Harvard study of Israeli lobby's influence costs the academic dean
of the Kennedy School his job
to the Harvard University study by John
Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt,
Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," [.pdf] has been fury
by the Lobby and its partisans – and a demotion
for Walt, who, it was announced shortly after the paper's release, would
be stepping down from his post as [academic] dean of the John F. Kennedy School
of Government. As the New York Sun reports (via the Harvard
"Yesterday's issue of The New York Sun reported that an 'observer' familiar
with Harvard said that the University had received calls from 'pro-Israel
donors' concerned about the KSG paper. One of the calls, the source told The
Sun, was from Robert Belfer, a former Enron director who endowed Walt's professorship
when he donated $7.5 million to the Kennedy School's Center for Science and
International Affairs in 1997. 'Since the furor, Bob Belfer has called expressing
his deep concerns and asked that Stephen not use his professorship title in
publicity related to the article,' the source told The Sun."
The Kennedy School has removed its logo from the front page of the paper, and
made more prominent a boilerplate statement
to the effect that the school doesn't necessarily endorse any or all of the
views expressed therein.
Now, somebody please tell me that Mearsheimer and Walt have overplayed the
power and influence of the Lobby in American political life.
directed at Mearsheimer and Walt underscores and validates the study's contention
that all attempts to objectively discuss our Israel-centric foreign policy and
the pivotal role played by the Lobby are met with outright intimidation. We
have O.J. Simpson defender
and pro-Israel fanatic
Alan Dershowitz claiming that
the scholarly duo filched the majority of their sources from "hate sites"
– although how Dershowitz knows this, without having looked directly over
their shoulders as they wrote, is very far from clear. But don't worry, he assures
us, a "team" of researchers on his staff is looking into the matter.
One wonders if this is the same "team" that looked into the evidence
and concluded that Simpson was innocent.
Virtually every mention of the study informs us that David
Duke is among its most fervent defenders. The Boston
Globe and the Washington
Post both featured Duke's endorsement in their respective summaries
of the controversy, and when the shameless Joe Scarborough of MSNBC had him
on, he introduced the notorious racist this
"Thank you for being with us tonight, Mr. Duke. You have been attacked
as a former Klansman, an anti-Semite, but tonight you're in league with Harvard
University. Do you feel vindicated?"
Mearsheimer and Walt are the ones who should feel vindicated, because this
sort of cheap demagoguery proves their point about the Lobby's modus operandi.
Always they seek to set the terms of the debate in their favor: If you disagree
with them and decry their influence, you're a "Nazi." How very convenient.
What would the Lobby
do without the former Ku Klux Klan leader, who now inveighs against "ZOG"
and the alleged perfidy of the Jews from somewhere in Central Europe? He ought
to be getting some kind of stipend from them, in view of the tremendous service
he performs: by setting up an avowed neo-Nazi as the chief spokesman for the
other side, the Lobby gets to control the discourse.
Naturally, Scarborough would never have invited anyone like, say, Juan
Cole on the show to defend the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis. He might have invited
any one of a number of people cited in the study's 200-plus footnotes, including
Antiwar.com's Ran HaCohen. But
that is expecting far too much of the Lobby and its allies: intellectual honesty
is not one of their strong points.
The same trope is continued and expanded on with Max Boot's contribution
to the debate, in which he conjures the ghost of Richard
Hofstadter, departed neocon scholar of "The
Paranoid Style in American Politics," which sought, back in the early
1960s, to show that "right-wing agitation" (i.e., mainstream
conservatism) was a psychopathology, rather than a bona fide ideology, consisting
of little more than paranoid fantasies brought on by acute "status resentment."
