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Shalom to a new pro-Israel lobby

An alternative to AIPAC, the new group 'J Street" could help US leaders be more even-handed.

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How's this for a roster of speakers? Three presidential candidates, the top leaders of Congress, and Israel's premier. Last week, they all spoke before a pro-Israel group, one of Washington's most influential lobbies.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, is right up there with the gun lobby in terms of political power. But while the National Rifle Association faces tough – if underdog – competitors, AIPAC has long stood as the unchallenged king of the Hill.

This is not healthy for the political discourse that shapes US policy. Last fall, two professors from Chicago and Harvard universities helped explain why. In a controversial book, "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued that the US is overly influenced by a loose alignment of groups that includes neoconservatives, many conservative, evangelical Christians, and AIPAC, which represents the views of many American Jews largely loyal to Israel's right-wing.

Washington's near adherence to the lobby's themes – often unconditional support for Israel, reluctance to push Israel hard on behalf of the Palestinians, and an overly confrontational stance toward Israel's adversaries – works against US interests, the authors say.

It inspires Islamist terrorism, undermines the US as an honest broker, and complicates diplomatic relations. One thing that would help, the book suggested, is an additional lobby, one that can open up the debate.

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