Stupid, Yes; but is it Anti-Semitic
At the end of last week’s cliffhanger, we promised to answer this week the question: Is Professors Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s book The Israel Lobby anti-Semitic? But we have changed our minds. First of all, outside the pages of Yated Ne’eman, anti-Semite is not such a big insult anymore. Jews are not on the official list of "endangered minorities." Moslems are, however, despite there being more than a billion of them worldwide.
Point out that Moslems pose a significant threat to virtually every Western democracy, and you might find yourself hauled before the European Court of Justice for actionable Islamophobia. But Jews are pretty much fair game.
Anti-Semites today are, in any event, generally careful to stress that they are merely anti-Israel. And even if they talk about "the Jews," they always have a fallback position: We meant the Jewish establishment. Very rarely is anything to be gained by accusing someone of being an anti-Semite. And the charge, once made, usually ends with the accuser thrust into the role of the accused for having attempted to stifle legitimate debate with charges of anti-Semitism.
So let us just say, following Jeffrey Goldberg in The New Republic, that Walt-Mearsheimer are peculiarly Judaeocentric. They have geneology on the brain. Thus they feel it important to inform readers that Democratic National Chairman Howard Dean is married to a Jew and his children are being raised as Jews (whatever that might mean), by way of explaining his inclusion in the pro-Israeli lobby. Timothy Rutten (not a terribly Jewish-sounding name) reviewing the book in the Los Angeles Times, noted some unpleasant odors wafting from its pages: "[R]eaders are treated to an explication of the religious affiliations of various Bush administration officials that reads like it was inspired by the Nuremberg Laws. The fact of the matter is, however, that the figure most responsible for pushing the attack on Iraq – Vice President Dick Cheney – is not Jewish, nor even ideologically neo-conservative. He is a card-carrying member of the oil industry elite, however, and names like Halliburton and ExxonMobile never seem to make their way into these pages."
David Remmick, editor of New Yorker, noted that Walt-Mearsheimer have undertaken to provide Americans distraught about the war in Iraq with a scapegoat: the Israel lobby. "They conclude that the United States was, in fact, tricked into a disastrous war in Iraq by a domestic Fifth Column and that the ranks of that subversive formation are filled with Jews, their friends and willing dupes." Remmick labels the book "sinister."
No doubt the two professors have Jewish friends, perhaps even many of them. (That itself should have alerted to them to the weakness in their working premise that American Jews are all enlisted in the Israel lobby, and that they are far and away the most influential element of that lobby.) But as one friend who attended a book signing by Mearsheimer put it, they have certainly made the world a happier place for unabashed anti-Semites. Ex-Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke, for instance, was in ecstasy over The Israel Lobby, which he claims confirms everything he has been saying for years.
Walt-Mearsheimer may not be anti-Semites, but they have written, in the words of Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations, "a book anti-Semites will love." Jeffrey Goldberg made a foray into Amazon.com, and discovered that purchasers of the book were also likely to purchase other works with names like The Power of Israel in the United States; Beyond Chutzpah: on the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History; They Dare Speak Out: People and Institutions Confront Israel’s Lobby, and, of course, Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace not Apartheid.
The very concept of a Israel lobby has unpleasant associations with all the various alleged Jewish cabals in history, including the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The accusation of Jews secretly wielding power on behalf of their co-religionists in other lands and to the detriment of their home country is an ancient one. And sadly Walt-Mearsheimer’s treatment of the Israel lobby does not prove itself to have sufficient analytical rigor or explanatory power to free it from those historical associations.
Mead clears Walt-Mearsheimer of the charge of being anti-Semites, but acknowledges that they have done "what anti-Semites have always done: they overstate the power of Jews. . . . [T]he picture they paint calls up some of the ugliest stereotypes of anti-Semitic discourse. The Zionist octopus they conjure – stirring up the Iraq war, manipulating both U.S. political parties, shaping the media, punishing the courageous minority of professors and politicians who dare to tell the truth – is depressingly familiar."
For one thing, they grossly overestimate the power of the "lobby" to bring American policy into congruence with Israel’s bidding. Thus the various sales of the most advanced armaments to Saudi Arabia, which aroused great anxiety in Israel, are scarcely mentioned. Nor are the pressures brought to bear on Israel by Henry Kissinger to spare the Egyptian Third Army in 1973 or the American arms embargo at the outset of the Yom Kippur War or Israel’s failure to secure Jonathan Pollard’s release. Walt-Mearsheimer do not compare the power of pro-Israel groups with that of other powerful lobbies, like the NRA or the farm lobby, which has managed to maintain high farm subsidies with virtually no debate for over half a century, despite the enormous daily cost to American consumers.
The evidence that they cite to prove the existence of an all-powerful Israel lobby is frequently laughable. They take at face value, for instance, AIPAC’s self-serving claims of its own influence because it supports their case of an all-powerful Israel lobby. They obsess over the pro-Israel money Hillary Clinton raised for her 2006 Senate campaign, without noting that it was less than 1% of the total, and less than one-tenth of that contributed by lawyers and law firms.