Hofstadter, in turn, was simply carrying forward and applying the "social
science" of Theodore
Adorno, the Marxist sociologist who famously diagnosed opposition to Franklin
Delano Roosevelt's policies
as evidence of an Oedipal "father complex." So far, it's the same
old malarkey, minus the footnotes, until, at the end, Boot bares his teeth:
"After finishing their magnum opus, I was left with just one question:
Why would the omnipotent Israel lobby (which, they claim, works so successfully
'to stifle criticism of Israel') allow such a scurrilous piece of pseudo-scholarship
to be published? Then I noticed that Walt occupies a professorship endowed
by Robert and Renee Belfer, Jewish philanthropists who are also supporters
of Israel. The only explanation, I surmise, is that Walt must himself be an
agent of those crafty Israelites, employed to make the anti-Israel case so
unconvincingly that he discredits it. 'The Lobby' works in mysterious ways."
But not too mysterious. As we see, above, Belfer got on the phone
to Harvard – and Walt was out of the dean's office in no time. To notice
this, however, is "paranoid."
There have been a few substantive commentaries on the Mearsheimer-Walt study,
to my knowledge, one by Daniel
Drezner, and another by Daniel
Levy, a former top adviser
to Israel's prime minister, which originally appeared in Ha'aretz.
Drezner, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago
and a very smart blogger, gives credit to the study for exploring truths that
make people feel "very uncomfortable at cocktail parties," and concedes
that there is much to be said for the thesis that Israel seems to dominate "some
aspects" of U.S. policy-making. However, he nits and picks:
"Shot through these papers are an awful lot of casual assertions that
don't hold up to close scrutiny. … The authors assert that, 'If Washington
could live with a nuclear Soviet Union, a nuclear China or even a nuclear
North Korea, it can live with a nuclear Iran. And that is why the Lobby must
keep up constant pressure on politicians to confront Tehran.' I'm pretty sure
that there's more to U.S. opposition to Iran possessing nuclear weapons than
the protection of Israel."
It is true there may be other reasons why Washington might not want Iran to
go nuclear, but there is no reason to believe that these might prevail over
prudence in the absence of the Lobby's decisive influence. Drezner cites the
study's contention that the Lobby's mere existence proves an imperfect congruence
of Israeli and American interests – otherwise, "one would not need
an organized special interest group to bring it about." Drezner finds this
"fascinating," he writes, because of
"The implicit assumptions contained within it: i) the only interest
group in existence is the Lobby, and; ii) in the absence of the Lobby, a well-defined
sense of national interest will always guide American foreign policy. It would
be very problematic for good realists like Mearsheimer and Walt to allow for
other interest groups – oil companies, for example – to exist.
This would allow for a much greater role for domestic politics than realists
ever care to admit."
Contra Drezner, Mearsheimer and Walt do not contend that the Lobby is the sole
organization of its kind, only that they do a better job than anyone else. Far
from denying the influence of domestic politics on foreign policy, the study
shows that this sort of influence is decisive, especially in its discussion
of the Christian evangelical-neocon convergence
on the issue of Israel. Whether this comports with Drezner's understanding of
"realism" is, really, irrelevant.
While Drezner does not agree with Mearsheimer and Walt, he is too intellectually
honest to go along with the Smear Brigade's calumnies:
"On the one hand, it's a shame that this isn't being debated more widely
in the mainstream press. On the other hand, it might be good if the mainstream
media didn't cover it, if this New
York Sun editorial is any indication:
"'It's going to be illuminating to watch how Harvard handles the controversy
over the decision of its John F. Kennedy School of Government to issue a "Faculty
Research Working Paper" on "The Israel Lobby" that is co-authored
by its academic dean, Stephen Walt. On page one this morning we report that
Dean Walt's paper has been met with praise by David Duke, the man the Anti-Defamation
League calls "America's best-known racist." The controversy is still
young. But it's not too early to suggest that it's going to be hard for Mr.
Walt to maintain his credibility as a dean. We don't see it as a matter of
academic freedom but simply as a matter of necessary quality control.'
