Critical Dialogue & Israeli Foreign Policy

When Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer set out to publish their controversial working paper “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” they knew what would be in store.

"We understood there would be a significant price to pay," Mearsheimer told The Nation soon after the release of paper in The London Review of Books. "We both went into this understanding full well that our chances of ever being appointed to a high-level administrative position at a university or policy-making position in Washington would be greatly damaged."

"When you write about this subject and you're critical of Israeli policy or critical of the US-Israel relationship, you are invariably going to be called an anti-Semite," he added.

And such is the world of political discourse in 2006. Any criticism of Israel is met with vicious, often misguided assaults on ones character. Virtually all Republicans and most Democrats are strong supporters of Israeli foreign policy. And now, as Israel bombs Lebanon endlessly – and says it will continue to do so – few are brave enough to speak with candor, and say: these attacks are wrong, immoral, and utterly excessive; they are destroying the infrastructure of Lebanon, killing civilians, and punishing an entire nation, for the actions of Hezbollah.

Thankfully, however, there are those willing to dissent on an issue where most walk-on-egg shells, or simply act in lockstep in support of Israeli policy. Some examples:

Media critic Norman Solomon wrote a column calling The United States and Israel the “the most dangerous alliance in the world.”

John Nichols, Washington correspondent for The Nation wrote that “American neglect has created a humanitarian crisis in Lebanon.”

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail called the attacks “collective punishment,” a “war crime,” and a “grave breach of the Geneva Conventions.”

“An entire country is being collectively punished while the world sits by and watches,” he added.

Juan Cole, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Michigan said that “’Israel flattened several Lebanese villages in the south with indiscriminate air strikes. One entire village section of 15 homes was destroyed, with a high civilian death toll,” he said. “It is not possible that all 15 civilian residences were legitimate military targets. This is just state terror.” (Emphasis provided by The Soapbox)

This is the other side of debate regarding Israeli foreign policy – though it is one you will need to search for. For in the coming days and weeks, those who dare to offer a vision of current events that runs contrary to the official Israeli line will face the ideological slings and arrows of its hard-line defenders.

But with these lonely voices of dissent, comes hope. And in the face of the tragedy that is this vicious Israeli air assault on the people of Lebanon, comes opportunity.

If anything meaningful progress is to be made in the search for peace in the Middle East, it will require an open discussion about all of its components – and that must include critical dialogue. Let us hope that recent events will spark a candid debate, where all sides are heard.