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Pronouncing Blame on the Israel Lobby

"Israel had been planning to strike at Hezbollah for months," he asserted. "Key Israelis had briefed the administration about their intentions."

A questioner asked if he had any "hard evidence" for this accusation. Mearsheimer cited the "public record" and "Israeli civilian strategists," then repeated the allegation that Israel was seeking "a cover for launching this offensive."

As evidence that the American public does not agree with the Israel lobby, the political scientist cited a USA Today-Gallup poll showing that 38 percent of Americans disapproved of Israel's military campaign. He neglected to mention that 50 percent approved, and that Americans blamed Hezbollah, Iran, Syria and Lebanon far more than Israel for the conflict.

Walt kicked off the session with a warning that we face a "threat from terrorism because we have been so closely tied to Israel." This produced chuckles in the audience. Walt allowed that this was "not the only reason" for our problems, but he did blame Israel supporters for the hands-off position the Bush administration took during the Lebanon fighting.

"The answer is the political influence of the Israel lobby," Walt said. He also hypothesized that if not for the Israel lobby, the Iraq war "would have been much less likely."

Up next, Mearsheimer ridiculed U.S. leaders for "falling all over themselves to express support for Israel." And he drew groans from the crowd when he spoke about a lawmaker who, after questioning Israel's policy, "met with various representatives from major Jewish organizations, who explained to him the basic facts of life in American politics."

When the two professors finished, they were besieged by autograph- and photo-seekers and Arab television correspondents. Walt could be heard telling one that if an American criticizes Israel, "it might have some economic consequences for your business."

Before leaving for an interview with al-Jazeera, Mearsheimer accepted a button proclaiming "Walt & Mearsheimer Rock. Fight the Israel Lobby."

"I like it," he said, beaming.

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