Friday, March 24, 2006

This should be it...

So Harvard doesn't endorse the Walt-Mearsheimer paper. How about Chicago? Haaretz doesn't say. So how about Chicago itself--am I missing something? Really, nothing? It's spring break, so the Maroon hasn't yet produced the inevitable outpouring of pro-and-con. If Chicago has any sort of official statement on this, I'd be curious to know what it is. Is leaving the whole thing off the news site an indication of a lack of endorsement, or just a less-than-thorough Googling on the part of whoever puts the site together? I sort of doubt it's the latter, as that site's usually quite thorough. But back to the unofficial response...

I still fail to see why Drezner is so confident that assertions that Walt and Mearsheimer are anti-Semites are completely unfounded. The Forward piece Drezner praises comes to the only possible conclusion, that the authors of the paper "blame the Jews." As I've already made quite clear, the authors' anti-Semitism is not inferred from their criticism of Israel, nor even from their assertion that American Jews assert their interests more succesfully than do other groups in America, but that Jewish interests run against American interests, even while "American interests" encompasses all sorts of other conflicting goals and minority preferences.

The Jewish fear of complaining about anti-Semitism, of being seen as whiny, cannot be underestimated. From French Jews, then and now, speaking up enthusiastically for "universal rights of man" and speaking out against "racism" whenever the most blatantly, violently anti-Semitic acts occur, to American Jews who need to preface all praise of Israel with how of course they are highly critical of its evil, evil leadership. But anti-Semitism's been around so long, often in quite the same form, so it's easily recognizable what's anti-Semitic and what's not. Assertions that the Jews control everything, from indie theater to the U.S. foreign policy? Whine away.

But the other issue here is that, as the Forward pointed out, the "authors are not fringe gadflies but two of America's most respected foreign-affairs theorists." In other words, they are important, and they speak in measured tones and with authority. This could be why the LRB article reminded me of Bernard Lazare's Antisemitism: its history and causes. Lazare, a French Jew writing over 100 years ago, before the Dreyfus Affair changed his opinion on everything, wrote a scholarly account of anti-Semitism. Clearly well-researched, and presented in that same calm, dry, voice used by Mearsheimer and Walt, from a "neutral" perspective, despite the seeming contradiction of how on earth could someone Jewish write a neutral account of a movement which would have him disappear, Antisemitism explains, throughout history, how the Jews have pretty much had it coming to them. Lazare sees Jewish behavior as not simply causing but actually justifying much of their mistreatment from the outside world. Reading this, I was struck by how little Lazare's argument differed from a suggestion that, since women all around the world are raped and beaten by men for no apparent reason, the fault must lie in women themselves, since clearly femaleness is the cause of this violence.

Like Walt and Mearsheimer, whose work was praised by David Duke, Lazare's work was lauded by none other than original French anti-Semitic propagandist Edouard Drumont, author of La France juive. And Lazare, like our professors, claimed that his arguments were scholarly ones, and did not want to be associated with crude, irrational bigotry. The difference between Lazare and these recent authors is that Lazare was writing at a time when it was not yet evident just how readily the world would take up the cause of removing Jews from all power, real or imagined. It did not take the Holocaust for Lazare to change his mind about the Jews bringing about anti-Semitism by having the audacity to go around being Jewish--the Dreyfus Affair was enough, and apparently by the time Antisemitism hit the Barnes and Nobles and Borders of 19th century France, its author no longer supported its message. It is not clear what greater good will come from Mearsheimer and Walt announcing, with weak and/or misinterpreted supporting evidence, that a nefarious cabal of "pro-Israel," "neoconservative" types control the United States government. Neither the greater good of scholarly or political truth, nor the greater good (surely, from their perspective) of making Jews in the U.S. feel more at home, and less inclined to care much either way about Israel. And I think this is key--Diaspora Jewish support of Israel comes, often enough, not from a desire to take over the world, but a sense that things might not work out so well elsewhere.


Anonymous said...

" American Jews who need to preface all praise of Israel with how of course they are highly critical of its evil, evil leadership. But anti-Semitism's been around so long, often in quite the same form, so it's easily recognizable what's anti-Semitic and what's not."

Israel is an independent country. One can have issues with Israel's conduct that have nothing to do with anti-semitism.

America is an independent country. One can think America and Israel have divergent interests without being anti-semitic.

AIPAC is by far the largest lobbying force in Washington devoted to support of a foreign country. One can point out the nature of their influence without being anti-semitic.

Now are there anti-semitic people who think that Israel is evil, that America should distance itself from Israel, and that AIPAC is the latest manifestation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Of course.

But it's worth noting that there are also many, many anti-semitic people who are full-throated supporters of Israel, who think America should support Israel even more strongly than it currently does, and who think supporting AIPAC is doing the Lord's work. Those anti-semites are fundamentalist Christians who want a Greater Israel in order to fulfill a biblical prophecy that involves the death of all the Jews and the Second Coming.

What does that prove? Nothing except that the presence of anti-semitic fellow travelers doesn't prove much of anything about the soundness of a political position. Much in the same manner the Jerusalem Syndrome operates, the political topic of Israel brings a fringe of loonies into the conversation.


