The Case of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on July 24, 2010

Walt and Mearsheimer

Welcome, Andrew Sullivan readers. Read this.

An article written by Lee Smith recently came out in Tablet accusing Stephen Walt, Philip Weiss, Andrew Sullivan, and Glenn Greenwald of “mainstreaming” anti-Semitism. The blowback was rather quick; Walt attacked by noting that Smith didn’t quote a single anti-Semitic statement made by the writers Smith attacks, but rather, statements made by commenters. Andrew Sullivan, taking a break from speculating about the origins of Trig Palin’s matrilineal line, parroted Walt’s reply. Eventually, Philip Weiss, decided to weigh in and, well, be Philip Weiss. (Off topic, a wee bit, but Weiss’s latest at the time of the writing of this post, is one of the most bizarre things I have read in a while; apparently, Jewish weddings in America can’t be looked at by Weiss with anything other than an anti-Zionist lens.) Glenn Greenwald has not commented on the Tablet article yet, but we all know what Glenn Greenwald has to offer the discourse, now don’t we?

An exceedingly long post on this subject follows. While some of the aforementioned writers play bit roles in this post, the two main characters in this drama, for me, are Stephen Walt, and a figure mentioned only in passing by Lee Smith; John Mearsheimer.

1. For the record, Stephen Walt was a professor of mine for two classes back when he was at the University of Chicago. Part of the reason I consider it painful to write about what his place in the blogosphere has become is that in the time that I knew him, I never at any time heard him say, or even intimate anything that could be remotely considered anti-Semitic. When he lectured about Israel and the Middle East, he kept whatever ideological leanings he had resolutely out of the classroom, and out of any individual discussions with me, and (as far as I know) other students. I considered his observations on the Middle East to be very informative, and well into the mainstream of political thought. Of course, none of these observations–which are about 15 years old–take into account the possibility that Walt has changed in his views, but I cannot believe that a well-educated, very intelligent, respected professor who taught me a great deal has suddenly become a raving anti-Semite.

2. What I can believe, however, is that Walt has become exceedingly irresponsible in his rhetoric since the time that I knew him. His argument–and that of his cohorts–that bloggers are not responsible for what their commenters write is a somewhat appealing one, but at the end of the day, that’s a rather facile response to a serious issue. Writing about Israel, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the status of the Palestinians, and the Middle East as a whole is an enterprise fraught with emotion, anger, outrage, and ancient grievances. Those who engage in these discussions owe it to others to keep their heads level so as not to fan the flames of an already inflammatory subject. They also owe it to others to try to keep the heads of their supporters level. If that means repeatedly denouncing those supporters who take one’s contentions and extend them to despicable levels, then so be it. That means that Zionists have to denounce–repeatedly, if need be–people who think that Baruch Goldstein was a swell guy, and that means that people like Stephen Walt, Philip Weiss, Andrew Sullivan, and Glenn Greenwald have to denounce–repeatedly, if need be–those who latch on to their arguments to openly preach anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism that is nothing more than thinly-disguised anti-Semitism.

That’s taxing work, to be sure. But those who complain about having to do that work won’t win any sympathy from me, and shouldn’t win any sympathy from anyone else. Want to gain respect and credibility in writing about Israel and the Middle East? Make it clear–crystal clear–that you will have nothing to do with the crazies who use your arguments to propagate their own racist rantings. If you say “oh, it goes without saying that I am not a racist, and don’t believe what the racists say,” and think that this will be enough, well, get ready to find out that it won’t be enough. If all of this is too much work for your fragile, little self, stop blogging about the Middle East. The subject should either get responsible commentary from a particular observer, or should get none; no commentary at all is preferable to irresponsible commentary that becomes indistinguishable from, and has the effect of rabble-rousing.

In his blog reply to Smith, Walt concedes that “a few of those individuals who comment make some extreme statements,” but argues that “any website that deals with Middle East subjects, especially Israel, will inevitably attract some wing-nuts,” and says that in the course of taking freedom of speech seriously, “we have to be tolerant of discourse that we personally find offensive and sometimes even hateful.” For Walt to state that his commenters “make some extreme statements” is an understatement, to say the least. The commentary from many of his readers is appalling and hateful. Saying that this is par for the course on other websites does not, of course, excuse Walt from the need to make clear in the most forceful terms possible–again, repeatedly if necessary–that he wants nothing to do with Jew-haters. Nowhere in Walt’s reply to Smith does he say anything along the lines of “while I am wrongly charged with anti-Semitism, I can understand the passions this subject arouses, and the belief, however wrongheaded I think it is, of those who think that racist commenters who write in support of me represent vile views I hold in secret. Let me assure people that this is not true. The people who take my arguments and stretch them as a general indictment against Jews, or even against Zionism have nothing but my disgust and contempt in response.” Instead, he simply elides the issue, and tells us that he is not responsible for what others write. No one, of course, thinks that Walt controls what others write. But surely, Walt controls what he writes. To put matters simply, shouldn’t he call bulls*** on his commenters from time to time?

3. As for “freedom of speech,” Foreign Policy is private cyber real estate, and that means that the First Amendment does not apply. It also means that Walt and others can delete comments that are hateful and offensive. Walt mentions the commenting that is done on other websites concerning Middle East issues, and notes that it runs hot. It does, but plenty of websites have stated policies that they will not countenance hateful comments. There is no reason for Walt and for Foreign Policy not to adopt those websites’ policy, and the First Amendment won’t suffer if they do. Indeed, it is impossible to make the contention that discussion of the Middle East is somehow elevated by the noxious emissions of Jew-haters.

