Mearsheimer and Walt's paper has drawn criticism from various quarters (on both left and right), a fair chunk of which I agree with; but the most important thing about it in my view is that it has opened up some serious discussion on one of the largest Elephants in the Bedroom of US politics. This glasnost moment seems historically important to me; so I've been idly saving up URLs (not making a huge effort, just noticing stuff that floated by in the memestream). So here goes.
The original Mearsheimer/Walt article that started all the fuss -- in the London Review of Books.
Mearsheimer and Walt's reponse (in the Letters to LRB) to the firestorm their paper provoked. Their comments are well worth a read, as they cover, methodically, the various critiques of their paper and ad hominem attacks on the authors. They conclude
We close with a final comment about the controversy surrounding our article. Although we are not surprised by the hostility directed at us, we are still disappointed that more attention has not been paid to the substance of the piece. The fact remains that the United States is in deep trouble in the Middle East, and it will not be able to develop effective policies if it is impossible to have a civilised discussion about the role of Israel in American foreign policy.
Perhaps more interesting than the paper, its detractors, and the authors' rebuttals however, is the story of how they came to write it at all -- how did two reasonable, centre/rightist middle-aged dons [academic, not mafia] acquire such a hankering to grab the third rail of US political discourse? Philip Weiss gets into the backstory and he is worth quoting at some length [don't miss Krauthammer's flamewar on Fukuyama part way through the excerpt]:
Intellectuals can only dream of having the impact that John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have had this spring. Within hours of their publishing a critique of the Israel lobby in The London Review of Books for March 23, the article was zinging around the world [...] Virtually overnight, two balding professors in their 50s had become public intellectuals, ducking hundreds of e-mails, phone messages and challenges to debate.
The shock waves from the article continue to resonate. The initial response was outrage from Israel supporters, some likening the authors to neo-Nazis. The Anti-Defamation League called the paper "a classical conspiratorial anti-Semitic analysis invoking the canards of Jewish power and Jewish control." University of Chicago Professor Daniel Drezner called it "piss-poor, monocausal social science." Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz said the men had "destroyed their professional reputations." Even left-leaning critics dismissed the piece as inflammatory and wrong. As time passed (and the Ku Klux Klan remained dormant), a more rational debate began. The New York Times, having first downplayed the article, printed a long op-ed by historian Tony Judt saying that out of fear, the mainstream media were failing to face important ideas the article had put forward. And Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell's former chief of staff, praised it at the Middle East Institute for conveying "blinding flashes of the obvious," ideas "that were whispered in corners rather than said out loud at cocktail parties where someone else could hear you."
While criticisms of the lobby have circulated widely for years and been published at the periphery, the Mearsheimer-Walt paper stands out because it was so frontal and pointed, and because it was published online by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, where Walt is a professor and outgoing academic dean. "It was inevitably going to take someone from Harvard [to get this discussed]," says Phyllis Bennis, a writer on Middle East issues at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Though it was printed in a left-leaning English journal, it was written by theorists of a school associated with the center/right: realism, which holds that the world is a dangerous neighborhood, that good intentions don't mean very much and that the key to order is a balance of power among armed states. For realists, issues like human rights and how states treat minorities are so much idealistic fluff.
Given the paper's parentage, the ferment over it raises political questions. How did these ideas get to center stage? And what do they suggest about the character of the antiwar intelligentsia?
Let's begin with the personalities. The more forceful member of the duo (and the one who would talk to me), Mearsheimer, 58, is by nature an outsider. Though he spent ten years of his youth in the military, graduating from West Point, he wasn't much for tents and guns even as he latched on to David Halberstam's book The Best and the Brightest because it explained a horrible war. Out of pure intellectual curiosity Mearsheimer, who had become an officer in the Air Force, enrolled in graduate school classes at the University of Southern California. Today he is a realist powerhouse at the University of Chicago, publishing such titles as Conventional Deterrence. Like Mearsheimer, Walt, 50, grew up in privilege, but he is a courtly and soft-spoken achiever. Stanford, Berkeley and Princeton figured in his progress to Harvard. "I think Steve enjoyed moving into institutional roles," says one academic. "Steve likes a good argument, but unlike John he can be polite. John enjoys the image of the bomb thrower."