In the late 90's, I had a Serbian-American friend who was quite intelligent and civilized. She had the quirk of thinking that Slobodan Milosevic was a great man, and that Serbia's expansionist behavior was entirely justified. My friends and I laughed off her quirk as a matter of the odd ways that tribal parochialism can affect an otherwise good mind.

To bring the matter to a personal level, I'm an American Jew who's a supporter of the Zionist project.

If I were to raise the topic of Israel in conversation to praise it, I'd possibly preface my own praise with some criticism of Israel's leadership.

But this isn't because I have some "fear of complaining about anti-semitism."

But this isn't because I believe "the Jews have pretty much had it coming to them."

Instead it's because I believe the Israeli occupation of the lands acquired in the '67 war to be morally wrong.

Being a Jew is not only a tribal attachment to a piece of land in the way that being Serbian is. It is also the inheritance of a moral and intellectual tradition handed down over the millennia.

"I still fail to see why Drezner is so confident that assertions that Walt and Mearsheimer are anti-Semites are completely unfounded."

I won't try to speak as to why Drezner hasn't gone as far down the plank as you have, but it's worth noting that there is the small matter that Walt and Mearsheimer are accurately presenting the nature of AIPAC's influence.


And finally, to try one last time to unpack the core departure from reality:

"As I've already made quite clear, the authors' anti-Semitism is [their suggestion] that Jewish interests run against American interests, even while "American interests" encompasses all sorts of other conflicting goals and minority preferences."

First off, separate Jewish interests from Israeli interests. The two may have lots of overlap, but they are not the same thing. There's a reason it's not AJPAC.

Second off, recognize that there is a definition of "American interests" separate from the sum of its ethnic interest groups. There is such a thing as the "common good".

America did not support the Allies in World War II simply because English-Americans and French-Americans had a louder domestic voice than German-Americans. There was also a common good national interest. Likewise, the US didn't become involved in the Balkans due Kosovar-Americans domestically winning a political battle against Serbian-Americans. Instead, there really was an "American interest" in siding against the Serbs.

There was a time in this country where an alliance between Chinese-Americans and right-wingers motivated by ideology conspired to keep American policy in China tilted toward Taipei when "American interests" / the common good dictated a friendlier stance toward mainland China. Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter had to defy those domestic sectarian interests to achieve that broader national interest.

The current AIPAC Jewish-American / right-wing alliance is a far stronger sectarian interest than the Taipei lobby ever was. And it is in a region of the world more central to current American foreign policy than the Straits of Taiwan were back in the day.

Walt and Mearsheimer are talking about a pretty large elephant in the living room. Noticing that elephant is not anti-semitism.

And now, I think I well deserve a second moka pot of coffee, before I return to the hard work of controlling indie theater and US foreign policy.

Anonymous said...

For a wonkier take than mine on Walt and Mearsheimer, Daniel Levy reprints his Haaretz op-ed over at TPMCafe...

Anonymous said...

A money quote from the Daniel Levy article I linked to above:

"The study is at its most devastating when it describes how the Lobby "stifles debate by intimidation" and at its most current when it details how America's interests (and ultimately Israel's, too) are ill-served by following the Lobby's agenda.

"The bottom line might read as follows: that defending the occupation has done to the American pro-Israel community what living as an occupier has done to Israel - muddied both its moral compass and its rational self-interest compass."

The article is very much worth reading as a response to Walt and Mearsheimer from a non-rightist Israeli position.

Scott Lemieux said...

Phoebe--as I've written, I think the paper was terrible. However, it's important to understand that M/W are part of a school of political science theory that takes an extremely reductionist view of national interests. This isn't something they've just cooked up for this paper; it's something they've applied consistently. To be clear, I'm not saying that the paper isn't shoddy and tendentious (because it is), and for that matter one or both may be anti-Semites, but I don't think it can be inferred from the claim that Israeli and American interests are in serious tension. That's a highly plausible derivation of the neorealist theory they generally adhere to.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ms. Phoebe: I am a professor of political science teaching at several of the schools associated with the U. S. Army Staff college at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. As a practicing, committed Catholic I have always found anti-semitism an abomination. It is for this reason that between 1983 and 1986 I worked as an undercover investigator for the Anti-Defamation League--I went to meeting of anti-semites and gathered intelligence for the ADL. (Had some interesting experiences: At one meeting of anti-semites I sat between Willis Carto of Liberty Lobby and William Pierce of the National Alliance--I said to myself: "If my cover is blown, I am not getting out of this room alive!") It is because I feel so strongly about anti-semitism that I am writing you to say that my good friend John Mearsheimer, whom I have known since 1979, is not an anti-semite. Now, of course, his and Dr. Walt's essay is open to critism--but Joh is most definitely not an anti-semite, and, knowing him as well as I do, I very much doubt he would work closely with someone who is an anti-semite; so, even though I do not know Dr. Walt, I doubt very much that he is an anti-semite. Sincerely and Respectfully, Ernest Evans