4. It should be pointed out as well that the “we are not responsible for what some extreme people on our side say or write” argument is a selective one, and exposes the hypocrisy of those making it. Responding to Smith’s editorial, Andrew Sullivan makes that argument, but then, in the next breath, tries to use Benjamin Netanyahu to imply (not-so-subtly, one might add) that those who oppose Sullivan’s newfound disgust with Israel should be tarred with the same brush that paints Netanyahu as racist. Walt shouldn’t be judged by his commenters, but Walt’s critics should be judged, I guess, by Netanyahu. It gets more laughable later down the line; Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic–who schools Sullivan on the Middle East as regularly as you and I eat when we are hungry–points out that “within hours” of being attacked by Walt in the same blog post with which Walt responded to Smith, Goldberg’s e-mail inbox filled with sickeningly racist and hateful messages. Sullivan’s reply? “Look: I know it’s awful to read bigoted emails. And relatively new bloggers may be unused to the routine bile. But you need to accept it as part of a new media with no filters.” Amazing; Sullivan hands out Malkin awards like they are going out of style anytime anyone on the Right says something that he doesn’t like–and plenty of times, thunders in outraged fashion that the award-winning statement, and the mindset it gives voice to represents the Right in general–but tells us that if Jeffrey Goldberg gets anti-Semitic hate mail, well, that’s just the cost of doing business in the blogosphere, darlings. No “awards” need be handed out to anti-Semites over at the Daily Dish, I guess.

5. While we are on the subject of Jeffrey Goldberg, and his e-mail inbox, can anyone seriously deny that the volume of hateful invective he gets increases as a direct consequence of a Walt link, a Weiss link, a Greenwald link, or a Sullivan link that takes issue with Goldberg’s stance on Israel? Indeed, why is there even an argument that Goldberg’s hate mail is not linked to the writings of Walt, Weiss, Sullivan, or Greenwald, whenever any of the four decide to take Goldberg on? Do people think that Goldberg is forging hate mail, and sending it to himself? If so, they should present proof. If they have no proof, well, they should shut up with any intimations that Goldberg may somehow be faking all of this, and concentrate their energies on making it clear that they have nothing whatsoever to do with anti-Semites, and that they won’t be useful idiots in the hands of anti-Semites. Of course, it wouldn’t kill Walt, Weiss, Sullivan or Greenwald to write something along the lines of “I am sorry that Goldberg got hate mail, and I would tell those who send it, and think that they are doing me a favor in sending it, that they are in fact setting discourse back significantly by acting like knuckle-dragging mouthbreathers,” but again, we just don’t get these kinds of disclaimers, do we?

6. More on the subject of Jeffrey Goldberg–here is what Walt has to write about him:

. . . Goldberg, in case you didn’t know, is a journalist whose intense passion for Israel led him to emigrate there and enlist in the IDF, where he served as a prison guard. I have no problem with that, as Americans are allowed to hold dual citizenship; but it does help you understand why he is quick to attack anyone who criticizes Israel. Objectivity about the Middle East is not his strong suit.

Um, no, it actually doesn’t explain a damned thing. Rather, it is brought up to poison the well, and it is pretty shameful that a former University of Chicago professor who served as master of the social science collegiate division and deputy dean of social sciences at the institution, and is now current Kennedy School professor who served four years as an academic dean at the school, would engage in such utterly misleading rhetoric. Of course, the trivia point of Goldberg as a onetime prison guard is commonly used to poison the well in any argument against him, and more people should see through this cheap rhetoric. More people should ask also why it is that the personal backgrounds of others are not used to impeach their arguments concerning the issues of the day. Do people bring up the fact that Andrew Sullivan was born British if they want to consider any of his arguments concerning Anglo-American relations? Should they be allowed to impeach his arguments in favor of gay marriage, or those of Glenn Greenwald, by pointing out that Sullivan and Greenwald are gay? What difference do these personal data points make? At the end of the day, it’s arguments that matter, but Walt tries to muddy up the debate by bringing up the fact that Goldberg once served as a prison guard in the IDF, and holds dual citizenship. And in the event that Walt wonders why it is that some people think he is an anti-Semite, perhaps he ought to consider that his use of the anti-Semites’ favorite “dual loyalty” trope about Jews, accidental and inadvertent though it may have been, helps feed the perception.

7. No discussion of Walt is complete without a mention of his friend and collaborator, John Mearsheimer. As with Walt, I took classes with Mearsheimer in college and graduate school. As with Walt, I never for a moment detected a hint of anti-Semitism in Mearsheimer, either in his performance in front of the class, or in his private interactions with students. His classes were, in fact, delightful and highly educational, and helped stoke my already intense interest in international affairs in general, international security policy, military policy, and the history associated with these subjects. I consider the time I spent studying in Mearsheimer’s classes to be among the happiest, and most rewarding of my intellectual life.

Specific to the issues being discussed in this post, I vividly remember how searing Mearsheimer’s lecture on the Holocaust was, how powerful and unsparing his discussion was concerning the manner in which millions of Jews were massacred. He made sure that we, his students, fully absorbed the horrors attendant to the Holocaust, and in doing so, he did us a massive favor by ensuring that we were fully cognizant of the barbarism associated with the times. One of the lasting memories that I have of his lecture on the Holocaust has to do with his point–forcefully made–that those who assisted in the near-annihilation of European Jewry were not ill-educated, ill-bred morons. Rather, they were doctors, lawyers, and even opera singers. They were smart and erudite. But intelligence and erudition do not act as ironclad safeguards against madness.

All of this means, of course, that as with Walt, I am shocked and stunned to see what John Mearsheimer has become. Walt and Mearsheimer have made seminal contributions to the field of international relations scholarship, and thanks in large part to their teachings, I consider myself a realist in viewing international affairs. But realists can disagree, and when it comes to Walt and Mearsheimer, they have wholly abandoned the realm of realist theory–not to mention a great deal of other respectable intellectual real estate–when it comes to discussing Israel, the Israel lobby, and the Middle East.

