Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Walt-Mearsheimer retrospective in the washington post
In the Sunday between publishing an op-ed by the leader of Hamas and an op-ed by a regular columnist declaring the existence of Israel a mistake, the Washington Post undertook another sticky topic regarding Israel in its magazine. It revisited the Walt-Mearsheimer paper in an article, A Beautiful Friendship? by former Israel correspondent Glenn Frankel.

I'd have to agree with questioner (from a subsequent Q & A with Frankel, who wrote
As a Jewish American with deep connections to Israel, I began your article expecting to be outraged and finished only mildly annoyed.

Unfortunately Frankel, while generally balanced, never really addressed the content of the Walt/Mearsheimer paper directly.
In March two distinguished political scientists -- Stephen Walt from Harvard and John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago -- published a 42-page, heavily footnoted essay arguing that the Bush administration's support for Israel and its related effort to spread democracy throughout the Middle East have "inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized U.S. security."

Yes it was heavily footnoted. It was also extremely selective. A critique that Benny Morris wrote in the New Republic dealt with the selective nature of the paper. Or I could link to an excellent critique on a single point by Jewish Current Issues. The problem with that unless one acknowledges the sloppiness of the paper, one isn't going to question the motives of the authors.

This is troubling.

In an e-mail Pillage Idiot wrote:
The basic issue is whether the position a "lobby" espouses is correct. These people are saying that a lobby whose position they oppose HAS TOO MUCH POWER. That's a wholly different thing. What is power, anyway, but the ability to persuade? Was Bush duped into supporting Israel? Was he bribed into supporting Israel? Doubt it. He actually believes in what he says.

For Frankel to address the question of the power of the Israel lobby, implicitly he is acknowledging that he disagrees with the aims of that lobby. He wouldn't look too critically at the contents of the Walt/Mearsheimer paper because he, at least, accepts that part of their premise.

But let's assume supporting Israel is against American interests. Therefore the $3 billion in annual aid is a waste. Well does anyone ask about whether the $2 billion annual aid the U.S. gives to Egypt? Or the millions that went to the PA over the past 13 years? And does support of Egypt or the PA really advance American interests?

Israel's enemies and America's enemies are largely the same. Egypt and the PA embrace those enemies. Israeli votes roughly 90% of the time with the United States; Egypt about 20% of the time. (Actually no country votes with the United States more than Israel. Wouldn't that suggest that their interests are similar?)

But despite the antagonism shown to the U.S. by Egypt in a number of ways the American monetary support of Egypt isn't subjected to anywhere near the same level of scrutiny as aid to Israel. (About the only time the Washington Post editorially opposes the aid to Egypt is in reference to its suppression of the opposition - including the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.)

Another problem with Frankel's articles is that he lets Walt and Mearsheimer get away too easily with their dismissal of David Duke. Yet as even Walt's friend Shai Feldman observed "
You have to differentiate between them and their argument," Feldman replies. "They're not anti-Semites even if they have slid into an anti-Semitic argument. I think it all comes from their failure to prevent the war on Iraq."

Or, more pointedly, as Pillage Idiot e-mailed
If you mimic anti-semitic charges that have been made against the Jews for centuries and perhaps millennia, the burden shifts to you to prove you are NOT an anti-semite.

And in fact, though Walt and Mearsheimer rejected the support of David Duke a well know white supremacist in this country they were more than happy to submit to a sympathetic interview in England's Independent with Robert Fisk who isn't exactly well known in the United States. But Fisk's antagonism towards Israel is no less than Duke's. And in case anyone missed the point of the interview, the Independent ran a cover with an American flag where the star field replace 5 point stars with the six point Jewish stars. It was a visual representation of what white supremacist call ZOG - the Zionist Occupied Government.

(The cover photo of the Washington Post magazine had a similarly disconcerting image prompting a questioner to ask Frankel
But what has me most upset is the cover art on the magazine itself. The Washington Post gave every anti-semetic organization in the nation their new poster image. It is like something straight out of The Elders of Zion. I expect more from the Post.

Frankel answered I
understand your concern but I can't agree with your comment about the cover. Yes, it's a strong image, but if you look at AIPAC's own logo, it's a Star of David with American stripes going through part of it. Symbols do have power, and extremists often seek to hijack them for their own purposes. But that shouldn't stop us from engaging in free expression.

Except that AIPAC uses that imagery to show a confluence of interests. Israel's antisemitic critics use it to show that the Elders of Zion have hijacked American policy. Frankel at best is oblivious. And of course he says well, we can't not run such an image, that would curtail our right of free expression, latching onto another criticism of the Israel lobby: that it silences its opposition.)

(In a different context Hatemonger's Quaterly observes
By now, we all know the old saw: Zionists purportedly mean-spiritedly label opponents of Israel anti-Semites in order to shut them up. This helps silence the opposition in what is, we imagine, the most cacophonous silence in history—one hears more about this horrible silence more than one actually notes the non-existent silence.

Then there's another matter of Walt and Mearsheimer's behavior that also makes it hard for me to give them the benefit of the doubt about their motivations.

In an interview published Friday with Forward, Prof. John Mearsheimer alleges that the pro-Israel lobby is so powerful that he and Stephen Walt would never have been able to find an American publisher for their paper.

Who is Walt kidding? I'm sure that the Village Voice, the Nation, the American Conservative or even the New York Review of Books would have been willing to publish "The Lobby." And if they were interested in publishing the essay in book form, there's certainly Nation Books. Walt has no problem using the language of the anti-Israel crowd when it suits his purposes. For him and Mearsheimer to shrink from David Duke's praise is a little hyprocritical. They agree with the view, but don't want the stink of others who hold that view to stick to them.

Finally Frankel mention former Senator Charles Percy who feels that he was successfully targeted for defeat by AIPAC. (AIPAC is frequently referred to in the article as "right-wing" yet it was its support of the very liberal, the late Paul Simon, that is cited as the reason for Percy's defeat.) The reason given that AIPAC targeted Percy was that he met with Yasser Arafat even though, according to Percy, he voted for every foreign aid bill that AIPAC favored. Look I can understand Percy's resentment if he feels he was targeted by AIPAC, but reading Frankel you don't realize that there's more to the story.

First of all meeting with Arafat 20+ years ago, was a big deal, that it wasn't post Oslo. Though Arafat never gave up his terrorist ways, he was accurately perceived as a bad guy then and meeting with him was tantamount to approval of his agenda. Furthermore since his defeat, Percy has been involved with the American Educational Trust. AET is a decidedly anti-Israel organization. It is probably antisemitic too. (Check out the website for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs for a sense of the organization.)

Again this is a significant piece of information about Percy that Frankel doesn't mention.

So the problem with Glenn Frankel's treatment of Walt and Mearsheimer is that it's about their paper without it being about them and their views and allies. It is, in other words, shallow. Long but shallow. So though the article appears balanced between proponents and opponents of Walt and Mearsheimer, it lets them off the hook by not investigating what their paper really said.

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