I read John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt’s The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy because I wanted to see what the hubbub was all about, and I was also reading all the responses in the wake of the book’s release. This week, several years after the book came out, Adam Kirsch in his Tablet column doesn’t try to break down the book or decry it like many critics and other intellectuals did upon the book’s release; instead, he tries to understand the book’s legacy. And it made me think back to that special moment when the librarian handed it over to me and remarked, “It’s a lot of Jewish guys checking this one out. You’re the youngest one by at least 30 years.” It also made me revisit the thing I thought after reading it. Mainly:
1. This book is bad news for American Jews. It’s going to perpetuate stereotypes, and possibly make people distrust and dislike Jews even more.
2. Lobbies suck. There are lobbies for about a hundred things from fatty foods to tobacco. Reading the book made me realize that I hate those things, and as much as I disagree with a lot of the policies and actions of Israel, I still care about its well being. And getting non-Jewish support for anything Jewish isn’t the easiest sell. [ I found myself in the awkward position of defending what I saw as the good of a pro-Israel lobby. This abandonment of many of my own ideals caused me to drink more wine. In all, I read the book over 2 evenings, and drank four bottles.]
Here’s the thing: I didn’t read The Israel Lobby to learn anything I didn’t already know, and I wasn’t sold on any crazy ideas. I read the book because my spot came up at the library, and because I wanted to hear two highly respected academics explain why I knew the things I knew. I also got too drunk to really form any new opinions on the matter, so I guess my entire experience shouldn’t count much. At least Kirsch’s revisiting the book’s lasting impression is interesting, poignant, and (obviously) smartly written.