From outside one will always triumphantly impress theories upon the world and then fall straight into the ditch one has dug, but only from inside will one keep oneself and the world quiet and true. /FK (Contact: TBONotebooks at fastmail.fm. The Blue Octavo Notebooks welcomes mail, although we cannot guarantee a response. Your email may be posted in part on The Blue Octavo Notebooks unless otherwise requested.) Please enjoy the notebook entries, and thanks for reading.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Regarding John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s article “The Israel Lobby” in the most recent issue of the London Review of Books: This essay is so obnoxiously repellent one hardly knows what to make of it. Oddly enough, as I pointed out a few days ago, one of the authors, Stephen Walt, holds a chair at Harvard named after two, ah, wealthy Zionists, Robert and Renee Belfer (see: http://www.aecom.yu.edu/home/news/belfer.htm ). The Belfers are obviously extremely well connected to “the Israel lobby,” if not as active members than at least as dedicated supporters. I wonder if it bothers the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs that his title commemorates Jewish Zionists. I wonder what they think about all this.
While reading Mearsheimer and Walt’s remarkable essay I was reminded of Vaclav Havel’s 1985 essay “Anatomy of a Reticence,” which I happened to read recently. In his piece, Havel explains why dissidents like himself, living under totalitarian regimes, were so often wary of their enthusiastically supportive comrades from the West. The problem, basically, was that these well-meaning supporters too often perceived and experienced the world in a manner that was divorced from the immediate realities of the geo-political situation. The dissidents’ Western comrades had fallen into a false, even exploitive, utilization of language and ideology that dissidents such as Havel, living everyday “in circumstances where ideology has utterly terrorized the truth” and within the inescapable realities of the Soviet bloc and the immediate effects of totalitarianism, found banal and almost embarrassing. The dissidents, unlike their Western supporters, often held a far different sense of pragmatism and ideology, as they simply were unable (even if they had wanted to) to engage in the same putatively meaningful and strident activities as their ardent comrades in the West. In slogging through the Walt and Mearsheimer’s expostulation of the various malignant influences and powers wielded so mercilessly by the Israel Lobby in order to subvert America’s interests to those of Israel, I was reminded of Havel’s observations. At one point, he describes a type of person who subscribes so stridently to an ideological perspective that he demotes himself, almost willingly, to a sort of intellectual dead zone from which he criticizes and advocates about the world not as it actually is but as he (and his facts) determine it to be. Havel writes:
“A dissident runs the risk of becoming ridiculous only when he transgresses the limits of his natural existence and enters into the hypothetical realm of real power, that is, in effect, into the realm of sheer speculation. For only then does he risk becoming a utopian. Here he accepts the perspective of real power without having any genuine power whatever; he enters the world of tactics incapable of tactical maneuver and without being either licensed or compelled to do so by real power; he leaves the world of service to truth and attempts to smuggle his truth into the world of service to power without being able or even willing to serve it himself. He attempts to go on speaking the truth outside the world of truth; standing outside the world of power, he attempts to speculate about power or to organize it. He trades the respectable role of a champion for the somewhat grotesque role of a self-appointed adviser to the mighty. In the role of a dreamer, he was not ludicrous, just as a tactician is not ludicrous in a tactician's role. He becomes ludicrous only when he becomes a dreamer playing at tactics. A dreamer playing at tactics is a minister without a ministry, a general without an army, a president without a republic. Alienated from his role as a witness of history, yet unwelcome in the role of its organizer, he finds himself in a strange vacuum—outside the credibility of power and outside the credibility of truth.”
As far as Mearsheimer and Walt’s efforts are concerned in “The Israel Lobby,” their article is so full of stupidities, distortions, and falsehoods, sometimes almost hilariously so, that I’m almost tempted to read it as a sort of Swiftian proposal, as something best appreciated as a rhetorical exercise in something other than literalness. Many of the authors’ statements are so breathtaking that it almost makes better sense to read such comments as sly winks to readers who are privy to a nasty little joke on the part of the authors. Yet once one gets past the authors’ tone of needling contempt and hyperbolic one-sidedness, it’s all very recognizable and predictable—even down to the fact that pretty much anything untoward about the US’s history in the Middle East can somehow or someway be traced back to Israel and then exaggerated (Israel was not only a liability in the first Gulf War but didn’t even help out, “sat on its hands,” couldn’t be bothered to respond to Scud missiles, etc. etc. blah blah blah—heh! And today, according to the longer version, with conflict raging in Iraq, Israel has “stayed on the sidelines again.,” grrr!) I agree with a comment in the Haaretz note about the article: It really does not present anything new, and the authors “rely mainly on an analysis of Israeli and American newspaper reports and studies, along with the findings of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem.” These reports and studies are predictably one-sided or otherwise selective—and selectively chosen—and so are the authors’ analyses of them. Much of their piece is regurgitation of finely digested yet nonetheless tendentious talking points that anybody who’s read Chomksy or CounterPunch or AntiWar.com will be more or less familiar with. Granted, this article is more refined than anything from those sources (all of which the authors cite), and well it should be, seeing as it’s the fruit of the labors of two esteemed professors ,but it’s not especially different in perspective from the former sources. The Chomsky/Counterpunch/WRMEA legions will love it, of course, not only because it’s “preaching to the choir” in many respects but because it may elicit a delightful controversy, not to mention the additional pleasures of riling up supporters and members of the “Israel lobby.” (As we’ve seen, the likes of Fatah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and David Duke are already slobbering over it.) But this was probably one of the authors’ objectives in writing their piece, and I imagine they’ll be happy to further influence or direct whatever “debate” ensues. Perhaps a conference—not chaired by David Duke, of course—will be in order?
What becomes notable is not so much what the authors are saying, most of which is nothing new for people familiar with these sorts of “exposes” of the nefarious Zionist Lobby and such, but the consistent thrust of their hyperbolic and belittling embellishments. The tone, both smug and bristling, also becomes notable. Were it not for the nasty ankle-biting quality and the irritating betwaddlement of the whole thing, it would be remarkably boring and self-imitative. The length and voluminous footnoting offer little of worth, as so much of it is predictable and overwrought, which leads to the article collapsing on itself like a house of cards. The original article was condensed for the LRB without particular loss; the LRB version could be further condensed without significant loss; and, in fact, the whole article could be effectively condensed into a pamphlet. It’s certainly a rhetorical spectacle of sorts, but there’s not really much there of substance. Just so much scapegoating sound and fury, as one might expect from a hatchet-job whose authors are clearly, in Havel’s words, “outside the credibility of power and outside the credibility of truth.”
From the very top, the article’s title, “The Israel Lobby,” isn’t even particularly illuminating. The authors define “the lobby,” which wields “unmatched power” (is there any other kind when it comes to Jews and politics?) as “shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that ‘the Lobby’ is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues.” Yet despite claiming that “The Lobby” is not a unified movement, the authors consistently characterize it and refer to it as a singularly precise organism. This “loose coalition” pursues “broad strategies”; it has the ability “to reward” and “to punish” legislators and congressional candidates based on whether they support its agenda. Also, the core of the Lobby’s influence on America’s Congress is AIPAC, which “has a stranglehold on Congress.” So, the lobby does not have a “central leadership” although its Congressional influence has “a core” that has applied a cruel submission hold to Congress. This is not to be confused, I suppose, with Pat Buchanan’s slur that Capitol Hill is Israeli-occupied territory, although it certainly reads like homage to it. Those within the Lobby may not agree on certain issues but, nonetheless, the Lobby certainly “doesn’t tolerate even-handedness,” “it doesn’t want an open debate, of course,” and its “perspective prevails in the mainstream media” (the members of this loose coalition don’t agree on everything, yet they hold a singular perspective that prevails in the media?). The Lobby organizes “letter-writing campaigns, demonstrations and boycotts of news outlets whose content it considers anti-Israel”; and the loose coalition even “created its own think tank in 1985.” The Lobby at one point had particular difficulty “in stifling debate on university campuses” but it “moved immediately to ‘take back the campuses’” (the quote “take back the campuses” is not identified—perhaps it was proclaimed in unison by the various members of the loose coalition), and it “monitors what professors write and teach.” The Lobby, a loose coalition, “boasts of its influence and then attacks anyone who calls attention to it”; and the Lobby and “and its friends often portray France as the most anti-Semitic country in Europe” Who are these friends? Other loose coalitions with no central leadership? In a footnote (197) to the original article we learn that, in addition to friends, the Lobby also has “a close cousin,” namely the Committee for a Free Lebanon (USCFL), which the authors helpfully point out is full of neoconservatives, if you couldn’t have guessed. There’s no mention of who the Lobby’s other friends and familial relations might be.