Mearsheimer was hawkish about Israel until the 1990s, when he began to read Israel's "New Historians," a group of Israeli scholars and journalists (among them Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim and Tom Segev) who showed that Israel's founders had been at times ruthless toward Palestinians. Mearsheimer's former student Michael Desch, a professor at Texas A&M, recalls the epiphany: "For a lot of us, who didn't know a lot about the Israel/Palestine conflict beyond the conventional wisdom and Leon Uris's Exodus, we saw a cold war ally; and the moral issue and the common democracy reinforced a strong pro-Israel bent." Then Desch rode to a conference with two left-wing Jewish academics familiar with the New Historians. "My initial reaction was the same as John's: This is crazy. [They argued that] the Israelis weren't the victims of the '48 war to destroy the country. Ben-Gurion had real doubts about partition. Jordan and Israel talked about dividing up the West Bank together. All those things were heretical. They seemed to be coming from way, way out in left field. Then we started reading [them], and it completely changed the way we looked at these things." Mearsheimer says he had been blinded by Uris's novel. "The New Historians' work was a great revelation to me. Not only do they provide an abundance of evidence to back up their stories about how Israel was really created, but their stories make perfect sense. There is no way that waves of European Jews moving into a land filled with Palestinians are going to create a Jewish state without breaking a lot of Palestinian heads.... It's just not possible." [there speaks a geopolitical realist]
Mearsheimer saw the lobby's power in an episode in the spring of 2002, when Bush called on Ariel Sharon to withdraw troops from Palestinian towns on the West Bank. Sharon shrugged him off, and Bush caved. Mearsheimer says by e-mail: "At the American Political Science Association convention in the late summer of 2002, I was talking to a friend about the US-Israel relationship. We shared similar views, and agreed that lots of others thought the same way. I said to him over the course of a dinner that I found it quite amazing that despite widespread recognition of the lobby's influence, no one could write about it and get it published in the United States. He told me that he thought that was not the case, because he had a friend at The Atlantic who was looking for just such an article."
The Atlantic had long hoped to assign a piece that would look systematically at where Israel and America shared interests and where those interests conflicted, so as to examine the lobby's impact. The magazine duly commissioned an article in late 2002 by Mearsheimer and Walt, whom Mearsheimer had brought in. "No way I would have done it alone," Mearsheimer says. "You needed two people of significant stature to withstand the firestorm that would invariably come with the publication of the piece."
Mearsheimer and Walt had plenty of ideological company. After 9/11, many other realists were questioning American policy in the Mideast. Stephen Van Evera, an international relations professor at MIT, began writing papers showing that the American failure to deal fairly with the Israel/Palestine conflict was fostering support for Al Qaeda across the Muslim world. Robert Pape, a professor down the hall from Mearsheimer at Chicago, published a book, Dying to Win, showing that suicide bombers were not religiously motivated but were acting pragmatically against occupiers.
The writer Anatol Lieven says he reluctantly took on the issue after 9/11 as a matter of "duty"--when the Carnegie Endowment, where he was a senior associate, asked him to. "I knew bloody well it would bring horrible unpopularity.... All my personal loyalties are the other way. I've literally dozens of Jewish friends; I have no Palestinian friends." Lieven says he was a regular at the Aspen Institute till he brought up the issue. "I got kicked out of Aspen.... In early 2002 they held a conference on relations with the Muslim world. For two days nobody mentioned Israel. Finally, I said, 'Look, this is a Soviet-style debate. Whatever you think about this issue, the entire Muslim world is shouting about it.' I have never been asked back." In 2004 Lieven published a book, America Right or Wrong, in which he argued that the United States had subordinated its interests to a tiny militarized state, Israel. Attacked as an anti-Semite, Lieven says he became a pariah among many colleagues at the Carnegie Endowment, which he left for the fledgling New America Foundation.
