Friday, June 13, 2008

Walt and Mearsheimer in Jerusalem

Having asked and been granted audience with Israeli students in the Hebrew University, the duo appeared in Jerusalem on Thursday. They were received politely and challenged by a few testy questions. Otherwise it seems as though the episode was of a forgettable nature.

Here are some highlights from the report on the Jerusalem Post:

"I would certainly prefer that people not call me an anti-Semite," Mearsheimer said in a phone interview with The Jerusalem Post as he and Walt were being driven from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. .. But it doesn't bother me..."

Is he " concerned his book is being used as ammunition by dyed-in-the wool anti-Semites to bolster their Israel-bashing arguments"? No, says Mearsheimer: "If there was a significant danger that anti-Semites would use our writing to raise the specter of anti-Semitism, we would not have written the article or the book."

But , insists the questioner, "Among those who have praised and cited the book are Holocaust deniers and former Klu Klux Klan head David Duke. "

Still insouciant and smug and in some contradiction to his earlier statement, Mearsheimer replies: "We condemn unequivocally everything David Duke stands for and regret that he uses our article and now our book to support his agenda. But we have no control over who likes or dislikes what we write,"

So I guess the fact that their book was indeed used by hard core antisemites hasn't, doesn't and won't bother Mearsheimer, in spite of his glib first response.

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While obviously critical of the Israel lobby's pressure, Mearsheimer has no problem when the roles are reversed, and in fact welcomed US pressure on Israel.

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Regarding Iran, Mearsheimer said that Israel and the Israel lobby were acting legitimately in lobbying for military intervention.

But, he said, just as it is legitimate for this to be done, so it is also equally legitimate to point out that it is Israel and the Israel lobby who is pushing the US to attack Iran.

True. It also follows that it is perfectly legitimate for critics of the M&W doctrine of Blame-Jew- first to criticize the shoddy, lopsided, faulty and selective "scholarship" that went into the writing of a book that gave consolation to so many antisemites and Israel-bashers. Yet this principle of legitimate exercise of freedom of speech and academic freedom has been subverted by the duo with their nonstop wailing siren of being "silenced" by a powerful Jewish Lobby.

As illustrated and explained here:

Silenced Professors.

It's hard to predict how well "The Israel Lobby" will do. Gabriel Schoenfeld, a senior editor at the conservative Jewish magazine Commentary, said "there is reason to think that the Walt-Mearsheimer phenomenon has already peaked," since the book doesn't go much beyond the original article, which has already made its mark. But others are less optimistic. The professors have managed to get a new wave of articles about being silenced, as they put it.

The Forward, a Jewish American liberal newspaper that cannot be accused of excessive support for the organized Jewish establishment, is publishing an editorial today that succinctly describes the tactics of the two on their way to cashing in on the book".

The trick follows a typical pattern," writes The Forward. "Step one: Publish your views in as provocative a manner as possible? Step two: Dare the Jewish community to lash out at you, then whine about being victimized by bullies. Step three: Implore fair-minded liberals to line up behind you, forcing them to choose between endorsing your vision - however skewed - or becoming part of the censorship juggernaut"

Gil Troy, Professor of History at McGill University, Montreal, writes about M&W meeting with Israeli Students at the Hebrew university:

During the 1890s, a German anti-Semitic preacher named Rector Ahlwardt visited New York. Leading New York Jews begged the police commissioner to block Ahlwardt's speeches or, at least deny this agitator police protection. "This, I told them, was impossible," the police commissioner recalled in his autobiography; "and if possible would have been undesirable because it would have made him a martyr." The commissioner realized that the best tactic was to make the bigot look "ridiculous." And so, the German preacher denounced the Jews protected by "some forty policemen, every one of them a Jew," thanks to Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt's mischievous sense of humor. Ahlwardt left New York a laughingstock. As president, Roosevelt would teach Americans to "speak softly and carry a big stick" in foreign policy; as police commissioner, Roosevelt taught to vanquish enemies with a chuckle not a hacksaw, and if forced to fight, to reach first for a stiletto not a shotgun.

Adds Troy:

Those outraged that Professors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt are lecturing at Hebrew University should remember Commissioner Roosevelt's cleverness. Mearsheimer and Walt have become rich and famous by charging that "The Israel Lobby" - capital I, capital L - has hijacked American foreign policy. To quote their book, so they cannot don their usual martyrs' robes and claim misrepresentation: "Many policies pursued on Israel's behalf now jeopardize US national security... While other special interest groups ... have managed to skew US foreign policy in directions that they favored, no ethnic lobby has diverted that policy as far from what the American national interest would otherwise suggest."

Given the professors' popularity in anti-Zionist circles and their notoriety among the pro-Israel crowd, partisans have criticized Hebrew University for agreeing to host them. But the academics requested to speak there, boxing the university into a corner. Banning them would be doubly counterproductive. It would give them the kind of publicity they love, cavorting before the bash-Israel crowd as persecuted professors. It would also force the university to sacrifice academic freedom for two relatively marginal academics who are better mocked, TR-style, or refuted, than demonized and boycotted.

I would have taken it a notch higher, were I in the position of the Hebrew University (my "alma mater"). Upon getting wind of their tour in the Middle East, I would have pre-empted their initiating request by extending an invitation to both to come and make their case before an Israeli educated audience. Taking the bull by its feeble horns, so to speak. But even so, I think it is a good exercise for the Israeli students, to be confronted with radical interpretations of their own history. "Know thine enemy" may be a bit too strong in this case, since M&W have not yet achieved that status, but they certainly are working very arduously to weaken Israel as a moral cause, and undo its special friendship with the US.

Not too long ago, a reader on this blog somewhat rebuked me for visiting such websites as "Democracy Now" which regularly features speakers with a very high ratio of anti Israeli animus, vomit-inducing, he called them. Another one a few months ago was wondering how I could read this stuff. Well, that's exactly it. I feel I need to know what some people try to peddle as "legitimate" criticisms of Israel. To be forewarned is to be prepared. The only way to win this debate is to stare down these distorders of history and right sentiment, not by censorship but by facts and truth and common sense.

As Gil Troy says: ".. when we try to suppress criticism, we reflect a lack of faith that truth will triumph in the free marketplace of ideas. Censorship is an indulgence of the insecure, mocking the celebration of stability Israel's 60th anniversary triggered. Both Israel and the American Jewish community are strong enough to sustain criticism. There are enough nimble minds in both communities to refute academic critics."

To keep a nimble mind takes training, learning, discipline. Exactly as in keeping a fit and supple body one needs to exercise, preferably with weights. I consider exposing myself to those emetic websites which glory in their lavish Israel-bashing parties as training my muscles with extra-heavy weights.

Consider Jewish scholars in this light: All of them have a high regard for logic, that is for compelling agreement by force of reason; they know, with that they are bound to win even where they encounter race and class prejudices and when one does not like to believe them. For nothing is more democratic than logic; it is no respecter of persons and makes no distinction between crooked and straight noses.. (Nietzsche, The Gay Science, 348)


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