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September 07, 2007

Commentary on Israel Lobby Commentary

Generally speaking, the rerelease of Walt and Mearsheimer's argument on the Israel Lobby has produced a lot of insensible, uninteresting commentary. MJ Rosenberg's take, by contrast, strikes me as quite sensible, and the sort of thing that people like David Remnick agree with, but for unclear reasons, are very reticent to actually say:

I spent almost 20 years as a Congressional aide and can testify from repeated personal experience that Senators and House Members are under constant pressure to support status quo policies on Israel. It is no accident that Members of Congress compete over who can place more conditions on aid to the Palestinians, who will be first to denounce the Saudi peace plan, and who will win the right to be the primary sponsor of the next pointless Palestinian-bashing resolution. Nor is it an accident that there is never a serious Congressional debate about policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. Moreover, every President knows that any serious effort to push for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement based on compromise by both sides will produce loud (sometimes hysterical) opposition from the Hill.

Walt and Mearsheimer mostly limit themselves to exploring whether all this is good for the United States (and to a lesser extent, Israel). The question I ask today, and not for the first time, is whether this type of behavior is good for Israel. Forty years after the Six Day War, the occupation continues, the resistance to it intensifies, and Israelis in increasing numbers question whether they have a future in the Jewish state.

Has "pro-Israel" advocacy consistently produced "pro-Israel" ends? At several critical moments, it most certainly has not.

You should read the rest of MJ's take. I'm pretty sure David Remnick would echo every sentiment in that excerpt save for the claim that he worked on the Hill for 20 years. But when faced with the possibility of actually writing something on the Israel Lobby, Remnick engaged in more of what Tony Karon rightly characterized as "a kvetch, designed to discredit M&W in the eyes of New Yorker readers, [rather] than a serious engagement with their argument." It's strange.

September 7, 2007 | Permalink


Terry Gross had Walt on her show. To provide "balance" I guess, she also had Abe Foxman who brought on teh stupid. I reckon that, even if Walt and Mearsheimer's arguments give "aid and comfort" to anti-Semities, Foxman's discrediting of concerns about anti-Semitism give even more aid and comfort to them.

I got fed up and changed the station. But I wonder -- did Terry Gross ever ask Abe Foxman to comment about how much "dual loyalty" was being encouraged by people within the Jewish community vis-a-vis the Iraq war and the Bush Presidency? We Jews were constantly being told by someone or other within our synagogue or Hillel that we should support the Iraq war because we are Jews and the war would be good for Israel(TM) ... and that we should support Bush because he is good for Israel(TM).

Nu? You can't complain about allegations of dual loyalty being canards when people actually are trying to encourage it!

Actually, this is where IMHO Walt and Mearsheimer go wrong. They do make some attempt, evidently (I must confess I've not read the book) to argue that the so-called pro-Israel lobby is not exactly good for Israel, but they still assume the cart is driving the horse. Consider, e.g., the Lebanon war of late -- it was essentially Israel being used to fight a proxy war on our behalf. Would Israel have been so hawkish if the so-called Israel lobby weren't pushy the US government to egg Israel on?

Where anti-Zionist nuts go wrong is assuming the real goal of the Israel lobby is to help Israel. The (subconscious ... I'm not alleging a conspiracy theory -- doesn't anyone read that speech of Ike's anymore?) goal is to help itself and to help the military industrial complex. Israel is being used as a tool here to get my people -- who are disproportionately better off, more educated, more influential, etc. but who also are generally of a liberal, dirty f$%&ing hippy type -- behind a military-industrial-political complex behind which we would never otherwise get. And also, mind you, to have tools like Abe Foxman discredit opposition to this complex as "anti-Semitism".

Sometimes it seemed like Walt got that -- I wish he would have said it a bit more explicitly.

Of course, the real question I wish Terry Gross would have asked is to Abe Foxman: "why are you discrediting the necessary work of fighting anti-Semitism that the ADL has done by being such a tool?"

Posted by: DAS | Sep 7, 2007 2:52:06 PM

When the original paper was posted, Marty had at least 6 articles bashing Walt and Mearshimer, not counting several Spines. Now that a book is coming out, anyone want to bet on how many articles TNR publishes bashing the authors? I say 12-15.

Posted by: Farty Meretz | Sep 7, 2007 3:33:34 PM

Karon: "Israel quite simply has no inclination to withdraw from the occupied territories"

How can you approvingly link to somebody who can say something so deeply stupid?

