Book review: The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, 2007.

United States Capitol (2011)

“it [the Israel Lobby] has a core consisting of organizations whose declared purpose is to encourage the U.S. government and the American public to provide material aid to Israel and to support its government’s policies, as well as influential individuals for whom these goals are also a top priority” (Mearsheimer and Walt, 2007: 113)

This is not the first book by John Mearsheimer that I have read, but it was a first time for me with Stephen Walt; I did not find surprising that this is a controversial book as well as a New York Times Best Seller. I attended a lecture by Mr. Mearsheimer at Université de Montréal, back in 2013 where I immediately recognized the bold style of this iconic researcher of I.R. (International Relations). Yes, he can be considered a controversial author, and yes, with this cowritten work, I found the debate well founded. If the name of these two academics was not on the cover, well, I feel that academics would not consider the book seriously; the title of the book and these two names, attracted immediately my attention, as well as that of the I.R. community. In a nutshell, this is the proposition of the book: the prevalent relationship between the U.S. and Israel is (without intention) contrary to America’s national interest and values; this suggestion needs evidence to hold, which is not provided by the authors.

Stephen M. Walt & John J. Mearsheimer

Mearsheimer and Walt describe the Israel Lobby as “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations that actively work to shape US policy in a pro-Israel direction” (Mearsheimer et al, 2007: 112) and later add that it is not “a centralized, hierarchical organization” and that its “boundaries are somewhat fuzzy” (Mearsheimer et al, 2007: 113).

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy results from a research commissioned by The Atlantic, which rejected the paper, only to be later published by The London Review of Books. Neither The Atlantic nor the authors, have ever explained why the work failed to be considered for publication, but clearly there are significant differences between that original article and this book; e.g. unlike the original research work, this book suggests how the U.S. could advance its interest in the Middle East in alternative ways to the ones it was (at the moment of publishing the book) applying.

Even though this book has been vilified by many and used by others to justify their hatred towards the U.S. and Israel (such as Osama Bin Laden, when he mentioned in one of his tapes that “after you read the suggested book[s], you will know the truth, and you will be greatly shocked by the scale of concealment that has been exercised on you.” (Otterman, S. and Mackey, R., 2009) it shows how the relationship between the U.S. and Israel is a special one (i.e. strategic) and how it has evolved since the creation of the Israeli state, back in 1948, however, several, significant assertions in the book can be considered as flawed since no evidence of “facts” is mentioned. In that methodological sense, be warned that “accuracy” is not a characteristic of this work.

Throughout the book, the authors urge a revision of the current U.S. – Israel relationship, but they warn that as long as the “Israel Lobby” remains untouched, that reconsideration is impossible, which for the same token, implies mutual, unintended damage. “Now that the Cold War is over, Israel has become a strategic liability for the United States” (Mearsheimer et al, 2007: 5) the authors affirm; this is precisely the kind of judgement that would need strong evidence to be supported. In contrast, The Israel Lobby succeeds at showing how in several aspects, U.S. and Israeli attentiveness have taken different paths, remarkably regarding the treatment of the Palestine situation. According to the authors, the main reason for this is that the American support for the Israeli cause is the object of strong criticism around the world. 

Israeli troops during the Arab-Israeli War, from the booklet “President Nixon and the Role of Intelligence in the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.” The Israeli Lobby analyses the relevance of U.S. aid to Israel during the Arab-Israeli conflicts.

As I was reading this book I remembered that at some point in his career, Mearsheimer cited H. Morgenthau (considered by some as one of the “fathers” of the Realism theory in I.R. and a clear supporter of Israel) as an influential figure in his own vision of I.R., however, because of his views in this book, it is clear to me that he (Mearsheimer) has significantly estranged from Morgenthau’s opinions. 

My believe is that the controversy created around this book has missed the main idea: all strategic relations must be reviewed on a permanent basis, by all implied actors, in order to adapt them to the ever changing circumstances of our anarchic world. If at points, Mearsheimer and Walt make the reader doubt of his/her own perceptions, it is precisely because one of the consequences of not updating strategic relationships, is the sudden appearance of question marks in it.

So, in conclusion: exceptionally, can I NOT like this Mearsheimer’s book, at least not from a scientific point of view?


J. Mearsheimer and Walt, S. 2007. The Israeli Lobby. London: Allen Lane.

S. Otterman and Mackey, R. 2009. Bin Laden’s Reading List for Americans. The New York Times, September 14, 2009.

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