The monastery has long been a pilgrimage destination, as well as a popular hiking area for Jerusalemites. No longer, as the monastery has been overrun by both secular Israelis and Orthodox Jews. The monastery is closed to visitors, save for those with licenced tour guides. In the last few years, the quality of visitors from Jerusalem has changed remarkably. On the one hand, the baptismal pool has been taken over by skinny-dippers and couples using the site for lewd behavior. Then in August, the monastery was overrun by 30 Orthodox Jewish "settlers," brandishing machine guns and threatening the priests. Fr. Sergio reported that "they started to say 'Eretz Israel is our land, and you have to go.' They were very aggressive. They spit at me. They said 'You killed my family.'" Read the whole story, here.
This disturbing view of the new Israel does not exactly harmonize with the image propagated by Rev. Strangelove, seen here.
Which brings me to The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy, by American scholars John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, easily one of the most controversial books published this year. The authors make a strong case, saying what everybody knows, but what nobody heretofore could actually say, to wit:
- that the Israel lobby is far and away the most powerful on Capitol Hill,
- that the lobby heavily influences our foreign policy initiatives (or lack thereof) in the Middle East,
- that these various interest groups--primarily AIPAC--exert, through their contributions, an unhealthy control over our representatives and senators,
- that the lobby effectively squelches dissent or debate on issues pertaining to Israel,
- that the lobby has a marriage of convenience with Christian Zionists,
- that the lobby perpetuates the falsehood that Israel is still weak and in need of our subsidies and unquestioning support,
- that the interests of the US are subsumed by Israel's to such a degree that, in fact, Israel's interests are America's interests,
- that our biases have poisoned our relationships and influence throughout the region.
While the authors' premise was somewhat "preaching to the choir" with me, the details were still an eye-opener. The degree to which AIPAC and others have been able to shut-off debate over our support to Israel--even among Jews--is both astounding and frightening. And while I am sure there are some exceptions, most of our elected national representatives come off as little more than AIPAC whores.
Of course, the book has been roundly trashed, as would be expected. For to question the role of the Israel Lobby in the U.S. is to be instantly labeled an anti-semite. And yet, the book is doing well, and the subject of much discussion. The fact that it was published at all is remarkable. The work may in fact lead to what approaches an honest debate of our policy in the Middle East.
The book has some drawbacks, but by and large it is a seminal work. I believe it will take its place with Huntington's Clash of Civilizations. One can certainly disagree with the premise of either book, but each are of such import that they frame all discussions on the issue that follow. For a rare positive review, see here.