I'd go on and point out the various failings in his analysis of Remnick, but it's best just to add Karon to the deeply unreality-baesd list and move on.

Posted by: rilkefan | Sep 7, 2007 3:59:45 PM

"insensible, uninteresting commentary"

And this is amusingly weak. It's "uninteresting" because it doesn't suit your preconceptions? It is "insensible" because (assuming you mean "unintelligible") because you can't follow a simple argument? That being: W/M are wrong on al Q's motivations, willfully unbalanced on the I/P history, compelled to gloss over contradictory evidence, generally simplistic, and lacking a sense of perspective about what lobbies do. Maybe Remnick's wrong (I haven't read the book), but you have to grapple with his points if you don't want to be knee-jerk about this.

Posted by: rilkefan | Sep 7, 2007 4:21:32 PM

Okay: I have read the book, and not only is Remnick wrong, but he doesn't come anywhere near grappling with their arguments. It's uninteresting because it doesn't engage the debate, it quietly sidesteps it and tries to talk about the subject of lobbying.

Posted by: Ezra | Sep 7, 2007 5:03:12 PM

Ok, so could you address where he's wrong on the claims I list? Are they unbalanced? Do they gloss over contradictory evidence? Do they describe a world in which "Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Exxon-Mobil barely exist"? Do they leave the impression that "if the Israelis and the Palestinians come to terms, bin Laden will return to the family construction business"?

Also, how is "the subject of lobbying" beside the point?

Posted by: rilkefan | Sep 7, 2007 5:13:18 PM

Rosenberg is full of wishful thinking.

Fact is that Israel has crushed the intifada- which it could not have done without American diplomatic support during operation Defensive Shield- and is enjoying an almost unprecedented economic boom as a result.

Posted by: Ron | Sep 7, 2007 5:42:15 PM

I was going to make some comparisons of US policy toward Israel and other situations (e.g. US policy toward Cuba) where strong US identity groups capture the policy, but, alas, I must withhold to avoid a flamewar and being labelled as anti-whatever.

But some general questions may be OK: why do the extremists in the identity groups always take control and drive out the moderates? And why does the Congress always yield to the most extreme of the identity groups?

Also interesting is the insistence on capturing use of certain words, for instance holocaust, apparteid and genocide, such that other applications of the words are forbidden.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Sep 7, 2007 6:53:19 PM

"And why does the Congress always yield to the most extreme of the identity groups?"

This is the right-wing stance on teacher's unions, minorities, immigration...

"being labelled as anti-whatever"

If you're not anti-whatever, you ought to have the strength of conviction to make your argument regardless of whether you'll get incorrectly labelled by the infamous Some.

"other applications of the words are forbidden"

Like the words anti-whatever?

Posted by: rilkefan | Sep 7, 2007 7:51:08 PM

Instead of meta-arguing about what qualifies as "engaging their arguments" and what doesn't, perhaps a perusal of some (mostly serious, I thought) reviews of the book is in order:


Also, what Scott Lemieux said, last year:


And what I said, here (near the end of this post):


Posted by: Haggai | Sep 7, 2007 8:10:13 PM

I think pro-Israel *is* incorrect. Pro-Likud maybe. Or there is probably a better term. But most sensible, progressive Israelis think pretty much like most sensible, progressive Americans. Calling their wingnuts "Israel" is clever (for the wingnuts) but incorrect.

Posted by: Emma Anne | Sep 7, 2007 8:16:01 PM

Thanks for the links, Haggai, excellent (re)reads.

Posted by: rilkefan | Sep 7, 2007 8:29:25 PM

If someone recommended that the US rethink our support of South Korea, would that person be labeled "anti-Korean"? If one questions whether we should support Taiwan in the event China tried to invade it, would that person be called "anti-Chinese"? In both cases, I think that there would be real arguments whether it would be wise to abandon allies, but the "ethnic" card wouldn't be an issue. With Israel, however, we can't have a legitimate debate about why, exactly, it is in our national interest to support Israel, because even to raise the question is to invite being labeled anti-Semitic.

Posted by: Tillman Fan | Sep 7, 2007 9:57:10 PM

M. J. Rosenberg was right on the money so far as I can see. He left out one thing our elected reps did as a result of AIPAC pressure. Didn't they cave in on placing any constraint, however feeble, on Bush's powers to make war against Iran when he pleases and on whatever grounds take his fancy?

