OxBlog

Sunday, April 02, 2006

# Posted 1:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANTI-SEMITISM AT HARVARD? JUDGE FOR YOURSELF: In the mainstream media, it's a footnote. But for those of us with a background in academic international relations, this recent paper by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer has become a cause celebre.

The current edition of the New Republic has two essays denouncing it as anti-Semitic. Although good essays, I think that both presume too much trust on the part of the reader. If you aren't already disposed towards believing the worst about academic critics of Israel, you may not find the essays credible.

Even then, I was hoping to avoid investing the effort necessary to digest Walt & Mearsheimer's 83-page manifesto. But last night, while watching UCLA run roughshod over LSU in the Final Four, one of my very talented co-workers, and the owner of an Ivy League diploma in international relations, expressed skepticism about the caricature of Walt & Mearsheimer's work as anti-Semitic and expressed sympathy for their project of initiating a serious debate about the US relationship with Israel.

I think the key issue here is that Walt and Mearsheimer are such towering figures in the field of international relations. Every first-year graduate student must know their name and be able to recite their contributions to the field. Although disagreement with their positions is entirely acceptable, one has no choice but to recognize them as intellectual forces in the discipline.

Thus, rather than add my own commentary to this whole situation, I thought that I would simply read their paper on Israel and reproduce some quotations that will allow skeptical readers to judge for themselves whether the charge of anti-Semitism has any merit:

Page 1: This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the United States been willing to set aside its own security in order to advance the interests of another state?...The overall thrust of U.S. policy in the region is due almost entirely to U.S. domestic politics, and especially to the activities of the "Israel Lobby."

Page 2: Readers may reject our conclusions, of course, but the evidence on which they rest is not controversial.

Page 5: Saying that Israel and the United States are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: rather, the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around.

Page 8: There is a strong moral case for supporting Israel’s existence, but that is not in jeopardy. Viewed objectively, Israel’s past and present conduct offers no moral basis for privileging it over the Palestinians.

Page 10: The Zionists had to expel large numbers of Arabs from the territory that would eventually become Israel...Most Arab leaders urged the Palestinian population to stay home, but fear of violent death at the hands of Zionist forces led most of them to flee.

Page 11: In terms of actual behavior, Israel’s conduct is not morally distinguishable from the actions of its opponents.

Page 12: The creation of Israel in 1947-48 involved explicit
acts of ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres, and rapes by Jews.

Page 14: Were it not for the Lobby’s ability to manipulate the American political system, the relationship between Israel and the United States would be far less intimate than it is today.

Page 16: There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway U.S. policy towards Israel. The Lobby’s activities are not the sort of conspiracy depicted in anti-Semitic tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Page 18: The bottom line is that AIPAC, which is a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress.

Page 22: The Lobby has had the most difficulty stifling debate about Israel on college campuses, because academic freedom is a core value and because tenured professors are hard to threaten or silence.

Page 24: No discussion of how the Lobby operates would be complete without examining one of its most powerful weapons: the charge of anti-Semitism...This tactic is very effective, because anti-Semitism is loathsome and no responsible person wants to be accused of it.

Page 29: If Bush tries to distance the United States
from Israel, or even criticizes Israeli actions in the occupied territories, he is certain to face the wrath of the Lobby and its supporters in Congress.

Page 30: Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the U.S. decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was a critical element...the war was motivated in good part by a
desire to make Israel more secure.

Page 31: Israelis were so gung-ho for war that their allies in America told them to damp down their hawkish rhetoric, lest it look like the war was for Israel...Within the United States, the main driving force behind the Iraq war was a small band of neoconservatives, many with close ties to Israel’s Likud Party.

Pages 31-32: It would be wrong to blame the war in Iraq on "Jewish influence." Rather, the war was due in large part to the Lobby’s influence, especially the neoconservatives within it.

Page 39: The Bush Administration has responded to the Lobby’s pressure by working overtime to shut down Iran’s nuclear program.

