: Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: John Mearsheimer

John Mearsheimer

  • Claims that the “Israel lobby” causes America to act against its own best interests
  • Describes Israel’s foreign policy as an intentional strategy to make Palestinians “hapless subjects of a Greater Israel”

Born in 1947, John Mearsheimer is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science (and co-director of the Program on International Security Policy) at the University of Chicago, where he has taught since 1982.

After graduating from West Point in 1970, Mearsheimer worked as a research fellow at the Brookings Institution. In 1980 he received his doctorate from Cornell University.

Mearsheimer launched his publishing career in the early 1980s with a number of articles, and with books like Conventional Deterrence (1983); Nuclear Deterrence: Ethics and Strategy (1985); and Liddell Hart and the Weight of History (1988).

In 2001 Mearsheimer began to lay out his own political philosophy, which he termed “offensive realism.” In The Tragedy of Great Power Politics (2003), he argued that while “it is virtually impossible for any state to achieve global hegemony,” the United States was “the only regional hegemon in the world […] a status quo power” that “would go to considerable lengths to preserve the existing distribution of power” in its own favor. Nation-states, especially powerful ones, are motivated exclusively by a desire to attain and maintain power, Mearsheimer said. “America’s world leaders pa[y] considerable lip service” to such concepts as “peace and justice,” not for the global good, but so as to uphold their own self-interest, he explained.

In 2006 Mearsheimer began his collaboration with Stephen M. Walt, a professor of international affairs at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In an article titled “The Israel Lobby” (which appeared in the London Review of Books), the two scholars derided America’s longtime alliance with Israel. Together they proposed a controversial theory that the “Israel lobby” in America — which they defined as “a loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction” — had often caused the U.S. to act against its own self-interest. “Israel is a strategic liability for the United States,” they asserted, “not the strategic asset that the Israel lobby has long claimed it was.”

Mearsheimer and Walt also argued that Israel received an undeserved amount of financial support from the U.S.  From the 1990s onward, the authors stated, American backing had been rationalized “by the claim that both states [the U.S. and Israel] are threatened by terrorist groups originating in the Arab and Muslim world, and by ‘rogue states’ that back these groups and seek weapons of mass destruction.” Mearsheimer and Walt disputed this line of reasoning, asserting that “Palestinian terrorism is not random violence directed against Israel or ‘the West’; it is largely a response to Israel’s prolonged campaign to colonise the West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

In August 2007, Mearsheimer and Walt published the book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Two months later, Mearsheimer became a subject of controversy when he was invited to speak at Columbia University‘s Heyman Center for the Humanities on a panel funded with a $100,000 grant from the Ford Foundation. A number of lawmakers and organizations protested the Foundation’s support for such an anti-Israel speaker, arguing that it was part of Ford’s continuing pattern of promoting people and groups engaged in advocacy against Israel.

Mearsheimer has described Israel’s 2005 decision to withdraw from Gaza as an underhanded scheme designed to oppress the Palestinian people. “Even before Hamas came to power,” he wrote, “the Israelis intended to create an open-air prison for the Palestinians in Gaza and inflict great pain on them until they complied with Israel’s wishes.” Mearsheimer has also condemned Israel’s “disastrous 2006 Lebanon war” and its 2009 anti-terror campaign in Gaza as an “Iron Wall strategy to get the Palestinians in Gaza to accept their fate as hapless subjects of a Greater Israel.”

In March 2010, Mearsheimer claimed that Israel’s “expansionist policies in the Occupied Territories” had finally created a palpable split between Israeli and American interests, as evidenced when Hillary Clinton asked Israel to reverse its plan to construct new settlements near Jerusalem. Mearsheimer also accused Israel’s Netanyahu-led government of being “filled with hard-line opponents of a two-state solution.” According to the professor: “[T]his is an awful situation for the lobby to find itself in, because it raises legitimate questions about whether it has the best interests of the United States at heart or whether it cares more about Israel’s interests.” Israel was “acting in ways that at best complicate U.S. diplomacy, and at worst could get Americans killed,” Mearsheimer concluded.