"This is an absurd editorial – just about any argument out there
is endorsed by one crackpot or another, so that does not mean the argument
itself is automatically invalidated. As for Walt's sympathies towards David
Duke, in the very story they
cite, Walt is quoted as saying, 'I have always found Mr. Duke's views
reprehensible, and I am sorry he sees this article as consistent with his
view of the world.'
"I didn't say this explicitly in
my last post, but let me do so here: Walt and Mearsheimer should not
be criticized as anti-Semites, because that's patently false. They should
be criticized for doing piss-poor, monocausal social science."
Bravo – except for the "piss-poor" stuff. Drezner should ask
himself, however, why it is that the debate over this study is being engaged
in such a vicious
manner by opponents of the
Harvard study. Doesn't that say something about the role of the Lobby and its
methods, as characterized by Mearsheimer and Walt? Drezner believes the authors
have failed to demonstrate that Israel is a strategic liability, that "U.S.
foreign policy behavior" is determined "almost exclusively by the
activities of the 'Israel Lobby'" and that the authors "omit consideration
of contradictory policies and countervailing foreign policy lobbies." Fine.
All those points are debatable. But they aren't being debated. Instead, the
Lobby is busy smearing the authors and getting Walt kicked out of his job as
Kennedy School dean.
Daniel Levy, a former adviser
in the office of Israel's prime minister, a member of the Israeli negotiating
team at the Oslo B and Taba talks, and the lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva
Initiative, has the most thoughtful commentary
to date, averring that the Harvard study "should serve as a wake-up call,
on both sides of the ocean." He notes that "the tone of the report
is harsh," and "jarring," that it "lacks finesse and nuance,"
"Their case is a potent one: that identification of American with Israeli
interests can be principally explained via the impact of the Lobby in Washington,
and in limiting the parameters of public debate, rather than by virtue of
Israel being a vital strategic asset or having a uniquely compelling moral
case for support (beyond, as the authors point out, the right to exist, which
is anyway not in jeopardy). The study is at its most devastating when it describes
how the Lobby 'stifles debate by intimidation' and at its most current when
it details how America's interests (and ultimately Israel's, too) are ill-served
by following the Lobby's agenda."
Levy goes on to note that the response to the study by the Lobby "has
been characterized by a combination of the shrill and the smug. Avoidance of
candid discussion might make good sense to the Lobby, but it is unlikely to
either advance Israeli interests or the U.S.-Israel relationship." In the
course of his argument that the Lobby is just as bad for Israel as it is for
America, Levy makes a salient point:
"The Lobby even denies Israel a luxury that so many other countries
benefit from: of having the excuse of external encouragement to do things
that are domestically tricky but nationally necessary (remember Central Eastern
European economic and democratic reform to gain EU entry in contrast with
Israel's self-destructive settlement policy for continued U.S. aid)."
The Lobby, by its success at neutralizing any effort to rein in the Israeli
leadership's more extreme impulses, undermines the interests of the Jewish state.
But the ideologues who make up the Lobby don't care about that: what they really
care about is having the power to silence – and punish – their enemies.
The firing of Dean Walt is an outrage, one that should be met with a storm
of indignation. That the Amen Corner would even attempt it – let alone
go on the record as taking credit for it – is a testament to the Lobby's
enduring and unchallenged power. It shows how the Lobby operates, and why they
must be stopped before any real debate over the foreign policy of this country
can be conducted.
The reasons for this extreme defensiveness on the part of the Lobby are not
hard to discern. If they are the prime movers of U.S. foreign policy, then they
have a lot to answer for. As the consequences
of the Iraq war roll across our television
screens, tracing a path of blood and mindless
destruction, we have to wonder: who got us here? We have to question their
motivations. And we have to ask: Why?
Who lied us into war? For whose sake did 2,300 American soldiers, and tens
of thousands of Iraqis, die? Whose interests were served? The tip of the spear
Mearsheimer and Walt have pricked the Lobby with is the contention that they
were the decisive influence
in pushing us into war with Iraq. And the howls that are coming from right,
left, and center are proof enough that they have struck home.