Walt and Mearsheimer are obsessed with the Israel lobby. It caused them to write a paper on the lobby. The paper eventually turned into a book, and the book became a vehicle for notoriety for the two of them. To be sure, Walt and Mearsheimer assure us that Israel has every right to have a lobby, but tells us that the lobby has taken control of American foreign policy regarding the Middle East to an extent that the conduct of American foreign policy is no longer in line with American security interests.

Mind you, this general subject could be an interesting one, if a particular scholar is willing to also discuss the Turkish lobby, and its effects on policies aimed at recognizing the Armenian genocide, or the reason why the Kurds don’t get a state, the Arab lobby, which is quite formidable, the Irish lobby, which helped influence American policy regarding “the troubles” in Northern Island, the Greek lobby, which may play a role in determining the nature of American policy regarding the Greek-Turkish dispute over Cyprus, the Indian and Pakistani lobbies, and how they shape American policy regarding Indo-Pakistani relations in general, and the situation in Kashmir in particular, and the Tibetan and Chinese lobbies, and the manner in which they help influence American policy concerning human rights abuses in Tibet.

But amazingly enough, Walt and Mearsheimer are only interested in talking about the Israel lobby, and the influence it exerts. And by golly, there just happen to be anti-Semitic tropes about how Jews exert power and influence beyond the capacity of goyish mortals to understand, or emulate. This doesn’t make Walt or Mearsheimer anti-Semitic, but it does help explain the provenance of all of those nasty comments on Walt’s site, or in response to Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s work on this issue. Again, Walt and Mearsheimer, swimming, as they do, in stereotype-infested waters–and let’s not pretend that stereotypes are not raised by talk of the Israel lobby–have a responsibility to denounce those stereotypes forcefully and repeatedly. Alas, Walt just passes over the “extreme” nature of some of his commenters; weak protestations that are swept away by the tidal wave of anti-Semitic hate that accompanies comments to his writings. Mearsheimer does little better.

Specifically concerning the arguments on the Israel lobby, while realists believe that the domestic politics of a particular nation-state play some role in determining the conduct of the nation-state, and while at times, the role can be notable, the prime forces determining nation-state activities are believed by realists to be the permanent interest of the nation-state, interests that outlast and transcend the vagaries of domestic politics. As realists, Walt and Mearsheimer should therefore believe that while American foreign policy concerning the Middle East is somewhat affected by the presence of an Israel lobby, the conduct of American foreign policy generally and fairly overwhelmingly does go along the lines of American interests.

But as Walt and Mearsheimer have made clear, they don’t believe that. Rather, they believe that the Israel lobby has completely and entirely captured the American foreign policy establishment when it comes to the design and implementation of American foreign policy regarding the Middle East. This is a radical departure from realism, of course, and amazingly enough, Walt and Mearsheimer are not called out on this nearly as much as they ought to be. Are they still realists? Have they abandoned realism? Or are they selective, inconsistent, and incoherent realists, these days, willing to laud and apply realist theory when it suits them, while at the same time arguing that somehow, someway, the Israel lobby transcends the laws of realism, and that Israel does not deserve the protections that any nation-state would want in a world where realist theory explains the conduct of international affairs?

Answer No. 3 becomes the 2-1 favorite in the battle of conflicting international relations theories that now engulf and confuse Walt and Mearsheimer, when one considers that while Mearsheimer is willing to argue against the de-nuclearization of Europe, he is also willing to argue that Israel ought to unilaterally dismantle its nuclear stockpile. Reason?

First of all, there is a fundamentally different strategic environment today than existed in the 1950s and 1960s. And it’s much more favorable from Israel’s point of view. The Soviet Union, as we all know, has gone away. And it is not supplying either Egypt or Syria, or anybody in the neighborhood with meaningful conventional fighting force. Furthermore, Egypt has changed its approach to dealing with Israel and is now effectively a relatively friendly state. It is not an adversary of Israel like it was it the late 1950s throughout the 1960s as well. If you look at what’s happened with regard to the special relationship it’s blossomed since 1973 and the United States and Israel today are basically joined at the hip.

That wasn’t the case back then. And related to that the United States has supplied Israel with the most up-to-date conventional weaponry in its arsenal. And as a result of that fact combined with the fact that the Soviets are no longer supplying the Egyptians and the Syrians the gap between the Israelis on one hand and the Arab states on the other in terms of conventional weaponry is just enormous. No state in its right mind would pick a fight with the Israelis.

On the proliferation front, I would not be surprised if Iran and other countries continue to move down the nuclear road. You already see the Jordanians expressing an interest in developing a signification nuclear enrichment capability. It would be interesting to see if Turkey does. As I said before, I think Iraq will want nuclear weapons if Iran has nuclear weapons. It would be foolish not to from an Iraqi point of view. A Middle East where more than one state has nuclear weapons makes me very, very nervous.

Shorter Mearsheimer: Israel no longer needs nuclear weapons, because there is no Soviet Union, and Egypt and Syria are no longer threats. The fact that Iran may get nuclear weapons, along with Iraq, does not change the fact that Israel should no longer defend itself with a nuclear arsenal.

To say the least, this is daft. There is no proof whatever that any unilateral dismantling of the Israeli nuclear stockpile will lead to Iran and Iraq forgoing nuclear weapons. There is no proof whatever that the Israeli nuclear arsenal has led to an Iranian desire to get nuclear weapons in the first place; Iran wanted nuclear technology back when the Shah was in power, and back when Iran and Israel were on very friendly terms. Even worse, Mearsheimer believes that “[i]t would be foolish” for Iraq not to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran gets them, but thinks that Israel ought to disarm. One state should rationally defend itself with nuclear weapons in the event that Iran arms itself with a nuclear stockpile, but Israel ought to be denied that national security luxury. What did I write about the selective application of international relations theory when it comes to Israel?