Yet another on this path was the political philosopher Francis Fukuyama, a neoconservative-turned-realist. In 2004 he attended Charles Krauthammer's speech at the American Enterprise Institute about spreading democracy and was shocked by the many positive effects Krauthammer saw in the Iraq War. Fukuyama attacked this militaristic thinking in an article in The National Interest. He wrote with sympathy of the Palestinians and said the neoconservatives confused American and Israeli interests. "Are we like Israel, locked in a remorseless struggle with a large part of the Arab and Muslim world, with few avenues open to us for dealing with them other than an iron fist?... I believe that there are real problems in transposing one situation to the other." Krauthammer responded in personal terms, all but accusing Fukuyama of anti-Semitism. "The remarkable thing about the debate was how oblique Frank's reference to the issue was and how batshit Krauthammer and the other neoconservatives went," says Mike Desch. "It is important to them to keep this a third rail in American politics. They understood that even an elliptical reference would open the door, and they immediately all jumped on Frank to make the point, 'Don't go there.'" It seems to have worked. The soft-spoken Fukuyama left out the critique of the neocon identification with Israel in his recent book, America at the Crossroads.
"We understood there would be a significant price to pay," Mearsheimer says. "We both went into this understanding full well that our chances of ever being appointed to a high-level administrative position at a university or policy-making position in Washington would be greatly damaged." They turned their piece in to The Atlantic two years ago. The magazine sought revisions, and they submitted a new draft in early 2005, which was rejected. "[We] decided not to publish the article they wrote," managing editor Cullen Murphy wrote to me, adding that The Atlantic's policy is not to discuss editorial decisions with people other than the authors.
Many liberals and leftists have signaled their discomfort with the paper. Daniel Fleshler, a longtime board member of Americans for Peace Now, says the issue of Jewish influence is "so incendiary and so complicated that I don't know how anyone can talk about this in the public sphere. I know that's a problem. But there's not enough space in any article you write to do this in a way that doesn't cause more rancor. And so much of this paper was glib and poorly researched." In Salon Michelle Goldberg wrote that the authors had "blundered forth" into the argument in "clumsy and crude" ways, for instance failing to distinguish between Jewish Likudniks and Jewish support of Democrats in Congress. Noam Chomsky wrote that the authors had ignored the structural forces in the American economy pushing for war, what he calls "the tight state-corporate linkage." Norman Finkelstein makes a similar distinction. "I'm glad they did it," he says of the publication, but he argues that while the pro-Israel lobby controls public debate on the issue, and even Congress, the lobby can't be shown to decide the "elite opinion" that creates policy in the Mideast.
One problem with this argument is that in insisting on the primacy of corporate decision-making, it diminishes the realm of political culture and shows a real dullness about how ideas percolate in Washington. Think tanks, the idea factories that help produce policy, used to have a firmly WASPish character. But as Walt and Mearsheimer show, hawkishly pro-Israel forces have established a "commanding presence" at such organizations over much of the spectrum, from the Brookings Institution in the center to the American Enterprise Institute and the Heritage Foundation on the right. After Bush's 2000 victory, Dick Cheney made sure that his neoconservative friends were posted throughout the Administration, and after 9/11 their militaristic ideas swept the government like a fever. In a fearful time, their utter distrust of Arab and Muslim culture seemed to the Bushies to explain the world. "You have an alliance between neocons and aggressive nationalists that goes back thirty years. Their ideas have bled into one another," says Jim Lobe of Inter Press Service. "And neoconservatives put Israel at the absolute center of their worldview." One of the tenets of neocon belief was that the road to peace in Israel/Palestine led through Baghdad: Give Israel a greater sense of security and you can solve the Palestinian issue later. That has been the government policy.
Mearsheimer and Walt at times were simplistic and shrill. But it may have required such rhetoric to break through the cinder block and get attention for their ideas. Democracy depends on free exchange, and free exchange means not always having to be careful. Lieven says we have seen in another system the phenomenon of intellectuals strenuously denouncing an article that could not even be published in their own country: the Soviet Union. "If somebody like me, an absolute down-the-line centrist on this issue--my position on Israel/Palestine is identical to that of the Blair government--has so much difficulty publishing, it's a sign of how extremely limited and ethically rotten the media debate is in this country."
