the exclusion of any and all options for decision by Americans and our government other than those that it favors.

There is a special irony in having been accused of improper regard for the opinions of foreign governments and societies by a group so clearly intent on enforcing adherence to the policies of a foreign government — in this case, the government of Israel. I believe that the inability of the American public to discuss, or the government to consider, any option for U.S. policies in the Middle East opposed by the ruling faction in Israeli politics has allowed that faction to adopt and sustain policies that ultimately threaten the existence of the State of Israel. It is not permitted for anyone in the United States to say so. This is not just a tragedy for Israelis and neighbors in the Middle East; it is doing widening damage to the national security of the United States.[11]   

If President Bush was willing to commit U.S. troops to an incredibly expensive and destructive war benefitting Israel, then, argues Garfinkle, this should not be attributed to the Israel Lobby but the “positive Jewcentricity” that exists among millions of American evangelical Christians like Bush. While drastically understating the role of Jewish activists in provoking the Iraq War, Garfinkle is right to highlight the importance of “evangelical Jewcentricity” having “a significant influence on American attitudes and policies toward the Middle East”[12] — although its influence on Congress and the executive branch pales in comparison to the Israel Lobby (e.g., no one has made the case for the role of Christian Zionists in fomenting the Iraq war or in the demise of Charles Freeman and the many politicians who have run afoul of the Lobby; nor have the Christian Zionists established a powerful infrastructure in think tanks, universities, and the media dedicated to support for Israel; nor have Christian Zionists been able to influence public policy on issues like prayer in public schools or abortion rights).

Garfinkle cites a Pew research survey that found that “30 percent of American Christians define themselves as evangelicals, and of these, 67 percent believe the Bible is the word of God; and at least 36 percent believe that the foundation of the State of Israel is a harbinger of the Second Coming of Christ.”[13] He also notes that:

There can be no doubt many of the truest true believers among American Protestants today — and not only American Protestants — believe that Jews are still the Chosen People. They believe that the birth of Israel is part of divine cosmic history being revealed before our eyes. They believe they must defend Israel lest the Jews have nowhere to go to fulfill their cosmic destiny. They believe that the end of days is near, and they interpret contemporary political and strategic events in this context. All who behave this way believe, by way of foundational premise, that what Jews are and do, especially in Israel but all over the world, constitutes the core of the divine drama itself. God writes the script; the Jews and their enemies are the star actors; everyone else just sits in the audience, as it were, and watches it all pour forth. These people are Jewcentric — very Jewcentric.[14]  

Christian Zionism is largely a British invention. Garfinkle argues this may have something to do with an indigenous tradition of British ‘chosenness’ that emerged among early British Christians who fashioned a way to read their own historical narrative in parallel with the Hebrew Bible. The Epistle of Gildas, for instance, which seems to be a late-sixth-century work, pronounced Britain a new Israel with its battles against heathen invaders from Scandinavia comparable to Israel’s struggles against the Babylonians and Philistines. This theme was repeated in the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastic History from around the year 735.[15]

Garfinkle traces the historical emergence of modern Christian Zionism in the nineteenth century to John Nelson Darby, an Irish Anglican priest, who systematized it “into a full-fledged theology” and who was the man to spread it to America. Garfinkle observes that:

It was Darby who, basing himself on an interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, formalized the doctrine of “the Rapture,” the idea that born again Christians would rise up into the sky when the Second Coming was imminent and be transferred directly to heaven, spared the sufferings of Armageddon. It was also Darby who first specified how a reborn Israel would play pivotal roles in the series of events leading to Jesus’s return. The Jews would be gathered again in their ancestral land, gain political independence, and be the pivot of end-of-history convulsions.  And it was Darby who developed the idea that the history of humanity from the creation of the world onward was divided into a small number of eras — just seven — each with its own characteristics and symbols, which called “dispensations.”