Moreover, the Israeli lobby in their treatment is highly amorphous concept. With respect to their treatment of the Iraq War, their focus is almost exclusively on a small group of Jews – Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Scooter Libby – who in Walt-Mearsheimer’s view are virtually card-carrying Likud party members. In the process, they turn the president, vice president, secretary of defense, and secretary of state into mere ciphers helplessly manipulated by their Jewish subalterns. That portrayal, as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out in The New Republic, echoes "the ancient idea . . . that Jews, operating in the shadows, manipulate gentile leaders to unknowingly advance Jewish interests."
If the Israel lobby is synonymous with neo-conservatives, however, the vast majority of American Jews are not part of the Israel lobby. No group in the United States opposed the war in Iraq in higher percentages than American Jews. Nor are most American Jews supportive of Israeli settlements or the Likud. They loved Bill Clinton, and they supported both the Oslo process and the last failed attempt to rescue it at Camp David.
But when Walt-Mearsheimer expand the definition of the Israel lobby to include everything from Michael Lerner’s Tikkun to the Zionist Organization of America, they quickly descend into incoherence. The organizations, individuals, and newspapers – including remarkably The New York Times – that they lump together under the rubric the Israel lobby are at bitter loggerheads over virtually every aspect of internal Israeli policy and over American foreign policy as well, including American policy to Israel.
How can one assess the strength of the lobby, when every possible American policy is identified with the lobby, from Bill Clinton’s approach at Camp David to President Bush’s subsequent rejection of the Clinton approach in favor of a long period of benign neglect towards Middle East peacemaking? Mead tartly observes: True, the Israel lobby always wins, but only in the way that a person who bets on every square always wins at roulette.
If supporting Israel’s right to exist – about the only point upon which most American Jews agree – constitutes membership in the Israel lobby, then almost every American belongs, including Walt-Mearsheimer, who assure their readers that they support Israel’s right to exist.
ONE OF THE REASONS that Walt-Mearsheimer are so convinced that only the existence of a super-powerful Israel lobby can explain the allegedly "uncritical and unconditional support" for Israel from the American government is that they take such a low view of Israel. In their view, there is no plausible strategic or moral argument that can be advanced in favor of U.S. support for Israel. It beggars belief that their fellow Americans could possibly support Israel to the extent they do absent the manipulation of the lobby. For that reason, they consistently downplay Christian support for Israel and its significance on American foreign policy.
But how, then, do they explain that some of the strongest support for Israel in the U.S. Congress comes from rural states in which there are few Jews and The New York Times is not the paper of record? How can they explain that Republicans, according to every poll, support Israel at higher rates than Democrats, though Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat and contribute to Democrats.
Of course, the picture they paint of Israel rivals in its one-sided presentation that of Jimmy Carter, to whom Mearsheimer has served as an advisor. Whenever there are two possible interpretations, Walt-Mearsheimer invariably adopt the one unfavorable to Israel, no matter how wildly implausible. They believe, for instance, that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip to bring about a Hamas takeover and with it an end the "peace process." A perfect example, no doubt, of the diabolical cleverness of the Jews.
Walt-Mearsheimer, like Carter, reject the account of former president Bill Clinton, Dennis Ross, and just about everybody who present at Camp David and subsequently at Taba, of what Israel offered. They accept the Palestinian claim that they were offered non-contiguous Bantustans. Yet they offer no explanation for their rejection of Clinton’s account. (They do manage to quote a Palestinian participant who commented of Ross’s participation that he felt he was negotiating with two Israeli teams – one sitting with an Israeli flag and the other sitting with an American flag.)
Again like Carter, Walt-Mearsheimer consistently downplay or ignore Palestinian terrorism in analyzing Israeli policy decisions. They write, for instance, that the impact of terrorism on the Israeli economy has been minimal. That statement is roughly on par with saying that 9/11 had minimal impact on the United States, as evidenced by the fact that the Dow-Jones is higher today than at the time of the attack.
The settlements are portrayed as the major source of Arab animosity towards Israel. But no mention is made of the Arab League’s "three no’s" at Khartoum, in response to Israel’s offer to return the territories after the Six Day War. Walt-Mearsheimer even deny that the Arabs sought to destroy Israeli in 1967, despite the chanting mobs in Cairo and Damascus calling of the blood of the Jews.
And when they do mention terrorism at all, they invariably treat it as the only alternative left to downtrodden Palestinians. It never occurs to them that the Palestinians could have done what Ben-Gurion did in 1948 – i.e., accept the state offered to them and show their worthiness of statehood. Nor does it occur to them that the Palestinians bear any responsibility for their own situation, and that the tens of billions of dollars in aid showered upon them by the international community could have been used to build a decent Palestinian society rather than padding the bank accounts of Arafat and his cronies and maintaining massive security forces.
