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October 02, 2007

Walt, Mearsheimer, and Anti-Semitism

Believe it or not, I didn't actually want to engage the Walt and Mearsheimer book primarily through knocking back arguments that they're anti-semitic. In fact, I'm quite pissed the debate has devolved into this. What I wanted to do was have a serious discussion over a sprawling, controversial book, in which I could make a nuanced argument defending the portions I agreed with and puncturing the arguments I found uncompelling. And there were more than a couple in W/M's book, including the chapter on Iraq.

But I've not been able to have that discussion. We've not been able to have any discussion over the book at all. We've had a lot of discussions over the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which people seem to have mistaken for this book, but that's different. And what's more infuriating is that the silencing attack levied at Walt and Mearsheimer is that they, and their thesis, are "anti-semitic," which is to say they hate me for my intrinsic Jewishness, and that I, in sharing some of their conclusions, hate my race. The slurs being directed against W/M's political analysis are, in other words, being offered in my name, and in my defense. This expands the issue: The attacks on Walt and Mearsheimer are not being made on behalf of their critics, but on behalf of Jewry.

This is offensive. Growing up, classmates of mine -- putative friends, even -- would accuse me of "Jewing" them out of something, or refer to a plan that got screwed up as having become all "Jewed." That's anti-semitism. It's repulsive, and it's pervasive, and it's real -- it's about what "Jews," regardless of their individual characteristics, are.

Walt and Mearsheimer, by contrast, are arguing that there exists a powerful political lobby, ranked second in multiple surveys of Congressmen and staffers, that exerts disproportionate power over American policy towards Israel, in much the way AARP, the NRA, or the Cuban Lobby does on their issues. This Lobby, they argue, does not represent the expressed opinions of most Jews, and it includes a large constituency of Christian Zionists. That is not anti-Semitism. You may disagree with it, but it is not an attack on the shared characteristics of Jews. And it is disgusting and cheapening to pretend otherwise because marginalizing the authors as anti-semitic is more effective than arguing back their viewpoint.

October 2, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

Yup.

Posted by: Petey | Oct 2, 2007 12:21:24 PM

Ezra: "Walt and Mearsheimer, by contrast, are arguing that there exists a powerful political lobby, ranked second in multiple surveys of Congressmen and staffers, that exerts disproportionate power over American policy towards Israel, in much the way AARP, the NRA, or the Cuban Lobby does on their issues."

There is a long history of anti-Semitic theory suggesting that the inclination and capacity of Jews to obtain "disproportionate power" and wield it for selfish purposes is, in fact, an intrinsic Jewish trait. There is no such history with regard to old people, gun enthusiasts, or Cubans.

I haven't read W and M, and have no opinion as to their anti-Semitism or lack thereof. But your description of their argument does not, in itself, prove anything.

Posted by: Gator90 | Oct 2, 2007 12:30:58 PM

So this is what we've come to? It's anti-semitic to accurately describe AIPAC because, in the past, anti-semites have accused Jews of controlling the entire world? That's absurd. And I'll note that it's never been considered anti-semitic to point out AIPAC's influence when Gingrich and Clinton called it the most effective lobby in Washington.

Posted by: Ezra | Oct 2, 2007 12:34:28 PM

Well, you're a moderately prominent blogger who might be able to influence the debate. Maybe you could give the more nuanced, substantive discussion of The Israel Lobby a shot -- try posting something of that sort here, and see if anyone else wants to take up the issue on those terms. It might be a flop, and your post might end up being a lone discussion of the book's argument lost among the debates about anti-Semitism, but what have you got to lose, really?

(This is not a criticism of how you've conducted yourself in this whole affair so far*. I'm just saying that if you really do want to talk about the book substantively, it might be worth a (long) shot to see if you can pull the debate in that direction -- or, barring that, at least get an interesting blog post off.)

*Not that I'm implying your ego is so fragile that you need me to tell you that.**

**Not that I think you're so sensitive that you'd think I was implying your ego was so fragile.***

***You know what? Forget it. Pretend that none of these footnotes exist, okay?

Posted by: Julian Elson | Oct 2, 2007 12:37:21 PM

I've been disappointed before when big, clumsy, predictable arguments crowded out the interesting wonky discussions I wanted to have. I've finally taken to barring lines of discussion, in a 'Before You Comment' postscript. It reduces the comments, but the ones that remain are on-point. You could combine that with an open thread, if you think people need a relief valve to discuss anti-Semitism.