Realist ideas are resonating now because the utopian ideas that drove the war are so frightening and demoralizing. Indeed, Fukuyama has moved toward what he calls Wilsonian realism. Lieven is about to come out with a book (co-edited with a right-winger from the Heritage Foundation) on ethical realism. These ideas are appealing because they offer a better way of explaining a dangerous world than the idea that our bombs are good bombs and that Muslims only respect force.
Norman Solomon writes
The extended controversy over a paper by two professors, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," is prying the lid off a debate that has been bottled up for decades.
Alex Cockburn of course could not resist a comment:
For the past few weeks a sometimes comic debate has simmering in the American press, focused on the question of whether there is an Israeli lobby, and if so, just how powerful is it?
I would have thought that to ask whether there's an Israeli lobby here is a bit like asking whether there's a Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and a White House located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. For the past sixty years the Lobby has been as fixed a part of the American scene as either of the other two monuments, and not infrequently exercising as much if not more influence on the onward march of history. [there follows an interesting history of the Israel Lobby and the Democratic Party]
burnt his bridges with AIPAC long ago and doesn't bother being conciliatory, to Mearsheimer and Walt or anyone else:
In the current fractious debate over the role of the Israel Lobby in the formulation and execution of US policies in the Middle East, the "either-or" framework -- giving primacy to either the Israel Lobby or to U.S. strategic interests -- isn't, in my opinion, very useful.
Apart from the Israel-Palestine conflict, fundamental U.S. policy in the Middle East hasn't been affected by the Lobby. For different reasons, both U.S. and Israeli elites have always believed that the Arabs need to be kept subordinate. However, once the U.S. solidified its alliance with Israel after June 1967, it began to look at Israelis -- and Israelis projected themselves -- as experts on the "Arab mind." Accordingly, the alliance with Israel has abetted the most truculent U.S. policies, Israelis believing that "Arabs only understand the language of force" and every few years this or that Arab country needs to be smashed up. The spectrum of U.S. policy differences might be narrow, but in terms of impact on the real lives of real people in the Arab world these differences are probably meaningful, the Israeli influence making things worse.
The claim that Israel has become a liability for U.S. "national" interests in the Middle East misses the bigger picture. Sometimes what's most obvious escapes the eye. Israel is the only stable and secure base for projecting U.S. power in this region. Every other country the U.S. relies on might, for all anyone knows, fall out of U.S. control tomorrow. The U.S.A. discovered this to its horror in 1979, after immense investment in the Shah. On the other hand, Israel was a creation of the West; it's in every respect -- culturally, politically, economically -- in thrall to the West, notably the U.S. This is true not just at the level of a corrupt leadership, as elsewhere in the Middle East but -- what's most important -- at the popular level. Israel's pro-American orientation exists not just among Israeli elites but also among the whole population. Come what may in Israel, it's inconceivable that this fundamental orientation will change. Combined with its overwhelming military power, this makes Israel a unique and irreplaceable American asset in the Middle East.
In this regard, it's useful to recall the rationale behind British support for Zionism. Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann once asked a British official why the British continued to support Zionism despite Arab opposition. Didn't it make more sense for them to keep Palestine but drop support for Zionism? "Although such an attitude may afford a temporary relief and may quiet Arabs for a short time," the official replied, "it will certainly not settle the question as the Arabs don't want the British in Palestine, and after having their way with the Jews, they would attack the British position, as the Moslems are doing in Mesopotamia, Egypt and India." Another British official judged retrospectively that, however much Arab resentment it provoked, British support for Zionism was prudent policy, for it established in the midst of an "uncertain Arab world a well-to-do educated, modern community, ultimately bound to be dependent on the British Empire." Were it even possible, the British had little interest in promoting real Jewish-Arab cooperation because it would inevitably lessen this dependence. Similarly, the U.S. doesn't want an Israel truly at peace with the Arabs, for such an Israel could loosen its bonds of dependence on the U.S. , making it a less reliable proxy. This is one reason why the claim that Jewish elites are "pro"-Israel makes little sense. They are "pro" an Israel that is useful to the U.S. and, therefore, useful to them. What use would a Paul Wolfowitz have of an Israel living peacefully with its Arab neighbors and less willing to do the U.S.'s bidding?