This “loose coalition” also operates in a singularly personified manner: In late 2001 the Lobby “went to work in Congress,” in April 2002 it again “swung into action,” and in May 2002 it assisted both the US House and Senate to draw up resolutions. In 2003 the Lobby “strongly endorsed legislation” that would never have come into existence otherwise, for “If there were no Lobby”—hmm!—“there would have been no Syria Accountability Act.” Recently the loose coalition “has intensified its pressure” regarding Iran, as it “must keep up constant pressure on politicians to confront Tehran.” Indeed, “if the Lobby did not exist” (ah, there’s an idea!) then “US policy [towards Iran] would be more temperate.” And, of course, the Lobby runs a “campaign to quash debate about Israel” that is detrimental for democracy. These myriad efforts seem rather unitary and unified, especially the Lobby’s nefarious campaign to quash debate, especially for a loose (albeit boastful) coalition with no central leadership, whose members can’t even agree on everything. Of course, “Revealed: A loose coalition of individuals and organizations, ranging in part from Fundamentalist Christians to your local Jewish Community Center who, despite disagreeing on myriad other issues, exercise their perfectly legal and democratic rights to lobby US foreign policy in a direction they each favor” doesn’t quite have the same ominous ring as… (cue “Jaws” music)… “The Israel Lobby” (swoon).
One is left wondering where the line is drawn between those who support Israel but are not members or supporters of “The Israel Lobby” and those who support or belong to it. And how do the authors demarcate between those who are included in the lobby, such as Ralph Reed and “Neo-conservative gentiles” such as William Bennett and former Wall Street Journal editor Robert Bartley, and those who are merely “steadfast supporters” of the lobby, such as George Will (I hope he’s not disappointed to learn he’s been excluded)? Considering that the Lobby encompasses a political spectrum that extends from Alan Dershowitz to Jerry Falwell from Tom Delay to Eliot Engel to Howard Dean, from evangelical Christians to myriad Jewish organizations, and from prominent members of both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations, one wonders if the line even exists. If my grandmother sends a check to the local campus Hillel or Jewish Federation or—horrors!—AIPAC, is she a member, if only by proxy, of the dreaded loose coalition?
Lobbying the US government on behalf of a foreign country is hardly unique to the case of Israel, of course, although at least Israel has always been an ally, even if only of the costly, undeserving, nefarious, and dastardly sort. Yet this is the only such lobbying effort that ever gets bemoaned as somehow nefarious or counter to American interests. Irish-American and other lobbyists have campaigned against the United Kingdom, to cite an obvious example, and that country is the US’s closest ally. Lobbying against an essential ally is certainly counter to the interests of the United States, but has anybody complained or made allegations of compromising America’s security? (And, speaking of which, has anybody ever bewailed Ireland’s or any other country’s “Right of Return” or any other country whose citizenship can be “based on the principle of blood kinship,” as the authors describe it, or is it just Israel that gets people’s knickers in a twist over such matters?) And I certainly won’t be waiting for any follow-up articles, in the LRB or any other mainstream publication, scrutinizing the efforts of other organizations (the Council for American-Muslim Relations, for example) on the behalf of foreign parties. When was the last time any American organization in Washington other than AIPAC was referred to in the mainstream media as “a de facto agent for a foreign government”?
There are so many things in this mean spirited not-so little screed that strike me as acutely dubious that to address all of them would require more time than I have and would result in an essay of far greater length and attention than the authors deserve. A more interesting, not to mention original article, would have been for the professors to explain which (if any?) of the US’s problems in the Middle East are not somehow, to some degree, attributable to you-know-who and/or its lobby in the United States. But a couple things:
The authors write: “Since 1982, the US has vetoed 32 Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, more than the total number of vetoes cast by all the other Security Council members. It blocks the efforts of Arab states to put Israel’s nuclear arsenal on the IAEA’s agenda. The US comes to the rescue in wartime and takes Israel’s side when negotiating peace.”
And what is wrong with any of this? The Security Council spends a wildly disproportionate amount of time and effort discussing Israel; the Arab states’ desire to attack Israel’s nuclear arsenal via the IAEA is merely warfare by other craven means; and allies are supposed to support each other in wartime—that’s why they’re called allies. The authors are crying over milk that was never even spilled. Would they prefer that the United States had stood by and allowed the United Nations, and the Security Council in particular, to become an even more obsessive and effectively vindictive circus of anti-Israel fixation? Would they prefer that the IAEA become a weapon of the highly undemocratic Arab states (most of whom cannot be exactly described as pro-American), to be wielded against a democratic state whose nuclear weapons have always been maintained under unparalleled protection and supervision (they’ve never even been publicly displayed) and which violate no treaty? Would they prefer the US not to have assisted Israel in 1973 even while the Soviets were assisting the Arabs? Indeed, perhaps they prefer that the US, rather than assisting Israel in its response to the war launched against it (on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, no less) had instead given its assistance to Israel’s enemies.
Interestingly, one of the sources footnoted by the authors for this piece of erudition is the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (WRMEA), a mouthpiece of splendid detestation of Israel. In its November 2005 issue this propaganda organ published an article entitled “The Hidden History of the Balfour Declaration” in which one “John Cornelius” continues his/her/its elaboration of how Zionists dragged the United States into World War I in exchange for the British promising them Palestine. Jews subverting US foreign policy to drag America into a war in order to further the interests of Zionism: My, what an original thesis! Maybe “John Cornelius should submit “his” next piece to the LRB. (And what is with this fascination among so many anti-Zionists for rooting out the “true” and “hidden” histories behind Israel, Zionism, Jews, the Holocaust, etc.?) The same WRMEA article features an anti-Jewish dual-loyalty smear that Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr. showed “more loyalty to Zionism than to his president or his country.” The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies objected to this, and pointed out that Morgenthau was an opponent of Zionism. Furthermore, regarding WRMEA, the Wyman Institute noted:
“The Washington Report often publishes articles comparing Israel to the Nazis and alleging inappropriate Jewish influence on Congress or the media. It also opposes U.S. government support of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and in 1998 printed an article claiming there is new evidence that "would cut in half the Zionists' original claim that six million Jews had died under the Nazi regime." U.S. Congressman Steven Rothman (D-NJ) has described the Washington Report as "extremely anti-Semitic" and urged his congressional colleagues to boycott it.” (see: http://www.wymaninstitute.org/press/2005-10-23.php and http://hnn.us/roundup/comments/20071.html )
To date, WRMEA has not acknowledged, retracted, or apologized for this Protocols-esque slur against Morgenthau. Furthermore, the same article claims that Morgenthau and members of “the pre-Israel Lobby”, er, other elders of Zion, er, Jews—perhaps organized in a loose coalition?!—helped prolong WWI in the interests of Zionism. They didn’t want the war to end if Turkey held Palestine, you understand.
Not surprisingly, WRMEA is a favorite publication amongst what we might call, in the spirit of this article from the London Review of Books, “The Anti-Israel Lobby.” The current issue features predictable drivel from the likes of Noura Erakat, Charley Reese, Alexander Cockburn, and Juan Cole. In 1999 “Mid-East Realities” bestowed upon WRMEA its “Lie of the Month” (“Lie of the Year” had the category existed) for a gushing special section it published on Saudi Arabia. As MER pointed out, this was hardly surprising, given that WRMEA was “founded by substantial monies coming directly from the royal families and friends of those in power in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States” and is “in actuality a sophisticated propaganda vehicle with the primary purpose of distorting coverage of Middle East affairs in ways to the benefit and liking of the kings, royal families and ‘client-regimes’ who rule, oppress, and squander the resources of the region.” (See: http://www.middleeast.org/archives/1999_02_14.htm )
One would think that the authors, so scornful of the Israel lobby, would be more discriminating in not referencing sources that are more or less propaganda organs for the likes of the royal kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They refer to WRMEA again later in their article, as well as to such dependable, unprejudiced sources for anti-Israel “commentary” as AntiWar.com (publisher of Justin Raimondo) and CounterPunch (publisher of the likes of Kurt Nimmo and Gilad Atzmon), Rashid Khalidi, and Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein’s latest book, referred to by the authors quite favorably, includes such outlandish claims as that Hollywood has produced at least 175 films on the Holocaust since 1989. The professors conclude footnote 112—concerning (Zionist) claims of antisemitism and criticism of such claims—by recommendingthat readers “see…especially Finkelstein,” as if someone who claims Hollywood annually produces such copious numbers of films on the Nazis’ genocidal assault on European Jewry can be regarded as a serious or honest commentator on related matters. Thus, while the authors may not necessarily be justly accused of antisemitism (and why indulge them anyway?), it certainly cannot be argued that they display any reticence in relying on sources—WRMEA and Counterpunch, for example—that, apart from their scholarly dubiousness, evidence troubling attitudes not just towards Israel, if not Jews in general, but towards ethical presentation of facts.
In the same footnote, the authors cite Ralph Nader’s stunningly pretentious and hectoring CounterPunch article “Criticizing Israel is Not Anti-Semitism,” in which he posits the asinine and illiterate logic that Arabs, like Jews, also suffer from antisemitism because, duh, they’re Semites, too. This is the sort of scholarship Walt and Mearsheimer are citing? And is it not a bit odd to see anti-neocons Walt and Mearsheimer citing, of all people, Ralph Nader, who was unquestionably one of the neoconservatives’ and Republicans’ most accommodating assets back in 2000, and whom they’ll be laughing at for the rest of his life for his generous assistance in helping them defeat Al Gore. I mean, speaking of strategic liabilities! I would have thought the professors would despise Nader, but I guess his magisterial views on antisemitism win the day.
Other things worth noting:
“One American participant at Camp David in 2000 later said: ‘Far too often, we functioned . . . as Israel’s lawyer.’”
Yet Dennis Ross, the chief American negotiator, has stated that Ehud Barak accused him of acting as Arafat's lawyer. Take your pick. Apparently there was a lot of lawyering going on by the Americans for the benefit of both sides, but so what?