Now, here is Mearsheimer on Europe:

Many Europeans (and some Americans) seek to eliminate nuclear weapons from Europe altogether. Fashioning this nuclear-free Europe would require that Britain, France, and the Soviet Union rid themselves of these talismans of their sovereignty–an improbable eventuality, to say the least. Those who wish for it nevertheless believe that it would be the most peaceful arrangement possible. In fact a nuclear-free Europe has the distinction of being the most dangerous among the envisionable post-Cold War orders. The pacifying effects of nuclear weapons–the caution they generate, the security they provide, the rough equality they impose, and the clarity of the relative power they create– would be lost. Peace would then depend on the other dimensions of the new order–the number of poles and the distribution of power among them. The geometry of power in Europe would look much as it did between the world wars–a design for tension, crisis, and possibly even war.

[Optimists say that] a non-nuclear Europe would remain peaceful because Europeans recognize that even a conventional war would be horrific. Sobered by history, national leaders will take care to avoid war. This scenario rests on the “obsolescence of war” theory, which posits that modern conventional war had become so deadly by 1945 as to be unthinkable as an instrument of statecraft. War is yesterday’s nightmare.

The fact that the Second World War occurred casts doubt on this theory: if any war could have persuaded Europeans to forswear conventional war, it should have been the First World War, with its vast casualties. The key flaw in this theory is the assumption that all conventional wars will be long and bloody wars of attrition. Proponents ignore the evidence of several wars since 1945, as well as several campaign-ending battles of the Second World War, that it is still possible to gain a quick and decisive victory on the conventional battlefield and avoid the devastation of a protracted conflict. Conventional wars can be won rather cheaply; nuclear war cannot be, because neither side can escape devastation by the other, regardless of what happens on the battlefield. Thus the incentives to avoid war are of another order of intensity in a nuclear world than they are in a conventional world.

There are several other flaws in this scenario. There is no systematic evidence demonstrating that Europeans believe war is obsolete. The Romanians and the Hungarians don’t seem to have gotten the message. However, even if it were widely believed in Europe that war is no longer thinkable, attitudes could change. Public opinion on national-security issues is notoriously fickle and responsive to manipulation by elites as well as to changes in the international environment…..Finally, only one country need decide that war is thinkable to make war possible.

So now, we have Revised Shorter Mearsheimer: Nuclear weapons keep the peace in Europe, and prevent bloody conventional wars that can be “won on the cheap.” But they won’t keep the peace in the Middle East, even though, absent nuclear weapons, we might have bloody conventional wars that can be “won on the cheap.” Again, this constitutes the selective, inconsistent, and incoherent application of realist theory in a fashion that–surprise!–leaves Israel out in the cold.

Imagine that.

It is worth noting, of course, a third point made in the Judeosphere post mentioned above; that Mearsheimer opposes Indian de-nuclearization. Apparently, while “[a] Middle East where more than one state has nuclear weapons makes [Mearsheimer] very, very nervous,” the prospect of an Indo-Pakistani nuclear clash causes no hypertension whatsoever(!). Israel ought not to have a nuclear arsenal, because it might start up an arms race with Iran and Iraq–again, never mind that Iran has wanted a nuclear arsenal since the days of the Shah, back when it was on friendly terms with Israel, and back when everyone knew that Israel possessed a nuclear arsenal. But India can have a nuclear arsenal, despite the fact that the possession of such an arsenal indisputably causes an arms race with Pakistan. Have I mentioned that Mearsheimer and Walt repeatedly embrace the selective, inconsistent, and incoherent application of realist theory in a fashion that–surprise!–leaves Israel out in the cold?

8. It’s bad enough that Mearsheimer has embraced shoddy social science thinking on the Israel lobby, and shoddy international relations analysis–analysis that should be laughed out of any respectable realist gathering, realist conference, realist eating club, or realist motorcycle gang–concerning Israel’s national security posture and interests. It is even worse that his personal behavior has lurched into the bizarre, and the ridiculously offensive. Go back to this post, and drink in the following Mearsheimerian passage:

The Israelis can do almost anything and get away with it….If I went to the Middle East, and visited Israel, and I was killed, somebody shot me, do you think there would be any accountability? Seriously. If any of you went to the Middle East and were killed, do you think there would be accountability? There wouldn’t be. This is how outrageous this situation is. Just think about the [USS] Liberty, think about Rachel Corrie, think about this Turkish-American who was just killed on the flotilla.

The lobby believes it can finesse any issue. They’ve never seen an issue that they can’t finesse…..America’s interests and Israel’s interests are going to continue to diverge. And the end result of that, back here in the United States, is that the lobby is going to have to work overtime to cover that up and make it look like everything is hunky-dory when in fact it’s not.

Unreal. He’s now entertaining martyrdom fantasies at the hands of the Israelis. Who is this guy, and what has he done with the John Mearsheimer who was such an inspiring teacher while I was in college, and graduate school?

Think this line of absurd “cogitation” was a one-off? Well, think again:

American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories.  The first two are what I call “righteous Jews” and the “new Afrikaners,” which are clearly definable groups that think about Israel and where it is headed in fundamentally different ways.  The third and largest group is comprised of those Jews who care a lot about Israel, but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about Greater Israel and apartheid.  Let us call this group the “great ambivalent middle.”

