Maccabee's Wars

A venting rage against the ills of our society with some hopeful observations.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Revisiting George Costanza

On Tuesday March 28,2006 I discussed an article entitled "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," by the dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government Stephen Walt and University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer.

Though I personally felt the article was so full of flaws that it did not even merit a response, much less to have it put in the limelight, I decided to bring it to your attention because the article was making its way around the internet and there were many who were giving it credence.

Having thought that it would lay in the dustpans of forgotten research, I was surprised to find two articles in the Jerusalem Post commenting on it.

Thankfully, there are still people out there who are not fooled by manipulation of the facts. Surprisingly, even Noam Chomsky, no great lover of Israeli policy, found major flaws within the assumptions made therein.

I leave the websites and the JP articles for your perusal:

Updated Apr. 26, 2006 2:04

Think Again: First come words


Are we Jews too sensitive to what non-Jews say about us? The Haggada, which we just read on Seder night, hints at the answer. The telling of the story of our enslavement in Egypt begins "the Egyptians [spoke] evil about us" (usually mistranslated as "the Egyptians did evil to us"), followed by Pharaoh's exhortation to the Egyptians to deal cleverly with the Jews lest they grow too numerous and betray Egypt by joining forces with its enemies.

The Haggada hints that Jews ignore the way they are spoken about at their own peril. Actions too often follow words.

For that reason the recently published published paper, "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," by the dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government Stephen Walt and University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer deserves to be taken seriously. The authors claim that a powerful pro-Israel lobby has for decades subverted American interests in favor of those of Israel, a nation that can lay no strategic or moral claim to the massive support it receives from the United States.

Walt and Mearsheimer's core concept of an "Israel Lobby" proves hopeless as an analytical tool. In their telling, this amorphous lobby includes those who disagree on every aspect of American and Israeli policy: The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal editorial page; the Brookings Institute and the American Enterprise Institute; Ehud Barak's leading supporter, billionaire toymaker Haim Saban, and neo-conservative supporters of Binyamin Netanyahu. In short everyone, who does not call for Israel's dismantling.

(Though Walt and Mearsheimer offer the usual pro-forma assurance that they too do not question Israel's right to exist, they offer an Elysian vision of a world without Israel, and use fabricated quotes to portray Israel's birth as an instance of ethnic cleansing. They mention no threat to America other than those caused by Israel's existence - neither a nuclear Iran nor Islamic fanaticism. The Nixon administration's airlift of arms during the 1973 war, when Israel's existence hung in the balance, is cited as an example of the Israel Lobby's undue influence.)

As former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens noted in The Wall Street Journal, the alleged conspiracy includes, or has infected, nearly all Americans - 66 percent of Americans who follow foreign affairs support Israel, as opposed to 9% who are more sympathetic to the Palestinians. The Walt/Mearsheimer thesis sounds like nothing so much as the 1950s sci-fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

CURIOUSLY, the one group immune to the machinations of the lobby is American Jews. The war in Iraq is the coup de grace in Walt/Mearsheimer's indictment of the lobby's kidnapping of American foreign policy on behalf of Israel. Yet American Jews opposed the war in higher percentages than any other group.

Their best evidence of an all-powerful Israel Lobby consists of the self-serving claims of past and present AIPAC officials, who consistently overrate their own efforts and downplay those factors that predispose Americans to support a strong Israel.

HOWEVER WEAK as an analytical tool, the "Israel Lobby" is a potent rhetorical device. Walt and Mearsheimer accuse supporters of Israel of attempting to squelch debate on American policy toward Israel, but it is they who seek to suppress debate.

They prefer to dismiss such renowned scholars as Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami as members of the lobby than to engage their arguments; to portray President George W. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (not to mention former president Bill Clinton) as helpless dupes of the lobby than to discuss their policy choices.

In particular, Walt and Mearsheimer seek to secure the predominance of anti-Israel views on university campuses, which they note, in a rather large understatement, remain the last bastion into which the tentacles of the lobby have not reached. Indeed if there were an Israel Lobby, and labeling all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic were its tactic, the steady drumbeat of criticism of Israel on elite campuses and in the elite press would be the clearest proof of its inefficacy.

AS AN example of the lobby's attempt to intimidate critics, the authors cite Daniel Pipes's Campus Watch project, which publicizes the classroom statements of anti-Israel professors. They do not explain, however, why the classroom statements of professors should be any more immune from scrutiny and criticism than those contained in their published works.

Walt and Mearsheimer cite the documentary Columbia Unbecoming, exposing the biases of Columbia University's Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures (MEALAC), as a particularly egregious example of attempted intimidation. They rely on the "findings" of an internal Columbia University committee to exonerate MEALAC. But they fail to note that the committee was hand-picked to whitewash the charges: Two of its five members had signed a petition calling on Columbia University to divest from all companies connected to the Israeli military, and the university vice president to whom the committee reported was one of the petition's initiators. A third committee member served as the thesis advisor of one of the professors most criticized by the documentary.

Walt and Mearsheimer complain of a handful of university Israel Studies departments, chiefly financed by Jewish philanthropists, but ignore entirely the far more numerous and larger Middle East Studies Departments, dominated by pro-Arab professors and supported by Saudi and other Arab oil money.