The professors complain that “Since the October War in 1973, Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing that given to any other state. It has been the largest annual recipient of direct economic and military assistance since 1976….” Perhaps, but only if you do not consider fighting a war to rescue or protect another country a form of support or military assistance. It seems rather cynical, if not obtuse, to consider “economic and military assistance to Israel since 1976” as somehow “dwarfing” direct military intervention on behalf of other countries, such as the 1991 Gulf War (in which our “ally” Israel did nothing but sit around not even responding to Scud attacks, all the while being a “strategic burden” for the US, grrr!). The United States has never fought a war on Israel’s behalf, although it has for other countries, and no American soldier has ever been dispatched to fight for Israel, much less been killed while doing so. The same cannot be said for Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, to cite obvious examples, and the thousands of American troops in South Korea aren’t there on vacation (and how much has this support cost the US since 1976?). I also love how economic aid to Israel is characterized as “largess”—$500 for every Israeli, grr!—as if this aid were some sort of stipend and was not, in fact, in large measure re-entering the US economy via payments to American defense and technology industries (and this is to say nothing of the shared medical and technological information developed by Israel—the Centrino computer chip, for example). But “largess”’ has a nice ring to it, as do other terms the professors offer—“neo-conservative gentiles” being a particular favorite.
And if Israel is a liability for the United States in, among other things, the war against terrorism, then what exactly are countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, countries that can barely defend themselves against aggressors and on whose behalf the United States (and other countries) fought a war at the cost of, among other things, several hundred fatalities? Are those lost lives worth more or less than the “largess” sent to Israel? Saudi Arabia, a country named after the family who owns it, funds and disseminates its unique brand of Wahabbi Islam throughout the world, even in America. Is this a liability? Is Israel somehow a larger strategic liability than Iraq, where Americans are being attacked everyday and where thousands of Americans have already been killed or wounded? Is all this, not even considering the recruiting tool Iraq has become for the global jihadist movement, somehow less of a liability than supporting Israel?
And if the money sent to Israel is largess, what exactly are the billions of dollars the United States has sent to Egypt in recent years? And for this, what exactly does the United States receive in return? And from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, what does the United States receive in return? Military intelligence? Medical and technological advances? State-sponsored religious fundamentalism, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism?
The authors state: “The terrorist organisations that threaten Israel do not threaten the United States, except when it intervenes against them (as in Lebanon in 1982).” If such terrorist organizations do not threaten the United States, why was the American athlete Mark Spitz protected by a security detail at the 1972 Munich Olympics and whisked out of the country? (Had he intervened against somebody?) Why was Robert Kennedy assassinated in 1968? Why was Leon Klinghoffer killed in 1985? Why was a convoy of U.S. embassy diplomats bombed in 2003 in Gaza? (Is it intervening against Palestinians to interview them for scholarships?) Does Al-Qaida threaten the United States simply because the US intervened against them? Is Hizballah’s close ties to Iran and enthusiastic support for the jihad in Iraq a result of American intervention against the Party of God? The list goes on.
The authors assert that Palestinian terrorism is “largely a response to Israel’s prolonged campaign to colonise the West Bank and Gaza Strip.” Naturally, this explains why Palestinian terrorism pre-dates this Israeli settlement campaign.
“Even if these states acquire nuclear weapons… neither America nor Israel could be blackmailed, because the blackmailer could not carry out the threat without suffering overwhelming retaliation.” Excellent idea, let’s play Mutually Assured Destruction with religious fanatics led by a frothing Holocaust denier and armed with nukes! They’re rational, after all, and as soon as they’re done being rabidly pissed off by a couple of cartoons I see no reason why they can’t be trusted to handle nuclear weapons forthrightly and responsibly. Of course, the former president of Iran has already explained that a nuclear strike on Israel would wipe out the Zionist entity while a retaliatory strike against the Islamic world would only hurt it. And those are the words of an Iranian “moderate,” so you can imagine what the not-so-less moderate are thinking. And it’s not as if a nuclear armed Iran would not be a threat to countries who cannot offer the threat of massive retaliation. Or that Iran might deploy one or two nuclear weapons to, say, Syria, Al-Qaida, or Cuba. Details, details…
The authors write: “Viewed objectively, [Israel’s] past and present conduct offers no moral basis for privileging it over the Palestinians.” That statement might have made an iota of sense if, among other things, the Palestinians—unlike Israel—had not supported, almost as a rule, every one of America’s major enemies and adversaries over the decades, from the Nazis to the Soviets, to Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War (and, to a significant degree, in the current Iraq War) to the Ayatollah Khomeini. The PLO even supported the hard-liners who attempted a coup against Gorbachev, an act of colossal stupidity and brazen backstabbing. And they supported the IRA in its terrorist campaign against America’s closest ally. Of course, the Palestinian attempt to overthrow Jordan’s King Hussein would certainly have furthered America’s interests in the region, and it evidences what a reliable, positive ally they would have been. And who was dancing in the streets on 9/11? It’s an odd world in which a party’s not siding with one’s enemies is seen as conduct that “offers no moral basis for privileging it over” a party that has been allying itself with one’s enemies for over half a century. And are we to believe that Israel’s conduct during the first Gulf War—not doing anything to disrupt the US’s efforts, and never retaliating after being bombed—offers no moral basis for privileging it over the Palestinians, who supported Saddam Hussein and cheered as the missiles fell? Compare such Israeli conduct with that of the Palestinians, whose contributions to the history of civilization include the first sustained campaign of repeated and frequent suicide bombings directed almost exclusively against civilians. Unlike Japanese kamikazes who primarily targeted battleships, or Tamil Tiger bombers who primarily targeted specific (and pre-selected) government and military figures, the Palestinian terror war has confined itself almost exclusively to attacks against random civilians, usually by-passing military targets in order to do so. Of course, this is probably Israel’s fault, too. And as far as conduct goes, do the authors suppose that if the Palestinians, based on their decisions and actions over the last fifty years, had access to the same military capabilities as the Israeli Defense Forces that their responses to innocent Palestinian deaths would be more or less restrained and discriminating than Israel’s responses to suicide bombings?
The authors breezily dismiss any threat to Israel from Iran because that country is “hundreds of miles away,” as if missiles from Iran, even without nuclear devices, could never reach Israel (granted, the authors have already dismissed concerns about Iran’s nuclear ambitions). This blithe dismissal also ignores Iran’s air force and the country’s military proxies in Lebanon (and most likely Iraq), nor its amiability with Syria and the Palestinian government—remember Hamas?—especially regarding matters of Zionism and Jews. Do the authors not consider that Iran could easily relocate forces much closer to Israel via Syria or a destabilized Iraq? The authors then state that the Palestinians are likewise little threat to Israel—tell that to all the victims of suicide bombings with nails still embedded in their bodies—because they have a poor police force and no army. Of course, the authors’ own argument contradicts itself, for if the Palestinians have a negligible police force, then Israel must take even further security cautions to protect itself from Palestinian lawlessness and unpoliced militant groups. The authors then cite the 2005 Jaffee Center report to support their claims of Israel’s military superiority, yet the same study, according to the exact same article that they cite, directly contradicts their previous point (about the hapless and non-militarized Palestinians not being able to be a threat). The report, according to the article, states that “Israel's deterrence of the Palestinian organizations, particularly the extremist groups, is limited and does not preclude a renewal of terrorist activity” (http://www.tau.ac.il/jcss/haaretz231105.html ). This is, yet again, selective quoting on the part of the authors in order to ignore obvious information that belies their point. Of course, perhaps they forgot to read that part of their cited article, even though it’s only several paragraphs long. And if the authors are correct that Israel faces negligible threat from its neighbors, why area they proposing measures that could critically destabilize the status quo? Are the authors truly unaware of how self-evidently moronic their argument is, or are they courting controversy?
The authors write: “Some aspects of Israeli democracy are at odds with core American values.” True, but some aspects of American democracy are at odds with core American values. “Unlike the US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship.” This is more or less a non sequitur, as in Israel all citizens are supposed to enjoy equal rights, just as in America. There are certain exceptions, for obvious reasons, such as that Arab citizens are not required to serve in the military while most Jews are. Unfortunately, these equal rights are not fully enjoyed by all, although such is the case in every other country, especially America. The authors also claim that Israeli citizenship “is based on the principle of blood kinship” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) which is hemoglobin-fixated way of stating a falsehood. The Israeli “Right of Return” is based on family history (of course, “blood” sounds so much more, ah, chilling) but anybody who knows anything about Israel knows that it’s not the only way to obtain citizenship. The professors display a bloody remarkable degree of shoddiness here.
The professors continue: “Given this, it is not surprising that its 1.3 million Arabs are treated as second-class citizens, or that a recent Israeli government commission found that Israel behaves in a ‘neglectful and discriminatory’ manner towards them.” In fact, given that the government has criticized itself for this matter, Israel’s democratic system exhibits a quite healthy degree of political openness. The same “recent”—that is, 2003—report that authors cite here also stated that the Arab sector “is the most sensitive and important domestic issue facing Israel today” and that “Israel's Arab citizens have the right to equality because of the essence of the State of Israel as a democracy, and because it is a basic right of every citizen.” The report noted other things as well, and in regards to the Arab population it “emphasized that the concept of citizenship is incompatible with the presentation of the state as the enemy.” The report also criticized the Arab leadership for inadequately communicating this concept and stated that the Arab leadership “must show greater responsibility in its messages and actions” (see: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=335607&contrassID=2&subContrassID=1&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y ) Of course, had the authors of this LRB article written the report—and how many other countries in the world would investigate themselves in such forthright manner?—they would likely have traced everything somehow back to Israeli’s status as a Jewish state and its laws of “blood kinship.”