Righteous Jews have a powerful attachment to core liberal values.  They believe that individual rights matter greatly and that they are universal, which means they apply equally to Jews and Palestinians.  They could never support an apartheid Israel.  They also understand that the Palestinians paid an enormous price to make it possible to create Israel in 1948.  Moreover, they recognize the pain and suffering that Israel has inflicted on the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories since 1967.   Finally, most righteous Jews believe that the Palestinians deserve a viable state of their own, just as the Jews deserve their own state.  In essence, they believe that self-determination applies to Palestinians as well as Jews, and that the two-state solution is the best way to achieve that end.  Some righteous Jews, however, favor a democratic bi-national state over the two-state solution.

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.

On the other side we have the new Afrikaners, who will support Israel even if it is an apartheid state.  These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state.  This is not to say that the new Afrikaners think that apartheid is an attractive or desirable political system, because I am sure that many of them do not.  Surely some of them favor a two-state solution and some of them probably have a serious commitment to liberal values.  The key point, however, is that they have an even deeper commitment to supporting Israel unreservedly.  The new Afrikaners will of course try to come up with clever arguments to convince themselves and others that Israel is really not an apartheid state, and that those who say it is are anti-Semites.  We are all familiar with this strategy.

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.  It would be easy to add more names to this list.

“Righteous Jews”? “New Afrikaners”? In what parallel universe does John Mearsheimer–who isn’t even Jewish!–have the godlike authority to tell us who is a good Jew, and who isn’t, based purely on whether Jews agree with his views on Israel? I am willing to admit, for all of my strong feelings on the subject of Israel, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Middle East as a whole, that the geopolitical issue is an exceedingly complicated one, and that neither the Arabs, nor the Israelis come to the table with their hands completely clean. But Mearsheimer believes that the entire matter can be boiled down to a Manichean battle between racist “New Afrikaner” Jews on one hand, and “righteous Jews” and the Arabs on the other. Has he completely taken leave of his senses? Does he really think that the issue is that uncomplicated? Does this now pass for sophisticated political science, foreign policy, realist analysis? Incidentally, while Mearsheimer is willing to denounce “racist” Israeli practices concerning the Palestinians, is he willing to note the degree to which Palestinians–including children–are taught to harbor racist sentiments towards Jews? Or will Mearsheimer yet again practice selective, inconsistent, and incoherent policies that leave Israel–and its defenders–out in the cold?

This blog post–as warned in the beginning–has been a long one. But it was necessary to go on at length in order to show that the absence of blatantly anti-Semitic statements from Stephen Walt, Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, Philip Weiss, and–but for the possible exception of the “New Afrikaner” speech–John Mearsheimer notwithstanding, the mainstreaming of anti-Semitism need not occur solely and exclusively via the explicit repetition of the most openly vile anti-Semitic verbal sewage. One can take a large body of work into account, take note of the picture that is drawn from that body of work, and even absent specific objectionable statements, become disquieted and disgusted by the larger context of that work. I frankly don’t give one-tenth of a damn for Weiss, Sullivan, and Greenwald; the state of their souls means very little to me. But Walt and Mearsheimer were teachers of mine. I would like to think well of them.

Unfortunately, at least when it comes to the geopolitics of the Middle East, I just can’t anymore. And I suspect that I am not the only one of their erstwhile admirers to have become shocked at what they have morphed into. Israel is not beyond reproach. We need good, tough, smart commentators to discuss Middle East policy. We need unvarnished truth, and cogent analysis. But those who offer it have a specific and inescapable responsibility to not only light the way to a better geopolitical future, but to fight against the slime that seeks to take arguments and extend them to fulfill racist ends. Walt and Mearsheimer put forth exceedingly controversial arguments, which means that they attract a lot more undesirable would-be allies than do your typical Middle East commentators. Those allies are as disreputable as they come. They shouldn’t be indulged. Alas, they are gorging on Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s rhetoric, and at best, my former professors seem to be utterly oblivious to that fact.

  • Jerry Haber

    “But amazingly enough, Walt and Mearsheimer are only interested in talking about the Israel lobby, and the influence it exerts. And by golly, there just happen to be anti-Semitic tropes about how Jews exert power and influence beyond the capacity of goyish mortals to understand, or emulate.”

    Why is it so “amazing” if an author chooses to focus on one topic? The article, and then the book, was on the Israeli Lobby, not on other lobbies. In fact, other lobbies are mentioned in the book, and some comparisons are made. But if a professor writes a book on Aristotle, is she to be criticized for being “obsessed with Aristotle” because she didn't consider Plotinus, or barely mentioned Plato.

    Walt and Mearsheimer wrote about the Israeli Lobby, which is not composed only, or even mainly, of Jews. The Israeli Lobby has a large non-Jewish component, e.g., Christian evangelical Zionists and many other non-Jews. W and M have repeatedly stated that they are not talking about Jews. So why do you smear them by associating what they have to say with “anti-Semitic tropes” of Jewish power.

    With all due respect, I am simply amazed to hear that you studied at the University of Chicago. The leaps of logic in this piece are extraordinary.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Yes, I am aware that the book was solely on the Israel lobby. Thanks for stating an obvious point, one that doesn't help your argument a bit. My point–and you obviously missed it–is that the full picture of Walt and Mearsheimer's work should lead to at least disquiet that they are indulging, however inadvertently, anti-Semitic tropes. A data point in favor of arguing that said indulgence is taking place, is the fact that Walt and Mearsheimer only focus on the Israel lobby, while ignoring other lobbies. The presence of other constituent groups in the lobby does not diminish the fact that discussion of the lobby raises anti-Semitic tropes in the minds of many, and that Walt and Mearsheimer ought to take all measures necessary to distance themselves, repeatedly and forcefully, from the hateful fan base that has crowded around them. And of course, if an author writes a book just on Aristotle, that doesn't raise the same alarms as would an author's exclusive attention on the Israel lobby, while ignoring the presence and significance of other lobbies. Writing books on Aristotle does not raise questions of racism or anti-Semitism. I hope you realize just how far you were reaching with this analogy, but I suspect that you don't.