In the current "either-or" debate on whether the Lobby affects U.S. Middle East policy at the elite level, it's been lost on many of the interlocutors that a crucial dimension of this debate should be the extent to which the Lobby stifles free and open public discussion on the subject. For in terms of trying to broaden public discussion here on the Israel-Palestine conflict the Lobby makes a huge and baneful difference. Especially since U.S. elites have no entrenched interest in the Israeli occupation, the mobilization of public opinion can have a real impact on policy-making -- which is why the Lobby invests so much energy in suppressing discussion.
Robert Fisk was bound to chime in, being a longtime and vociferous opponent of the Occupation:
Congressman Eliot Engel of New York said that the study itself was "anti-Semitic" and deserved the American public's contempt.
Walt has no time for this argument. "We are not saying there is a conspiracy, or a cabal. The Israeli lobby has every right to carry on its work - all Americans like to lobby. What we are saying is that this lobby has a negative influence on US national interests and that this should be discussed. There are vexing problems out in the Middle East and we need to be able to discuss them openly. The Hamas government, for example - how do we deal with this? There may not be complete solutions, but we have to try and have all the information available."
Across the United States, there is growing evidence that the Israeli and neo-conservative lobbies are acquiring ever greater power. The cancellation by a New York theatre company of My Name is Rachel Corrie - a play based on the writings of the young American girl crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 - has deeply shocked liberal Jewish Americans, not least because it was Jewish American complaints that got the performance pulled.
"How can the West condemn the Islamic world for not accepting Mohamed cartoons," Philip Weiss asked in The Nation, "when a Western writer who speaks out on behalf of Palestinians is silenced? And why is it that Europe and Israel itself have a healthier debate over Palestinian human rights than we can have here?" Corrie died trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home. Enemies of the play falsely claim that she was trying to stop the Israelis from collapsing a tunnel used to smuggle weapons. Hateful e-mails were written about Corrie. Weiss quotes one that reads: "Rachel Corrie won't get 72 virgins but she got what she wanted."
Saree Makdisi - a close relative of the late Edward Said - has revealed how a right-wing website is offering cash for University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) students who report on the political leanings of their professors, especially their views on the Middle East. Those in need of dirty money at UCLA should be aware that class notes, handouts and illicit recordings of lectures will now receive a bounty of $100.
[...] Mearsheimer and Walt include a study of such tactics in their report. "In September 2002," they write, "Martin Kramer and Daniel Pipes, two passionately pro-Israel neo-conservatives, established a website (www.campus-watch.org) that posted dossiers on suspect academics and encouraged students to report behaviour that might be considered hostile to Israel... the website still invites students to report 'anti-Israel' activity."
Linda Heard (a British political analyst resident in Cairo) adds fuel to the fire:
A premise, which many in the Arab world believe, should also be dissected. Is the US manipulating and remoulding the area so that Israel can remain the only regional superpower in perpetuity?
This is not as fanciful as one might imagine on first glance. Read the following strangely prophetic segment from an article published in 1982 by the World Zionist Organisation's publication Kivunim and penned by Oded Yinon, an Israeli journalist with links to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
Yinon's strategy was based on this premise. In order to survive Israel must become an imperial regional power and must also ensure the break-up of all Arab countries so that the region may be carved up into small ineffectual states unequipped to stand up to Israeli military might. Here's what he had to say on Iraq:
"The dissolution of Syria and Iraq into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon is Israel's primary target on the Eastern frontIraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel's targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run, it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.