“Its democratic status is also undermined by its refusal to grant the Palestinians a viable state of their own or full political rights.” This is false to the facts: Israel offered the Palestinians a viable state in 2000 and the Palestinians rejected it in favor of terror and violence, just as they had done previously when offered a state. And though Israel’s Arab minority is not treated perfectly, efforts of self-correction have been taken to improve their situation, and it is a matter of concern. Of course, the authors do not note that such efforts may have been hindered or precluded by various wars, assaults, intifadas, etc. that necessitated attention being paid elsewhere. It in the authors’ analysis, everything is effect—if about Israel, negative effect—as if the causes and conditions existed in another reality or were not worth mentioning. Had Israel been able to concentrate more on ensuring the full rights of its minority citizens instead of protecting all its citizens from neighboring countries, terrorist groups, suicide bombers, jihadists, economic boycotts, etc. the situation would surely be better today.
But is the situation as terrible as the authors make it out to be? Benny Morris, whom the authors cite throughout their paper, noted last month that “Israel's one-million strong Arab minority has, over the past years, consistently and vociferously rejected all proposals that they, along with their lands and houses, be placed under Palestinian Authority rule. They overwhelmingly prefer Israeli democracy and cultural norms (and standards of living) to anything their Palestinian brothers or the Arab world have to offer. Curious, isn't it?” It certainly is!
I’m confident the professors would not suggest anything that further complicates or potentially worsens the socio-economic conditions of Israel’s minority citizens. But how measures such as significantly reducing (or ending) economic aid to Israel or otherwise damaging Israel’s relationship with the United States would somehow improve the lot of Israel’s minority citizens is not clear. The professors do not discuss how potentially altering Israel’s economic infrastructure could affect Israel’s minority citizens. Perhaps the professors simply don’t care—Israel, like Iran, is thousands of miles away, after all. I’m sure Israel’s minority citizens appreciate the authors looking out for them, though, even if it means losing some of their individual $500 of annual largess and support from the United States.
The authors magnanimously proclaim that “Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby,” but that’s merely a fractional pardon: How many of these American Jews who not a “part of the Lobby” do the authors believe nevertheless constitute “supporters” of it (a distinction they have already made)? The authors elucidate this claim of supposed (Jewish American) disassociation from the various groups and people who comprise the Lobby by claiming that for many Jewish Americans “Israel is not a salient issue.” As if it is all so simple! For this, they cite a 2004 survey in which “36 per cent of American Jews said they were either ‘not very’ or ‘not at all’ emotionally attached to Israel.” Does this absolve that entire 36% from being connected to the Lobby? Of course not, for surely one can support Israel, and even the nefarious Lobby, without feeling emotionally attached to Israel. Most Americans, Jewish or not, are probably not especially emotionally attached to Israel but poll after poll shows that Americans overwhelmingly support it. (Similarly, most Americans probably do not consider themselves committed environmentalists, but that hardly means they are unconcerned about the environment or support deliberately neglecting it.
The authors’ statistics date from 2004, but what about more recent data? According to a survey conducted in mid-November 2005, 77% of Jewish Americans feel either “Very close” or “Fairly close” to Israel while only 23%—not even a quarter—feel fairly or very distant (see: http://www.ajc.org/site/apps/nl/content3.asp?c=ijITI2PHKoG&b=846741&ct=1740367 ). Further, 79% agree that “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew.” Readers can take their pick, but keep in mind that a November 2005 survey is more recent than the professors’ survey from 2004. The authors’ logic is hardly confidence inspiring, to say the least. And is it fair to assume, per the authors’ own rhetoric, that the remaining 64% of Jewish Americans in their cited figure—those Jewish Americans who are “Very” or at least “Somewhat” attached to Israel—are therefore “part” of the Israel Lobby? Or are the professors just citing statistics that appear to make some kind of vague point but that are in fact rhetorical smokescreen to obfuscate the issue at hand? That issue, of course, being that in making such sweeping and damning evaluations of the various people and organizations who support or belong to the Israel lobby that the authors are encompassing a large segment of the American Jewish population, and doing so in a notably hostile and intellectually decrepit manner.
These more recent numbers, and even to a good degree the authors own evidence, hardly support the authors’ claim that Israel is not a salient issue for many American Jews. The professors, in fact, use “many” simply to mean “36% of Jewish Americans” but they could similarly argue their point with any number—a few thousand, or dozens—since any grouping of people could be defined for the authors’ purposes as “many.” (For example: Many American Jews oppose establishing a Jewish state until the Messiah returns: but many Jews—many, many more—completely disagree with them.) Anyway, based on these statistics it is perfectly reasonable to assume that a large number, if not all, of the significant majority of Jewish Americans—that is, those 77% of Jewish Americans who, according to last November’s survey, feel close to Israel—are included in or are otherwise supportive of the aforementioned loose coalition of various groups and people. And those groups and people, the authors emphasize, are not only detrimental to America’s democracy but they divert America’s foreign policy, subvert America’s interests, and compromise America’s security, all in order to advance the interests of another country. Therefore, the professors are not variously attacking all American Jews, mind you, just a significant number of the majority of them. This speaks for itself.
Next, the authors write that “David Ben-Gurion told Nahum Goldmann, the president of the World Jewish Congress: If I were (sic) an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country . . . We come from Israel, (sic) but two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-semitism (sic), the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?”
Well, kind of, but not quote, er, quite. As I have noted before, whenever ardent critics of Israel offer this sort of quote, you should be suspicious. In fact, this is not a quotation from Ben-Gurion; it’s a quotation from Nahum Goldmann recollecting in his 1976 book something that Ben-Gurion had told him 22 years earlier in the course of a long, very late night discussion. The professors, in splendid scholarly fashion, fail to indicate any of this. Their quotation, in fact, is translated from the author’s rendering of it in a book he wrote in French, so we can hardly take the comment as being straight from the horse’s mouth. It is poor academic form to present as an exact quote what is in fact another person’s recollection of what somewhat else said.
An alternate—and likely more accurate, given the actual context—reading of Ben-Gurion’s quote is that he was simply expressing the idea that, had he been an Arab leader and had thus been influenced and conditioned to believe what they believed (especially about Jews and Zionism), then this alternate (Arab) Ben-Gurion would naturally believe such things as well, and so of course his alternate self would not pursue terms with Israel. Likewise, if Ben-Gurion had been an Arab leader like Nasser, he’d have endorsed “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” just as Nasser did, not because Ben-Gurion secretly endorsed the Protocols but because that’s what he’d do if he were Nasser or any of the other Arab leaders who liked the Protocols. On the preceding page, Goldmann recounts a conversation in which Ben-Gurion explained the mindset of Nasser, who according “‘is suffering from a psychological injury; he is humiliated, and he will not make peace before he has healed his injury, in other words before scoring a victory over Israel.’” So, obviously, had Ben-Gurion been an Arab leader like Nasser, he would not have made peace with Israel (and whoever had replaced him as Ben-Gurion), not because Ben-Gurion himself believed continued conflict with Israel was the correct and appropriate path but because that attitude, and the irredentist stance that the Jews had stolen Palestine, was what he’d believe if he’d been molded as Nasser had and interpreted the world as the humiliated and defeated Nasser did. All this is to explain what I think is obvious: Ben-Gurion was not stating that the Zionists had stolen somebody’s country, even if in an alternate reality he were an Arab who, molded by a preventively narrow and stridently anti-Zionist narrative that allowed him to “only see one thing” about Israel, believed otherwise.
The authors follow their dubious quotation of a quotation of Ben-Gurion with the obligatory Golda Meir reference that no polemic against Israel is allowed to forego. I believe this obligation has even been formally codified and is carved in stone somewhere.
Thus, the professors claim, “When she was prime minister, Golda Meir famously remarked that ‘there is no such thing as a Palestinian.’” She did? In fact, Meir said no such thing, even in the original interview from which this “famously remarked” quotation supposedly originates. Indeed, writing in The New York Times in 1976 (January 14, page 35) Meir stated: “To be misquoted is an occupational hazard of political leadership; for this reason I should like to clarify my position in regard to the Palestinian issue. I have been charged with being rigidly insensitive to the question of the Palestinian Arabs. In evidence of this I am supposed to have said, ‘There are no Palestinians.’ My actual words were: ‘There is no Palestine people. There are Palestinian refugees.’ The distinction is not semantic. My statement was based on a lifetime of debates with Arab nationalists who vehemently excluded a separatist Palestinian Arab nationalism from their formulations.” Even in the original article, though, it is clear that Meir was referring to Palestinian nationhood and not the people in general, whose existence she clearly acknowledged both in that comment and in everything else she ever said about them.