    I do realize I wrote a long post, but that doesn't excuse you failing to pay attention, and it certainly doesn't excuse you feeling free to mischaracterize it merely because you failed to pay attention. As for your surprise that I attended the University of Chicago, I shall try to hide my disappointment.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Sorry, by the way, for accidentally clicking the “Like” button on your comment. I meant to click “Reply.” By the way, with all due respect, I am simply amazed to read that you are a philosophy professor. The leaps of logic in your comment are extraordinary.

  • crmla2

    Greenwald routinely employs the most inflammatory of rhetoric to describe Israel’s actions and supporters. He uses the word “slaughter” so often, one would think it’s a conjunction. Other terms include “psychopathic derangement,” “psychopathic indifference,” “blood thirsty fanatic,” “sociopathic indifference,” and so on. Plus the constant tropes about how the Israeli lobby wields inordinate power in the United States. In 2007, before he got to Salon, he wrote an entire column about how “Jewish donor groups” were attempting to influence US policy.

    Probably the best example of Greenwald’s leanings was when he posted a link to a video showing the aftermath of an explosion which was purported to be from an Israeli attack on a Gaza market during Cast Lead. Plenty of blood, bodies, and dismemberment, but it was footage taken in 2005 when a truckload of Hamas rockets exploded during a parade. Glenn, casting any hint of objectivity aside, leaped to post the video even though he stated that he could not vouch for its authenticity. Which begs the question: if he couldn’t, why did he post it? He’s never issued a clear apology or correction, something he routinely demands of ‘mainstream’ journalists.

    And then there was his ridiculous statement in the first hours of the news of the flotilla that the people on the boats were “pure, unadulterated heroes.” Never mind the footage that emerged of people chanting about killing Jews and becoming martyrs, Glenn made up his mind that these people were all heroes, evidence be damned.

    As to his comments section, the routine anti-semitic rantings begs the larger question: why do these people feel comfortable posting their garbage there? Answer that.

  • Jack

    Jerry Haber does not seem to take into account the very crude propagandistic nature of the walt-mearsheimer tract, The Israel Lobby. It has about 500 pages or more but it is not much of a book, more like what was once called a “non-book.” You could write a book collecting and expounding all of the falsehoods, absurdities, and significant omissions in and from the book.

    I found no mention of Haj Amin el-Husseini, the chief leader of the Palestinian Arabs in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. He spent most of the war years in the Nazi-fascist domaim, also collaborating in the Holocaust. I did not note even a hint of this real history in the w-m tract. Chapter3 in the tract, on Israel's Moral case, is fraud-laden and also flawed by absurdities.

  • Ron Levy

    Speaking as yet another graduate of the University of Chicago, I would hold issue with only one point:

    “I cannot believe that a well-educated, very intelligent, respected professor who taught me a great deal has suddenly become a raving anti-Semite.”

    Sadly, this affliction is something I have witnessed in many cases. It is like an infection, of an idea or set of ideas, and it preys upon those whose mental defenses are weakened. When one is exposed to propaganda and one doesn't stop to ask, “Really?” or “How? That doesn't seem reasonable or likely..” the infection takes root. It becomes reinforced when it is not rebutted, and leads further and further down irrational pathways.

  • Oren Litwin

    I am presently studying for my Comps in International Relations, and so have had to read a great deal of Mearsheimer in particular. It is worth noting:

    1. His argument that Israel should dismantle its nukes is EXACTLY opposite the claim he made in “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics” that all else equal, more nuclear powers make for fewer wars, and that pursuing power-maximizing strategies (such as an overwhelming nuclear stockpile) is a normative duty for statesmen.

    2. As Pejman notes, the sudden focus on lobbying, to the point of claiming that American policy is now contrary to its interests, violates every canon of Realism—the theoretical tradition that Mearsheimer spent his whole life writing in. (To the point of ignoring compelling evidence against his own version, offensive realism. Those interested in Realism should look at Schweller instead, who has more empirical support than bipolarity theory anyway, and the related work of Fearon.) Why should he do this?

    My own theory can be expressed as an analogy: physics theory posits that the world contains four fundamental forces—strong, weak, electromagnetic, and gravitational. Now, imagine a physics Realist who believes that, compared to the massive force of gravity on terrestrial objects, the other forces can safely be assumed away. Then, our Realist beholds something inconceivable: a refrigerator magnet! Here we have something exerting force that can withstand gravity!

    Well, since our Realist has spent most of his life studying gravity to the exclusion of all other forces, his grasp of their properties is shaky and in any event he does not want to concede ground to his scholarly adversaries. He thus concludes with a flourish that this magnet is in fact magic, and proceeds to pull out gris-gris dolls and hallucinogens in order to study it.

    So too with Mearsheimer. To properly explain America's support for Israel would require grappling with causal logics out of IR liberalism: to wit, the massive support for Israel shown by voters, the affinity between democratic states, the legacy of our deep alliance during the Cold War, etc. Even if he wishes to focus on lobbying, as Pejman noted, there are many other ethnic lobbies at work in Washington—including, by the way, that of Saudi Arabia. And there is a large and diverse scholarly literature on ethnic lobbies of which Mearsheimer seems oblivious, since it is usually lumped into Comparative Politics or Global Studies.

    Being allergic to IR liberalism, Mearsheimer is forced to conclude that those sneaky Jews, and only they, are somehow devious enough to subvert America's own fundamental interests—something that no other nation would possibly countenance.

