Friday, September 14, 2007

On Being Called an AntiSemite in Montana

There is a concerted effort to blacken the reputation of Walt and Mearsheimer both of whom are very much mainstream academics. It makes no difference for where criticism of the Israel Lobby is concerned no one can escape this type of mudslinging it seems. Of course prominent left wing critics such as Noam Chomsky have long been written off as "self-hating" Jews.
That three full professors should compare Walt's writings to the Protocols makes one wonder what sort of standards the University of Montana maintains. The existence of an Israel lobby (or lobbies) in the US is hardly news. It is quite open, indeed it openly tries to silence any opposition to its views and work as is evident not just in Montana but virtually anywhere Walt and Mearsheimer try to speak. I say try to speak because some univerties do not even have the intestinal fortitude to resist calls to cancel their talks. This is from an AUUP site.

On Being Called An Anti-Semite in Montana
Is booking a critic of the Israel lobby to speak on your campus anti-Semitic?

By Richard Drake


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As the coordinator of a university lecture series, I am always on the lookout for good speakers. I thought that I had found one in Stephen Walt, a political scientist at Harvard University and the academic dean of its Kennedy School of Government. His name had been given to me by John Mearsheimer, a University of Chicago political scientist, who in April 2005 had spoken in the series. Mearsheimer mentioned to me during his visit that he and Walt were working on an article about the influence of the pro-Israel lobby on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The article appeared in March 2006 in the London Review of Books to intense controversy.

The excitement over the article stemmed both from what Mearsheimer and Walt wrote about the Israel lobby and from what they were perceived to be saying about an always-touchy issue: the power and influence of Jews. They indicted the lobby for manipulating America’s Middle East policy in ways that jeopardize the international standing and physical safety of the United States. In particular, they pressed hard on the most sensitive issue in American politics, the war in Iraq. Just as most Americans were coming to view the war as a terrible mistake, Mearsheimer and Walt declared, “There is little doubt that Israel and the [l]obby were key factors in the decision to go to war. It’s a decision the [United States] would have been far less likely to take without their efforts.” Furthermore, the authors identified neoconservatives, “many with ties to Likud,” the main right-wing Israeli political party, as the driving force within the Bush administration for war. Mearsheimer and Walt pronounced the policies associated with the long-standing special relationship between Israel and the United States dysfunctional and dangerous for both countries.

Had the article been written by run-of-the-mill left-wing critics of America’s Middle East policies, the reaction to it would probably have been within the usual range of excitability and irritability for discussions of this kind. Mearsheimer and Walt, however, were mainstream political scientists at two of the most distinguished universities in the country. It was news for scholars of their reputation to denounce Washington’s most universally agreed-upon foreign policy position, unwavering support for Israel, as a leading cause of the rising threat of terrorism facing the American people.

Cold Climate
Soon after the publication of their article, I invited Walt to be the opening speaker in the 2006–07 President’s Lecture Series. I reasoned that our audience would profit from hearing a distinguished scholar’s arguments on a topic of moment. Not everyone in Montana thought the way I did. At the start of the school year, our publicity campaign for the series, announcing Walt’s participation, immediately produced a vehement reaction. In the twenty years that I have coordinated the lecture series, I have invited more than two hundred speakers to the campus. Walt was the first one to be welcomed with a preemptive barrage of defamatory invective from faculty members.

On September 7, 2006, four days before Walt’s scheduled arrival, three tenured full professors—two of them from my own department—denounced him in an open letter to the president of the university, George M. Dennison. The letter appeared in the student newspaper, the Montana Kaimin. Comparing his views to those expressed in the notorious anti-Semitic forgery, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, they castigated Walt as the author of an ugly racist diatribe and demanded that the university invite Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz or some comparable defender of Israel to offer a rebuttal. Failure to do so would “leave a dark stain on the President’s Lecture Series and the university itself.”

One of my critics told me before startled witnesses that he would not rest until I had been stripped of my position of power, which manifestly had corrupted me. Someone as insensitive to Jewish issues as I was could no longer be entrusted to coordinate a university lecture series. He initiated a campaign to bring about my dismissal.

As the controversy over Walt’s visit heated up in the campus newspaper during the next few days, a student and a retired professor publicly defended my decision to invite Walt. any people expressed their private support for me, and some of them wrote letters to the president on my behalf. He also heard plenty from the other side, as we all did, about the loosing of anti-Semitism on the UM campus. In addition to charging Walt with being a vile anti-Semite, his detractors said that he lacked basic skills as a researcher and writer. The neoconservative media had attacked Walt for carelessness as a scholar, and letters to the Montana Kaimin echoed those criticisms.

