John J. Mearsheimer & Stephen M. Walt,: War of Words Over Paper on Israel

Historians in the News

When “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” first appeared on the Web site of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government this month, the paper’s title page featured the globe and Harvard seal that make up the Kennedy School’s logo, and that routinely appear on papers posted there. If you download the paper now, however, you won’t find the logo on the PDF. The Kennedy school — with the authors’ permission — took the logo off, a sign of just how sensitive this paper has become.

Critics — led at Harvard by Alan Dershowitz and elsewhere by The New York Sun — are lobbing criticism after criticism at the paper, saying that it is bigoted, ignorant, stereotypical, uses material out of context, and borrows from hate-oriented Web sites. Defenders of the article, meanwhile, say that it is bringing attention to an important issue and that the reaction to the article demonstrates one of its key themes, which questions the logic of close ties between the United States and Israel and argues that a powerful pro-Israel lobby make its difficult to deviate from its views.

The article itself is certainly getting unusual attention for a scholarly work. (If you want to judge for yourself, but don’t have time for the full version, which is 82 pages counting footnotes, the authors have also published a shorter version in The London Review of Books.)

The authors of the controversial article are both well respected political scientists: Stephen M. Walt, who is academic dean and also holds an endowed chair in international relations at the Kennedy School, and John J. Mearsheimer, who holds a chair at the University of Chicago. Their article argues that the United States has hurt its own security by being too close to Israel, that Israel is not deserving of such support, and that pro-Israel lobbyists silence anyone who would question Israeli interests. The article uses “the Lobby” as a phrase to cover the activities of a number of groups that work to build support for Israel....
Read entire article at Scott Jaschik in Inside Higher Ed

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Adam Holland - 3/29/2006

I've sent the following to Scott Jaschik:

Re: War of Words Over Paper on Israel 3/27/96

Your article on the controversy over the Walt / Mearsheimer paper on the influence of the "Israel Lobby" sadly leaves the reader with several

You state that “(c)ritics — led at Harvard by Alan Dershowitz and elsewhere by The New York Sun — are
lobbing criticism after criticism at the paper…” did the critics have an election? You have succumbed to
an old journalistic temptation: you have appointed a leadership to represent the point of view which your article addresses, in order to pigeon-hole, label and denigrate them. This is intellectually lazy and inaccurate.

You also state that the alleged leadership of the critics are "…saying that it is bigoted, ignorant,
stereotypical, uses material out of context, and borrows from hate-oriented Web sites." In fact, their
primary criticism of the paper is that it's inaccurate.

Your article creates a misimpression of the “David Project” when it states that Walt and Mearsheimer’s
paper “says that pro-Israel groups have increased their activities on campuses, and it specifically
criticizes the David Project, which led criticism of Middle Eastern studies professors at Columbia
University.” The paper is inaccurate in this respect:
the David Project is a response to inappropriate behavior by teachers at Columbia toward their students. This behavior is ideologically driven
(anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic), so the response has an ideological component (Zionist, anti-bigotry).
However, at its core, the response supports the rights of students to learn and participate regardless of
ideology, nationality, ethnicity or religion. If you look at the facts, that is, if you ask what did the teachers do that was wrong, you see that it was not that they had strong beliefs or that they advocated
them, it was that they punished those who they believed to differ. The David Project essentially
supports academic freedom, precisely the opposite of what the paper claims. Your article deliberately
avoids the facts relating to this issue, potentially misleading an uninformed reader.

You go on to say that “(g)enerally, the article says that while ‘the (Israel) Lobby has gone to considerable lengths to insulate Israel from criticism on college campuses,’ it has failed to do so because ‘academic freedom is a core value and because tenured professors are hard to threaten or silence.’” No objective observer of contemporary colleges would consider them to be generally supportive of Israel. The idea of there being “insulation” of Israel
strains credulity. Supporters of Israel are actually in the minority in academe, unlike the rest of the
nation. In fact, on many campuses, faculty and students who are supportive or open-minded on subjects
relating to Israel are subjected to threats and/or punishment. Some degree of balance, and a large
measure of freedom of thought, is needed in order for reasoned debate to flourish.

No reasonable person opposes academic freedom, including the freedom to examine and criticize Israel and its supporters, but those who criticize are similarly subject to examination and criticism. If,
as is the case with this paper, their work contains gross inaccuracies based on shoddy research, and reaches incorrect conclusions based on the biases of
the authors, the academic community, and the broader community, is obliged to state this in the strongest terms. Let me be counted among them.