It’s no secret that discussing sensitive topics can be an occupational hazard for members of the media. Say something that is deemed offensive by the guardians of appropriate discourse, and your job can disappear in the blink of an eye. Indeed, there have been a slew of such incidents over the past several weeks. Most recently, Naomi Schaefer Riley, who blogged at The Chronicle of Higher Education, was fired after writing a post questioning the value of colleges’ black studies departments. And not too long before that, John Derbyshire wrote a column in Taki’s Magazine that many found to be racially offensive, resulting in his immediate dismissal from National Review.
But there is no topic more off limits to the media than discussions of the Israel Lobby and its influence on American politics. The mere mention of the Israel Lobby (the “Lobby”) can leave a journalist in a state of permanent unemployment. Often compared to an octopus with its tentacles firmly planted into all facets of U.S. foreign policy, the Lobby is indeed a force to be reckoned with. No matter how carefully one treads, the Lobby will pour out its wrath on anyone who dares criticize it like an octopus pours out poisonous ink on … whatever it is octopuses usually pour their ink on (fish, I guess). None of this should come as a surprise since any organization that wields so much power is likely to exercise this power to silence its critics. There can be no room for candid discussion or open dialogue on this important topic. As the brave critics of the Lobby constantly remind us, even the slightest mention of the existence of the Lobby is fraught with peril.
For a good illustration of these risks, you need to look no further than the experiences of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. For those of you unfamiliar with these two courageous academics, in 2007 they co-authored a book titled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” about, you guessed it, the Israel Lobby and U.S. foreign policy. The book went into great detail about the Lobby’s influence on American politics. Their point was that, basically, if the Lobby wants something, it gets it, regardless of its impact on the U.S. Through its purse strings and longtime political connections, there is absolutely nothing the Lobby can’t get the U.S. to do.
One notable example of the Lobby flexing its powerful muscles came in 2002, when it insisted the U.S. attack Iran’s newly constructed nuclear facilities. The Lobby was so eager to see Iran attacked that it advised the U.S. to put the invasion of Iraq on hold in order to first attack Iran, which the Lobby perceived as a greater threat. My memory of what transpired next is a bit hazy, but knowing what I know about the power of the Lobby, it’s highly unlikely we will ever again have to worry about Iran’s nuclear program. As Walt and Mearsheimer explain, once the Lobby starts to wrap its octopus-like tentacles around U.S. policymakers, there is no stopping it.
Naturally, the release of this book made the Lobby angry (and you don’t want to make the Lobby angry!). Not wanting to cross the Lobby, the entire media industry simply refused to review Walt and Mearsheimer’s book. Truth be told, there were some exceptions to this blacklisting; the book was reviewed by The New York Times, The London Review of Books, The New York Review of Books, The Wall Street Journal, NPR, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and several other publications. But for all intents and purposes, it was as if the book had never been published.
As for Walt and Mearsheimer, their careers as prominent academics and writers were effectively over. Due to the embargo the Lobby put on even mentioning these authors’ names, it’s hard to find any definitive information on their current whereabouts, but from what I gather they have been relegated to the outer fringes of academic obscurity. Walt was able to find employment in an institution known as “Harvard University,” which appears to be a community college in Guatemala. He also has a blog at Foreign Policy magazine, which he uses as a platform for delivering his weekly repentance address to the Lobby.
Mearsheimer, on the other hand, didn’t get off so easy. Rumor has it that he currently resides at the “University of Chicago,” which I’ve been told is the codename for an undisclosed location in East Asia. Unable to personally locate Mearsheimer, the Lobby was forced to resort to its backup plan: destroying Mearsheimer’s reputation through its surrogates in the media. Following marching orders, The Atlantic published a scathing cover story on Mearsheimer, quoting an influential policy shaper who describes him as “one of the clearest logical thinkers [she] know[s].” And as if such an accusation wasn’t enough to destroy Mearsheimer’s credibility, The Atlantic poured salt on his wounds with this line: “If you put ‘Lobby’ together with [his previous book], you have the beginnings of a prudent grand strategy for America.” Simply devastating.
Unfortunately, Walt and Mearsheimer are far from the only people to have their careers destroyed by the Lobby. Andrew Sullivan, one of the most outspoken critics of the Lobby, has been exiled to Newsweek. Thomas Friedman, who recently was brave enough to write that the warm reception Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received from Congress was “bought and paid for by the Israel Lobby,” was banished to the obscurity of The New York Times opinion page. And, not the least of them, Joe Klein, running a clinic in candor, told us of American soldiers who died doing the Lobby’s bidding: He now writes for Time magazine.
As can be plainly seen, the road to exposing the Lobby is littered with the ruined careers of courageous journalists and academics, who wanted nothing more than to speak the truth. But like an octopus general getting cross-examined in military court, the Lobby doesn’t think you can handle the truth.
Mendy Finkel is a corporate attorney practicing in New York. He is a graduate of Columbia Law School.