Sadly, although it’s hardly surprising, the Meir misquotation and its myriad variations have become a prized staple of anti-Zionist propaganda. As such, it’s hardly surprising to see it flaunted—in an especially grotesque rendering, no less—in this article. In fact, what would have been surprising is if the authors had NOT quoted it. Nowadays, I read pieces like this waiting to see how long it takes the author—or authors—to discharge Meir’s non-existent quote: in this case, it comes before the one-fifth mark, which I suspect shows remarkable self-control for such a thrusting anti-Israel polemic. We can add this rhetorical phenomenon to the anti-Zionist drinking game somebody laid out the other day at Engage. So… bottoms up! (David Clark, in his recent Guardian piece, also brandishes Meir’s non-existent “non-existence” quote. Go figure—and drink again.)
Regarding the Golda Meir quote, I’m willing to accept that one of these two esteemed authors may have missed the article in which Meir corrected the misrepresentation and that he may then have never heard anything about it in the years following—The New York Times, after all, being quite an obscure paper few academics were familiar with at the time. But that both professors managed to do so strikes me as improbable, or at least ridiculous. Or perhaps this is a misrepresentation so egregious it takes the combined efforts of two tenured academics to make? (Or is this another wink from the authors?) Anyway, where is the rudimentary fact checking, if not on the part of the two esteemed professors than at the LRB? Just because this “quote” has been a staple of anti-Zionist discourse for decades is no excuse for anyone, especially academics, to be disseminating it or some mangled permutation of it.
The authors’ Ben-Gurion “quote,” as it is, appears in practically identical form, including typos, on myriad anti-Zionist websites, many of which are (dare we say it and risk quashing debate?) antisemitic. This offers two possibilities: that they authors found the quote in Goldmann‘s book, and deliberately parsed it into their own misquoted version; or they copy-and-pasted it from the Internet or somewhere else, complete with citation, to make it look like they’d gone to the source. Regardless of how they introduced the Ben-Gurion and Meir “quotes” into their paper, it evidences a very poor standard of scholarship. Such misrepresentations, whether arising inadvertently from dismal research or deliberately from willful distortion, are academically appalling, even when not performed by the Wendell Harrison Professor of Political Science at Chicago and the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. If I were a university professor grading this pair’s essay—assuming it’s not, in fact, satire—I would dock it one letter grade for each of these two misrepresentations. I’d be tempted to dock it further, seeing as it’s a team effort (such dubieties being doubly damning in a duo’s discourse). I might understand if one of them had “forgotten” to check their quotes, but both of them? At this point, the authors’ paper stands with a grade of “C” and we’re not even halfway through it.
In the longer version of this article, the authors also declare that “Israeli forces have also killed several foreign peace activists” and then make the predictable reference to Rachel Corrie. Of course, they make no mention of the far larger number of non-Israelis and Americans who have been killed by Palestinian “forces” during the same periods or that the activism of these “peace activists” often includes endangering Israeli soldiers and assisting in the indoctrination of Palestinian children. The victims of Palestinian terror, unlike the unnamed (save one) “peace activists” who willingly placed themselves in danger (by trying to impede an operating bulldozer, for example), were innocent bystanders killed in deliberate attempts at mass murder. (One of the authors’ sources for this point is an article from The Nation they cite as “Remembering Rachel Shapiro.” Whatever.)
In the original working paper from which the LRB piece is condensed the authors state (page 12), “Finally, we should not forget to mention”—heaven forbid!—“that the Zionists used terrorism when they were in a similarly weak position and trying to obtain their own state.” As if anybody who has ever written this sort of composition has ever forgotten to mention this. The point is similarly predictable, and it grounds the tendentiousness of the article. Of course, the suggestion that the Zionist organization who “Between 1944 and 1947… used terrorist bombings to drive the British from Palestine” were in a similar position as the Palestinians of today is absurd to the point of offensiveness (—again, perhaps this is a sly wink from the authors?). If only the Palestinian Zionists had been so fortunate. The Zionists, especially between 1944-1947, were “in a similarly weak position” as the Palestinians of today only in the sense that an airplane gracefully lifting off a runway is in a similar position as a burning plane in a nosedive: they’re both ten feet off the ground, you understand. To compare the situation of these terrorists from the 1940s to the Palestinians is self-evidently absurd to anyone familiar with the respective parties. For example, when the Irgun bombed the King David Hotel, they phoned ahead to the hotel and two other parties and gave a warning. When has a Palestinian terrorist ever had the decency to precede his or her attack by even one warning, much less three? The Jewish terrorists were fighting during the Holocaust, when the countries of the world had abandoned the Jews and had shown little interest in coming to their aid, and then in the aftermath of the Holocaust, when few parties had much interest in helping the Jews. And it’s always interesting to see that people who explain Palestinian terrorism as the (usually desperate) resort of oppressed people with no other means to fight—or, as these authors tenderly phrase it, “the Palestinians’ resort to terror was wrong” but not “surprising”—are so quick to sweepingly condemn or highlight the agents of Zionist terrorism, as if Jews in the wake of the Holocaust did not epitomize desperateness and abandonment. Be that as it may, Zionist terrorism was generally an exception rather than a standard practice or a widely embraced ideology within the Zionist movement, and it did not have popular support. In fact, Jewish leaders often spoke out against it, and I highly doubt its glory was ever extolled in elementary schools or that exultant mobs of Zionists took to the streets after civilians were killed.
The Palestinians, on the other hand, whom the authors would have us believe, are “in a similarly weak position” as the Zionists in Palestine 1944-1947, are not fighting in the aftermath of genocide, nor have they ever been, because they have never suffered a genocide. (It is symptomatic of the anti-Zionist movement that so many people are willing to claim that they have, which is itself a form of historical denial.) Unlike the Jews in the 1940s, the Palestinians are today at one of the forefronts of global media coverage and attention, and have been so for years. Were the leaders of the Irgun ever as well known in their day as Arafat already was over thirty years ago when he addressed the United Nations? Large scale terrorism has been a, if not ‘the,” defining feature of the Palestinians’ struggle, and for years the practice has been widely accepted and supported, even praised within Palestinian society—notably the scores of self-detonating nail-bomb “martyrs” launched against Zionist pizza parlors and shopping malls in the last decade. It is the rare Palestinian leader in the course of the last half-century who has spoken out against terrorism or condemned those who engage in it (—and criticizing suicide bombings because the subsequent bad publicity hurts the cause certainly does not count). Furthermore, the Palestinians receive widespread support, especially funding, from numerous countries, including the wealthy oil states. They are a focus of numerous international organizations and aid agencies, not least the United Nations, which devotes more committees and agenda items to the Palestinians than to any other specific group, not to mention an exorbitant amount of debate and discussion in the Security Council. (Did someone say “largess”?) The Palestinians, quite unlike the Jews, have rejected a state every time it was offered to them (in 1947 and 2000, for example), and their population in recent decades has been one of the fastest growing in the world. If only the Jewish nationalists of 1944 had been in such a “similarly weak position”!
Needless to say, this sort of cheap historical pseudo-equivocation does little besides inflict intellectual violence onto any remotely productive or helpful discussion. That the professors, to paraphrase a comment they make about the Palestinians’ supposedly unsurprising “resort to terrorism,” themselves resort to such fact-bludgeoning tactics is “wrong” although by this point it is difficult to see it as “surprising.”
And, yes, Begin and Shamir later became prime ministers, but this was over thirty years after the events in question. The Palestinians, on the other hand, elected (and re-elected) in overwhelming majorities as their first president a man stained by decades of terrorism and still intimately if not directly connected to it (the military wing of his own party engaged in suicide bombings while he was in office, and they still are). And Begin signed an historic peace treaty with Egypt; Arafat couldn’t even bring himself to accept that the Temple had been Jerusalem. And it’s only grown worse, as the Palestinians have now voted overwhelmingly in favor of a terrorist organization. This could soon result in a prominent member of a terrorist organization becoming the Palestinians’ prime minister and/or president. If only they had waited thirty years. Or even twenty.
In their footnote (#56) to their point about Jews and terrorism, the authors again pull the same trick they pulled with their distorted Ben-Gurion quote by attributing to Israeli historian Benny Morris something Benny Morris was in fact quoting from somebody else. In the footnote the authors write that “it was Jewish terrorists from the infamous Irgun who in late 1937 introduced the practice of placing bombs in buses and large crowds. Benny Morris speculates that, ‘The Arabs may well have learned the value of terrorist bombings from the Jews.’” But Morris’s statement actually says something different: “The Arabs may well have learned the value of terrorist bombings from the Jews,” he writes—but he continues, “as Arab Legion officer Abdulla Tal was later to write.” In the next sentence, Morris notes, “But the Husseinis’ chief bomb maker, Fawzi al-Kutub, had learned his craft in an SS course in Nazi Germany.” So, although the Arabs may (or may not) have learned the “value” of terrorist bombings, it was not like they lacked any incentive of their own to pursue such matters. Morris details many Arab terrorist assaults on Jews over the years that needed no inspiration from Zionists, including (on page 197) an infant abduction that occurred during the Arab assault on Tel Aviv’s Hatikvah quarter in December 1947. Professors Walt and Mearsheimer say little about Arab terrorism that is not simplistic and banal, but for Zionist terrorism they will go back over half a century. This is all very selective, to say the least, especially the choice use of partial quotes.
