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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.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

To the London Review of Books: It would be an understatement, I would hope, to say that scholarship that relies upon distortion and fabrication is unworthy of the London Review of Books, regardless of whether the authors in question are Holocaust deniers or Harvard chairs. Regarding Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s remarkable article “The Israel Lobby,” one almost suspects (even hopes) that the authors have constructed a Swiftian “Modest Proposal” or some similarly sly joke. The article is not without humor, to be sure, as one cannot help but smile at such witty references as “blood kinship,” “Neo-conservative gentiles,” and the like. Unfortunately, noting all of the less than humorous errors and misrepresentations in Walt and Mearsheimer’s article would require more length than a letters’ section would allow, but please allow me to highlight a few of the more striking examples.

The professor claim, “When she was prime minister, Golda Meir famously remarked that ‘there is no such thing as a Palestinian.’” This reference to Meir is obligatory in Israel-phobic polemics of this sort, and I believe the requirement has been formally codified and is carved in stone somewhere. In fact, Meir said no such thing, even in the original interview from which the professors’ “famously remarked” quotation supposedly originates. In the longer version of their article, the authors cite (footnote 39) as their source for this information page 147 of Rashid Khalidi’s book Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness. Therein Khalidi, whose name the professors misspell, quotes Meir as remarking that “There was no such thing as Palestinians…. They did not exist.’” In fact, contrary to Walt and Mearsheimer’s misquotation of Khalidi’s misrepresentation, what Meir in fact stated (in an interview with The Sunday Times in 1969), in response to being asked if she considered “the emergence of the Palestinian fighting forces, the Fedayeen, an important new factor in the Middle East” was the following observation:

Important, no. A new factor, yes. There was no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian State? It was either southern Syria before the First World War and than it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.

Mearsheimer and Walt’s distorted rendering of this observation does not even pass the smell test, much less verification of the actual sources they cite. Furthermore, 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.

Yet even in the original interview, as cited by Walt and Mearsheimer via their recycling of Khalidi’s parsing, it is clear that Meir was referring to Palestinian nationhood and not Palestinians in general, whose existence she clearly acknowledged both in that comment and in everything else she ever said about them.

Sadly, this Meir “quote” and its myriad permutations have become a prized staple of anti-Israel propaganda, even though Meir never expressed such an idea and even corrected—in the New York Times, no less—the mistaken allegations that she had. (Khalidi’s exploitation of this prized “quotation” is a typical example of how anti-Zionist scholars manage to overlook evidence that contradicts their selectively quoted anecdotes—myths, really—about Zionist political figures.) As such, it is hardly surprising to see Mearsheimer and Walt flaunting the Meir “quotation,” not least in such a uniquely grotesque rendering. Indeed, what would have been surprising is if the professors had NOT quoted it in some form or another. Nowadays, I read pieces like “The Israel Lobby” waiting to see how long it takes the author—or authors—to discharge Meir’s non-existent statement. One could even make a drinking game out of it, I suppose.

I’m willing to accept that one of these two esteemed professors may have missed the New York Times article in which Meir corrected the misrepresentation, and that the same professor subsequently heard nothing about it in the years following—the New York Times, after all, being quite an obscure paper that 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 is this a misrepresentation so egregious it takes the combined efforts of two tenured academics to execute? Yet just because this misquotation has been a prized staple of anti-Israel discourse for decades is no excuse for anyone, especially academics, to continue disseminating its mangled permutations.

The London Review of Books would be doing a service to its readers and scholarship in general if it refrained from reprinting this non-existent Meir quotation in the future.

Incidentally, Professors Walt and Mearsheimer precede their erroneous observation about Golda Meir with a less than felicitous observation about David Ben-Gurion. The professors purport to quote Ben-Gurion, but what they actually present is a quotation of Nahum Goldmann’s recollecting in his 1976 book (The Jewish Paradox, translated from the French) something that Ben-Gurion supposedly told him 22 years earlier during a long,, late night discussion. The professors, in splendid scholarly fashion, indicate none of this and present their recycled Ben-Gurion “quote” as if it were straight from the man himself. Furthermore, they do not even copy the quotation correctly from Goldmann’s book. This is another example of the professors’ execrable scholarship, and the list goes on.

Most interestingly, Mearsheimer and Walt write that “in 2003, the head of the French Jewish community said that ‘France is not more anti-semitic than America.’” In the longer version of their article, the professors cite an article from the August 1, 2003 issue of the the Forward (footnote 106; see: “Community Head: France No More Antisemitic Than U.S.” at http://www.forward.com/issues/2003/03.08.01/news9.html ) in which Roger Cukierman, the senior leader of the French Jewish community, compared antisemitism in France and America.

What Cukierman and the Forward article clearly emphasize, and what Mearsheimer and Walt clearly ignore, in what can only be considered a staggering misrepresentation of Cukierman’s words on their part, is that Cukierman was differentiating between classic French antisemitism, of the traditional French/European variety, and “new” (or “newer’) manifestations of anti-Jewish violence as perpetrated by France’s Arabs and Muslim quarter. As the Forward article explains, in Cukierman’s estimation the latter manifestations “were responsible for 95% to 98% of antisemitic incidents” in France. Therefore, per Cukierman’s distinction, “This is why ‘France is not more antisemitic than America,’ he explained, despite the fact that most Muslims in France are French citizens.”

Nonetheless, Professors Walt and Mearsheimer distort Cukierman’s assessment by eliding his distinction of, in his estimation, at least 95% of antisemitic incidents in France, thus radically obfuscating the context and meaning of Cukierman’s comparison. The professors portray Cukierman’s specific comparison of (traditional) antisemitism in America and France as if he had been referring in general to 100% of all French antisemitism, rather than the 5% (or less) of French antisemitism that he had specifically identified as traditional European antisemitism. Thus, in Walt and Mearsheimer’s calculus, unlike in Cukierman’s, there is no quantitive or qualitative difference between all antisemitism in France in general and all antisemitism in France minus the 95% of incidents perpetrated by the Arab-Muslim quarter. This is an egregious misrepresentation of the specific for the general, not to mention another misquotation. Such statistical manipulation—in which 5% is presented as 100%—would be considered falsification of data in other fields. To say the least, it is not admirable scholarship.

To modify slightly the historian Peter Novick’s assessment of Norman Finkelstein, whose most recent book the professors cite favorably (despite such fraudulent allegations as that Hollywood produced at least 175 films on the Nazi Holocaust from 1989 to 2005): No facts alleged by Mearsheimer and Walt should be assumed to be really facts, no quotation in their article should be assumed to be accurate, without taking the time to carefully compare the claims with the sources they 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 except as fairly transparent efforts at misrepresentation and provocation.. One could cite myriad examples of further misquotations and misrepresentations from “The Israel Lobby,” and it is worth noting that the authors’ selection of source material is similarly unbecoming serious academic work. Examples include CounterPunch (publisher of articles by Gilad Atzmon), AntiWar.com (home of 9/11 conspiracy “theorist” Justin Raimondo), and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (a propaganda organ that recently published an anti-Jewish dual-loyalty smear that Ambassador Henry Morgenthau, Sr. showed “more loyalty to Zionism than to his president or his country”).

It is disappointing to see the London Review of Books afford copious space to scholars who evidence such tedious hostility not just to Israel (and those who support Israel) but also to rudimentary standards of academic scholarship. Unless, of course, “The Israel Lobby” is indeed a sly Swiftian offering, in which case one can only be amazed that such intellectual betwaddlement has been taken so seriously by so many.

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