Blogs > Cliopatria > Israel Lobby - Response

May 6, 2006 5:54 pm

Israel Lobby - Response

We close with a final comment about the controversy surrounding our article. Although we are not surprised by the hostility directed at us, we are still disappointed that more attention has not been paid to the substance of the piece. The fact remains that the United States is in deep trouble in the Middle East, and it will not be able to develop effective policies if it is impossible to have a civilised discussion about the role of Israel in American foreign policy.

Mearsheimer and Walt respond in the London Review of Books.

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Jonathan Dresner - 5/8/2006

I know, and as I've said before, that's irrelevant. I have read their article; I haven't bothered to read most of the critics, at LRB or elsewhere, and I have read several attempts to defend their article (but not, oddly, to defend their argument, except in the sense that it "confirms what people already think"; which is code, in my opinion, for "rehashed conventional wisdom") none of which have persuaded me that they have anything original to say or that their argument -- at least as I understand it -- that US support for Israel is now and has always been ideological and ethnic and detrimental rather than wisely strategic (as they define it) is supportable without an incredibly shallow reading of the history and carefully narrow definition of terms.

As my father says, "he who defines the terms wins the debate" and M/W have played that game very nicely, but policy isn't a rhetorical game.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/8/2006

Surely it comes as no surprise, Jonathan, that I didn't have you in particular in mind when I made that comment. As you well know, a number of M & W's more prominent critics have thrown those very charges into the debate and it is their comments have have drawn the greatest attention.

Jonathan Dresner - 5/8/2006

What "general thrust" are you actually convinced of, though?

I reject Ralph's comments entirely: Some of us don't rely on any of those arguments and have addressed those issues before and will continue to address them.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/8/2006

This is, I think, the basic problem. By the time one clears through the roughage of charges that M & W are anti-semites, that they've re-written The Protocals of the Elders of Zion for the 21st century, whether there are some errors in their claims, etc., the issue that they raise is never really addressed and, one assumes, their critics have accomplished their purposes.

Konrad M Lawson - 5/8/2006

I'm actually overall pursuaded by the general thrust of the M/W piece (and I am certainly no fan of M in particular!).

I read many of the letters attached. Many of them (including the one I link to below) use the annoying technique of associating something M/W said with a position that some anti-semite or racist has said or done at some point (thus confirming M/W's point that criticism of Israel or a anti-Zionist position is frequently associated immediately with anti-semitism).

However, I think Alan Dershowitz points out a number of fact-based issues with the article that the authors, who knew they were in dangerous territory, should not have allowed to arise:

Jonathan Dresner - 5/6/2006

They're not mutually exclusive categories.

Ralph E. Luker - 5/6/2006

KC, I'm afraid that you're going to have a hard time shaking the suspicion that Walt and Mearshimer's paper is "shoddy scholarship" because it takes a position that you don't support.

Robert KC Johnson - 5/6/2006

The most powerful critique against the W/M piece, it seemed to me, was its amazing sloppiness--that in writing an article that they knew would generate strong skepticism, their piece was littered with obvious factual errors or incomplete/inaccurate/out-of-context quotations upon which their critics could easily seize. If I didn't know better, I'd think W/M were actually covert agents of the "Lobby," out to discredit anyone who offered a more reasoned attack against the lobby in the future.

In the case of their reply letter, let me cite one example: "Similarly, we clearly stated that Osama bin Laden had other grievances against the United States besides the Palestinian issue, but as the 9/11 Commission documents, this matter was a major concern for him."

This seems like a powerful statement. There's only one problem. The 9/11 Commission Report argues, forcefully, that the fundamental source of bin Laden's opposition to the US was not specific policies, but American values, system of government, perceived cultural/ideological mores, etc. That argument might be wrong--and indeed the report has been attacked by some on this point. But W/M go one step further: they disagree with the conclusions of the commission report, but then cite that very same report to bolster their claim that the activities of the "Lobby" help explain Al Qaeda's hostility to the US. In this respect, the W/M letter continues their pattern of shoddy scholarship.

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