Page 40: If [the Lobby's] efforts to shape U.S. policy succeed, then Israel’s enemies get weakened or overthrown, Israel gets a free hand with the Palestinians, and the United States does most of the fighting, dying, rebuilding, and paying.

Page 41: By preventing U.S. leaders from pressuring Israel to make peace, the Lobby has also made it impossible to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict...Thanks to the Lobby, the United States
has become the de facto enabler of Israeli expansion in the occupied territories, making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians.

Pathetically one-sided pseudo-scholarship? Yes. Anti-Semitic? I don't know. What motivated two such prestigious scholars to invest so much effort in a bizarre effort to single out the Israel Lobby as the cause of America's woes? Perhaps anti-Semitism, but one can only speculate.
(23) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
Are you going to engage with any of these quotes? Or will they continue to sit there, out of context, inertly?
 
Why does the US support Taiwan when everything would be simpler if we just abandoned them?
 
Niall, I appreciate your concern that these kind of accusations should not go without a response. It will come in time.

But for the moment, my purpose is simply to lay out what I believe to be relevant evidence with regard to the question of whether Profs. Walt and Mearsheimer deserve to be branded as anti-Semites.
 
My speculation would run something along the lines of:

1) They don't believe that nations run their foreign policy for moral reasons, nor do they believe that running a foreign policy along moral lines is beneficial, i.e., they call themselves "realists."

2) They believe that it is utterly obvious that it is not in the US's strategic benefit to ally with Israel.

3) Therefore, it must be because of lobbying from people who have Israel's, rather than the US's, best interest at heart.

As the anonymous commentator above points out, it is incumbent upon them to also explain why the US supports Taiwan, even though it would be easier not to.
 
I need to see if TNR addresse the fact that Mearscheimer was a Kerry foreign policy advisor. But then again, Sen. Kerry has long seemed like a fan of realism in his public statements.
 
David,
From PowerLine comes this link;
http://maroon.uchicago.edu/news/articles/2003/01/10/american_profs_take_.php
Not going to copy paper in comments as too long.
Even tho' I think all reading here would want to see.
Mike
 
Mike, much obliged for the link and for the decision not to reproduce the entire paper.

Best,
David
 
Whether they deserve to be branded anti-semites or not is a ridiculous, non-debate. One of the problems with listing quotes out of context,as you have done, is that facts made clear in the paper - like the statement that the lobby is not made up solely of Jews - tend to be missed by the quick reader. This is unfair to the men whose work you are 'examining' as it gives a false impression, one backed up by the tone of your introductory remarks.

By selectively quoting from the paper in a post headed 'Anti-semitism at Harvard' you are deliberately sensationalising the issue. I think this makes light of the serious charge of anti-semitism.
Incidentally, some of the incidents referred to by the two professors, such as the quote on page 12 relating to massacres in 1947-48, are clear historical fact and widely accepted by Israeli historians among others.
 
I thought that the Walt & Mearsheimer paper was pretty well done. Thanks for pointing it out. But I'm sure that David would find anything remotely critical of Israel to be anti-Semitic.

In an English 1A paper, you have to support your conclusion otherwise it is just trivial declamation. So if you're going to say "Pathetically one-sided pseudo-scholarship" it would help to show evidence and argument.

Perhaps you should rename this site FoxBlog.
 
As an afterthought:

"If you aren't already disposed towards believing the worst about academic critics of Israel, you may not find the essays credible"

Are you sure those are the words you meant to use?
 
I'm not sure if I'd categorize US foreign policy as being based on morals. (Inaction in Darfur, maintaining formal diplomatic relations with South Africa through the apartheid era, support for Pinochet are just a few examples of a foreign policy that is not based on morals... Well, at least not entirely based on morals.)

My theory is that Israel and Taiwan represent vestiges of earlier policy, which have become entrenched in our politics and policies. I’m not saying that the policies are good or bad, but I have will say they often don’t reflect the changing reality.

