If Professors Mearsheimer and Walt had simply critiqued AIPAC in an accurate way, there would have been no big uproar. There also would have been no big attention paid them, nor big sales pumped up for their forthcoming book, to be released Sept. 4 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. But they actually lump together AIPAC with virtually anyone who is pro-Israel, including peaceniks.
At last summer’s conference of the World Union of Meretz, Yossi Beilin told Meretz supporters from around the world last year that he saw “hatred” in their work; I responded when given the podium that it wasn’t exactly hatred but rather “animus” or hostility. Beilin went on to explain how AIPAC had actually worked against Israeli policy when he was a member of the Rabin and Barak governments — e.g., lobbying Congress against Israeli efforts to free up aid to the Palestinian Authority.
There is a disturbing parallel between Mearsheimer-Walt accusing the “Israel Lobby” of causing the war in Iraq (which is what they basically contend) with the Nazis’ “The Jews stabbed us in the back” narrative about World War I. There’s a hard-to-calibrate combination of obtuseness and perniciousness in M-W’s entire approach, very much a departure from the high standard of scholarship that one would expect from them.
I’m especially disturbed that (according to The Forward) their book appears not to have corrected gross out-of-context misstatements and distortions in their work. While acknowledging that AIPAC and others close to it are eminently open to criticism, we should also be very forthright in finding fault with M & W. If you haven’t already, you should look at this editorial in The Forward.
As The Forward indicates:
There are substantial numbers of true moderates in this country who believe deeply in the need for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. They struggle to make their voices heard in a hostile political and communal environment, and they naturally look for spokesmen who can capture the public’s attention and help unite and mobilize the peace camp — including, most recently, scholars Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. We are sympathetic to this quest for leadership, but after firsthand experience of these scholars’ definition of “opening the debate,” we feel compelled to speak up: They’re the wrong guys.
Haven’t seen the book yet, but am aware of the argument from series of comments (in the letters section) and articles in the London Review of Books going back to the beginning of the summer.
Alas, people of good will find themselves at a loss when asked to deal with those who wish them dead or otherwise ‘absent.’ But we shouldn’t respond in kind either.
I’m not saying we need to pray for them to be ‘enlightened’ or otherwise changed for the good b/c that sends the message that we ourselves are the enlightened ones. But we can get on about doing what it is we can do about the real situation on the ground where children and others who have no say in anything are made to pay for their elders’ stubbornness –or worse.
As to the charge that we are members of some sort of cabal, maybe we should adopt the Mel Brooks strategy: “Hey. Where’d you get that jacket? Is that hopsack? And the watch, very nice.”
I mean that any response that focuses attention back on the ones making wild claims is better than one that tries to actually engage with their insane world view. After all, they are wearing clothes and they got them somewhere. Just like their AK 47s. These things are real. Arguments about history are best left to scholars who, at least, can get tenure from them.