Above all, Darby challenged the classical Christian replacement, or supersession, theology. He argued that the Church — any church — has never superseded the Jews as God’s Chosen People. Rather, he argued, the Church as a “parenthesis” in earthly history, for it was not of this earth, but of heaven. The Jews remain and always will be God’s Chosen People on earth, while the Church is God’s chosen vehicle for cosmic redemption. This dualism, which resembles ancient views that human time is unreal and only Eternity matters ultimately, seems to have been Darby’s invention. As far as standard Catholic and Protestant theologians are concerned, it has no basis in Christian theology.[16]   

Through inventing dispensationalism, Darby consolidated the various strands of a Christian movement in Britain known as “premillennial fundamentalism.” This movement is now “an integral part of evangelical and Pentecostal as well as fundamentalist Protestantism in the United States.” As well as essentially inventing a new theology, Darby also founded the Plymouth Brethren and exported it, via seven missionary trips, to North America. By his death in 1881, dozens of Plymouth Brethren congregations had been founded in the United States.

It was one of Darby’s followers, Anthony Ashley Cooper — who later became the seventh Earl of Shaftsbury — who helped to mold Britain’s imperial ambitions to accord with Darby’s Christian Zionism. Garfinkle notes that, acting on his own religious convictions but arguing political rationales, Shaftsbury persuaded the British Foreign Minister, Lord Palmerston, to send a British consul to Jerusalem following a rebellion against the Ottoman Empire which allowed unobstructed British travel to Palestine. Garfinkle notes that “This Palmerston did in 1838, sending out William Young with instructions to ‘promote the welfare of the Jews.’ Darby was thrilled.” The following year Shaftsbury wrote an article in the prestigious and widely circulated Quarterly Review which was entitled “The State and Prospects for the Jews.” Palmerston was so receptive to this and other lobbying by Shaftsbury that the latter concluded that: “Palmerston has been chosen by God to be an instrument of good to His chosen people.”[17] Garfinkle observes that:

Taking his cue from Darby and his growing cohort of supporters, Shaftsbury kept pressing for British engagement in Palestine on behalf of the Jews. Ottoman authorities, naturally enough, took a dim view of the idea, but Shaftsbury did not. When, on the cusp of the Crimean War in 1853, it looked as though the Ottoman Empire might collapse, or at least be made more pliable as a result of another battlefield defeat, Shaftsbury, by now an earl in his own right, again picked up his pen on behalf the idea of a Jewish return to Palestine. Writing to Lord Aberdeen, then British Prime Minister, and speaking not just of Palestine but more broadly of geographical Syria, he argued that it was “a country without a nation,” needing to be matched to a “nation without a country.” Shaftsbury asked rhetorically, “Is there such a nation? To be sure there is, The ancient and rightful lords of the soil, the Jews!” … So I think it is fair to say that dispensationalist Christians became political Zionists before many, perhaps any, European Jews did.[18]  

Darby’s dispensationalism found fertile soil in North America. Just as the Napoleonic Wars seemed to be a harbinger of Armageddon to many Englishmen, the Civil War was similarly regarded by many Americans. Thanks to advocates like John Inglis, James H. Brookes, Dwight L. Moody, William Eugene Blackstone and others, dispensationalism gained millions of American adherents throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Another major figure in the early advance of American dispensationalism is Cyrus I. Scofield who created The Scofield Reference Bible, first published in 1909 by Oxford University Press. Garfinkle notes that:

 It is hard to overstate the influence of this book. Depending on John Nelson Darby’s own notes, Scofield annotated the whole Bible. His commentaries systematized dispensationalist theology in a way that no one before had done. The fact that Scofield had put it all in writing was the key — that and the rapid spread of rural literacy in the United States through the nineteenth and into the early twentieth centuries. Before long the Scofield Bible’s commentaries took on an aura of authority equal to, if not greater than, that of the text itself. The reason is disarmingly simple: the Bible, particularly some significant stretches of the New Testament, can be rather cryptic; the text doesn’t always say clearly exactly what it means. Scofield told readers what it meant, in plain, clear American English. He insisted, further that the scripture was to be taken literally. Invoking Darby, Scofield wrote: “Not one instance exists of a ‘spiritual’ or figurative fulfilment of prophecy. … Jerusalem is always Jerusalem, Israel is always Israel, Zion is always Zion. … Prophecies may never be spiritualized, but are always literal.”