PS. Arabic is a semitic language and Arabs are semites. The use of the word anti-semitic is incorrect if the intention is to imply anti-jewish or anti-israel sentiments.
 
" The creation of Israel in 1947-48 involved explicit
acts of ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres, and rapes by Jews."

"Incidentally, some of the incidents referred to by the two professors, such as the quote on page 12 relating to massacres in 1947-48, are clear historical fact and widely accepted by Israeli historians among others"

Er, no. Theres only one serious accusation of massacre, at Deir Yassin, and what happened there was disputed at the time, and AFAIK no historians have resolved that dispute.

Some Israeli academic historians have shown that Israeli authorities authorized the expulsion of arabs from particular localities, notably Lod, where they posed a threat to the supply line to Jerusalem. However they were expelled to other areas under Israeli control. As "ethnic cleansing" it makes no sense, and does not account for the departure of arabs from lands controlled by Israel.

This is just the kind of misleading halftruth that seems to characterize the Mearsheimer paper.

For ex, mentioning neocons INSIDE the Israel lobby. If the Israel lobby is a reference to AIPAC, as it seems to be elsewhere, then its false, as none of the leading Iraq war advocates was active in AIPAC, AFAIK. Instead "Israel Lobby" is used loosely, meaning whatever its convenient to the authors to mean.

Taiwan is hardly unique. US policyu toward the British empire was heavily influenced by the Irish American pop throughout the 19th and into the 20th c. US entry into both WWs was disputed by different ethnic groups. And any serious student of US foreign policy, has to recognize that corporate and other economic interests have influenced US for policy, from the Open Door, to Central America, to, yes, the Saudi lobby.

But the Israel lobby must be singled out. And in case anyone might think thats antisemitic, well, lets launch a preemptive strike by suggesting that the Israel lobby silences people by calling them antisemitic - what is this other than an attempt to silence the accusation of antisemitism, whether its justified or not? Its like when rightwingers toss around the term "political correctness". When they do so its usually a good sign theyre about to say something racist or bigoted. Im not sure this situation is so different.
 
Niall K: "PS. Arabic is a semitic language and Arabs are semites. The use of the word anti-semitic is incorrect if the intention is to imply anti-jewish or anti-israel sentiments."

There are two kinds of people who reject the meaninng of the word "anti-Semitic" as described in every dictionary ("hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group") and even by the person who *invented* the word.
- People who take the meaning of component parts of every single word they use absolutely literally. So these are also people who receive their salary in salt, for example. Or who insist that "homophobic" means "irrational fear of twins and matching dish sets". Or who refuse to grow carrots and tomatoes in a greenhouse, since they are not green when ripe.
- The other kind. You know, the kind of person insists that the dictionary meaning of a word be changed to suit his fancy, ONLY in the case where the dictionary meaning has something to do with Jews.
 
I think Liberalhawk sums it up nicely at the end. So many of the criticisms of Israel are not anti-semitic because they're unture. The criticisms often are true (if exaggerated). The anti-semiticism is in the motivation--Israel is held to a higher standard. It is called out for behavior that many countries engage in, but those other countries are not criticised. The obvious reason those countries get a pass that Israel does not is that those countries are not primarily jewish.
 
Just to correct a previous poster, the comment about the meaning of anti-semitism was not made by me but by Sahil.

Ignatius - exactly who are you to cast definitive judgement on someone's motivations? Are you saying that Walt and Mearsheimer have never criticised any other countries?
Will respond to the rest later.
 
niall:

I never mention Walt and Mearsheimer in my comment. I thought it was obvious I was talking generally. As to who am I, I'm someone who pays attention.
 
"I'm not sure if I'd categorize US foreign policy as being based on morals. (Inaction in Darfur, maintaining formal diplomatic relations with South Africa through the apartheid era, support for Pinochet are just a few examples of a foreign policy that is not based on morals... Well, at least not entirely based on morals.)"

No one said entirely, certainly. Absolutely foreign policy is mixture of realism and idealism, of what we would like to do and what is possible. But Mearscheimer and Walt refuse to believe that nations engage in any action that can't be justified in power-politics terms along, and that's where they're wrong.

