Opponents of Pro-Israel Lobby Releasing DVD

By Rebecca Spence

Published November 08, 2006, issue of November 10, 2006.

Seeking to capitalize on the publicity swirling around a high-profile report attacking the role of the “Israel Lobby” in shaping American foreign policy, an advocacy group that opposes America’s close relationship with the Jewish state is hocking a DVD on Amazon.com of two recent public debates involving one of the paper’s authors.

The Council for the National Interest Foundation, which Sunday published its third full-page ad in the New York Times this year condemning America’s alliance with Israel, is poised this week to market “The Tipping Point: Changing Perceptions of the U.S.-Israel Relationship,” according to the foundation’s director, Eugene Bird.

The DVD, which will sell for $14.95 on Amazon.com, features a lively debate held September 28 at New York’s Cooper Union that pitted, among others, John Mearsheimer, a political science professor at the University of Chicago and co-author of the controversial paper, “The Israel Lobby,” against former Clinton administration Middle East diplomats Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk. Also included on the DVD is a recording of Mearsheimer’s August 28 presentation sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations held at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Mearsheimer’s co-author was Stephen Walt, an international relations professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

The CNI Foundation was founded in 1989 by former Republican congressman Paul Findley, to counter the influence of pro-Israel lobbying groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Findley was voted out of office in the early 1980s by an opponent who received significant backing from donors who were affiliated with Aipac.

The Washington D.C.-based foundation advocates for negotiations with terrorist groups and has engaged in informal discussions with leaders of both Hamas and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant Palestinian group affiliated with the Fatah movement. Bird, a former State Department official who served in the Middle East, said that the vigorous debate sparked by the publication of theWalt-Mearsheimer paper worked in his organization’s favor. Bird added, however, that while there is more open discussion of the influence of Israel’s supporters on American policy, his group still lacked access to Washington lawmakers. “It opened the windows, but not the door,” said Bird, referring to the paper’s influence.

Pro-Israel leaders have warned in recent months that the growing prominence of critics of the pro-Israel lobby and the academic credentials of Walt and Mearsheimer lend a dangerous legitimacy to those seeking to sunder the relationship between America and Israel.

“There’s a growing coalescence of these forces,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a 51-member umbrella organization of American Jewish groups. “We’re going to look back on this a year from now and ask, ‘How did this happen?’”



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