Posted by: Megan | Oct 2, 2007 12:54:50 PM

a decent community..and this is one..
offers regrets that anyone's Jewry
[even the word is become offensive as so often epithet]
is being drug into this mean-spirited bluster and spite.

Sorry, guy.

Posted by: has_te | Oct 2, 2007 1:01:50 PM

It's a little more nuanced then that. Criticism of AIPAC's actions is not per-se anti-semitic, but criticisms of AIPAC that link AIPAC to a putative history of Jewish power and influence may be worth a closer look.

Posted by: lux | Oct 2, 2007 1:26:38 PM

Thanks for writing this. Another debate-ending technique is to be told that non-Jewish people can't possibly perceive the anti-Semitism in W/M, and therefore aren't qualified to comment.

There is a real crying-wolf problem here -- honest anti-Semitism really does exist, but nobody will take it seriously if every argument against AIPAC is classified as anti-Semitic.

Posted by: Sean Carroll | Oct 2, 2007 1:32:41 PM

criticisms of AIPAC that link AIPAC to a putative history of Jewish power and influence may be worth a closer look.
As far as I can tell, those criticisms, the ones linking to some pervasive theory of Jewish power, are explicitly not what W and M are saying.

For instance, I have theories about the current Republican Party's worldview and means of getting and wielding power. In 1875, the KKK also had theories about their contemporary Republican Party's worldview and means of getting and wielding power. The two are very different and unrelated. If I wrote a book called "The Republican Party's Pursuit of Power," and the only argument about it was whether it was essentially a KKK tract, that would be a facile, stupid and irrelevant discussion that would make it difficult to actually talk about the substance of my book. Get it?

Well put, Ezra.

Posted by: SDM | Oct 2, 2007 1:41:25 PM

"But I've not been able to have that discussion."

Bullshit. You've put the anti-Semitism charge front and center. The linked post originally had criticisms of Goldberg's argument (that you couldn't have supported) which you silently edited out before they could be well engaged. Weeks ago, when expert commenter haggai linked a number of reviews of the thesis which don't make that charge, you were silent - when I relinked you were silent. Here's you sneeringly opening a post with a link to Gelb's article, which you then proceed not to discuss - and most of your commenters have no interest in taking up the argument starting from, "Look here". You're being Andrew Sullivan re _The Bell Curve_, defending the work by tarring critics as anti-anti-racists and not even engaging the criticism that suits your criteria for acceptability.

You want to have a good discussion of W/M, start leading one.

Posted by: rilkefan | Oct 2, 2007 1:47:42 PM

To my mind, the knee jerk accusations of anti-semitism (and their effectiveness is precluding just the debate Ezra, and I, wish to have) is pretty strong evidence in favor of some iteration of the W&M theory. At this point we're discussing whether [i]even discussing[/i] whether our Israel policy is a good idea is a good idea. Were one wedded to the current position of more or less unchecked support of maximally militarist policies, I'm not sure how the debate could be better framed to serve your interests.

Posted by: Pooh | Oct 2, 2007 1:50:58 PM

sean carroll: "There is a real crying-wolf problem here -- honest anti-Semitism really does exist, but nobody will take it seriously if every argument against AIPAC is classified as anti-Semitic."

You've fallen for a canard. Just reading this blog you can find critics of W/M who say their argument isn't anti-Semitic as well as criticism of AIPAC from critics of W/M. You've got the sign wrong on the crying-wolf problem here.

Posted by: rilkefan | Oct 2, 2007 1:52:31 PM

I'm surely tempted to rant about AIPAC and their despicable use of the anti-semitic attacks on people who disagree with their political position (and the recent version of ADL, as well), but I'll leave off with my adjectival 'despicable'.

I might add that non-Jewish folks are just as, or even more, subject to the anti-semitic label if they have opinions on US policy toward the Israel/Palestine conflict. I feel pressure of a sorts not to enter this food fight, but the stakes are very high and the people with the craziest ideas seem to have the biggest megaphones. Frankly, I'm mad as hell that such a small percentage of people can have this influence to virtually dictate how our nation conducts our affairs.

I don't know how the US should deal with internal pressure groups like AIPAC, NRA, and the anti-Castro Cubans. They have power because they can make lots of noise (advertising, pr, organized frenzies) and they have lots of campaign cash to dispense - both of which scare the hell out of politicians.

Being a believer in free speech and its implications, I'm becoming forced to the tentative idea that countervailing power is the best response. Why aren't there equally well-financed groups that counter (and even overweigh) each of these too-powerful lobbies?

