John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt on the Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

On June 17, 2008, The Center for International and Regional Studies hosted a lecture by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as part of its Distinguished Lecture Series. The lecture, attended by a capacity audience of nearly 500, was based on Mearsheimer and Walt’s recent book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. 

Mearsheimer and Walt stressed the importance of studying the role of the Israeli lobby in U.S. foreign policymaking with some sensitivity since the subject often gives rise to strong passions among most Americans. Walt made it clear that the views expressed in the book challenged the politics of the Israel lobby and their resultant policies, but not the validity or place of lobbying in U.S. politics itself. Walt outlined the special role that interest groups play in U.S. politics, demonstrating that the Israel lobby was one of the most influential forces in American politics, shaping American policy toward Israel often to the detriment of the United States. He questioned the wisdom of the special relationship that exists between the U.S. and Israel, viewing it as both inimical to American strategic and international interests around the world.

Mearsheimer further elaborated on the Israel lobby’s effects on U.S. foreign policy. He argued that the lobby’s effectiveness in pursuing an Israel-centered agenda is the reason why the U.S. favors Israeli policies over Palestinian protests. Moreover, Mearsheimer maintained, the efforts of the Israel lobby not only undermined American interests, they also harmed the interests of Israel itself and ran counter to the wishes of a number of high profile Israeli political figures and influential currents of thought. Mearsheimer concluded that, at least in the near future, there was little reason for optimism regarding a change in the entrenched nature of the relationship between the Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy.

Summary prepared by Suzi Mirgani, CIRS staff member.