The London Review of Books recently published an article, by Professors John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, on the Israel lobby’s negative impact on U.S. domestic and international interests. The expected tsunami of rabid responses condemned the report, vilified its authors, and denied there is such a lobby—validating both the lobby’s existence and aggressive, pervasive presence and obliging Harvard to remove its name.

All democracies have lobbies. Shrill insistence that no groups promote Israel is ludicrous. Opinions differ on the long-term costs and benefits for both nations, but the lobby’s views of Israel’s interests have become the basis of U.S. Middle East policies. That this influence largely results from the efforts of people determined to exercise their democratic prerogatives is not open to question—or to challenge.

The dangerous, unacceptable result of that lobbying, however, is the stifling of public debate. Knowing the fiercely negative reactions to accurate, detailed reporting of controversies surrounding Israel, the media fail to cover Israel’s violations of every principle for which the United States—and Israel—loudly proclaim they stand. There is only rare, skimpy coverage of the ongoing Israeli mass punishments, house demolitions, illegal settlements, assassinations, settler brutality, curfews and beatings. On the other hand, the blind Palestinian rage generated by decades of receiving humiliating, savage suppression in their homeland is reported in lurid, bloody detail.

The lobby’s effectiveness at control was illustrated two years ago. Both government and media condemned China when it arrested, and accused of espionage, a Chinese citizen–Green Card holder visiting from the U.S. Neither the U.S. government nor media has ever protested—has never even mentioned—Israel’s years-long multiple arrests and protracted detentions of American citizens, without charge or trial. In September 2000, CNN interviewed four Americans who had been tortured, the only report on this compelling story, and the network has since been forced to refuse selling recordings of that news segment, “Americans Mistreated in Israeli Jails.” America would have been fully informed had any other country committed these acts.

The lobby also recently blocked the New York staging of a play, following its successful London run, based on the words of peace activist Rachel Corrie. She was crushed by an armored Caterpillar bulldozer while attempting to prevent demolition of a Palestinian home in Gaza. The driver failed to notice her blaze orange vest, yellow hard hat and bullhorn.

No rational American wants anything bad to happen to Israelis or Palestinians or Americans. But they have happened, are happening, will continue to happen. Israel’s actions often involve violations of human rights, international law, and UN resolutions, undertaken at the expense of a helpless, brutalized Palestine, thus denying Israel peace, security, and international support. Worse, they also lead to violent reactions, which are often recognized under the UN Charter as legitimate resistance to occupation.

Israeli actions also generate anti-Semitism, the very label the lobby uses to bludgeon into silence anyone in America who questions relations with Israel and its expansionist policies. This effectively blocks broad public understanding that Israel’s interests and America’s, sometimes in agreement, are sometimes sharply divergent. Of greater and entirely justifiable concern, the lobby has succeeded in pressuring successive administrations into actions and statements blatantly contrary to announced American principles and the advancement of U.S. objectives.

As the only nation unstintingly providing Israel with vast amounts of money, arms and unhesitating political protection, the United States is perceived as the key facilitator of 40 years of occupation and oppression. The massive, growing political, economic and human costs of continuing that close relationship merit public knowledge, discussion and debate. The Israel lobby prevents it, as Mearsheimer and Walt have carefully documented.