Debate at Cooper Union on Mearshimer

Debate at Cooper Union on Mearshimer

From the London Review of Books website:
In March this year the London Review of Books published John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s essay ‘The Israel Lobby’. The response to the article prompted the LRB to hold a debate under the heading ‘The Israel lobby: does it have too much influence on American foreign policy?’. The debate took place in New York on 28 September in the Great Hall of the Cooper Union. The panellists were Shlomo Ben-Ami, Martin Indyk, Tony Judt, Rashid Khalidi, John Mearsheimer and Dennis Ross, and the moderator was Anne-Marie Slaughter. The event was greatly oversubscribed, so we are delighted to announce that a video of the event, produced by ScribeMedia, is now available to view online. Click here

The battlelines were drawn for the great debate: Indyk and Ross — two Clinton-era State Department officials — and Ben-Ami, historian and Barak government minister on one side, versus Mearsheimer and Judt, the two bad-boy professors and Palestinian-American historian Khalidi (currently out with a brand new book, “The Iron Cage,” on poor Palestinian leadership decisions). Each side had its cheering section, with Israel’s critics probably more in evidence.

I’ve written much on Judt and the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis already. Let me relate just a few observations: First of all, Indyk made a potent point at the outset that Mearsheimer and Walt are writing about a “cabal,” a secretive, sinister network of influence rather than a true organizational lobby. Indyk– backed up by Ross — indicated that if M & W were addressing their thesis to some undue influence and bad policy initiatives coming from AIPAC, they would not be particularly opposed. But this “cabal” includes not only the neoconservatives and others who opposed all that Ross and Indyk were trying to achieve during the peace-making efforts of the Clinton administration, but Ross and Indyk and other pro-Israel peace processors as well. In fact, Mearsheimer openly accused both Ross and Indyk of being part of the “lobby.”

In the meantime, Judt continued to ride his high horse. When the other side suggested that M and W were providing ammunition to antisemites, Judt shrugged it off saying that truth is truth and it doesn’t matter if facts are twisted or abused for bad purposes. On the face of it, Judt is correct. What he ignores, however, is that the nasty one-sided tone of their work, including Judt’s essays of the last couple of years, when combined with some poor scholarship or faulty reasoning (none of the three — Mearsheimer, Walt or Judt — are scholars of the Middle East), they are feeding one side in an argument, not conducting a neutral quest for truth.

Prof. Khalidi was the only one on “their” side who is an expert on the Middle East and he was not enthusiastic about the Israel lobby/ cabal thesis. He sees Palestinians and Arabs getting a raw deal in Mideast policy, but largely because of a more pervasive cultural bias rather than a conspiracy.

It did not come as a suprise that this discourse of the intellectuals had a gladiatorial or circus aspect to it. Enough cogent criticisms have been published that you’d think that Mearsheimer and Walt at least, and maybe Judt, might have temporized their views by now, but their perseverence in the face of opposition makes them feel like heroes. Despite their protestations that they are doing something risky in voicing themselves as they have, they are not really suffering. They haven’t lost their cozy tenured jobs in the academy. And Mearsheimer and Walt have landed a juicy contract with a top publishing house — Farrar, Straus and Giroux — to advance their ideas still further. My fear is that instead of advancing honest debate, their one-sided presentations amplify the din of battle. — R. Seliger

By | 2006-11-16T05:56:00-05:00 November 16th, 2006|Blog|0 Comments

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