So the Dutch, ever attuned to ruffling feathers and then giving the finger to the duck, have produced a documentary on John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's "The Israel Lobby." You might remember that thesis, originally circulated in the London Review of Books, for its argument that American Zionist groups, namely AIPAC, and various evangelical backers of Israel, who believe the holy land is the return depot of the Son of Man, control U.S. foreign policy. How much so? Well, the word "strangle-hold" was used, until the authors wisely decided to drop it. And we apparently went to war in Iraq as a personal favor to Ariel Sharon ("One for the road, Bulldozer.")
You might also remember "The Israel Lobby" from its expanded version as an eponymous book with the aesthetics of the Israeli and American flags interwoven and which drew universally hostile reviews on both the left and the right (when's the last time you can remember the Nation sort of agreeing with Commentary?), as well from both the neoconservative and "realist" schools of foreign policy. Those who didn't speculate as to Mearsheimer and Walt's tenebrous motives concluded that their scholarship was mostly fifth-rate, and that their reasoning was just as good.
The loud and angry chorus quietened to a murmuring panel discussion after Walter Russell Mead of the Council on Foreign Relations came to the cool-headed determination: "Their use of evidence is uneven. At the level of geopolitics, their handling of the complex realities and crosscurrents of the Middle East fails to establish either the incontestable definition of the national interest that their argument requires or the superiority they claim for the policies they propose."
But Mearsheimer and Walt's biggest problem was a category one: They depicted the "lobby" as encompassing every strain of opinion with respect to Israel, thus nullifying its definition as an undifferentiated, monomaniacal force. Had they written a book entitled Jews Argue, they'd have sold fewer copies but made much the same underlying point. As Mead put it: "Since virtually every possible policy position is supported by some element of this lobby, the lobby never loses no matter what happens in Washington - like the man who always ‘wins' at roulette because he puts a chip on every square."
Of course, the only real "lobby" the pair wound up calling attention to was the self-martyrdom one run by simpering intellectuals. Dare criticize the Jewish state, goes a certain kind of reverse messianic logic, and you'll never work in this town again. Not many reviewers denounced Mearsheimer and Walt as anti-Semites, at least not in public; Mead said they stupidly trafficked in all the wrong tropes, but probably out of illiteracy and ignorance-they certainly weren't aware of much Middle Eastern and American history, so this rationale didn't seem willfully naive. Yet those who did denounce them as Jew-haters were held up as proof of one part of their shoddy grievance; namely, that a contingent of powerful and influential Jews and Christians are always standing guard to protect not only the sanctity of the American-Israeli special relationship, but to deny that such a protection even exists.
Strange, then, that even the putative "victims" of AIPAC don't seem all that victimized. Mearsheimer and Walt are both still gainfully employed academics, and the fact that the present documentary isn't airing on U.S. television owes to how irrelevant and old the controversy has become, which fact hasn't stopped the inevitable whispers about a backroom censorship campaign. Was it censorship when the essay and book were being blogged and written about ad nauseum in every magazine and newspaper in the country, and eliciting puzzled laughter from Israelis, who could never quite see what all the fuss was about?
Tony Judt, one of Mearsheimer and Walt's more mainstream boosters, who whether by accident or design looks more and more like Isaac Babel, parlayed his defense of them into an occasion for a good headline-grabbing whine. An invitation issued to him to speak at the Polish consulate in New York was rescinded after Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League placed a hectoring phone call to the little sliver of Warsaw on the Hudson and reminded whoever was in charge that Judt had some provocative ideas about the future of Israel. Yet that same Polish government, as Judt indicates in this documentary, is "not very attractive" and therefore prone to take decisions he would not agree with-like informing Tony Judt that his speaking services are no longer required. He now discloses that when the New York Times commissioned him to write an op-ed on the original London Review article, the paper forced him to acknowledge in print that he was Jewish. Judt might have declined to do that on principle and instead shopped his piece around elsewhere, but he didn't. Is his point that no one gets away clean from the tentacular reaches of the lobby, which is still not a "conspiracy," as his editorial plangently announced in its title?
As for Foxman, his campaign to stifle the introduction of a House resolution recognizing the Armenian genocide –- because he was afraid it'd piss off Turkey, Israel's only military ally in the Levant –- failed. They don't make Zionist praetorians like they used to, I guess. (I should probably add here that, in my capacity as associate editor of Jewcy magazine, I helped coordinate two Manhattan rallies against Foxman and the ADL for their shameful agitation. It still wasn't enough to take me off their fucking mailing list.)
Then there is the more recent case of Joe Klein. On Time's Swampland blog last week, he composed a post entitled "Surge Protection," which made some mundane observations about the state of security in Iraq (it's better), but then ended with this hiccup:
The fact that a great many Jewish neoconservatives-people like Joe Lieberman and the crowd over at Commentary-plumped for this war, and now for an even more foolish assault on Iran, raised the question of divided loyalties: using U.S. military power, U.S. lives and money, to make the world safe for Israel.
The little diddums. Klein must have known that would call down the Hebraic thunder, and it did. As best I can tell, he was doing what he's been doing since he learned how to blog and read virulent comments, many of which routinely brand him a neocon warmonger - he was pandering. Not that there aren't prominent Jewish neoconservatives who plumped for war, mind you. But it was the crankish types who keep track of such tribal affiliations that "raised the question of divided loyalties," whereas Richard Perle would no doubt have preferred the question remain recumbent.
The curious thing about Klein, though is, as Mickey Kaus noted, "It's now a week later, and as far as I can tell [he] still has his job. He's still blogging (wondering ‘why Lieberman is so fixated on Iran'). He hasn't been publically rebuked by his employer. He hasn't been forced to issue a groveling apology."
Mary McCarthy once wrote an eloquent and vigorous defense of Hannah Arendt, and described the effect of being one of the few Gentiles in conversation with Jews where the topic was Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt's molten treatment of the "banality of evil" that burned its way through the salons of the Upper West Side in the early 60's. McCarthy said it was "like [being] a child with a reading defect in a class of normal readers."
You can be Jewish and sometimes feel that way, too.