In the LRB piece, the authors blithely note that “The Palestinian resort to terrorism is wrong but it isn’t surprising. The Palestinians believe they have no other way to force Israeli concessions. As Ehud Barak once admitted, had he been born a Palestinian, he ‘would have joined a terrorist organisation’.” Notice that the authors censure the Palestinians’ so called “resort to terrorism” but not Palestinian terrorism itself. But is the Palestinians’ “resort” to terrorism, in fact, unsurprising? Are the Palestinians somehow genetically conditioned to resort to terrorism—for decades—when other options have been unsuccessful? It strikes me as a dubious proposition, and that it is being offered by two renowned scholars makes it no less unappealing. The logical weakness in the authors’ claim is obvious, for other oppressed groups—in Tibet, in Sudan, in Afghanistan, in Apartheid South Africa, in Nazi Germany, in the Soviet Union, etc.—have suffered far worse than the Palestinians have but, unlike the Palestinians, have never resorted so unrestrainedly to terrorism (especially of the glorious martyrdom variety), if they resorted to it at all, much less to detonating themselves in shopping malls. The authors imply that it would have been surprising had Palestinians not resorted to their campaign of terrorism. But why would that have been surprising, when so many other groups, in far worse situations, have refrained from terrorism or from engaging in tactics that Palestinians have embraced for years in their supposedly not surprising “resort to terror”? Are the authors suggesting that Palestinians are simply more susceptible to terrorism than other more oppressed groups who have either not employed terrorism or employed it far less? Were Czechoslovaks to have periodically blown themselves up in Viennese and Berlin coffee shops in World War II, or routinely targeted heavily congested areas of German civilians (having by-passed various groups of Nazi soldiers en route to their targets), I think this would be regarded as a surprising development. It would have been even more surprising, I think, if the Czecholslovaks had then celebrated the killers as glorious heroes. Yet when Palestinians do this in 2002 or 2005 we’re supposed to regard such repellent terrorist actions as somehow unsurprising, even predictable. This is a dehumanizing—one could argue racist—view of Palestinians that attributes to them little responsibility or agency for their actions and mistakes, and I reject it.
The authors’ sentence (“The Palestinians believe…”) strikes me as patronizing and self-fulfilling. Ehud Barak’s comment about joining a terrorist group, I suspect, was offered in the same rhetorical vein as Ben-Gurion’s comment about being an Arab leader. Barak later dismissed the self-serving commentary about his remark as “‘ much ado about nothing... Everything I said was hypothetical on a bizarre TV show on an obscure channel.’” But, of course, that has not stopped the quote from becoming a prized chestnut among anti-Israel critics, who wield it to this day more gleefully and tirelessly than his right-wing opponents in Israel did.
The authors note: “A number of Jewish philanthropists have recently established Israel Studies programmes (in addition to the roughly 130 Jewish Studies programmes already in existence) so as to increase the number of Israel-friendly scholars on campus…. Academic administrators emphasise their pedagogical value, but the truth is that they are intended in large part to promote Israel’s image.” That’s the truth, no doubt about it, end of story. They then “sic” a quote from the Taub Foundation’s “Fred Laffer” who may be a laugher but whose name is spelled “Lafer.” Oops! Later the authors refer to the “Committee for Accurate Middle East Reporting,” which—in the interest of accurate reporting—is accurately known as “the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.” So it goes.
“130 Jewish Studies programmes” may sound impressive, but since there are several thousand universities and colleges in the United States, it hardly suggests an untoward proliferation of Zionist or Jewish departments, much less a pollution of academic discourse by suggestions that Israel may not be as bad as it’s often depicted. The authors do not mention, of course, that a few wealthy Jewish philanthropists funding Jewish or Israel Studies programs hardly compares to the funding efforts of “philanthropists” like the Saudi royal family—whose commitment to academic and pedagogical excellence is second to none!—over the years to establish Middle East and Arab studies programs, research centers, chairs, stools, and the like at various American (and other) universities. The idea that funding Israel Studies may be an effort to counterbalance all these efforts and millions of dollars is not suggested: In the authors’ depiction, it is all done in large part as a Zionist effort to promote Israel, you understand. The authors are silent on whether they regard foreign funding from theocratic dictatorships as more or less disturbing or noteworthy than funding from American Jews. I know which one I rather have a scholarship from, but I guess there’s no accounting for taste.
It’s worth pointing out here (as I did a few days ago) that one of the authors of this piece holds an academic chair endowed by wealthy Jewish philanthropists, one of whom was honored last year in Israel for “his lifelong commitment to the values of Jewish philanthropy … and his strong identification with the aspirations of the Weizmann Institute in the service of Israel.” (Also receiving an honorary degree at the ceremony was U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell who “provided a message of solidarity and hope, stating that ‘America’s support for a strong and secure Israel will never waver.’” See: http://www.weizmann-usa.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6428 ) They were also major contributors to the Hillel headquarters building in Washington, DC (see: http://www.soref.hillel.org/Hillel/NewHille.nsf/0/E2A0C71330B1294585256C6400563804?OpenDocument ). If Professor Walt truly takes such a dim view of Zionists’ academic funding efforts, perhaps he should resign his chair. (Did somebody say “largess”?) I would be interested to know if he and his co-author consider the donors of his academic chair to be members of the Lobby they are attacking or supporters of it (like George Will), and if Professor Walt is ever discomfited by the fact that his academic position commemorates two prominent and quite wealthy Zionists.
The authors write: “Israel’s advocates, when pressed to go beyond mere assertion, claim that there is a ‘new anti-semitism’, which they equate with criticism of Israel. In other words, criticise Israeli policy and you are by definition an anti-semite.” This is a ridiculous and deliberately illogical and illiterate misreading of what has been said. Do the authors seriously believe that intelligent readers will not immediately see the inadequacy of both their logic and rhetoric here? Everybody from Bernard Lewis to Alan Dershowitz to Thomas Friedman to Hillell Halkin has emphasized time and again that criticism of Israel is not necessarily the same as antisemitism. Walt and Mearsheimer pre-emptively foist this straw-man argument onto their opponents but their effort is transparently bogus. If someone criticizes Israeli policy in a manner that is antisemitic, than it is justified to call the person on it. And who, pray tell, are the “advocates” who claim that “new anti-semitism” is the equivalent of criticism of Israel? If the authors cannot list their names of these advocates and quote the statements in which these equivalences were made, they should retract their bogus claim. The only kind of criticism of Israel that I have seen defined as antisemitic is criticism that is, in fact antisemitic, either because it employs antisemitic rhetoric and antisemitic arguments or is otherwise bigoted. And it should go without saying that just because one is not antisemitic does not mean one is not acting or speaking in a bigoted or otherwise morally rotten manner.
Is this truly so difficult to understand, much less to accept? Can the authors acknowledge that some criticism of Israel is in fact antisemitic? Must it be explained that anti-Zionism, no matter how tenderly its advocates appreciate the Jews and no matter how breathlessly they despise antisemitism, can be employed in a demonizing, bigoted manner? The distinction the authors so gratuitously gloss over is so simple that I’m not even going to elaborate it. The authors are professors; they’re smart enough to understand the distinctions here and what this about, and I suspect they do.
In fact, do the professors really hold the intelligence of their readers in such contempt that they trust this vapid distortion will be accepted at face value, or is this a deliberately provocative statement? The authors are not stupid men, so I suspect the latter, but either way, it is unbecoming scholars of their positions.
The authors claim that “Western critics of Israel hardly ever question its right to exist.” But is this true? There are myriad advocates of the so-called “One State” solution and their voices are not infrequent—even The New Yorker magazine recently carried a letter from one such advocate. Judging by the authors own sources—CounterPunch, WRMEA, Chomsky, etc.—I cannot see how they can be unaware of the frequency of this and other such rhetorical conceits that are effectively eliminationist in perspective even if they do not explicitly call for an end to Israel. And one can denigrate Israel in perfectly antisemitic fashion without calling for its elimination, just as one can denigrate the authors of this slip-shod article without by calling for them to be shot. Anyway, not questioning someone’s right to exist is an astounding low bar to set for non-hateful discourse.
And a few more things…
The authors are particularly slippery in the discussion of European antisemitism, which they argue is hardly the problem that pro-Israel pundits distort it to be. As evidence, they cite an ADL survey from March 2004 and a Pew Research Center poll that show “that [antisemitism] was actually declining” in spring 2004. But this was only in comparison to 2002, and the 2004 levels of antisemitism still remained at starkly high levels. According to the Haaretz article the authors cite (footnote 104)The ADL poll showed rates of 36% in Germany, 35% in Belgium, 25% in France, 24% in Britain (where antisemitism went up, not down) and Spain, 17% in Austria, etc.,. As usual, upon examination of the actual sources and statistics, the professors’ argument reveals itself to be notably thin,, as a decrease from disturbingly high levels of antisemitism to slightly less disturbing levels only affords a “decline” in the most literal interpretation of the numbers. In the footnotes the authors state that “These findings had virtually no effect on pro-Israel pundits, who continued to argue that anti-Semism was rampant in Europe.” While “rampant” may be slightly too strong for the aforementioned levels of antisemitism, it is not necessarily far from the truth. Again, we see that effects are all that matter in the professors’ analysis, not context or interpretation. Further detracting from their point, the “decline” they mention was short lived: for example, the next ADL survey, in June 2005, “found either minimal decline, no change or, in some cases, an increase in negative attitudes toward Jews from its 2004 findings” (see: http://www.adl.org/PresRele/ASInt_13/4726_13.htm ). It is interesting that the authors consistently rely on older surveys for their statements, which are often contradicted by later, and easily accessible, surveys of the same sort.
