A thousand years ago, for a publication that may or may not still exist, I wrote up something about the Walt-Mearsheimer book. You know, the one whose admirers insist that anyone who thinks the work is anti-Semitic clearly never read it. Every last thread, W-M's critics are accused of having devoted insufficient attention to this fine entry into their collective oeuvre. Well, I did read it, and that was the conclusion I came to, from the book itself, as in the actual text contained within. Not from a sense that anything accused of anti-Semitism is automatically guilty. No, from the unequivocally anti-Semitic, classically anti-Semitic, book I sat down and read. I mean, the thing's not Ulysses. It does not include an early scene involving a madeleine, and meander from there.
For reasons I no longer remember, it took more time than expected for this to go to print, and my article received exactly one comment on the site itself: "Wow, this review is on the cutting edge of 10 months ago." Insightful dude was, it turns out, not as clever as all that. It turns out that Walt and Mearsheimer's "lobby" argument hasn't gone anywhere, and has in fact infiltrated the discourse about Jews in America. It only gets more relevant with time.
In Tablet, Adam Kirsch explains:
[I]f The Israel Lobby has not changed American politics, it has had an insidious effect on the way people talk and think about Israel, and about the whole question of Jewish power. The first time I had this suspicion was when reading, of all things, a biography of H.G. Wells. In H.G. Wells: Another Kind of Life, published in the U.K. in 2010, Michael Sherborne describes how Wells’ contempt for Nazism went along with a dislike for Judaism and Zionism, which he voiced in deliberately offensive terms even as Nazi persecution of Jews reached its peak. “To take on simultaneously the Nazis … and the Jewish lobby may have been foolhardy,” Sherborne writes apropos of Wells in 1938.The proper academic term for this is "yowza."
Kirsch also might have mentioned that Dan Savage - an otherwise progressive and brilliant sort who seems to have bought hook, line, and sinker the notion that the tiny Jewish minority has quite the grasp on American politics. Granted, Savage uses this as an example of how he wishes things went for America's LGBT minority, but I'm not sure what that changes.
The way the W-M book (that I surely didn't read, because I found it to be incredibly, nauseatingly, anti-Semitic) is written, it alternates between saying 'we of course aren't saying X,' and... saying X. It's sort of as if the expression, 'I'm not an anti-Semite, but' were expanded into book-length form. That's how they get around the accusation. The miracle for them is that most people just kind of nod along to that. But not Kirsch:
Walt and Mearsheimer, of course, fill their book with denials that they are talking about a secret syndicate: “The Israel lobby is not a cabal or conspiracy,” they write in the introduction. But the book itself, with its lists of Jewish organizations and journalists, and its tone of moral outrage, works to give exactly this impression.This thing I'm writing here, it isn't a blog post, per se.
But this is where Kirsch really, really gets at the problem. This is his main argument, and what's worth taking away:
One of the central premises of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy is that it takes unusual courage to oppose the Jews, since they use their power to ruthlessly suppress dissent in both the political world and the media.This! This is what has become socially acceptable in recent years. Anything negative one says about Jews is OK, no, heroic, because after all, it only serves to cancel out their stranglehold. Never mind that not all Jews support the Republican approach when it comes to Israel policy. Never mind that most Jews don't even vote Republican. Never mind that, by this calculus, Jews who go on having the left-leaning politics Jews have always had are in fact heroically sticking it to The Jews. Once this notion is accepted, it becomes impervious to reason.
Here's where the debate after the book went astray. People - W-M's defenders, but also, to some extent, their critics - have acted as though the book's controversial angle was that it dared question the sacred friendship between the U.S. and Israel, thus ruffling feathers, thus shattering a taboo. When in fact, if that had been the point of the book, it's not a book we'd have heard of, unless we were political science majors. Contrary to how they present it, it wouldn't have been the biggest deal in the world to question U.S. Israel policy, if done in a way that didn't seek to explain current policy in terms of basically a massive claw. Maybe a few fringe types still would have cried anti-Semitism, but otherwise? There'd have been a vigorous but level-headed debate in seminar rooms and journals among the Dry Topics Analysis contingent, and a good deal of support among the various Jews - including plenty of, ahem, Zionists - who wonder whether American aid as it currently exists is the best thing for American, but also for Israel, for American Jewry. No, the reason we know about the book is the Jewish-conspiracy angle. But the authors successfully managed to spin their controversy into a 'not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism' story. When, ugh, that's both true and quite beside the point.