By raising the spectre of an "Israel Lobby," Walt and Mearsheimer have laid a trap for the American Jewish community: the more the Jews protest the more they "prove" the existence of a lobby. And we have fallen into the trap. With the exception of James Taranto of the on-line Opinion Journal, the most effective responses to Walt and Mearsheimer have all come from prominent American Jews: Alan Dershowitz, Ruth Wisse, Elliot Cohen, Martin Peretz, Dennis Ross, Bret Stephens, Martin Kramer, Cong. Jerrold Nadler, CAMERA and the New York Sun (a remake of the old Forward).

The Jewish community has repeated the same mistake that it made over The Passion, when instead of letting Christian New Testament scholars carry the ball, the ADL took the lead in attacking Mel Gibson's film. Non-Jewish academics should have been allowed to take the lead in exposing the rot at the heart of the Walt/Mearsheimer paper. But the paper cannot be ignored. It provides a potent alert to what Jewish students face on America's elite campuses, and the poisons being fed the next generation of American leaders.

Noam Chomsky, champion of Israel?


What do Noam Chomsky and the neocons have in common? They both stand accused of protecting the enormously powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington from legitimate criticism. That's right, hell has frozen over. Professor Chomsky - the far-left MIT linguist who has consistently (and often quite viciously) criticized Israel since the early 1970s - is apparently a big softie when it comes to Zion.

Or so say assorted left-wing critics.

The brouhaha began in late March when two American academics published in The London Review of Books a paper critical of the Israel lobby. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argued that neither idealism nor hard-nosed practicality justified American support of the Jewish state. Nevertheless, a "loose coalition of individuals and organizations" has been steering US policy in that direction for years.

Though hardly a novel idea, the essay caused a wave of controversy because the authors were not your run-of-the-mill, paranoid kooks. Mearsheimer sits on the international academic advisory board at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, at Bar-Ilan University, and both he and Walt are leading lights of the realist school of international relations. Their critique simply could not go unanswered.

Indeed, following the publication of the article, professors and pundits of all stripes took to their keyboards.

Now, I will not address the many errors of the M-W piece or explain how arguing that lobbies drive foreign policy upends the whole realist paradigm; that's been done elsewhere and by people far smarter than me. What's interesting is where Noam Chomsky stepped out on the controversy.

Writing in Z Magazine, the aging anarchist commended Mearsheimer and Walt for their "courageous stand" but then attacked their notion of an informal, far-flung lobby as an empty label. "M-W focus on AIPAC and the evangelicals," wrote Chomsky, "but they recognize that the Lobby includes most of the political-intellectual class - at which point the thesis loses much of its content."

Max Boot, a neoconservative fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, noted the very same thing when he quipped, "In Mearsheimer-Walt's telling, the Israel lobby seems to include just about every American politician, think tank and newspaper." Now who could have imagined Chomsky manning the same barricade as the neocons?

BUT NOT to worry, he won't be joining the GOP or Likud anytime soon. He still thinks Israel serves as the brutal attack dog of American imperialism - having first helped the oil companies back in 1967 when it smashed an uppity Nasser and, thus, discredited secular Arab nationalism. Likewise, Chomsky still bleeds for the Palestinians. It's just that he objects to the part about capitalists needing to be goaded into regional domination. And, the MIT linguist is not alone on this point; radical journalist Salim Muwakkil and Columbia professor Joseph Massad also dismiss the blame-the-lobby argument. In the Egyptian weekly Al-Ahram, the latter wrote, "The record of the United States is one of being the implacable enemy of all Third World national liberation groupsÂ… Why then would the US support national liberation in the Arab world absent the pro-Israel lobby is something these studies never explain."

The problem is that, while Muwakkil is African-American and Massad is Palestinian, Chomsky is a Red Sea pedestrian - and that raises suspicions in some left-wing circles.

Veteran pro-Palestinian activist Jeffrey Blankfort, for example, has taken issue with Chomsky's early experiences in the Marxist-Zionist Hashomer Hatza'ir movement, saying that they somehow blinded him to the political machinations of his fellow American Jews.

Amazingly, Blankfort - himself Jewish - has lambasted Chomsky as "a boon for AIPAC" and, by extension, "Israel's position in the United States."

Like Blankfort (and post-Zionist historian Ilan Pappe), James Petras also disagrees with Chomsky on the M-W paper. In fact, the Marxist sociologist gets downright nasty in his critique, suggesting that Chomsky's analytic skills "are totally absent when it comes to discussing the formulation of US foreign policy in the Middle East, particularly the role of his own ethnic group, the Jewish pro-Israel lobby and their Zionist supporters in the government."

Once again, Chomsky is covering for the tribe.

One would think that the Jewish anarchist has already paid his dues. Chomsky has attacked Israel time and again; described French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson as "a relatively apolitical liberal of some sort"; commended the scholarship of the late Israel Shahak, author of the vile Jewish History, Jewish Religion: The Weight of Three Thousand Years, and claimed that the charge of anti-Semitism is used to stifle criticism of Israel.

Yet the tragedy of Chomsky is that, for people like Blankfort and Petras, all this counts for nothing. The latter still accuses him of playing with the evidence in order to hide the role of the pro-Israel lobby and the "ZionCons" in hatching the current Iraq war.

Though Chomsky never answered the e-mail I sent him, I asked anti-Zionist firebrand and DePaul University professor Norman Finkelstein what he thought of these unseemly attacks on his mentor. "I see no point in probing motives," he told me, "One should judge any argument on its merits."

All true, and still the fracas with Chomsky proves that, if you're Jewish, no matter what you say and do, you're always just one essay away from being labeled a pro-Israel lobbyist.

The writer is a former Jerusalem Post military reporter