The Distortions of Max Boot

Dear Max,

I have a "fair amount of respect" for you, as well, so it bothers me that you misread my recent Times op-ed so comprehensively. In your post, you misrepresented my views consistently, but let me grapple with your most outrageous assertion: that I "concede" most of the case made by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their book "The Israel Lobby."

Max, as you well know, "The Israel Lobby" makes three principal arguments: The first is that American support for Israel - which is engineered solely by the Jewish community, the authors erroneously claim - hurts America. The second is that the organized American Jewish community, by advocating for policies that are not in America's best interests, caused the Iraq war and is partially to blame for the attacks of 9/11. The third is that Israel's behavior is so outrageous as to make it undeserving of American support, on moral grounds.

You accuse me of conceding their case. Let me quote from my Times op-ed: "John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt, in their polemical work, "The Israel Lobby," have it wrong: They argue, unpersuasively, that American support for Israel hurts America. It doesn't."

So Max, how do I concede their case? By rejecting it?

Their most outrageous charge - that American Jews, by forcing Washington into an unnaturally close alliance with Israel, are partially to blame for al-Qaeda's attacks of September 11 - I don't address at all in the op-ed, though I've addressed it elsewhere, and rather dispositively. It is, of course, an anti-Semitic charge. I have dealt similarly with the third of their main charges.

My argument in the op-ed is that unthinking American support for Israel actually hurts Israel in one area of existential importance: By not encouraging Israel in any meaningful way to evacuate the settlements of the West Bank, America - as well as the American Jews who support Aipac and who thus help shape American policy toward Israel - is doing the Jewish state no favors. I am interested in preserving Israel's strong Jewish majority while at the same time ensuring that Israel remains a democracy. These will be more difficult tasks if Israel continues to rule over the hostile Arabs of the West Bank. If you can't see that, well, you haven't spent much time on the West Bank.

I'm fully aware of the dangers inherent in a settlement withdrawal, but I believe that the dangers of staying on the West Bank outweigh the dangers of leaving. And by the way, I don't advocate a unilateral end to the occupation, just to the settlement project. An end to the occupation has to come about through negotiations with a viable Palestinian partner. A partner, by the way, who might be strengthened by a reversal of settlement program.

One other thing - it is no secret that Aipac is powerful. I've said this repeatedly. So has Aipac, by the way. For all the money it has collected from pro-Israel donors over the years, it had better be powerful. It is not anti-Semitic, or anti-Israel, to acknowledge Aipac's power. I believe it does many good things with its power. It has strengthened the overall relationship between America and Israel. I just wish that it would counsel Israel to make sure that it doesn't endanger its own future by trying to swallow too much of the West Bank. And I wish it would acknowledge that American politicians - and American Jews - can be pro-Israel and anti-settlement at the same time.