'Israel Lobby' Authors Return With Book

Two leading political scientists are writing a book extending their controversial argument that the domestic pro-Israel lobby bends U.S. foreign policy disproportionately in favor of Israel, one of the authors, Stephen M. Walt of the Kennedy School of Government, confirmed yesterday.

Walt, the Belfer professor of international affairs, and co-author John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago set off a storm of controversy last March when they published a paper arguing that the pro-Israel lobby, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has distorted foreign policy through its influence on academia, the media, and think tanks. Their essay also argued that the lobby was a “critical element” in the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

The forthcoming book will be published by New York-based Farrar, Straus and Giroux and is due out in September, according to Walt, who declined to answer other questions about the book. Mearsheimer did not respond to phone calls to his office in Chicago.

Since the publication of their essay last March, the claims made by Walt and Mearsheimer have divided the academic community.

New York University professor Tony Judt, who wrote a New York Times op-ed supporting the pair shortly after their article appeared, said in an interview yesterday that the professors’ work has forced a discussion of the Israeli lobby’s influence, a previously taboo topic.

“The article and subsequent furor have opened up the debate as never before [and] the book will presumably do more of the same,” Judt said.

Judt added that the book will likely include more “technical detail and primary sourcing” and “address the formal criticisms made of the article, some genuine, many in bad faith.”

But Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature Ruth R. Wisse, a critic of the professors, maintained her stance that they are attacking the wrong group for distortions in U.S. foreign policy.

“I’m disappointed that Professors Walt and Mearsheimer did not begin by writing a book about the anti-Israel lobby [which] presents a far greater danger to the Middle East and to the United States of America,” Wisse said.

She added that the Arab League, which she cited as part of the anti-Israel lobby, was founded to oppose Israel’s creation and has since focused on anti-Israel activities.

Harvard Students for Israel President Dana A. Stern ’09 criticized Walt and Mearsheimer’s first paper in an interview, saying that it “contains numerous factual errors and omissions.” She added that the professors’ approach to the Middle East, which she characterized as “blaming a large Jewish conspiracy for America’s policies towards Israel,” only hinders “productive dialogue and progress towards peace.”

A representative for Harvard’s Progressive Jewish Alliance, meanwhile, said the group welcomed the upcoming publication of Walt and Mearsheimer’s book.

“We need to have an honest an open discussion about how the U.S. can best support Israel even if that means sometimes being critical,” said Noah Hertz-Bunzl ’08, a board member of the alliance. “Critics should look toward an open debate and not try to squelch Walt and Mearsheimer because they’re perceived as anti-Semitic.”

Several professors who had previously taken strong stands on the paper—including Marvin Kalb, a lecturer at the Kennedy School, Frankfurter Professor of Law Alan M. Dershowitz, and Columbia professor Rashid Khalidi—all declined or did not respond to requests for comment.

—Staff writer Paras D. Bhayani can be reached at pbhayani@fas.harvard.edu.