Boston Lawyer Takes on the “Israel Lobby Gang”

The authors of “The Israel Lobby”, Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer, are getting a lot of press these days. These are the university professors who contend that “The Israel Lobby” has hijacked American foreign policy and proved the U.S. war with Iraq. To me, this smacks all too much of anti-Jewish scapegoating at a time of an unpopular war.

Jeff Robbins, a partner at the Boston law firm of Mintz, Levin, has a terrific op-ed in The Wall Street Journal rebutting this thesis. He reports an anecdote about Saudi Arabia’s attempt to purchase positive opinion in America in the wake of 9/11.

“Not long after Sept. 11, 2001, I received a call from a major defense contractor asking for a favor. I was serving as president of the Boston chapter of the World Affairs Council, a national organization that debates foreign policy, and the defense contractor was one of the Council’s principal sponsors.

The Saudi Arabian government was sponsoring a national public relations campaign to cultivate American public opinion, and was sending Saudi emissaries around the country to make the case that Saudi Arabia was a tolerant, moderate nation worthy of American support. Would the Council organize a forum of Boston’s community leaders so that the Saudis could make their case?

While this was patently no more than a Saudi lobbying effort, we organized the forum, and it was well-attended by precisely the slice of Boston’s political and corporate elite that the Saudis and their defense contractor benefactor had hoped for. The Saudis maintained that their kingdom should be regarded as a promoter of Middle East peace, and that the abundant evidence that Saudi Arabia was in fact promoting a virulent brand of extremist Islam should be discounted.

Saudi Arabia paid for the trip of its emissaries to Boston, for the Washington-based public relations and lobbying company that organized the trip, and for the Boston public relations and lobbying company that handled the Boston part of the visit. And it drew upon the resources and relationships of the defense contractor, which sells hundreds of millions of dollars of military equipment to Saudi Arabia, to support and orchestrate its public relations effort.”

Here is Robbin’s essential point: “It is apparently the authors’ position that, even in the face of the overwhelming leverage of an Arab world swimming in petrodollars, with a lock on the U.N. and an unlimited ability to pay for pro-Arab public relations, American Jews are obliged to stay silent. In essence, Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer have repackaged the “the-Jews-run-the-country” stuff which has long been the bread and butter of anti-Semites.”

Two other important points. Longtime readers will remember this 2002 story.

“A series of radio advertising spots ran in 30 cities across the United States in early April. One, titled “Occupation,” extolled the Arab League’s “fair plan to end the senseless violence in the Mideast.” The plan, according to the advertisement, involved Israel’s “withdrawal from the Palestinian land it has unjustly occupied for years…. There will be no more midnight raids and random searches, no more violence.” It did not condemn Palestinian terrorist bombings aimed at Israeli civilians. Another ad, titled “Peace Plan,” stated: “To stop the cycle of violence, we must first end the military occupation of Palestinian towns and neighborhoods.” Again, no mention of Palestinian terrorism and no mention of the peace offer made by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak, which would have given the Palestinian Authority possession of 97 percent of the West Bank — an offer Yasser Arafat turned down in 2000. Both ads concluded with the slogan “Start the peace — end the occupation,” followed by the words “paid for by the Alliance of Peace and Justice.”

Must be just another grassroots group fighting to get Israel out of the West Bank, right? Not exactly. The ads were placed by Sandler-Innocenzi, a political-advertising agency that has done spots for Republican House majority whip Tom DeLay and the Republican National Committee, among others. A Sandler-Innocenzi staffer contacted by the Phoenix acknowledged involvement with the ad and gave a phone number and address for the Alliance of Peace and Justice. The address — 8484 Westpark Drive in McLean, Virginia — is the home of media firm Qorvis Communications. Where does this complicated trail lead? To the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which, according to the federal government’s Foreign Agents Registration Act office, hired Qorvis on March 6. Qorvis did not respond to phone calls requesting comment on the ads.”

I will post a link to my feature story on a new book rebutting the “Israel Lobby” thesis. Here’s my write-up of a June encounter with Stephen Walt.

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