Meanwhile, the Question of Israel haunts the US media. Krauthammer's relentlessly manipulative "1938" editorial, recycling the Holocaust narrative, recycling the "Israel the only safe place to be authentically Jewish" meme, begins to seem like the old guard frantically shoring up their defences. Fisk may think that the Lobby is steadily gaining influence and power, but others disagree and say that times are changing.
As Tony Judt points out in a Ha'aretz think-piece that would never be permitted to see print in any US major daily,
By the age of 58 a country - like a man - should have achieved a certain maturity. After nearly six decades of existence we know, for good and for bad, who we are, what we have done and how we appear to others, warts and all. We acknowledge, however reluctantly and privately, our mistakes and our shortcomings. And though we still harbor the occasional illusion about ourselves and our prospects, we are wise enough to recognize that these are indeed for the most part just that: illusions. In short, we are adults.
But the State of Israel remains curiously (and among Western-style democracies, uniquely) immature. The social transformations of the country - and its many economic achievements - have not brought the political wisdom that usually accompanies age. Seen from the outside, Israel still comports itself like an adolescent: consumed by a brittle confidence in its own uniqueness; certain that no one "understands" it and everyone is "against" it; full of wounded self-esteem, quick to take offense and quick to give it. Like many adolescents Israel is convinced - and makes a point of aggressively and repeatedly asserting - that it can do as it wishes, that its actions carry no consequences and that it is immortal. Appropriately enough, this country that has somehow failed to grow up was until very recently still in the hands of a generation of men who were prominent in its public affairs 40 years ago: an Israeli Rip Van Winkle who fell asleep in, say, 1967 would be surprised indeed to awake in 2006 and find Shimon Peres and General Ariel Sharon still hovering over the affairs of the country - the latter albeit only in spirit.
But that, Israeli readers will tell me, is the prejudiced view of the outsider. What looks from abroad like a self-indulgent, wayward country - delinquent in its international obligations and resentfully indifferent to world opinion - is simply an independent little state doing what it has always done: looking after its own interests in an inhospitable part of the globe. Why should embattled Israel even acknowledge such foreign criticism, much less act upon it? They - gentiles, Muslims, leftists - have reasons of their own for disliking Israel. They - Europeans, Arabs, fascists - have always singled out Israel for special criticism. Their motives are timeless. They haven't changed. Why should Israel change?
But they have changed. And it is this change, which has passed largely unrecognized within Israel, to which I want to draw attention here. Before 1967 the State of Israel may have been tiny and embattled, but it was not typically hated: certainly not in the West. Official Soviet-bloc communism was anti-Zionist of course, but for just that reason Israel was rather well regarded by everyone else, including the non-communist left. The romantic image of the kibbutz and the kibbutznik had a broad foreign appeal in the first two decades of Israel's existence. Most admirers of Israel (Jews and non-Jews) knew little about the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe) of 1948. They preferred to see in the Jewish state the last surviving incarnation of the 19th century idyll of agrarian socialism - or else a paragon of modernizing energy "making the desert bloom."
I remember well, in the spring of 1967, how the balance of student opinion at Cambridge University was overwhelmingly pro-Israel in the weeks leading up to the Six-Day War - and how little attention anyone paid either to the condition of the Palestinians or to Israel's earlier collusion with France and Britain in the disastrous Suez adventure of 1956. In politics and in policy-making circles only old-fashioned conservative Arabists expressed any criticism of the Jewish state; even neo-Fascists rather favored Zionism, on traditional anti-Semitic grounds.
For a while after the 1967 war these sentiments continued unaltered. The pro-Palestinian enthusiasms of post-1960s radical groups and nationalist movements, reflected in joint training camps and shared projects for terrorist attacks, were offset by the growing international acknowledgment of the Holocaust in education and the media: What Israel lost by its continuing occupation of Arab lands it gained through its close identification with the recovered memory of Europe's dead Jews. Even the inauguration of the illegal settlements and the disastrous invasion of Lebanon, while they strengthened the arguments of Israel's critics, did not yet shift the international balance of opinion. As recently as the early 1990s, most people in the world were only vaguely aware of the "West Bank" and what was happening there.