Excellent question JIm. It's long seemed obvious to me that less Draconian policies towards Cuba would actually weaken the grip of Castro and his govt. I think there is a chance that what emerged would be institutionally continuous with the present govt--more like what's going on in China than happened in the DDR, for example--and I take it that nothing short of a total repudiation of everything that's happened in the last forty-five plus years, with all the streets re-named, all the holidays changed and so on would be acceptable to the part of the Cuban-American population that has a lock on US policy in this area.

Posted by: J | Sep 7, 2007 11:06:33 PM

From the perspective of someone not very invested in this argument, I have to note my impressions of the Walt vs. Foxman cage match on Fresh Air, referred to above.

If Walt and Mearsheimer are full of shit, and if the Israel lobby is Righteous and Good, then the latter would really benefit from finding a better spokesman than Abe Foxman. Listening to him felt very much like listening to the thuggish rightwing experts-du-jour that make appearances on O'Reilly, Hannity, etc. All denunciation, no argument. It makes a difference, too - as I said, I don't know or care a *whole* lot about the issue, but I'm interested enough in current events to sit through interviews like this. So sometimes personal and rhetorical style dominates my feelings on the argument, because it's all I really have to go on. I left that interview feeling much more sympathetic to the M&W side. Unfair, perhaps, but that's how things go.

Posted by: piminnowcheez | Sep 7, 2007 11:55:23 PM

pim, I invite you to check out some of the links I posted a few comments up-thread. I don't think M&W really know what they're talking about, but I agree that Foxman and his ilk are mostly substance-free gasbags who contribute little or nothing of value to the debate.

Posted by: Haggai | Sep 8, 2007 12:20:34 AM

I suspect that Walt and Mearsheimer will stimulate a lot of thoughtful discussion in Israel itself.
Does an intelligent, well-educated people, competing well in the high-tech world economy and capable of making their own security alliances need to cling to a declining superpower? But here they provoke hysteria from drooling Neanderthals like Foxman.

Posted by: bob h | Sep 8, 2007 8:40:28 AM

I very much enjoyed (and saved) the tonykaron precis
to which you pointed us,

Having spent most of a longish lifetime very accepting,
really mostly ok, with all things Israel.
Uncritical kind of -across the board- and always a bit dismayed at how 'those Arabs' just kept being.

But on my waking from our National somnolence, there came the inevitable cognitive disconnect.

So for me the W&M explanation made perfect sense...
I had been failing to understand Lieberman or the rubbl`ized/Shi`a/impoverished southern Beirut
of recent experience and all the civilian deaths...but mostly NOT in Israel...
And a lot of stuff made sense.

[And parenthetically...the blogs have been critical in my making sense of
a world which heretofore has been largely NON-sensical....
so THNX, rather widely due - there]

Posted by: has_te | Sep 8, 2007 10:28:56 AM

Zombie beat me to creating a graphic of the Walt/Mearsheimer Jewish Lobby drek in the toilet, at Little Green Footballs. (Zombie: Walt and Mearsheimer, Right Where They Belong.)

After thinking this over carefully, I don't think these professors are really anti-Semitic. I believe what they are is far worse. Read on.

Walt and Mearsheimer are utilizing the same anti-Semitic tactics as despots who wish to distract their subjects from the malignant social ills that they themselves foster, but unlike despots who fabricate Jewish conspiracy theories out of a combination of opportunism and actual hate, these professors have written their essay and book based on the former motivation alone, opportunism.

Like bank robbers, their motivation for this outrage is primarily because “the Jews are there”, are the target du jour of the Islamofascists (for now!), and have proven useful as punching bags to countless others in history.

The professors’ writings show no respect for the Jewish people and for their past persecutions, but the professors are not anti-Semitic, just amoral and opportunistic. Accusations of anti-Semitism are a distraction from the real issues.

Walt and Mearscheimer know full well there is no super-powerful "Jewish Lobby”, that the pro-Israel lobbyists have competing counterparts representing many other causes and countries, and that the pro-Israel lobby is not particularly remarkable in this environment. They know full well that the misrepresentations of fact, omissions, things taken out of context, logical errors, etc. in their prior paper and this book are indeed risible, the trash produced by dilettantes, not by serious researchers.

But they don't care.

What would make them produce such garbage?

Fear of Islamofascism, and the standards of (mis)conduct that come right from the halls of academia with which they've lived their lives, notably amorality and betrayal of friends when some self-interest is served. (For professors, it's usually money and status.) They are clearly enthralled with university culture and attempting to export that pathologic "culture" to the rest of the world.

What is the "gain" here? In the main, I do think the reason d'atre of their book is one of appeasement and surrender to Islamofascism.

