The Israeli lobby does not do anything substantially different from other special interest groups, Walt says, but they do tend to go after their critics with special zest.
Question: What distinguishes the Israel lobby from other special interest groups?
Stephen Walt: They’re not doing anything substantially different. It’s a lot of the same techniques. You go up on Capitol Hill. You try and get journalists to write things that are favorable to your cause. When they don’t write things favorable, you protest. You do the same things at the National Riflemen’s Association. You make sure that congressmen understand that if they take positions contrary to what you want, you’re going to steer campaign contributions to the other side if at all possible. So the nature of the activities is pretty similar to what other powerful groups do as well. Why is Social Security a sacrosanct, third rail issue? It’s because the AARP has a position of that, and they can organize their members. And so a politician who suddenly steps up and says, “You know I think Social Security ought to be cut,” is gonna be in real trouble for doing that. So what they’re doing is not all that different. They are particularly good at it, but they’re not doing anything that’s illegitimate. With one exception, which is the tendency to smear anybody who is critical of this relationship of being anti-Semitic or being bigoted in some way. Though what happened to Jimmy Carter, for example, after he published his book “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” is sort of a classic example of this where he was accused of being a Nazi sympathizer; accused of being a Jew-hater, etc., etc. And this is a president who had done as much for Israeli security as any American president ever has. And that, I think, is not legitimate because it gets in the way of free and open discourse, which is really essential in a democracy.
Recorded on: 10/8/07