When Walt spoke on September 11, 2006, he miraculously recovered his intellectual powers before the 150 people present at his faculty-student seminar, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” He began by declaring his support for Israel and its right to exist in security. His criticisms had to do with policies, not a people, he said. After summarizing the main points of the notorious article, Walt asked why its argument had been so controversial. He said that he and Mearsheimer had merely stated what everyone knew to be true about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading pro-Israel lobbying organization. President Bill Clinton had declared that AIPAC was “better than anyone else lobbying in this town.” A Forbes magazine survey had rated AIPAC number two in Washington’s power rankings. Upon leaving office, Senator Ernest Hollings had declared, “You can’t have an Israel policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.” It was no surprise when Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert called AIPAC “Israel’s best friend in the whole world.”

In the seminar, Walt rebutted some of the main criticisms that had been leveled against him and Mearsheimer. They repeatedly had emphasized that the Israel lobby was not an all-powerful, secret group of conspiratorial plotters in absolute control of American foreign policy. Rather, they had described the lobby as a very effective set of organizations operating completely in the open. They had not accused U.S. Jews of disloyalty. They had stressed that there is nothing wrong with Israel’s supporters in the United States participating actively in public life. American politics, he pointed out, had always worked in accordance with the pressure-group principle. There also was nothing wrong, he continued, with drawing attention to the lobby’s success or calling into question the wisdom of policies it advocates, such as unconditional support for right-wing irredentists in Israel.

Later, in the evening town-gown lecture that Walt gave before more than seven hundred people—“What Went Wrong with U.S. Foreign Policy?”—he described the utopian cast of mind that in his judgment had prevented the United States from dealing with the rest of the world in a realistic way. He identified President Woodrow Wilson’s crusade to make the world safe for American-style democracy as the foremost symptom of our national arrogance and said that Wilson’s most extreme ideological heirs today, the neoconservatives, have badly tarnished the country’s reputation in the world.

Bad Reaction
After Walt’s visit, the seminar that he had given on the Israel lobby completely upstaged his lecture on the broader issues of U.S. foreign policy. In letters to the Montana Kaimin, to me, to the president of the university, and to the city’s main newspaper—the Missoulian—individuals who had not attended either of his presentations to hear what he actually said called him a liar and likened him to a Holocaust denier and Ku Klux Klansman. The vehemence of these attacks had no precedent in the twenty-year history of the President’s Lecture Series.

The charge that Walt was the moral equivalent of a Holocaust denier seemed little less than grotesque, but there it was in black and white on University of Montana stationery in one of the many bitter letters that this affair inspired: “It is much as if the university had brought a Holocaust denier to campus and accorded him the honors of a respected guest.”

A glance at the arguments of the archetypal Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson reveals the gross wrongheadedness of such a statement. Born in 1929, this French specialist in literary and textual criticism taught for many years at the Sorbonne and the University of Lyon. He argues in books and in articles for the Journal of Historical Review, the main vehicle for the revision of Holocaust history, that the Jews invented this tragedy to promote their own political ends, above all the creation and expansion of Israel. Walt has never made a pronouncement or written a line that would link him to anything remotely akin to Faurisson’s dismissive ideas about the destruction of European Jewry. Indeed, he regards Holocaust deniers with absolute disdain. The article that he wrote with Mearsheimer refers explicitly to the “tragic experience of the Holocaust” and the “loathsome history of anti-Semitism,” and it says that these events provide a “strong moral justification” for Israel’s existence.

Walt was also accused of having brought to campus “in a suit and tie what used to be the province of those who burned crosses while wearing sheets and hoods.” To associate this eminent scholar with the church and school burnings, beatings, castrations, shootings, lynchings, and political assassinations carried out by the Ku Klux Klan required a willingness to say anything, no matter how irresponsible, against an adversary marked not for intellectual defeat but for moral destruction.

David Duke, the best-known contemporary Klansman, gave an interview to the New York Sun, a newspaper implacably opposed to Mearsheimer and Walt, saying that their article had confirmed all of his own claims about Jewish control of the United States. This interview has become an exhibit in the case against Mearsheimer and Walt as anti-Semites.

Duke’s distinctive contribution to Klan politics was a campaign to modernize it by creating a nonviolent, completely legal party and by replacing the white-sheeted Imperial Wizard, the leader of the Klan, with a National Director in a suit and tie, thereby setting the precedent that Walt was said to have followed in his racist foray into Montana.

In his memoirs, Duke blames the Jews for World War II, feminism, America’s permissive immigration policy, and globalization. Behind all humanity’s misfortunes, he sees the evil designs of “the world’s oldest, most powerful, and virulent form of ethnic supremacism.” When questioned by the New York Sun about Duke’s endorsement of his article, Walt said, “I have always found Mr. Duke’s views reprehensible, and I am sorry that he sees this article as consistent with his view of the world.”

The attempt to group Walt and Mearsheimer with the likes of Faurisson and Duke reveals the real aims behind the campaign of denigration that began on my campus last September: to shut down critical inquiry into the activities of the Israel lobby and to blacken the name of anyone with the temerity to speak up about them. In an open society, however, anti-Semitism cannot be made to include the public investigation of highly effective lobbies. It is long past time to part with the idea that the only foolproof method of defense against the charge of anti-Semitism is 100 percent support for whatever the Israeli and American governments want in the Middle East.

