John Mearsheimer has stooped to new lows since writing The Israel Lobby with his co-author Stephen Walt. From being known as an eminent political thinker of the “realist” school — once associated with scholars of note like the late Hans Morgenthau — Mearsheimer now associates himself with certified crackpots, the kind of people who do not even try to hide their blatant anti-Semitism.
When their book was published, a debate ensued over whether or not it was proper to call it anti-Semitic, or whether it should simply be attacked as it was by most commentators as an over-the-top argument about AIPAC’s control of American foreign policy. Virtually all mainstream reviews in the United States panned the book. One of the most devastating critiques was by Walter Russell Mead, who wrote that although he did not think the authors were anti-Semitic, they wrote a book that anti-Semites would love. Mead continued:
The authors do what anti-Semites have always done: they overstate the power of Jews. Although Mearsheimer and Walt make an effort to distinguish their work from anti-Semitic tracts, the picture they paint calls up some of the ugliest stereotypes in anti-Semitic discourse.
In the Wall Street Journal, Jeff Robbins argued that Mearsheimer and Walt might deny they are anti-Semites, but since they “devote themselves to criticizing American Jews for lobbying their public officials in support of the Jewish state, one may legitimately wonder what phrase would apply.” Their disclaimer that they are not anti-Semites, he concluded, “lack[s] a certain credibility.”
Mearsheimer’s recent speech to the Palestine Center in Washington, D.C., on April 29 shows that the question of whether or not he can be called anti-Semitic is no longer up for debate. Moreover, the lecture honored the late Hisham B. Sharabi, a man whom Martin Peretz notes was actually “an Arab fascist,” a member of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.
Mearsheimer then turned it over for publication on the Monthly Review magazine’s website, where you can read it in its entirety. That journal is not exactly where one expects a noted academic realist to publish. Those of us who came from the ranks of the American Left know it quite well. Indeed, many, many years ago, I used to write for it. It was started by the late Marxists Paul M. Sweezy and Leo Huberman, as what they called “an independent socialist magazine,” but quickly descended into a leading intellectual center of apologia for Third World totalitarians — from Castro in Cuba to Mao in China.
Particularly objectionable is the argument Mearsheimer develops towards the end of his lecture. He proclaims that there are three kind of Jews who care about Israel. According to this expert, they are the “righteous Jews,” the “new Afrikaners” and a third group constituting the majority who supposedly stand between them. These people care about Israel but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about the Jewish state. He deems them the “great ambivalent middle.”
Here is how he defines the first group:
To give you a better sense of what I mean when I use the term righteous Jews, let me give you some names of people and organizations that I would put in this category. The list would include Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss of Mondoweiss fame, just to name a few. I would also include many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone. Furthermore, I would apply the label to the many American Jews who work for different human rights organizations, such as Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch.
Let us pause a moment and ask the question: Can he be serious? Norman Finkelstein is the most well known Jewish huckster, a man whom the scholar Omar Bartov calls “a lone ranger with holy mission — to unmask an evil Judeo-Zionist conspiracy.” This is how Bartov describes Finkelstein’s thesis:
The gist of his argument is simple: Had the Jews and the Zionists not had the Holocaust already, they would have had to invent it. Indeed, for all intents and purposes, this is precisely what they have done, in the form of ”The Holocaust,” despite the distracting fact that, once upon a time, such an event actually took place. And why was ”The Holocaust” fabricated? Because it legitimizes ”one of the world’s most formidable military powers,” Israel, allowing it to ”cast itself as a ‘victim’ state,” and because it provides ”the most successful ethnic group in the United States,” the Jews, with ”immunity to criticism,” leading to ”the moral corruptions that typically attend” such immunity.
Given such views, it does not come as a shock to learn that Finkelstein accepted Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s invitation to the now infamous Holocaust denial conference. Yet this man is cited without irony by Mearsheimer as a “righteous Jew.” Evidently, any Jew who is opposed to Israel’s existence is by definition righteous — even if he is such an evident crank as Norman Finkelstein. Mearsheimer’s other names are a coterie of Israel bashers, anti-American leftists like Noam Chomsky and Richard Falk, or intellectuals and writers like M.J. Rosenberg and Tony Judt, who see a Jewish state as a tragic mistake that should never have been created.