If someone organizes a US group of Jews and non-Jews to fight back, I'd be there in a minute with cash in hand - but only if they are prepared to engage in figurative street brawls with AIPAC and intend to win. No namby-pamby liberal hand-wringing is going to tame this beast.

Where are the fighting liberals and progressives?

(looking under desk and bed, and in closet)

Every time I think of these kinds of issues, I recall the lines/action from the movie Network, where the TV guy tells people to open their windows and say 'I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore'. And they do.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Oct 2, 2007 1:52:54 PM

Pooh, where were your comments on the Gelb post? What's keeping you from responding to the material haggai linked here?

Also, what's the distinction between your silencing-is-evidence claim and the claim made by conspiracy theorists that dissent is proof?

Posted by: rilkefan | Oct 2, 2007 1:57:26 PM

Have to agree with Julian Elson. Please give nuanced debate a try! Sure the comment's section might be a bit flamy, but a lot of us would really value your insight into this issue.

Posted by: Meh | Oct 2, 2007 2:00:36 PM

It's frustrating, but not surprising. Likudniks have been throwing around accusations of antisemitism or self-hating-antisemitism at anyone who disagreed with their particular Israel policy preferences for the last 20-plus years. Look at the hatred they have for Jimmy Carter, who brokered one of the most important peace deals in Israeli history.

Posted by: Antid Oto | Oct 2, 2007 2:02:31 PM

We have been entreated to any number of the criticisms that contain absurdly fallacious arguments against the book The Israel Lobby. You should ignore them and offer your own critique.

I would also encourage deleting comments that are obvious trolls such as those by rilkefan.

Posted by: kazumatan | Oct 2, 2007 2:07:54 PM

JimPortlandOR: "I don't know how the US should deal with internal pressure groups like AIPAC, NRA, and the anti-Castro Cubans."

It's easy to be upset about groups we dislike - what about groups we like: NARAL, AARP on SS, teacher's/nurses unions? What about arguments against the "liberal media"?


"If someone organizes a US group of Jews and non-Jews to fight back, I'd be there in a minute with cash in hand - but only if they are prepared to engage in figurative street brawls with AIPAC and intend to win. No namby-pamby liberal hand-wringing is going to tame this beast."

I can't really guess what effective tactics you have in mind here. E.g., I guess you consider Americans for Peace Now namby-pamby - they're not about to wrest influence on Cheney away from AIPAC. It's not like they're keeping the U.S. embassy out of Jerusalem, either. But probably if everybody who's upset about these issues gave them money they could start to have a noticeable effect.

Posted by: rilkefan | Oct 2, 2007 2:13:20 PM

Pooh, where were your comments on the Gelb post?

I didn't see that post. Sorry I didn't keep up on the required reading. Would you care to provide a list so that I'll know when I'm allowed to comments again? I'll echo the above comments to Get Your Own Blog where people can talk about what you want them to talk about.

Also, what's the distinction between your silencing-is-evidence claim and the claim made by conspiracy theorists that dissent is proof?

Uhm, because part of the theory is that the power of the "Lobby" is to effectively remove certain topics from the debate. And the closest we come to debating those topics is a meta-discussion of whether debating those topics is appropriate or some evidence of anti-semitism/self-hating Jewry (I quite like myself, actually). And the driving force behind this meta-discussion comes from such people as Foxman, Dershowitz and Peretz who for any definition of "the Israel Lobby", certainly count. You're right, this is JUST like a conspiracy theorist saying that dissent=proof.

For the record, I'm agnostic as to the accuracy of the totality of W&M's claims, largely because I haven't read the whole book yet (I wonder how many charging anti-semitism have...), but as Ezra points out, we can't actually discuss that. And despite your protestations to the contrary, you Rilkefan are part of the reason we can't/aren't.

You're usually a lot either smarter or intellectually honest than this. How about this, tell me why you think A) our present Israel policy is good; and B) that the debate about the direction that policy should take is open and reasonably unbounded.

Posted by: Pooh | Oct 2, 2007 2:30:47 PM

Re Ezra at 12:34:

Ezra, I thought I stated quite clearly that I have no opinion regarding whether the W/M book is in any way anti-Semitic or not. So I find it odd that your immediate response was to accuse me of making accusations of anti-Semitism.

