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HKS Authors

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Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs

Abstract

In The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, we argued that the "special relationship" between the United States and Israel is due largely to the influence of a domestic interest group—comprised of Jews as well as non-Jews—and that this unusual situation is harmful to both the United States and Israel. Jerome Slater's thoughtful review endorses many of our central arguments, but it also highlights several points of disagreement. He argues that we overlooked important alternative sources, defined the lobby too broadly, and exaggerated its influence on Congress and especially the Executive Branch. Although Slater is even more critical of U.S. Middle East policy than we are, he argues that the special relationship is due to strong cultural and religious affinities and broad public support in American society, and not to the influence of the lobby. In fact, the alternative sources cited by Slater do not undermine our basic claims; a broad conception of the lobby makes more sense than his narrower definition; and there is little disagreement between us about the lobby's influence on Capitol Hill or in the White House. Most importantly, public opinion in the United States does not explain why the United States gives Israel such extensive and nearly unconditional backing. Although most Americans have a favorable image of Israel, surveys show that they also favor a more even-handed Middle East policy and a more normal relationship with Israel. Thus, the special relationship is due primarily to the lobby's influence, and not to the American people's enduring identification with the Jewish state.

Citation

Mearsheimer, John J., and Stephen Walt. "Is It Love or The Lobby? Explaining America's Special Relationship with Israel." Security Studies 18.1 (January-March 2009): 58-78.