Walt-Mearsheimer’s undisguised distaste for Israel comes through in their statement that it is "impossible to argue that the United States took the side of Israel [against Hezbollah] "because it was the morally correct policy choice." Impossible to make such an argument? Why? Did Israel cross the Lebanese border and kidnap Hezbollah fighters? Did it fire unprovoked on Lebanese cities? Their statement is a curious one for another reason as well. As self-professed realists, surely they can understand the United States’ vital interest in the defeat of Iran’s leading proxy.
In Walt-Mearsheimer’s telling, there is no significant threat to the United States today that would not disappear if Israel were to disappear tomorrow – not Islamic jihad, not a nuclear Iran. A world without Israel would be a virtual Elysium. Ira Stoll remarked drily in the New York Sun that a reader of Walt-Mearsheimer could gain the impression that Osama bin Laden would return to the family construction business if it were not for Israel.
Walt-Mearsheimer point to Europe as an exampled of the more "balanced" view of Israel that would prevail in America were it not for the nefarious Israel lobby. That would be the Europe in which it is commonplace to describe Israel as having engaged in genocide against the Palestinians since 1967, despite the rapid Palestinian population growth, decline in infant mortality, dramatic increase in life expectancy, and jump in literacy under Israeli rule, the Europe in which polls list Israel as the greatest threat to the world peace.
Walt-Mearsheimer lament the absence of truth-telling journalists in America like Patrick Seale, Hafez al-Assad’s court biographer, and Robert Fiske, who has of late lent his name to various conspiracy theories as to who was really behind 9/11.
EVEN IF WALT-MEARSHEIMER are not anti-Semites, they are certainly anti-anti anti-Semites. In the manner of the anti anti-Communists of the ‘50s, who viewed the excesses of the anti-Communists as far more threatening than Communism itself, they worry more about those who focus on anti-Semitism than about anti-Semitism itself. In their view, Jews complain far too much about anti-Semitism and blow its extent out of all proportion.
They systematically downplay the alleged threats to both Israel and Jews, as part of their rhetorical strategy. For if Jews overstate the threats they face, does that not suggest that they do so deliberately in order to immunize themselves to criticism and silence their critics.
Walt-Mearsheimer, for instance, claim that Ahmadinejad never threatened to wipe Israel off the face of the map. In their telling, he simply expressed the hope that Israel will gently disappear from the pages of history. Jeffrey Goldberg points out that among the media outlets describing Ahmadinejad as having called for Israel’s destruction are Al Jazeera and the official Iranian broadcast service, neither of which are known to be under Zionist control. And Ahmadinejad’s personal website quotes him predicting that the new wave of confrontations in Palestine would soon wipe Israel away.
Walt-Mearsheimer similarly minimize European anti-Semitism, and attribute most of what there is to understandable Moslem anger over Israeli actions. But a British parliamentary report on anti-Semitism in England found that anti-Jewish incitement had reached crisis levels. And the author of that report wrote recently, "Europe is reawakening its old demons, but today there is a difference. The old anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have morphed into something more dangerous."
The rate of French Jews leaving their native land for Israel has doubled in recent years in response to a long string of violent anti-Semitic incidents. Perhaps French Jews are being hysterical (though they have a considerably closer view of the scene than Walt-Mearsheimer), but they are not making up their fears. People do not generally flee their homes in order to gain a debating advantage over their adversaries.
Part of the reason that Walt-Mearsheimer do not perceive the rising anti-Semitism in Europe is due to their stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If the routine European equation of Israel with Nazi Germany and Israeli leaders with Hitler does not strike one as off-the-wall, then there is no reason to consider Israel to be the victim of a double-standard deriving from anti-Semitism.
Walt-Mearsheimer’s intent is to confront Jews with the tar baby problem: The more they seek to confront their accusers the more ammunition they provide for the charge that they are stifling all debate. That tactic, as Mead notes, is also of ancient provenance: "The authors also end up adopting a widely used tactic that has a special history in anti-Semitic literature. When anti-Semitic writers and politician make vicious attacks, Jews are in a double bind: refrain from responding with outrage and the charge becomes accepted as fact, express utter loathing at the charge and give anti-Semite the opportunity to pose as the victims of a slander campaign by venomous Jews."
The best-seller status of The Israel Lobby and Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace not Apartheid is the best proof, if any were needed, that there exists no Israel lobby in America capable of stifling debate on Israel. But by prophylactically predicting that Jews will attempt to silence them and others like them with the charge of anti-Semitism, Walt-Mearsheimer have written, in Goldberg’s words, a "book [that] is not an act of scholarship, but an act of intimidation."
The proper question is not: Are Walt-Mearsheimer anti-Semites? But rather: What difference would it make if they were?
This article appeared in Yated Ne'eman on November 31
Related Topics: American Jewry & Continuity
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