  • seethelunatic

    Note that, per Mearsheimer, if you say Israel's policies are not apartheid (with the explicit racist ideology concomitant with that label), but merely a difficult, imperfect, sometimes unjust attempt to deal with the realities of the region, you are merely trying to come up with clever arguments to justify apartheid.

    Which means, if you apply bog-standard realist circumstances-and-interests analysis to Israel's policies, instead of assuming Israel is motivated by evil, Mearsheimer says you are proving you're an anti-Arab racist.

    Mearsheimer might not be in the grips of Judenhoss, but he's very definitely no longer a realist.

  • justquoting

    Sullivan used an inferior translation of Netanyahu's remarks, out of context. Here's another translation of Netanyahu's remarks, which are not “racist.” In fact, they refer to very specific people and apparatus behind a campaign against Israeli civilians:

    ***The Arabs are currently focusing a war of terror and they think it will break us. The main thing, first of all, is to hit them. Not just one hit, so many painful its that the price will be to heavy to be borne. The price is not too heavy to be borne, now. A broad attack on the Palestinian Authority [ruled by those responsible for most of the terror attacks]. To bring them to the point of being afraid that everything is collapsing.***

    Sullivan chose the translation “beat them up” and tried to connote the idea that Netanyahu was advocating beating up of people for being Palestinian and defying the Israeli government… that was Rabin at one point during the First Intifada, unfortunately.

  • melk2

    So what drives this anti-Israel hysteria? Most, if not all, of these individuals are not classic anti-semites. It is my opinion that this is driven by a total giving up on the Palestinians. I see this in my left-wing Israeli relatives. They want the Palestinians to do better but they have realised that normal standards cannot be implied or expected. So the Israelis have to be further demonized, because otherwise one is left with the hopelessness of expecting anything better from the other side. How else could any defender of the Palestinians come to terms with the odious and venal Arafat? Brutality and homophobia? Children being taught to hate Jews? The Israelis HAVE to be to blame because the other alternative is too discomfitting to contemplate. In a similar vein, the support for Israel of a large majority of Americans simply has to be due to the machinations of a Jewish lobby, the Jewish-controlled media and the troglodytic cluelessness of ordinary Americans. It is, above all. a political viewpoint, not really anti-semitism.

  • John Scott Tynes

    Am I correct that you would be satisfied if these writers performed the following two procedures:

    1) In every blog post in which they express a critical opinion of Israel, they also qualify that opinion by stating they are not anti-semites and will not tolerate those who are

    2) For those that have comments enabled, they police all of those comments and police/delete/respond to the anti-semitic ones

    I don't intend to put words in your mouth, but I think this is what you're asking for, in order to take them seriously as legitimate, thoughtful critics of Israeli policy who are steadfastly opposed to anti-semitism. Is that about right?

    Because that's ridiculous.

    Unlike Jerry Haber, who expressed surprise in a comment here that you studied at the University of Chicago, I can only express surprise at the notion that you actually use the internet. It is a river of drivel. Any local newspaper's routine news items are chock full of people expressing frothing, angry, lunatic opinions: bigotry, paranoia, conspiracy, and slander. I would no more expect the reporter on the court beat to police those comments than I would a blogger. And that's just newspaper sites — the internet at large is overwhelmed by raging insanity in the form of comments and emails.

    I believe your proposed standard of honorable conduct is not just unfeasible; it is almost a willful denial of modern life. To further propose that a failure to live up to your standard indicates some kind of fellow-traveler anti-semitism does you no credit at all.

  • NepotismIsDomesticTerrorism


    Going to pick these off one at a time. You do leave a lot with which to work.

    “Of course, none of these observations–which are about 15 years old–take into account the possibility that Walt has changed in his views, but I cannot believe that a well-educated, very intelligent, respected professor who taught me a great deal has suddenly become a raving anti-Semite.”


    Because said professor taught you, an individual who considers himself smarter than most?

    Or because said professor taught you 15 years ago?

    People change their minds all of the time, on issues large and small. Are you shocked that the prof no longer backs you 100 percent? Or are you shocked that you misread the prof back in your days of getting drunk 29 hours a day, nine days a week?

  • NepotismIsDomesticTerrorism

    “That means that Zionists have to denounce–repeatedly, if need be–people who think that Baruch Goldstein was a swell guy, and that means that people like Stephen Walt, Philip Weiss, Andrew Sullivan, and Glenn Greenwald have to denounce–repeatedly, if need be–those who latch on to their arguments to openly preach anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism that is nothing more than thinly-disguised anti-Semitism.”


    This reads like Andy Breitbart justifying his hit piece on Shirley Sherrod.

    Or a 5-year-old whining to his kindergarten teacher: “But he did it first!!!!!”

    It also doesn't make any sense. Baruch Goldstein gunned down 29 people who were praying in a mosque. Walt and Mearsheimer wrote a magazine article and a book. Walt, Sullivan, and Greenwald write blogs.

    Are you asserting that the words in a book, magazine article, and/or blog carry as much weight or impact as a guy gunning down 29 people who were praying in a mosque? If so, please call me. I have a lovely investment a man of your false equivalence just has to buy into.

  • NepotismIsDomesticTerrorism

    “Of course, the trivia point of Goldberg as a onetime prison guard is commonly used to poison the well in any argument against him, and more people should see through this cheap rhetoric. More people should ask also why it is that the personal backgrounds of others are not used to impeach their arguments concerning the issues of the day. Do people bring up the fact that Andrew Sullivan was born British if they want to consider any of his arguments concerning Anglo-American relations? Should they be allowed to impeach his arguments in favor of gay marriage, or those of Glenn Greenwald, by pointing out that Sullivan and Greenwald are gay?”

    First, I do not put much, if any, stock in issues of homosexuality when the dealer is Sullivan, Greenwald, and/or Rachel Maddow. They've all got a stake, as it is and some more than others, in the veritable game.