The founders of this country understood that public life must include discussion of the ways power works. In the Federalist Papers, James Madison wrote about factions “who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” He feared that the “cabals of the few” would be a permanent problem for the republic. The invasion of Iraq is not the first war in our history to have been started by “men of factious tempers, of local prejudices, or of sinister designs.” The evidence that Mearsheimer and Walt provide constitutes a reason for a civilized debate on the role of the Israel lobby in helping to bring about the Iraq war.

Some of my Montana critics thought that the second most grievous sin I had committed, after the invitation to Walt, was my failure to achieve “balance” in the lecture series. They raised an important general question about the proper intellectual aims of a university’s public life, which a school-sponsored lecture series should enhance. To their complaints about the absence in the series of speakers who would defend and promote the policies of the government, I answer that the university has a critical function to perform, not a celebratory one. The government possesses ample resources for celebrating its policies, dominating as it does a wide range of institutions and offices that condition the public debate, and it hardly requires the services of a university lecture series.

In a democratic society, all government policies must stand for public inspection. This is true whether liberal Democrats or conservative Republicans are in charge. With both of our political parties and the media sharing the same basic ideas about foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, we need a place where the assumptions of the status quo encounter a stern testing, not a happy-faced tribute. The university should be that place.

Richard Drake is chair of the history department and coordinator of the President’s Lecture Series at the University of Montana. His e-mail address is richard.drake@umontana.edu.

2 comments:

Eris said...

Blah, blah, blah, blah.

Walt and Mearsheimer's essay and book are probably the most thoroughly discredited works in history (see this link).

Good work, professors!

Oh, and please, no ad hominem attacks (see this link) against the authors of the critiques. Find some meat and make an argument like a man, not a drunken cossack, hysterical leftist, sufferer of this problem, or chimpanzee, if you disagree with the above-linked assessments.

ken said...

I checked the first link. It has links to numerous critique including one by Chomsky but no replies so the list just includes anyone critical of Walt and Mearsheimer. However even some of the critics listed make the same points about the hysterical reactions:
But despite the fact that it appeared in England, the M-W article aroused the anticipated hysterical reaction from the usual supporters of state violence here, from the Wall St Journal to Alan Dershowitz, sometimes in ways that would instantly expose the authors to ridicule if they were not lining up (as usual) with power.
That is from Chomsky's Z Mag critique of Mearsheimer and Walt.

http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=9999

I disagree with Mearsheimer and Walt as well but I certainly defend their right to speak about their work and to say that their work is the most thoroughly discredited in history is just
wrong to put it mildly
Your meanderings about replying like a man (sic) not a drunken Cossack etc. just show the level of your response. Here is another quote from one of the links at your link.
Like Carter, Mearsheimer and Walt have faced ugly and unsubstantiated allegations of racism for drawing attention to the imbalance in US Middle East policy and the lobby’s clout. Walt’s Harvard colleague Alan Dershowitz labeled them “bigots” and “liars,” and the Anti-Defamation League accused them of promulgating “a classical conspiratorial anti-Semitic analysis invoking the canards of Jewish power and Jewish control.” Reams of angry newsprint later, these kneejerk cries of anti-Semitism have not registered, and for good reason. Plainly, a lobby that is universally recognized by Washington insiders—and even promotes itself—as one of the few most powerful in the country is influential.[1] Saying so cannot be inherently anti-Semitic.

The related allegation of sloppy research is also silly. In December 2006, Mearsheimer and Walt released a point-by-point rebuttal, perhaps not coincidentally also 82 pages long, of the charges of poor scholarship leveled by Benny Morris, Martin Kramer and others. Almost every charge was a misreading of the original paper. Nor is “The Israel Lobby” “piss-poor, monocausal social science,” as political scientist and blogger Daniel Drezner would have it. On the contrary, the text is full of caveats and qualifiers.

The essential flaw in the Mearsheimer-Walt argument is not, as many critics have said, the authors’ exaggeration of the pro-Israel lobby’s power, for although the authors do this in some instances, the thrust of their argument remains sound. It is not even their inattention to the other factors that have historically defined the US interest in the Middle East for the bipartisan foreign policy establishment. Rather, the most serious fault lies in the professors’ conclusion—soothing in this day and age—that US Middle East policy would become “more temperate” were the influence of the Israel lobby to be curtailed. This conclusion is undercut by the remarkable continuities in US Middle East policy since the Truman administration, including in times when the pro-Israel lobby was weak. And other factors—chiefly the drive for hegemony in the Persian Gulf—have also embroiled the US in plenty of trouble.

Dont worry these guys reject the M-W interpretation of the strenght of the lobby also but they also reject most of the criticism in the links.

http://merip.org/mer/mer243/plitnick_toensing.html