Regarding Darfur, I certainly would like us to do more. Of course, the Security Council has refused to pass any authorization, despite the US pushing for it more than any other country. There really aren't the normal international pretexts for intervening, though I certainly think it warrants it. I don't particularly care about the UN's authorization, but I certainly don't want to hear yammering from people who do.

You also didn't mention the failure to intervene against Mugabe tearing his country apart. But the criticisms for policies always come in all direction. Intervention, non-intervention, sanctions, no sanctions, whatever, people always criticize foreign policy for not being moral, even if they have to contradict themselves to do so.

Besides, the more I observe Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the less upset I get about US support for Pinochet.
 
"And any serious student of US foreign policy, has to recognize that corporate and other economic interests have influenced US for policy, from the Open Door, to Central America, to, yes, the Saudi lobby."

Certainly, among others. One could do worse than reading Walter Russell Mead's Special Providence for an introduction to how American foreign policy really works. There are so many different schools and interests in American foreign policy that it's absurd to act as though one central animating theory or conspiracy group affects it. I certainly don't pretend that the US acts for purely moralistic reasons, but that does affect things.

The US acts most strongly when its various threads of foreign policy come together.

On the subject of anti-Semitism, there are all sorts of people who confuse Israel with Jewish people in general. For example, I've had a professor assure me that the Soviet Union couldn't possibly have had anti-Semitism (or at least no worse than what existed in the US in the '50s), since it supported Israel early on.
 
liberalhawk says, "Er, no. Theres only one serious accusation of massacre, at Deir Yassin, and what happened there was disputed at the time, and AFAIK no historians have resolved that dispute."

I do not if this constitute as an accepted fact but BBC News has on its site the following statement, "The year had begun with Jewish and Arab armies each staging attacks on territory held by the other side. Jewish forces, backed by the Irgun and Lehi militant groups made more progress, seizing areas alloted to the Jewish state but also conquering substantial territories allocated for the Palestinian one.

Irgun and Lehi massacred scores of inhabitants of the village of Deir Yassin near Jerusalem on 9 April. Word of the massacre spread terror among Palestinians and hundreds of thousands fled to Lebanon, Egypt and the area now known as the West Bank."
 
"Irgun and Lehi massacred scores of inhabitants of the village of Deir Yassin near Jerusalem on 9 April."

Ah, Irgun. I think that it is generally agreed that Irgun acted as a terrorist organization. (Though to some they're "freedom fighters," of course. One man's... you've heard it before.)

But they weren't official Israeli troops. Indeed, the IDF sank the Altalena, an Irgun supply ship, in a famous clash.

You can't ascribe everything that the Irgun did to Israel.
 
Well, Hamas aren't 'official Palestinian troops' either (at least not before the recent elections...) but the Palestinians are collectively blamed and punished for their actions, so I don't think the fact that Irgun were not officially Israeli (given Israel's very recent creation at the time, something of a hairsplitting distinction anyway) makes much difference
Anyway, the disputed paragraph from the paper reads:
"The creation of Israel in 1947-48 involved explicit
acts of ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres, and rapes by Jews."

If the Irgun massacres were fact, then this claim has been borne out.


Finally, many prominent members of the Irgun eg Menachem Begin went on to play important roles in Israel, so it's hardly the fact that 'official' Israel shunned the actions of this group.
 
"The creation of Israel in 1947-48 involved explicit
acts of ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres, and rapes by Jews."


Why was it necessary to add
"by Jews"? Is it so that readers
wouldn't mistakenly demonize non-Jews for executions and massacres and rapes?
 
See frustre's response to some M&W critics here: "I have been very disappointed in the reactions of otherwise smart people to this debate. The original article was sloppy, and its conclusions are questionable. But the most prominent responses -- Dershowitz, Cohen, etc. -- offer a crash course in common logical fallacies. A small sampling...."
 
Post a Comment


Home