A few hundred million insane bloodthirsty Arabs and other followers of the death cult of Islam calling for Death to Israel and Death to America: what better way to appease them than writing a book that the authors hope will cause the U.S. to hang Israel out to dry in the face of genocidal maniacs, groups and countries like Hezbollah, Hamas, Ahmadinejad, Syria and Iran?

In fact, they are not anti-Semites. Rather, they are equal opportunity amoralists. If the Islamofascists were chanting “Death to Mexico! Death to America!”, Walt and Mearsheimer would undoubtedly craft conspiracy theories that might justify allowing Osama and his minions to relocate from Waziristan to Acapulco.

University professors are renowned for turning on their friends, students and colleagues at the drop of a hat, if they see a personal gain in doing so. They could care less about ruining careers and lives. See for example, “Academic Tyranny: The Tale and the Lessons”, Robert Weissberg, Review of Policy Research, Vol. 15 no. 4 P. 99-110, Dec. 1998, and especially "Authorship: The Coin of the Realm, The Source of Complaints" by Wilcox, Journal of the AMA, Vol. 280 No. 3, July 15, 1998 that describes how stealing of others’ work and career-ending professorial retaliation against those who complain is common at Walt's university, Harvard. Of course see www.thefire.org as well.

So, Walt and Mearsheimer wrote this book in all its faux-academic glory in the cowardly and academic-culture-inspired hope of spearheading a U.S. betrayal of its friend, Israel, in their hope that this will satiate the Islamofascists' appetite for blood and "honor."

They are incredibly reckless in this regard. Their book is quite socially irresponsible (not a new thing for academia). Their whole theme, abandonment of friends for supposed secondary gain, i.e., the appeasement of a brutal terrorist killer culture, is explicitly amoral (and likely immoral as well for those of us not prone to moral relativism) as well as anti-American.

They are using this book and likely their educational pulpits with students as a weapon, with the desired collateral damage of weakening the U.S. (Does anyone even need to ask anymore why Ivy professors might be against a strong United States?)

Walt and Mearsheimer, through their arrogance, stupidity, and exportation of academia’s amoral tyranny, are tacitly working for our enemies.

These professors are out of control, like a runaway locomotive, thanks to the cheerful support of opportunistic anti-Semites and the MSM (I’m not sure those two are entirely separable). They need to be stopped – however, accusations of anti-Semitism are a distraction and they know it.

Walt and Mearsheimer have more in common with Arthur Neville Chamberlain than David Ernest Duke or Alfred Charles Sharpton.

That said, as Abraham Foxman, Alan Dershowitz, and many others as well have observed (documented at the CAMERA - Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America story “Updated Roundup of Coverage of the Walt/Mearsheimer Israel Lobby Controversy” at http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=8&x_nameinnews=189&x_article=1105), Walt & Mearsheimer's faux-scholarship is "riddled with errors" that tend to slant it "in the exact same direction, thus we are dealing not with a little unfortunate carelessness but with a culpable degree of bias."

I submit again that their "carelessness and bias" is most likely knowing and deliberate, but not due to anti-Semitism. Its purpose is promoting appeasement and the weakening of America, at a cost to Israelis and Jews the professors are indifferent to and simply don't care about, typical of Ivy professors who want their way, period.

There is a term for deliberate and knowing falsification in academia for any secondary purpose:

Academic Fraud.

Walt and Mearshiemer have placed themselves in the same league as Finkelstein, Chomsky, and other academic fabricators.

Charges of anti-Semitism are a distraction from their motivations. Charges of academic incompetence are not highly credible considering the experience, resources and positions of these professors.

Charges of deliberate academic fraud are, I believe, closer to reality, and perhaps hold the key to successful challenging of this dangerous charade.

In summary, Walt and Mearsheimer’s distortions are knowing and deliberate, in the interest of appeasement of Islamofascism and the weakening of the “imperialist AmeriKKKa.” The Israelis and Jews make good cannon fodder because “they’re there” and have a historical track record of serving this purpose for despots. W&M malign the Jews not out of anti-Semitism but out of amoral academic convenience.

This is worse than run-of-the-mill professorial anti-Semitism due to its generalized, nihilistic stupidity.

My only hope is that these professors are doing this of their own volition, and that there are no “handlers” involved.


Posted by: Eris | Sep 8, 2007 7:24:07 PM

I can cut & paste. Yippee

Posted by: Eris | Sep 9, 2007 3:01:41 PM

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