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.
Those whom he disapproves of, he terms the “new Afrikaners,” since in Mearsheimer’s eyes, they are ipso facto supporters of a new apartheid Israel. He proclaims:
These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state….I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners. That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones. I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic.
Anyone familiar with his list knows, as Mearsheimer evidently does not, that these individuals have different perspectives and views on many issues pertaining to Israel and its policies. Some are opposed to many of Israel’s settlements; others are not. Peretz, for example, comes from a Labor Zionist tradition and regularly expresses his opposition to many of the policies of the Israeli right; others like Morton Klein are on the right of the spectrum on Israeli political issues, as is Sheldon Adelson. Others like David Harris can be considered centrists in tune with the majority of American Jewish opinion. Mearsheimer groups them all together and ignores all differences. What is important to him is that they all support the existence of Israel and do not favor the kind of solutions for the Middle East he proposes.
As for Mearsheimer’s analysis, I second the point made by David Bernstein, who writes that “the scholarly content of the piece is a joke.” Mearsheimer writes as if it is only Israel that stands in the way of the Palestinians having their own state. There is not one word about the Palestinians’ continual rejection of every opportunity given it to have such a state, from the UN Partition resolution in November of 1947 to the last offer by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, when the Palestinian negotiators turned down the most magnanimous offer by Israel ever presented to them.
In fact, as David Bernstein points out, recent Israeli polls show that Palestinians — not Israelis — reject a two-state solution — 66.7 percent of Palestinians said they are against it. And the contrary is also true. Israelis overwhelmingly back a two-state solution, something never acknowledged by Mearsheimer.
So Mearsheimer argues that there will be no two-state solution because of Israel’s intransigence, leaving only one result: “an apartheid state dominated by Israeli Jews.” American pressure could force it, but as we know he already believes, it cannot — because of the great power of the Israel lobby! Any American president, he writes, finds it “impossible” to “play hardball with Israel.” I guess Mearsheimer has not stopped to explain the current turn in policy against Israel by President Barack Obama, whom so many have criticized for just this misguided approach. He is correct though when he says that during the campaign, Obama responded to those who feared he might be soft on Israel by “pandering” and praising the “special relationship” between the two countries. Indeed, Obama continues to do that today — while moving ahead with a policy that gives the lie to his words.
So in effect, what John Mearsheimer predicts (or possibly hopes for) is that there will be an apartheid state, at which point the liberalism of American Jews will prevail and they will turn against Israel, putting their liberalism and values first and their concern for Israel second. Then, the great and all powerful Israel lobby will find it is ineffective, and its membership will quickly fall away. (Of course Jimmy Carter argues it already is an apartheid state; Mearsheimer differs only in that he says it soon will become one.) The so-called “Afrikaners” will then lose their influence, since American Jews will no longer listen to them.
Mearsheimer ends with what he hopes will be the outcome: “a democratic bi-national state,” the kind of solution already advocated by Tony Judt, the editors of The Nation and The New York Review of Books, and other left-liberal intellectuals. That “solution,” of course, might sound good to them, but won’t work. In effect it means a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority, that will quickly move — as its leaders promise time and again — to rid the state of Jews and to treat them as the Arab states have in the past and the present — as a minority with few rights, bound to accept either subjugation or Islamic law if Hamas gains the upper hand.
At any rate, John Mearsheimer has taken off the gloves. For a while, he and Walt tried to pretend they were friends of Israel and trying to save the country from itself. Now Mearsheimer, as one writer has pointed out, sounds much like the Charles Lindbergh of America First. No wonder his writing now appears in publications like the Buchananite American Conservative and the Marxist Monthly Review. That is the appropriate venue for thinkers far outside the American mainstream.