Regarding anti-Semitism in France, Professors Walt and Mearsheimer play fast and very loose with the facts. I should also point out that pretty much everything the authors claim in their paragraph on France and antisemitism—in which they dismiss the portrayal of France by “The Lobby and its friends” as “the most anti-Semitic country in France” (itself another straw-man argument)—is factually compromised to some degree and is belied by this article from The Guardian (posted at Engage): http://www.guardian.co.uk/france/story/0,,1735755,00.html
This paragraph, in both versions of the essay—about halfway into the LRB piece—begins by noting in its first sentence that the Israel Lobby and its friends often portray France “as the most anti-Semitic in Europe,” a claim the authors proceed to challenge but only end up, upon examination of their sources and newer information, practically supporting, all the while disgracing themselves with distortions and misrepresentations.
An important display of their academic credibility is in the paragraph’s second sentence, in which the authors state, “in 2003, the head of the French Jewish community said that ‘France is not more anti-semitic than America.’”
Simply put, this is a staggering misrepresentation of what Roger Cukierman, the senior leader of the French Jewish community, stated in 2003. In fact, Cukierman was differentiating between classic French antisemitism, of the traditional French/European variety, and “new” manifestations of violence against Jews in Europe as perpetrated by Arabs and Muslims, for he “believes that it is misleading to draw a link between France's traditional antisemitism—still vividly on display when Jean-Marie Le Pen won 16% of the vote in last year's presidential ballot—and the recent antisemitic violence coming from Arab-Muslim quarters.” The latter incidents of (antisemitic) violence, he asserted, “were responsible for 95% to 98% of antisemitic incidents.” Therefore, “This is why ‘France is not more antisemitic than America,’ he explained, despite the fact that most Muslims in France are French citizens.” As the article makes clear, Cukierman was NOT including in his comparison with America at least 95% of antisemitic incidents in France—because, coming from “Arab-Muslim quarters” that 95%-98% of France’s antisemitic violence was different, in his reasoning, from the historical French/European variety—and it was the remaining (at most, per his estimate) 5% that Cukierman compared to the state of antisemitism to America. The professors ignore this distinction, thus radically manipulating the context and meaning of Cukierman’s statement. They portray the comment about America and France as if he were referring to 100% of all French antisemitism, regardless of its perpetrators, rather than just merely the 5% (or less) of French antisemitism (of the traditional European sort), which is what he was in fact talking about. It’s all quite obvious in the article, which you can read here: http://www.forward.com/issues/2003/03.08.01/news9.html Thus, in Walt and Mearsheimer’s calculus, there’s no quantitive or qualitative difference between all antisemitism in France and all antisemitism in France minus the 95% of incidents perpetrated by the Arab-Muslim quarter. By the professors’ logic, if 95% of their article is garbage and the remaining 5% is poorly argued, then the only problematic thing about their paper is that 5% of it is poorly argued (—and thus, it, can be argued, that their paper compares favorably with “many” academic papers, especially those of the polemical anti-Israel genre).
In the longer version of the paper, the sentence reads: “It is unsurprising that the head of the French Jewish community declared in the summer of 2003 that ‘France is not more anti-Semitic than America.’” For their LRB piece, the authors prudently delete “unsurprising,” an editorial comment that was as unsubstantiated then as it is now. The authors’ assertion is fraudulent either way, though. Of course it is (was) unsurprising, that French antisemitism compared similarly to American antisemitism, seeing as the Jewish community leader they’re (mis-) quoting for this point was talking about (at most) only that 5% of anti-Jewish violence in France that he considered classical French anti-Semitism. Nor is it surprising that Walt and Mearsheimer would, in the process of quoting it, bludgeon the factuality of the man’s quote 95% (at least) beyond recognition. One often hears the expression “lying with statistics,” but rare do we see the expression acted out so brazenly
But the authors’ discussion of antisemitism manages to get even better. After eliding Cukierman’s distinction between classic French/European anti-Semitism and the new (and much greater, in his estimation) antisemitism stemming from France’s Arab-Muslim quarter (which he estimates to account for 95%-98% of France’s antisemitic incidents), the professors turn around and in the next paragraph make that EXACT same distinction not just for France but for all of Europe! To wit: “No one would deny that there is anti-semitism among European Muslims,” they write—although of course people deny this (“They don’t hate Jews, they just hate Israel,” being a common mode of such denial)—“But this [European Muslim anti-Semitism]” they continue, “is a separate matter with little bearing on whether or not Europe today is like Europe in the 1930s.” Well, indeed! That’s exactly what Cukieman was talking about in the quote the authors exploit, but the authors quote him as if he were NOT making the distinction. It’s not surprising that when Cukierman makes this sort of distinction, the authors exploit and misrepresent it—namely, by putting aside that very same “separate matter” of European Muslim antisemitism—so that they can more effectively “compare” American and French antisemitism in toto. This is analytic double-dealing on the part of the professors, and it is an astounding display of academic mendacity and intellectual inconsistency.
Continuing with the same paragraph, the third sentence in the LRB version notes that French police have reported that “anti-semitic incidents declined by almost 50 percent in 2005” and this despite France having the largest Muslim population in Europe. The authors cite this approvingly as further evidence that the Israel Lobby is exploiting and inflating antisemitism in France. But wait: Now the authors are not only double dealing but they are keeping two sets of books for their statistics about French antisemitism—one book (for this sentence) that includes antisemitism from France’s Arab-Muslim population, and another book (for the preceding sentence) that does keeps separate the antisemitism from France’s Arab-Muslim population. Just think how much greater the authors could claim this decline in antisemitic incidents to have been if, as in their previous comparison, they set aside those incidents arising from the Arab-Musim quarter in 2005! And the statistical decrease from 2004 to 2005 is hardly as significant as the authors would have it—that is, at face value, with no interpretation except for that which supports their point. What their cited article explains, and which the authors ignore, just as they ignore highly relevant information in their preceding sentence, is that this decline was in good measure due to “increased surveillance of sensitive sites, preventive work in French schools and a decrease in tension in the Middle East.” Furthermore, the previous year (2004) “was the worst year for anti-Semitic acts in France since authorities began registering the statistic in 1995” (see: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/objects/pages/PrintArticleEn.jhtml?itemNo=672447 ). And yet another reason for the statistical drop from 2004 to 2005 is that the authors’ figure only includes reported cases, not all cases, many of which are not reported. All these factors skew the authors’ single statistic even further away from the point they are trying to make. Furthermore, the President of the Paris Consistoire has cautioned that figures such as the professors’ “must be put in perspective” because “More and more people do not lodge a complaint and are disappointed by justice rulings” (see: http://www.ejpress.org/article/news/france/6657 ). Of course, Professors Walt and Mearsheimer put nothing in perspective unless it is a “perspective” that supports their arguments (for example: Palestinian terrorism is “wrong” but it isn’t surprising (no perspective), and please remember that the Zionists used it 60 years ago (plenty of perspective).)
In this particular statistical citation, even a little perspective would problematize the authors’ attempt to highlight the decline in—reported—incidents of anti-Semitism. For example, it should be noted that the 2005 statistical decline which they extol—wow, an almost 50% decrease!—nonetheless “remain ten times higher in terms of violence and six times higher for the threats than those recorded at the end of the 1990s” (see: http://www.totallyjewish.com/news/world/?content_id=2570 ). That’s not very reassuring, to say the least. So, although the authors support their point by noting that reported incidents of antisemitism in France declined from 2004 to 2005, which indeed sounds lovely in their presentation, their cited figure in fact demonstrates something quite different: a stark and disturbing increase in recent years.
So, in the LRB article, this paragraph’s second sentence (France no worse than America in terms of antisemitism) is bogus and the third sentence (an almost 50% drop in antisemitism) is heavily distorted and practically contradicts the authors’ claims. What about the longer version’s second sentence (not included in the LRB article), which lists some pleasant facts about French citizens? These statistics (89% could envisage living with a Jew, 97% think antisemitic graffiti wrong, 87% think attacks on French synagogues are scandalous, etc.) are from a poll taken over four years ago, in February 2002, but who’s counting? Here, the authors are playing with 2002 statistics to argue a point about 2006, which is problematic, to say the least, especially in light of recent events and recent years. In fact, according to analysts, “anti-Semitism in France has taken an uglier turn as young Arabs and West Africans have adopted loud hatred of Jews as a proclamation of cool.” Furthermore, “the anti-Semitism appears to be spreading among non-Muslim Africans and Caribbean blacks in France, and even gaining ground among white immigrants from European backwaters who find it difficult gaining a place in French society” (see: http://www.boston.com/news/world/europe/articles/2006/03/13/anti_semitism_seen_rising_among_frances_muslims?mode=PF ) And, as we’ve seen, a rabidly antisemitic comedian is one of France’s most popular performers, and he’s planning to enter politics. Furthermore, it seems that many in France would disagree with the professors’ assessment, four-year-old statistics notwithstanding: “According to a poll taken by the weekly newsmagazine Paris-Match after the Halimi murder but before the recent [antisemitic] incidents, nearly two-thirds of the French believe antisemitism is currently rising” (see: http://www.forward.com/articles/7462 ). Perhaps all these French citizens are simply just not as smart the authors of “The Israel Lobby.”
