Arts & Culture

The Nation Pans “The Israel Lobby”

What a carnival it has been seeing the liberal-left react to the ungenerous reviews of The Israel Lobby. Surely a sign that knee-jerk charges of anti-Semitism and the reductio ad Hitlerum hobble any substantive debate about Israel – ah, if … Read More

By / October 19, 2007

What a carnival it has been seeing the liberal-left react to the ungenerous reviews of The Israel Lobby. Surely a sign that knee-jerk charges of anti-Semitism and the reductio ad Hitlerum hobble any substantive debate about Israel – ah, if only such a debate could be had in the first place!

Matthew Yglesias has gone out of his way to defend John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, even furnishing the latter’s curriculum vitae in defiance of Martin Peretz’s suggestion that Walt had led a “lackluster” academic career until the London Review of Books made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Walt is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations! He’s written three whole books before this one! cries Yglesias, who has also bravely affirmed that AIPAC does not represent Jews like himself, his family and the (gentile) blogger Josh Marshall*.

I very much hope, though, that Yglesias, who has his own humdinger of a volume on U.S. foreign policy in the works, appreciates how categorically conservative and xenophobic his new heroes are. Mearsheimer and Walt belong, along with Michael Scheuer, Bin Laden’s book-of-the-month author, to the reactionary isolationist establishment, the one Harry Truman had to defy it in order to merely recognize the state of Israel in 1948, and the one Scoop Jackson had to war against when the Kremlin’s outlandish “education tax” levied against emigrating Soviet Jews became a scandal worth jeopardizing détente over in the 1970’s. How the sabras must laugh to see a book dedicated to Samuel Huntington, he of the "clash of civilizations" thesis, celebrated everywhere from the University of Chicago to Al Jazeera.

Never ask those suffering from ideological amnesia to examine the irony of their current positions. Forget Che Guevara: the hot new silkscreen t-shirt on campus bears the likeness of Charles Lindbergh. Pat Buchanan’s rag the American Conservative asks if the hard right and hard left can make common cause against Bush, and then devotes an entire article to naming the non-Jewish neocons in Washington. Taki Theodoropoulos, a man who refers to New York as “The Big Bagel” and otherwise spends his time inveighing against the city’s rampant sodomites, thinks that Justin Raimondo alone can prevent more earthquakes in San Francisco by blogging the germ of Marxist thought that infects all neoconservative logic.

Fortunately, a few classical leftists do remain in our midst. They don’t support the war in Iraq, much less Israeli colonialism in the West Bank, but they are admirably unwilling to leverage their internationalism in opposition to either. Denis Lazare of the Nation is one:

Given the kind of people who are criticizing Mearsheimer and Walt and the way the anti-Semitism card is used to silence dissent on the Israel-Palestine question, many might feel compelled to defend their thesis.

They should think twice before doing so. To be sure, Mearsheimer and Walt are not anti-Semites, and The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy does not portray Israel as uniquely evil or "singularly pernicious." But just because a book is not bigoted does not mean it is good, and the one that Mearsheimer and Walt have written suffers from significant methodological deficiencies, which is a polite way of saying it’s a mess. In expanding their 13,000-word article into a 500-page book (with more than 100 pages of notes!), they have succeeded mainly in exacerbating the flaws of their original argument. They seem to know little about how American government works, how lobbyists function or how the United States interacts with the world at large. They are blind to history and tone-deaf to ideology. Because they blame America’s Middle Eastern rampage on a knot of wily Zionist agents, they seem to think that the US role in the region would turn benign if those agents were removed.


The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy is a notable example of a new form of nativism that sees foreigners and their domestic allies as a big source of America’s problems and believes that the country would be better off if it could eradicate such influences. Anti-Semitic this is not, but it is still an evasion of the truth that could turn out to be highly dangerous. America will remain in its infantilized state as long as it tries to shift blame for its ills onto foreigners and their domestic agents. It will never solve its problems until it realizes that they originate entirely at home.

* Calm down, people. I wasn’t "expelling" Marshall from Judaism or issuing any kind of sinister innuendo. I went by an older Andrew Sullivan post in response to Yglesias that indicated Marshall wasn’t on Team Chosen. That’s all. Sorry for the mistake, Josh, but thanks for the link anyway, I guess.

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