When Profs. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt co-authored their book on the “Israel Lobby,” they drew back from their original formulation that this so-called lobby had manipulated the US to invade Iraq on behalf of Israel. Their more carefully worded thesis was that the Israel Lobby was a “necessary but insufficient” factor in causing the Iraq war.
Still, many (including myself) take this amiss because:
1. It discounts more telling reasons for the US warring on Iraq, e.g.: George W. Bush’s animus at Saddam Hussein for attempting to assassinate his parents and others in his family while visiting Kuwait in the early 1990s, the importance of oil (including the influence of Saudi Arabia and the oil industry lobby), a sense of frustration & outrage that Saddam Hussein continued to bloodily oppress his people and to bluster against the US and the West even though he could have been overthrown easily in 1991, and finally the influence of neocons and some liberals who saw Saddam’s rule as both a threat to peace in the region and an ongoing human rights crisis.
2. Their notion of an “Israel Lobby” was poorly defined, as if it were monolithic, despite identifiably liberal elements, and is conflated with a small but influential group of policy intellectuals, opinion journalists and national security professionals known as neo-conseratives.
3. Whether intentionally or not, Mearsheimer and Walt were insensitive to the fact that their thesis, in according an inordinate amount of behind-the-scenes power to Jews, strongly resembles an anti-Semitic conspiratorial argument.
What seems galling and tone-deaf to me is that M & W continue to ride this horse of the Israel Lobby, with a critics-be-damned and in-your-face attitude. One thing they are wont to do is to ally with others who are vitriolic in their views of Israel (Norman Finkelstein comes to mind). This apparently reached a new level of baseness with Mearsheimer’s blurb praising a book by Gilad Atzmon, an ex-patriate Israeli musician who not only writes and speaks with vehemence against Israel but also has renounced his Jewish identity in terms that clearly seem anti-Semitic.
For example, there’s this from Wikipedia:
Atzmon has defined himself variously as a “secular Jew”, a “proud self-hating Jew”, an “ex-Jew” and “a Hebrew-speaking Palestinian.” …. He has condemned “Jewishness” as “very much a supremacist, racist tendency”. … Regarding the one-state solution, Atzmon concedes that such a state probably would be controlled by Islamists, but says, “That’s their business.”
Blogger David Bernstein has assembled a number of sharp analyses of Atzmon’s writings:
… Harry’s Place and Pejman Yousefzadeh have further documented Atzmon’s anti-Semitism, apparent both in his general writings and specifically in the book Mearsheimer blurbed.
Andrew Sullivan, who has turned harshly critical of Israel in recent years, seemed initially skeptical of the criticism of Atzmon. Eventually, however, [he] did some additional research and concluded: “I still haven’t read the book but the excerpts are so vile and the mind behind them so patently warped and hateful, I really don’t care to. Why would anyone blurb a book like this?”
A group of far left British writers called on the publisher to withdraw Atzmon’s book given its overt anti-Semitism. The last few British leftists who were willing to have anything to with Atzmon at “Solidarity with Palestine” have renounced their ties with him (as discussed by leftist anti-Zionist Tony Greenstein in this post). …
Atzmon happens to be an excellent clarinetist, and aside from Mearsheimer, he has other admirers. For example, this links to an open letter praising “the courageous former Israeli” from that stellar white supremacist, David Duke.
Jeffrey Goldberg, a pro-Israel liberal (who made his peace with J Street last year), is especially alarmed by Mearsheimer’s association with Atzmon and slams him for it at The Atlantic’s website.
Defending himself on Stephen Walt’s website, Mearsheimer says Goldberg’s allegations are “ludicrous” and responds, “Of course, I do not agree with everything that [Atzmon] says in the book — what blurber does? — but I found it thought provoking and likely to be of considerable interest to Jews and non-Jews.”
You can judge for yourself, but I don’t think that M & W are consciously antisemitic (for one thing, hard-line anti-Semites don’t bother to defend themselves against this charge). Still, they are not trying to distinguish between being critical of some American Jewish organizations and of certain Israeli policies and being in league with obsessive Israel-bashers and anti-Semites. They are either too dense to see this, or there’s something darker going on than I’ve been willing to say.
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