Antisemitism in France is a serious matter and minimizing it—by, for example, ignoring the anti-Jewish violence arising from the Arab-Muslim sectors when comparing France’s anti-Semitism to another country’s—is dangerous and irresponsible. But this is EXACTLY what the professors have done with the first quote they offer as (—95% distorted) evidence on the subject, in which they omit the context of Arab-Muslim European antisemitism without indicating their having done so. This is an academically unacceptable distortion on their part, and it was at least the third misquotation thus far in their essay. They followed this latest misquotation/misreading by two more dubious citations, none of which effectively address the claim they are challenging (about French being accused of being the most antisemitic country in Europe). Even without the latter two exhibits of intellectual dubieties, the authors’ brazen misrepresentation of Roger Cukierman’s assessment of French antisemitism clearly demonstrates that they have no qualms about misquoting even the head of the French Jewish Community on, of all subjects, the very issue of antisemitism in France. Or are we to understand that both professors managed to misunderstand the article’s very simple explanation of what Cukierman was saying?
As such, I find it most difficult to regard the authors of “The Israel Lobby” as serious researchers or thinkers in these matters. To paraphrase Peter Novick’s assessment of Norman Finkelstein: No facts alleged by Mearsheimer and Walt should be assumed to be really facts, no quotation in their work should be assumed to be accurate, without taking the time to carefully compare the claims with the sources they cite—and, I would add, the sources they do not cite. In fact, I would suggest that very little, if anything, about the professors’ article—not least their arguments about antisemitism—merits being taken particularly seriously other than their fairly transparent efforts at misrepresentation and provocation.
The authors’ final footnote offers another example: In the conclusion of their “working paper” (page 39) the authors state that AIPAC and its allies “know it has become more difficult to make Israel’s case today, and they are responding by expanding their activities staffs.” In the sentence’s footnote (the article’s final, #211) they cite this article: http://www.jta.org/page_view_story.asp?intarticleid=15896&intcategoryid=3 from the JTA, which says nothing of the sort. In fact, according to the article the professors cite, the reason AIPAC was “simultaneously expanding its lobbying efforts in Washington, the number of issues it addresses and its outreach to Jewish communities across the United States” is not because, as the authors claim, it was more difficult for AIPAC “to make Israel’s case today” but because the lobby had grown remarkably in recent years. To wit: “AIPAC’s membership has almost doubled since 2000, from 55,000 to 100,000, and its annual operating budget has more than doubled, from $17 million to more than $40 million.” The article, contrary to the authors’ suggestion, says nothing about AIPAC facing difficulties in making a case for Israel, nor does the article say anything about any of AIPAC’s “allies.” The authors have cited a source that makes no reference to their attrubution of causality. Again, we see that for the authors any development about the Lobby can be attributed to exactly what they claim, even when the source they cite says something entirely different. This is not admirable scholarship.
Nowhere do the authors entertain the notion that the reason Israel receives the support of the United States is that this is a more or less natural development between two countries in their respective positions. There is no suggestion that this relationship has arisen not primarily from cynical and manipulative subversion of America’s interests, but from genuine political and moral convictions, regardless of whether the people holding them were Jews or Zionists. And nowhere do they explore the possibility, however remote, that the reason the United States has favored Israel over its adversaries is not only because of the nefarious Israel Lobby but because Israel’s adversaries never especially merited it and never did much to deserve it, and thus for the US it was more sensible to support Israel, however much an insufferable liability it was, than other parties who would have constituted far riskier investments and far greater liabilities. The choice between offering support to a party who has offered myriad medical and technological advances, not to mention military intelligence, over the decades and who operates under a democratic system (albeit an imperfect one, just like every other democracy, especially America’s), in a country allotted within a miniscule portion of the territories relinquished by the Ottoman Empire after World War I (all the rest eventually becoming Arab states), and who has always been an ally (even if a manipulative and revolting one) in a volatile region of the world—or offering support to a party who has never offered any medical or technological advances (enhancing the methodology of suicide bombing does not count as an advance), or military intelligence, who has rejected offers of statehood in favor of terrorist campaigns and warfare, and who has supported, almost as a rule, the US’s opponents (the Nazis, the Soviets, Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini, the coup against Gorbachev, etc. etc.) for well over half a century, not to mention the adversaries of the US’s closest allies (supporting the IRA, for example) is pretty much a no-brainer to anyone whose perspective on the situation is not clouded by resentment, ignorance, and/or craven intellectual opportunism.
I should note that almost all of my points about Walt and Mearsheimer’s article are from the first half of their piece, although I think a tendency of the article has become obvious. I’m left with the impression that “The Israel Lobby,” starting with the title, was not written in full seriousness or academic “good faith” but as a deliberate provocation. I do not see how the authors could honestly have thought this would be a helpful piece. There’s something very rotten about it, and I doubt the article was intended to further any necessary or productive understanding of the world.
Unless, of course, Professors Walt and Mearsheimer have constructed all this as a “Modest Proposal” in the form of an amazingly sly satire in the guise of an anti-Israel polemic. So far the article does seem to have energized and benefited those who disagree with it far more than who those might agree with it, and it certainly has not done anything to enhance the effectiveness of anti-Israel discourse. It’s all very strange, and one cannot help but (almost) despair for the fellows. One hopes for the professors’ sakes that this article is somehow not precisely what it appears. But that’s their problem.
A final thought, from the Grand Inquisitor: “But finally the foolish children will understand that although they are rebels, they are feeble rebels, who cannot endure their own rebellion. Pouring out their foolish tears, they will finally acknowledge that he who created them rebels no doubt intended to laugh at them.”
I look forward to this pair’s article being intellectually demolished by those with more time than I. Based on my own analysis and and from what've read in the news, it will be like shooting fish in a barrel. With a shotgun.
Update: As I noted above, the article garnered kudos from various predictable circles: among other people, Juan Cole and Justin Raimondo cited it favorably, as did David Duke, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Fatah. CounterPunch linked to the article and featured it as the CounterPunch “Website of the Weekend.” Despite such vaunted hailings of support, the article appears to have generated far more responses in the direction of criticism and refutation, and I am beginning to fear the Internet term “Fisking” may come be supplanted by “Walting” and “Mearsheimering.” Sallies have been launched at “The Israel Lobby” by everybody from Alan Dershowitz and “The American Thinker” to Joseph Massad and the Angry Arab. The latter pair, who can generally be counted on to disparage Israel in often hysterical (in both senses of the word) terms, argue that the authors overstate the Lobby’s influence and make too many assumptions about the Middle East. Massad, as those familiar with him know, considers the Holocaust deniers of the Arab world to be Zionists (yes, you read that correctly) and he believes Israel to be a very, very, very, very racist apartheid state that behaves in a most racist, racist, and racist manner. In his response, which appears in Al-Ahram (see: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2006/787/op35.htm ) Massad critiques “The Israel Lobby” in his own unique Massad style, although he does so without explicitly identifying the professors’ article—which is odd, because that’s obviously what his editorial is about. I wonder if he deliberately did not mention the LRB article or if Al-Ahram edited his piece (Al-Ahram does mention the LRB article by name elsewhere, in another story that highlights its contents). Odd. And I love how the headline editor just could… not… stop… himself from dropping the J-bomb. Anyway, Massad thinks the article lets the United States off the hook by attributing its policy in the Middle East too much to Israeli or pro-Israel influence. America’s imperialist foreign policy, he claims, needs little help from the likes of Israel or the Israel Lobby to run roughshod over the Middle East (and much of the rest of the world). In fact, it is “the very centrality of Israel to US strategy in the Middle East that accounts, in part, for the strength of the pro-Israel lobby and not the other way around”; and, as such, if one country is deviously manipulating the other’s affairs, then it is American politicians who are subverting Israeli policy, not the other way around. So one day it is Israel and the Israel Lobby, with its vicious stranglehold (Krav Maga variety, I assume) on Congress, subverting American foreign policy and polluting democracy; and the next day it is the United States using Israel as an imperialist attack dog to render “ services to its US master” (for a good price). I can never keep any of this straight. It’s all so devious! Anyway, I look forward to the debate pitting Joseph Massad and the Angry Arab against Juan Cole and Justin Raimondo, as moderated by The Guardian’s Brian Whitaker. Winners—or is it losers?—get new copies of Chomsky’s “The Fateful Triangle.”
Update 2: In footnote 150, the professors state that a Jerusalem Post article (“Foreign Ministry Warns Israeli War Talk Fuels US Anti-Semitism,” March 10, 2003) “makes clear that ‘the Foreign Ministry has received reports from the US’ telling Israelis to cool their jets because ‘the US media’ is portraying Israel ‘as trying to goad the administration into war.’” Cool their jets?! This strikes me as overly breezy language for a essay co-authored by a Harvard dean, although I’ve no doubt that Professors Walt and Mearsheimer are hep cats for whom dope expressions like “cool your jets” are a just another way of keepin’ it real, dig?