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A controversial author and longtime critic of the U.S.-Israel alliance lectured at the State Department Friday on the eve of the AIPAC policy conference, Washington’s largest annual pro-Israel gathering.
Stephen Walt, coauthor of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy and professor of international affairs at Harvard University, was the featured speaker at the Secretary’s Open Forum on Friday afternoon. His topic: “Top reasons American foreign policy fails,” according to a copy of the event flyer posted in the hallways of Foggy Bottom.
It is unclear how high the U.S.-Israel relationship ranked on Walt’s list.
One State Department insider provided the announcement flyer to the Free Beacon and expressed concern that the Department would host such a divisive figure.
Walt’s speech, which took place as Secretary of State John Kerry traveled overseas on his first diplomatic tour, came days after the Senate confirmed Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defense on a sharply divided vote of 58-41. Walt emerged as a strong supporter of Hagel’s nomination, defending the former Nebraska GOP senator’s remarks that the “Jewish lobby” “intimidates” elected officials on Capitol Hill.
The Washington Free Beacon reported on a contemporaneous account, written by a Hagel supporter, of a 2007 speech the then-senator delivered at Rutgers University in which he is alleged to have said that the State Department was an adjunct of the Israeli foreign minister’s office. Hagel said he did not recall making that statement in a letter to Senators Lindsey Graham (R., SC) and Kelly Ayotte (R., NH) and disavowed its content.
Walt celebrated Hagel’s confirmation in an item posted on his Foreign Policy magazine blog two days before his State Department remarks, while cautioning his followers that “it would be a huge mistake to conclude that the lobby’s clout has been broken and that Obama will now be free to chart a new course.”
His incendiary 2007 book, coauthored with University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, argued that a shadowy collection of pro-Israel activists and groups, including AIPAC, tilts U.S. foreign policy toward Israel in a way harmful to American and Israeli interests, and suggested that a number of pro-Israel American Jews intentionally put the Jewish state’s interests, and more specifically the interests of the Israeli Likud party, before America’s.
Walt’s accusations have been condemned by Jewish leaders as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. A number of liberal commentators observed that the book was one-sided, conspiratorial, and had nothing to say about the murderous legacy of Palestinian terrorism.
The Anti-Defamation League on numerous occasions has condemned Walt’s work an “anti-Israel screed.”
ADL chief Abraham Foxman recently compared Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s controversial comments about the so-called “Jewish lobby” to Walt’s worldview.
“The sentiments [Hagel's] expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and former president Jimmy Carter,” Foxman told the Washington Post in December.
The Secretary’s Open Forum was established in 1967. Speakers are handpicked by a “chairperson who serves directly under the Secretary of State,” according to the State Department.
“The Open Forum provides opportunities for any employee to express professional views (including dissenting views) candidly, free of bureaucratic constraints, and under safeguards against pressures or penalties,” the description states.
Jewish human rights group B’nai B’rith International was critical of Walt’s being invited to speak.
“Walt is known for his biased and provocative comments about Israel and its friends and supporters,” B’nai B’rith said in an official statement to the Free Beacon. ”Israel is a close friend and ally of this country and his appearance at this forum is at odds with the long-standing and continuing friendship between the United States and Israel.”
Neither Walt nor the State Department responded to Free Beacon requests for comment.