Up until 2006 John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, was a scholarly exponent of the realist school, which holds that foreign policy is driven by interests and not by domestic politics.
That year, however, Mearsheimer, with coauthor and fellow realist Stephen Walt of Harvard, published—both on the website of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and in the London Review of Books—a paper called “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” It argued that America’s Middle East policy was totally in thrall to “the Israel Lobby,” which was responsible for getting America bogged down in Iraq and making it a target of Islamic terrorists.
Suddenly the two professors, who until then had worked within the academic world, found themselves the focus of a much wider polemical ruckus. Their paper drew praise from some—including, to put it mildly, a problematic figure like white-supremacist David Duke, who called it “a modern American Declaration of Independence.” And it drew bitter criticism from others.
Cohen noted that, whereas Walt and Mearsheimer claimed that “Osama bin Laden’s grievance with the United States begins with Israel,” actually the terror leader’s 1998 fatwa declaring war against America began by condemning its supposed sins in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
And if the war in Iraq “stemmed from The Lobby’s conception of Israel’s interest” as Walt and Mearsheimer charged, it was odd that “the war attracted the support of anti-Israel intellectuals such as Christopher Hitchens and mainstream publications such as The Economist.” (It was also revealed a year later that in 2003, then-Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon had actually advised President George W. Bush against invading Iraq.)
“Inept, even kooky academic work,” wrote Cohen, “but is it anti-Semitic?” In reply to his own question, he wrote:
If by anti-Semitism one means obsessive and irrationally hostile beliefs about Jews; if one accuses them of disloyalty, subversion or treachery, of having occult powers and of participating in secret combinations that manipulate institutions and governments…why, yes, this paper is anti-Semitic.
Undoubtedly taking note of the fireworks, Farrar, Straus & Giroux gave the two profs an advance of over $700,000 for a book based on their controversial paper. The book was published in 2007 and made it to the New York Times bestseller list.
In 2011 Gilad Atzmon, an Israeli emigrant in Britain and notorious (Jewish) antisemite, published a book called The Wandering Who. As Alan Dershowitz noted,
even some of the most hard-core anti-Israel activists have shunned Atzmon out of fear that his anti-Semitism will discredit their cause. Tony Greenstein, a self-styled “anti-Zionist”… denounced The Wandering Who? as “a poisonous anti-Semitic tome.” Sue Blackwell, who co-wrote the [UK] Association of University Teachers’ motion to boycott Israeli universities in 2005, removed all links to Atzmon from her website…. Socialist Worker, a website that frequently refers to Israeli “apartheid” and publishes articles with titles such as “Israel’s murderous violence,” removed an interview with Atzmon and called the evidence of Atzmon’s anti-Semitism “damning.”…
John Mearsheimer, however, had a different reaction to The Wandering Who. He went so far as to proclaim:
Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it increasingly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their “Jewishness.” Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.
One commentator who had not seen Walt and Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby as antisemitic, Walter Russell Mead, now had this to say:
In my otherwise not particularly effusive review of the sloppy and tendentious book on the Israel lobby by John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, I was careful to say that while many of the book’s errors and some of its rhetorical patterns mimicked classic anti-Semitic conventions, the book itself offered no proof that the two authors were anti-Semites themselves….
That judgment still stands re Professor Walt….
Professor Mearsheimer, however, seems to have danced with the dark side a little more intimately…. Professor Mearsheimer has blurbed a genuinely anti-Semitic book by a deeply twisted anti-Semite—who happens also to be Jewish.
“The dark side” indeed; Atzmon’s book included statements in this vein:
You may wonder at this stage whether I regard the credit crunch as a Zionist plot or even a Jewish conspiracy. In fact the opposite is the case. It isn’t a plot and certainly not a conspiracy for it was all in the open….
[Children should be allowed to question] how the teacher could know that these accusations of Jews making Matza out of young Goyim’s blood were indeed empty or groundless….
[W]e must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously. It is beyond doubt that Zionists, the most radical, racist and nationalistic Jews around, have already managed to turn America into an Israeli mission force…. American Jewry makes any debate on whether the “Protocols of the elder of Zion” [sic] are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy. So far they are doing pretty well for themselves at least….
Professor Mearsheimer found it all “fascinating and provocative.” Gilad Atzmon’s gutter antisemitism now had an advocate at the University of Chicago.
It should not really be surprising that Mearsheimer would endorse a book like The Wandering Who. At least two studies (here and here, both based on European samples) have found that a strong animus toward Israel tends to go hand in hand with dislike of Jews.
Mearsheimer kept at it in a London Review of Books article on November 16 last year, published two days after Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense to stop rocket fire from Gaza. In Mearsheimer’s telling, of course, Israel had far more nefarious aims. Whereas Hamas “appears to have been interested in working out a long-term ceasefire,” it was Israel that had “decided to ratchet up the violence.”
Israel’s real aim was to “beat…the Palestinians into submission,” to “create a Greater Israel that stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea,” in which “the Palestinians…will be forced to live in impoverished enclaves.” It was all “part of a long-term strategy to coerce the Palestinians into giving up their pursuit of self-determination and submitting to Israeli rule in an apartheid state.”
And if the U.S. should screw up the courage to object to any of this,
The key to keeping Washington on board is the Israel lobby, which pressures American leaders to side with Israel against the Palestinians and do hardly anything to stop the colonisation of the Occupied Territories.
All of this, of course, hardly jibes with facts—such as Israel’s total withdrawal from Gaza seven years earlier; such as the current intensive, John Kerry-impelled, Israeli-Palestinian talks on a two-state solution. But Mearsheimer’s article jibed well with the paradigm of “I have nothing against Jews, but their state, and their ‘lobby,’ are at all times devious, manipulative, and cruel.”
From another standpoint, too, Mearsheimer’s hang-up with Israel (and Jews) should not come as a surprise, considering that in strongly pro-Israel America one of the main redoubts of Israel-phobia is academia. John Mearsheimer (and to a lesser extent his colleague Stephen Walt) has helped create a climate where Israel is singled out for bigoted boycotts and mendacious propaganda.