Among the literal meanings he made plain to his legion of readers was that the Jews, and only the Jews, were God’s Chosen People. … [B]y the time Scofield died in 1921, his work had become the leading Bible used by evangelicals and fundamentalists in the United States, and so it remained for the next half century. It brought greater respectability to dispensationalism, which, before Scofield, lived in an ill-defined world suspended between an oral and written tradition. Scofield changed that, and in so doing helped to accelerate the institutionalization of dispensationalism.[19] 

The success of the dispensationalist movement in North America is reflected in the fact that, as Garfinkle puts it, “The United States of America is probably the most Jewcentric society in world history, in a large philo-Semitic way.”[20] Perhaps the most philo-Semitic President the United States has ever had was Lyndon Johnson who “had several Jewish friends and associates” and whose mother admonished him as a young man to: “Take care of the Jews, God’s chosen people.” Johnson recalled an aunt once telling him “If Israel is destroyed, the world will end.” That aunt, who was a Baptist from Texas, even joined the Zionist Organization of America.[21]

Nevertheless, Garfinkle fails to discuss the role of Jews in promoting Christian Zionism, both historically and on the contemporary scene.

There is a fascinating history (see, e.g., here) that suggests but falls short of proof that early Zionists like Samuel Untermeyer were important in promoting and publicizing the work of C. I. Scofield whose annotated Bible, published by Oxford University Press in 1909, is the basis of Christian Zionism. In any case, the above source discusses footnotes to the Scofield Bible added in 1967 that emphasize Zionist aims. For example,  “For a nation to commit the sin of anti-Semitism brings inevitable judgment.” ” God made an unconditional promise of blessing through Abram’s seed to the nation of Israel to inherit a specific territory forever.” “It has invariably fared ill with the  people who have persecuted the Jew, well with those who have protected him. The future will still more remarkably prove this principle.” (Footnotes to Genesis 12:3)

Jews have not stood by idly on this but have actively supported the Christian Zionism movement. Beginning in 1978, the Likud Party in Israel has taken the lead in organizing this force for Israel, and they have been joined by the neocons. For example, in 2002 the Israeli embassy organized a prayer breakfast with the major Christian Zionists. The main organizations are the Unity Coalition for Israel which is run by Esther Levens and Christians United for Israel, run by David Brog. The Unity Coalition for Israel consists of ~200 Christian and Jewish organizations has strong connections to neocon think tanks such as the Center for Security Policy, headed by Frank Gaffney, pro-Israel activist organizations the Zionist Organization of America, the Likud Party and the Israeli government. This organization claims to provide material for 1,700 religious radio stations, 245 Christian TV stations, and 120 Christian newspapers. (Kevin MacDonald, “Christian Zionism“)

Nevertheless, despite claiming that the United States is the most philo-Semitic nation in history, Garfinkle warns that “anti-Semitism” lies just beneath the surface and “American society has been for most its history about as reflexively anti-Semitic as most majority-Christian civilizations.”[22]

Go to Part 4.


[1] Adam Garfinkle, Jewcentricity: why the Jews are praised, blamed, and used to explain just about everything (Hoboken NJ: John Wiley, 2009), 206.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. 207.

[4] Ibid. 212.

[5] Ibid. 168.

[6] Ibid. 217.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid. 218.

[10] Ibid. 220.

[11] Ibid. 221.

[12] Ibid. 4.

[13] Ibid. 50.

[14] Ibid. 51.

[15] Ibid. 42.

[16] Ibid. 43-44.

[17] Ibid. 45

[18] Ibid. 46-47:46

[19] Ibid. 48-49.

[20] Ibid. 93.

[21] Ibid. 97.

[22] Ibid. 96.

End of Part 3.

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