[...] But today everything is different. We can see, in retrospect, that the victory of Israel in June 1967 and its continuing occupation of the territories it conquered then have been the Jewish state's very own nakba: a moral and political catastrophe. Israel's actions in the West Bank and Gaza have magnified and publicized the country's shortcomings and displayed them to a watching world. Curfews, checkpoints, bulldozers, public humiliations, home destructions, land seizures, shootings, "targeted assassinations," the separation fence: All of these routines of occupation and repression were once familiar only to an informed minority of specialists and activists. Today they can be watched, in real time, by anyone with a computer or a satellite dish - which means that Israel's behavior is under daily scrutiny by hundreds of millions of people worldwide. The result has been a complete transformation in the international view of Israel. Until very recently the carefully burnished image of an ultra-modern society - built by survivors and pioneers and peopled by peace-loving democrats - still held sway over international opinion. But today? What is the universal shorthand symbol for Israel, reproduced worldwide in thousands of newspaper editorials and political cartoons? The Star of David emblazoned upon a tank.
[...] today the country's national narrative of macho victimhood appears to the rest of the world as simply bizarre: evidence of a sort of collective cognitive dysfunction that has gripped Israel's political culture. And the long cultivated persecution mania - "everyone's out to get us" - no longer elicits sympathy. Instead it attracts some very unappetizing comparisons: At a recent international meeting I heard one speaker, by analogy with Helmut Schmidt's famous dismissal of the Soviet Union as "Upper Volta with Missiles," describe Israel as "Serbia with nukes."
This, I think, is what Lobby members like Krauthammer have missed; their historical moment has passed them by. And Judt puts his finger on what may be the greatest present danger for world Jewry -- the Lobby's persistent attempts to identify Israel with "all Jews":
And so, shorn of all other justifications for its behavior, Israel and its supporters today fall back with increasing shrillness upon the oldest claim of all: Israel is a Jewish state and that is why people criticize it. This - the charge that criticism of Israel is implicitly anti-Semitic - is regarded in Israel and the United States as Israel's trump card. If it has been played more insistently and aggressively in recent years, that is because it is now the only card left.
The habit of tarring any foreign criticism with the brush of anti-Semitism is deeply engrained in Israeli political instincts: Ariel Sharon used it with characteristic excess but he was only the latest in a long line of Israeli leaders to exploit the claim. David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir did no different. But Jews outside of Israel pay a high price for this tactic. Not only does it inhibit their own criticisms of Israel for fear of appearing to associate with bad company, but it encourages others to look upon Jews everywhere as de facto collaborators in Israel's misbehavior. When Israel breaks international law in the occupied territories, when Israel publicly humiliates the subject populations whose land it has seized - but then responds to its critics with loud cries of "anti-Semitism" - it is in effect saying that these acts are not Israeli acts, they are Jewish acts: The occupation is not an Israeli occupation, it is a Jewish occupation, and if you don't like these things it is because you don't like Jews.
[of over 15 million Jews worldwide, only a little under 6 million live in Israel today. This prompted one Jewish friend of mine to opine grumpily: "Right of return my ass -- if we all came 'home' there'd be about 4 square feet each."]
How are Judt's observations related to Mearsheimer and Walt's paper? Judt gets to that:
If Israel's leaders have been able to ignore such developments it is in large measure because they have hitherto counted upon the unquestioning support of the United States - the one country in the world where the claim that anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism is still echoed not only in the opinions of many Jews but also in the public pronouncements of mainstream politicians and the mass media. But this lazy, ingrained confidence in unconditional American approval - and the moral, military and financial support that accompanies it - may prove to be Israel's undoing.
Something is changing in the United States. To be sure, it was only a few short years ago that prime minister Sharon's advisers could gleefully celebrate their success in dictating to U.S. President George W. Bush the terms of a public statement approving Israel's illegal settlements. No U.S. Congressman has yet proposed reducing or rescinding the $3 billion in aid Israel receives annually - 20 percent of the total U.S. foreign aid budget - which has helped sustain the Israeli defense budget and the cost of settlement construction in the West Bank. And Israel and the United States appear increasingly bound together in a symbiotic embrace whereby the actions of each party exacerbate their common unpopularity abroad - and thus their ever-closer association in the eyes of critics.