    I also do not back the pro-Nepotism arguments of Saul Bellow's Boy, Little Ross of Frisco and New Haven, and John P. Normanson for the very same reason.

    Don't back Andrew Ross Suckup's PR Spin on Wall Street, Kathryn Jean Lopez's endless lauding of the Catholic Church, or Peter King's defense of the Boston Red Sox. Again all for the very same reason.

    Goldie, like Rahm Emanuel and Caroline Glick, made a religious decision. Hey, it's his religion. Goldie can believe whatever he likes and guard whichever prisoners he wants to guard. I'm not going to tell the guy he has certain responsibilities that supersede either.

    Just don't tell me that Goldie's religion and personal experiences do not affect his writing.

  • Dan7769

    Thanks for this post, which lays out so many of my own feelings about Mearsheimer. He was my dept advisor when I was an undergrad (AB '91), and I remember the thrill I used to get from his classes. He was so adroit at cutting through rhetoric to get to the hard facts underneath the issues. I remember how typical college lefties would brand him as an uber-hawk (how ironic that seems now), then sit through a class like Strategy and Arms Control and come away with a totally different understanding — for the first time, they had to think not about whether you really, really want peace, but how you get it.

    Anyway, I did discuss Israel with him on a very few occasions, mostly when I was trying to decide what to write for my BA thesis. The only comment of his I remember was that he said (without malice) that the Israelis had had to “crack some heads” to get their state, and he suspected the Palestinians would have to do the same. This seemed (and seems) to me like the lazy conclusion of a hard-nosed guy regarding a situation that he was mostly ignorant about.

    And that may shed some light on where Mearsheimer is today. He was always a 30,000-foot guy. One attraction of realism is that can free you from having to invest in a lot of knowledge about the particulars of a given issue. No need to immerse yourself in the history or culture of a subject country — nation-states are essentially billiard balls. Just figure out the neighborhood, in terms of who has what guns, and you're 90% there. I'm not trying to run down realism, of which I have only a undergraduate's understanding and which obviously has contributed so much to our understanding of foreign affairs, but this is one of its risks. Mearsheimer sometimes strikes me as a guy who chose sides without knowing much of the story and, as a reflexive iconoclast, is bolstering his position to stand up to the critics.

    Thanks again, Pejman.

  • Dave4321

    “is he willing to note the degree to which Palestinians–including children–are taught to harbor racist sentiments towards Jews? “

    This is a bigger problem with Walt than his commenters. He says he is not anti-Israel and wants a two state solution. But he does not spend an iota of time talking about the daily incitement and brainwashing to hate not only of Hamas but the Palestinian Authority. Instead he parrots every left wing trope about Israel and ignores any evidence that counter them. One of his favorite people to link to is Phillip Weiss who is a self proclaimed anti-Zionist in that he does want the state of Israel to be destroyed. He constantly cites far far left wing Israeli radicals like Avy Averny (also wants Israel to end) as sources of rational Israeli thought. Walt either sees the Palestinians as infants with no human agency or he has a searing hatred for Israel. The latter is far more likely.

  • Carrington_Ward

    “bog-standard realist” = “no permanent allies, no permanent enemies, only permanent interests”

    Not a description that fits relations between Israel and the United States, by any means.

  • DJ

    Andrew Sullivan gives out Moore Awards too. Myopic much?

    People who write cogently about immigration policy get racist anti-Mexican comments on their sites too.

    People who write about Cuba get nasty comments too.

    It is what it is.

  • Daley Thomas

    What I'm interested in is to get a clear definition from the aforementioned Israel critics on what constitutes anti-semitism. Nowadays, no person claims he is an anti-semite just as no racist person claims he hates blacks. Yet all these people above will believe the most ridiculous conspiracy about Israel including making absolutely ridiculous arguments in order to support their views. For example, Oliver stones new comments stating that hey, Hitler wasn't such a bad guy. He was just misunderstood. And his Final Solution for the jewish people isn't so out of the ordinary.

  • Rob26

    I'm flattered that (except for the first three sentences) you copied my letter verbatim from over at Tablet. Still, an acknowledgment might have been nice.

  • BradyMoss

    “Andrew Sullivan makes that argument, but then, in the next breath, tries to use Benjamin Netanyahu to imply (not-so-subtly, one might add) that those who oppose Sullivan’s newfound disgust with Israel should be tarred with the same brush that paints Netanyahu as racist. “

    It can also be argued, I think, that Bibi Netanyahu is more powerful than any blogger and that we ought to be able to expect a world leader to talk a bit more responsibly if we are also going to debate what bloggers say.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    I have no problem stating that world leaders ought to speak and behave responsibly. But that doesn't change the fact that Sullivan engaged in “heads-I-win-tails-you-lose” rhetoric.

  • BradyMoss

    I don't know. This seems to be getting off track. Overall, I think you were correct to say, for example, that Sullivan should've absolutely clotheslined Mearsheimer for J.M.'s vile “good Jews/bad Jews” business. By not tackling that, I think Andrew did avert his eyes from some of the crap the two profs. have gotten into. You're right. But I don't think Sullivan was going for the broad brush in the Bibi case. It's possible to be truly angry at how the P.M. carried himself there, and to wonder why critics of mere bloggers don't also submit the words of a now-sitting prime minister to tough criticism, as well.

  • Yisrael Medad

    You noted that Mearsheimer held that “Israel no longer needs nuclear weapons, because there is no Soviet Union, and Egypt and Syria are no longer threats.”

    Well, we have arrived at the period of time of “longer”.  Egypt ruled soon by the Islamic fundamentalists and Syria still killing its citizens.

Previous post:

Next post: