Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

The University Channel Podcast published the audio of a lecture by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard, about The Israel Lobby in the US, after their book about the same subject. This is a very vivid lecture with a good question round in the end. The authors get to make their point that there is a very effective Israel Lobby. The Lobby is not a lobby of the Jews, neither of the State of Israel, but rather an American interest group, backed by Jews and also Evangelical Christians. They claim that the lobby has a great influence on the US foreign policy and that this influence at times turns out to be neither beneficial to the US nor to Israel.

The Israel Lobby neither reflects the opinion of the vast majority of American Jews, nor, so it seems to me, represent the opinion of the Israeli government or even the majority of Israeli's. The lecture confirms my impression that those who are actively lobbying for Israel in Washington - or claim to do so - tend more to the hawkish, nationalistic side of the spectrum. This goes as well for the Jews involved as well as the Christians. It means for me, as an Israeli in favor of a peaceful Middle-East policy a lose-lose situation. Either one has this hawkish lobby or there is no lobby at all and in both cases my interests are not served. It calls for a lobby inside the lobby.

My stomach turns especially when I hear Mearsheimer and Walt claim that the Lobby was not particularly in favor of the Oslo agreements. They say that the Lobby 'grudgingly' went along. I would expect that an movement that grudgingly goes along with a certain development, will jump of the train at any moment. Was that what happened when Rabin was murdered? How bad was the grudge of the Lobby for the peace process at that turn of events and in how far could it have saved the process afterwards and maybe chose not do so? I would have loved to ask THAT question.

Subjective meaning - relativity of values

The podcast is called Your Purpose Centered Life and carries the pretentious subtitle: A Plan for Authentic Living. Speaker Eric Maisel, philosopher psychologist and author of books on coaching, uses the podcast to build up an argument about the meaning of life. Intentionally he detaches the meaning of life from religion and also from the idea meaning is something outside of the individual that needs to be discovered or acquired. In his opinion, meaning needs to be made. One decides, personally on the meaning of ones life.

The 5th episode works out the character of meaning and profoundly places it in the individual, making it entirely personal and subjective. Maisel places it entirely in the psychology and personal philosophy and ethical evaluations of the individual. This makes sense and coherently fits with the whole idea that meaning is the result of a personal choice. He disconnects it from objective, or intersubjective meaning. He makes no mention of how the individual can arrive to an understanding of the quality of various options. The socialization, the connection with the values of peers seems to play no role. At least it is not mentioned. Maisel takes it even this far: If someone takes the freedom as carte blanche for selfish objects as meaning, he is free to do so; you will have no ground to say he is wrong. "We cannot hold him to standards that do not exist."

I disagree here. Standards do exist. If not objectively, then at least socially. There is value in what society tries to learn us through religion and other value systems, how fallible, limited and abused they frequently are. Also, it is my opinion, we are not capable to think (completely) outside the box we were raised with. Most of all, we are no gods or animals that we can live outside the polis, that is society. We stand a better chance of choosing meaning and satisfyingly live by it, if it resonates with those of our peers. If we take the total relativism of values Maisel seems to propose, for one I cannot understand how man can rationally arrive at meaning, but secondly and more importantly, how such a view brings us anywhere else but to the war of everybody against everybody. Where there is no objectivity or at least intersubjectivity, there can be no dialog. When meaning can by essence not be shared, there can be no talk and any conflict of interest immediately involves a threat of life.

In coming episodes we will see if Maisel addresses this threat in any way.

Reinhold Niebuhr rediscovered - SOF podcast

The Speaking of Faith podcast observes that the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr resurfaces in thinking and influences both progressives and conservatives. The podcast shows Niebuhr to have been a very careful thinker. He was aware of the aspiration of man to be a moral actor, but simultaneously to the fallibility translating this personal level to the societal. Show host Krista Tippett interviews Paul Elie who says:
The very idealism that has animated so many good things in the history of this country also lead us to be arrogant, lead us to be insensitive to the cultures of other peoples, lead us to overestimate the ability to get things to go our way.

The program shows how Niebuhr's views made him take a position for worker's rights, against segregation and the war in Vietnam, yet also in favor of American involvement in the Second World War as well as the Cold War. His book Moral Man and Immoral Society has influenced not just human right activists such as Martin Luther King, but also conservative thinkers and politicians.

The program, as well as current thinkers try to apply Niebuhr's thoughts to current issues such as the war in Iraq, on Terror, Gay Marriage and more. A definitive answer cannot be given, but Niebuhr does not seem to invite that but rather to put borders, pointers and safeguards in our politics. In addition to what was aired on the radio and in the podcast, the website offers a transcript and extended versions of the interviews and other material pertaining the issue.