That AIPAC has substantial influence ever U.S. policy re Israel is beyond rational debate. One can certainly write about that fact in a way that is critical or disapproving, with no hint of anti-Semitism. (Glenn Greenwald's writings are a good example of this.) One can also write about it in a way that is openly anti-Semitic or has anti-Semitic implications. (Some commenters in the Left Blogosphere have provided me with examples of this from time to time.) As I said, I have no opinion about Walt and Mearsheimer. My point was that your post was not helpful in forming an opinion.

If you find it inconceivable that a book about Jews pulling strings to direct the actions of the most powerful government on earth could possibly raise valid concerns among those who worry about anti-Semitism, I'd urge you to give it a little more thought. (AGAIN, I HAVE NO IDEA WHETHER ANY OF THE CONCERNS RAISED ABOUT THIS PARTICULAR BOOK ARE VALID.)

And if you really think that discussion of Jewish influence in Washington is analogous to the AARP, NRA, or Cuban-Americans... well, show me the widely publicized, passionately debated books on those latter topics, and we'll compare.

Posted by: Gator90 | Oct 2, 2007 2:47:50 PM

"I didn't see that post. Sorry I didn't keep up on the required reading."

You complain that you can't have debate on the merits - can you be bothered to do the reading and comment on it?


"How about this, tell me why you think A) our present Israel policy is good; and B) that the debate about the direction that policy should take is open and reasonably unbounded."

0) This is straw. But 1) I dislike our Israel policy, as you'll know if you read my comments anywhere and 2) well, W/M got a big contract for a shoddy book, and it's in the stores, and its thesis is being engaged across the blogosphere from a wide variety of perspectives. Here, unfortunately, it's not being engaged.


"you Rilkefan are part of the reason we can't/aren't."

Bullshit. Point me to any instance where I've cried anti-Semitism. I haven't even argued that W/M are anti-Semites, because I doubt they are, as I'm on record saying. The only thing I've been doing is pointing out weak arguments (admittedly with growing exasperation) and linking to people who disagree with the majority here. If Ezra thinks I'm disrupting open debate here he's welcome to ban me, but from my perspective I'm the one pushing for open debate.

Posted by: rilkefan | Oct 2, 2007 3:02:52 PM

Let's have a discussion of the upcoming trial, slated to start early next year:

The Lobby on Trial

"...the indictment of Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two top officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

More than three years ago, the news that Rosen, the number-one lobbyist for Israel in Washington, and his sidekick Weissman had been indicted for violating the Espionage Act, for handing over top-secret intelligence to Israeli embassy officials, broke like a thunderclap over official Washington."

http://antiwar.com/justin/

Posted by: Brighid | Oct 2, 2007 3:15:02 PM

Bullshit. Point me to any instance where I've cried anti-Semitism. I haven't even argued that W/M are anti-Semites, because I doubt they are, as I'm on record saying. The only thing I've been doing is pointing out weak arguments (admittedly with growing exasperation) and linking to people who disagree with the majority here. If Ezra thinks I'm disrupting open debate here he's welcome to ban me, but from my perspective I'm the one pushing for open debate.

Whatever. Fine you're not disrupting open debate, you're just perpetuating the meta-debate precluding us from having the actual debate.

You complain that you can't have debate on the merits - can you be bothered to do the reading and comment on it?

Uhm, no. My time is limited and I haven't read every post on the subject. Maybe I misread your earlier question and you were asking for my comment NOW on the earlier post. I read you as asking why I didn't comment on the post at the time.

Posted by: Pooh | Oct 2, 2007 4:04:59 PM

PINR posted a very good assesment of why Israel is supported by the US a while back. They looked only at the strategic issues at hand, ignoring the lobbyists. It can be read here: http://www.pinr.com/report.php?ac=view_report&report_id=216&language_id=1

Posted by: samo | Oct 2, 2007 4:21:50 PM

"you're just perpetuating the meta-debate precluding us from having the actual debate."

0) It takes two to tango 1) but that's irrelevant because I've been asking that people get beyond the anti-Semitism and anti-anti-Semitism meta from the beginning of the discussion here. If you read the comments to the Gelb post you'll see I've made a slightly negative comment about something he says in arguing against M/W but there's no substantive discussion of his criticism. As far as I'm concerned you're perfectly welcome to comment or not comment on anything without any implication, but if you (in the sense of "anyone representing your view") don't show up to the debate venue you can't then reasonably complain that no debate took place.

Ok, so no more meta. How about the standard critique of M/W's sourcing, balance, and lack of resolving power which I linked in the Gelb thread?

Posted by: rilkefan | Oct 2, 2007 4:58:26 PM

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