Their paper deals with the "Israel lobby" in the United States, which includes not only Jewish organizations but Christian Right groups, as well. Much of the focus of the paper is on the American-Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC), the best known and also generally considered the most influential of the lobbies concerned particularly with US policy toward Israel.
It's a large and controversial subject. This recent article is a useful way of framing the discussion:
Is It Good for the Jews? by Daniel Levy American Prospect 07/05/06 issue; accessed 06/23/06.
Levy, who among other things was part of the Israeli negotiating team for the Oslo B talks, writes:
The publication earlier this year of a Harvard University Kennedy School of Government paper by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt entitled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” placed the issue under a magnifying glass.
It is sensitive territory. Their thesis, and the counterattacks, have been well-rehearsed elsewhere, including most recently by Michael Massing in The New York Review of Books. Establishing some benchmarks is a worthwhile exercise. The more shrill conspiracy theorists who suggest the existence of an all-powerful foreign interest occupying Washington, such as “They Dare to Speak Out” author and former Republican Congressman Paul Findley and his Council for the National Interest (a group that I had the misfortune to be quoted by in a recent New York Times ad), are wide of the mark. Conversely, those defenders of the cause whose reflexive response is to cry antisemitism can be equally misguided and also do a disservice to the struggle against contemporary manifestations of real antisemitism.
AIPAC’s sheer name recognition and resources guarantees that most American Jews who care somewhat about Israel but are not policy wonks will likely choose it as their default vehicle for occasional involvement. But the so-called Israel lobby is not monolithic. Groups such as the Religious Action Committee of Reform Judaism, IPF, APN, and Brit Tzedek are probably more representative of American Jewish opinion than AIPAC (and closer to where the Israeli public and even much of government policy stands today). Polls repeatedly show that American Jews, unsurprisingly, are liberal on Israel-Palestine, just as they are across a range of issues. Paradoxically then, it could be argued that there is too little Jewish influence in Washington. If more American Jews took a keener interest in what was being advocated in their names on Israel-related matters, then things might look very different, and far more hopeful. And of course, AIPAC is not unique in being a powerful and influential lobby (as the group boasts on its own Web site) that flouts its success, or in largely representing a diaspora community on a foreign policy/homeland issue in controversial ways (just look at the role of the Cuban American National Foundation). Furthermore, AIPAC is not omnipotent, unchanging, or unchallengeable. It can also be a convenient scapegoat and excuse for failings of others or a credit-taking champion for the successes of more camera-shy actors.
Here, in no particular order, are a few of the many articles that have appeared dealing with the subject.
Quiet Riot: Tin foil Hats in Harvard Yard by Michael Oren 03/31/06. As the title suggests, Oren makes the not particularly convincing argument that Mearsheimer and Walt are proposing a Jewish conspiracy theory.
Israel and Moral Blackmail: The Israel lobby is bringing out the big guns vt Justin Raimondo Antiwar.com 04/03/06. This writer has a tendency to give too much credit to Israel's ability to influence American foreign policy. And he sometimes writes in a way that would make his arguments easily appropriated by conspiracy theorists. Although highly critical of the Israel lobby, this article avoids that shortcoming.
Is the "Israel lobby" distorting America's Mideast policies? by Michelle Goldberg Salon 04/18/06. Goldberg's experience of researching her 2006 book Kingdom Coming about the Christian Right gave her a heavy dose of the eccentric views of Israel in Christian Right apocalyptic theories. This article provides a thoughtful critique of the Mearsheimer/Walt paper.
Juan Cole's Breaking the silence in the same daily edition of Salon (04/18/06) provides a more sympathetic take.
A Lobby, Not a Conspiracy by Tony Judt New York Times 04/19/06. Judt observes that a more open discussion of these issues has long taken place in Europe, and it's good that the Mearsheimer/Walt paper addresses it in a serious way.
More on Walt/Mearsheimer By Jo-Ann Mort TPM Cafe 04/21/06. She argues that the paper suffers from "shockingly sloppy" scholarship.
No, It's Not Anti-Semitic by Richard Cohen Washington Post 04/25/06. Cohen also complains that some of the scholarship is sloppy, but this is a generally positive look at it.
Isreal, Oil and Realism by Martin Kramer, Sandbox blog 04/24/06. Kramer is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINIP), which generally reflects the kind of hardline policies favorted by the neoconservatives.
Alan Dershowitz blasts the paper in Debunking the Newest - and Oldest - Jewish Conspiracy: A Reply to the Mearsheimer-Walt “Working Paper” April 2006.
The Storm over the Israel Lobby by Michael Massing New York Review of Books 05/11/06. Discusses the paper and the ensuring controversy. Massing is generally sympathetic to the Mearsheimer/Walt paper.
Israel's American Constituency by Jim Lobe, Inter Press Service/TomPaine.com 05/25/06. Discusses how AIPAC is often more hardline than the Israeli government.
Molly Ivins weighs in with a column sympathetic to the paper: Let's call the Israel lobby the Israel lobby WorkingforChange.com 04/25/06.