But whereas Israel has no choice but to look to America - it has no other friends, at best only the conditional affection of the enemies of its enemies, such as India - the United States is a great power; and great powers have interests that sooner or later transcend the local obsessions of even the closest of their client states and satellites. It seems to me of no small significance that the recent essay on "The Israel Lobby" by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt has aroused so much public interest and debate. Mearsheimer and Walt are prominent senior academics of impeccable conservative credentials. It is true that - by their own account - they could still not have published their damning indictment of the influence of the Israel lobby on U.S. foreign policy in a major U.S.-based journal (it appeared in the London Review of Books), but the point is that 10 years ago they would not - and probably could not - have published it at all. And while the debate that has ensued may generate more heat than light, it is of great significance: As Dr. Johnson said of female preachers, it is not well done but one is amazed to see it done at all.
To round off this barrage of dissident voices I will offer Allen Brownfeld's review of Larry Tye's fascinating book Home Lands: Portraits of the New Jewish Diaspora, in which Tye examines the current state of disaporic Jewish community and culture and critiques the official Israeli Zionist line that world Jewry must return to Israel in order to lead a culturally and spiritually authentic Jewish life. Since friends of mine are involved in the renaissance of Jewish life and culture in Berlin, this touches me personally; and Brownfeld's review offers a heartening antidote to the (imho) false dichotomy of "Israel First, or the End of Jewry". This diary is far too long already so I will resist with great difficulty quoting Brownfeld's review at the length it really deserves, but simply recommend it with enthusiasm and a limited excerpt [and offer some Further Resources on both Israeli and Diasporic dissidence from the Likudnik line]:
For many years, the State of Israel and the adherents of Zionism in other countries have maintained the position that Israel is the “Jewish homeland,” that Jews outside of Israel are in “exile,” and that a “full Jewish life” can be lived only in the Jewish state. In our own country, even the leaders of Reform Judaism recently adopted a statement of principles holding that Israel is “central” to Jewish life and encouraging “aliyah,” emigration to Israel.
On a visit to Germany in 1996, Israeli President Ezer Weizman declared that he “cannot understand how 40,000 Jews can live in Germany” and asserted that, “The place of Jews is in Israel. Only in Israel can Jews live full Jewish lives.”
In 1998, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called upon American Jews to make a “mass aliyah” to Israel. The head of the Jewish Agency, Avram Burg, declared that the synagogue in Western countries is the “symbol of destruction,” and that the new center of Jewish life should be the state of Israel.
[...] In many ways, Tye believes, Israelis have much to learn about Judaism and the way it is practiced in the U.S. and other Western countries. In Israel, religion is a monopoly in the hands of the ultra-Orthodox and the majority of young people, facing a choice between ultra-Orthodoxy and secularism, often abandon religion entirely.
[...] Things have now changed. “By the mid-1980s cracks began to form in that solid wall of diaspora support for Israel, and the old rules began to break down. Jews in America and elsewhere increasingly were uncomfortable supporting Israel when they believed Israel was wrong. The New Israel Fund, Peace Now, and other Israel-based groups add to the unease by planting two heretical notions that it actually was the responsibility of diaspora Jews to speak out for Israeli policies they backed and against those they opposed, and that world Jewry should earmark its Israel donations to pro-peace initiatives or other projects they endorsed rather than steer them to umbrella organizations like the United Jewish Appeal. Diaspora Jews also were losing patience with what they saw as a bid by the Orthodox to use the debate over religious conversion to repudiate the contributions of the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements.”
This book stands in marked contrast to all of those pessimistic assessments of the Jewish future which are regularly issued by so many Jewish organizations. Jewish life is alive and well in diverse societies across the world, societies in which Jews feel themselves very much at home. This reality is the strongest refutation of the worldview of Jewish nationalism which would transform the universalism of Judaism into an ethnic identification with a single country.