“Israel Lobby” Authors Find Friendly NPR Forum

Leave it to National Public Radio to give a helping hand to professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, authors of the notorious study, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” Assailed by scholars, policy analysts, pundits and diplomats for their crude disregard of fact and scholarly standards, the two have generally ducked open debate with their critics. They opt for exchanges in print or safe broadcast venues – such as C-Span – where they allege that supporters of Israel systematically and traitorously undermine American interests in the service of the Jewish state.

Now NPR too has given the duo an unfettered opportunity to air their slanderous claims without a word of substantive challenge or interaction with knowledgeable critics. On July 6 anchorman Steve Inskeep pitched soft-ball questions at his guests, neglecting to mention even one of the errors, false and selective citations or glaring omissions cited by the many commentators faulting their paper. In prime listening time, Walt and Mearsheimer leveled one distorted charge after another.

They alleged that President Bush was “humiliated by the Israel lobby” at the behest of Ariel Sharon when he declined to comply with American pressure and pull the Israeli military out of West Bank towns. Inskeep did not ask his guests why they omitted mention that Israel was then under siege by Palestinian terrorists, with over 130 Israelis murdered in the preceding month and the military had reentered the towns to root out terrorist bases. He didn’t ask whether Sharon, a legendary general, had a right and responsibility to judge how best to deploy his army at such a time. Nor did he note the possible sense of humiliation of a small nation being instructed by a super-power to forfeit its own decision-making about self-defense. Nor, of course, was there any suggestion that allies inevitably disagree at times about specific policies.

Walt and Mearsheimer alleged that “neo-conservatives” who are “closely identified with Israel and have been pushing American policy for a long time to support Israeli objectives” drove the U.S. against its own interests into war with Iraq. Inskeep didn’t bother to mention any of the many counter-arguments to this scapegoating of Jews for the Iraq war, including, for instance, stories in the New Yorker, the New York Times the Washington Post and the LA Times that record Israeli ambivalence and even dismay at Bush administration intentions to invade Iraq. Israeli security specialists were far more concerned about Iran and feared focus on Iraq would distract from what the saw as the central regional threat. So outspoken were some Israeli military officials on the subject that Sharon called on them to mute their misgivings over action in Iraq lest the U.S. administration take offense.

Walt and Mearsheimer deplored U.S. backing for Israel in light of its alleged “continued occupation and control over the Palestinians, and the refusal to negotiate a long-term peace settlement with the Palestinians.” They charged “Israelis have essentially been unwilling to give the Palestinians a viable state since 1967.” Once more, the NPR interviewer was derelict, permitting these absurd assertions to stand with only the non-specific observation that “Israeli spokesmen would dispute” such accusations.

There was no hint of the Arab agenda enunciated in 1967 predicated on the infamous three “no’s” — no recognition, no negotiation and no peace. There was not even an allusion to the many Arab calls for the destruction of Israel. There was not a mention of the unprecedented offer by Ehud Barak at Camp David/Taba just six years ago that would have given the Palestinians statehood.

The professors also lamented that Israel distorts American policy regarding various regional problems in the Middle East, saying “we would have been adopting a much more flexible policy” there, “most notably [toward] Iran.” By “flexible,” the two evidently mean U.S. policy would benefit by downplaying, if not disregarding, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s calls to destroy Israel.

Inskeep concluded saying “this debate continues tomorrow, when we’ll talk with one” of the writers’ critics, former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross. But this was not a debate; it was a platform for bigotry, indulged and abetted by the interviewer. And the notion of balance is  mocked in suggesting interviewing one speaker a day later is an appropriate or sufficient response to a litany of anti-Israel – and anti-Jewish – defamation.

Dennis Ross was subsequently on the air for less than five minutes and Inskeep was notably more pointed with him, asking for instance: “Whatever you think of U.S. support of Israel, is it not a liability that the United States has allowed itself to be so closely associated with Israel over time as a major supporter, a liability in the Arab world?”

Having served as a senior State Department envoy, Ross could provide first-hand testimony to the actual nature of policymaking by the American administration and did provide broad refutations of the professors. He said in his experience in two administrations “we never took a step because we felt the quote ‘lobby’ was insisting we do it.” He also noted that, “If tomorrow Israel wasn’t there, would we still have a problem with al-Qaeda? With the Jihadists? You bet. They object to who we are.”

But Ross was placed on the defensive; no one took apart the calumnies against Israel and its supporters, Jew and Christian, perpetrated by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer.

This was not NPR’s first round of distortion on the issue. On April 21, the network reported on the controversy without hearing from the two professors who, according to the commentator, “say they will no longer comment publicly on their research and declined NPR’s request for an interview.”

In the lineup were three critics of the views expressed in “The Israel Lobby” and three who endorsed them. Professor Eliot Cohen of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University called the paper anti-Semitic, “an attack on the loyalty of American Jews.” Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Israel Ned Walker said the “history” presented was unrecognizable and Foreign Affairs editor Gideon Rose offered vague disapproval that the authors’ case was too “strongly and over-broadly” framed.

On the other side, Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff under Colin Powell, and himself a believer in neo-conservative cabals, endorsed the paper as containing “blinding flashes of the obvious.” Conspiracy theorist and former CIA member Michael Scheuer too lauded the “courage” of the professors whose dark views of Jewish manipulation are nearly identical to his own.

At a Council on Foreign Relations session in February 2006, Scheuer had explained how Israel allegedly controls U.S. policies. “Well, the clandestine aspect is that, clearly, the ability to influence the Congress – that’s a clandestine activity, a covert activity.” He also lamented the effect of the Holocaust Memorial Museum on Americans in arousing feelings of guilt. This is the same writer who has lauded Osama Bin Laden as “gentle, generous, talented and personally courageous.” A Wall Street Journal essay bluntly termed him a cross between “an overwrought Buchananite and a raving Chomskyite.”

NPR enlisted one other rabid Israel-hater, Paul Findley. Elated at the appearance of the Walt-Mearsheimer st udy, he enthused: “You can’t imagine how pleased I was.” Findley is founder and chairman of the radical anti-Israel group, the Council for the National Interest.

CNI has long cozied up to Islamist groups, including those on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. In early 2006, for example, CNI leaders met in Damascus with Hamas chieftain Khaled Meshal as well as with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. A CNI advertisement in the New York Times explained: “Many Americans do not understand that Hamas is a typical anti-colonial insurgency responding to an Israeli occupation and what amounts to government terror against Palestinian civilians.”

Findley’s bizarre claims also include his contention that Israel’s Mossad was implicated in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But NPR’s Deborah Amos introduced this man as simply “a former Republican Congressman” with no hint of his wild theories and charges.

NPR in its pandering to Walt and Mearsheimer did not interview another outspoken fan of theirs – former Ku Klux Klan head David Duke who warmly endorsed their study as “a great step forward.” Had they enlisted the white supremacist, no doubt Steve Inskeep would have introduced him simply as a former Louisiana legislator.

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