Friday, April 21, 2006

Tony Judt on Mearsheimer and Walt

In a New York Times op-ed, "A Lobby, Not a Conspiracy," Tony Judt bemoans the absence of mainstream media discussion of the Mearsheimer and Walt study. He attributes it to commentators' fears of being labeled antisemitic:
Each of these considerations might reasonably account for the mainstream press's initial indifference to the Mearsheimer-Walt essay. But they don't convincingly explain the continued silence even after the article aroused stormy debate in the academy, within the Jewish community, among the opinion magazines and Web sites, and in the rest of the world. I think there is another element in play: fear. Fear of being thought to legitimize talk of a "Jewish conspiracy"; fear of being thought anti-Israel; and thus, in the end, fear of licensing the expression of anti-Semitism.
I say, thank God that people are afraid of taking seriously reports of yet another Jewish conspiracy. I think a little sensitivity, even gingerness, is perfectly appropriate here. Jews have legitimate reasons for believing that this study is dangerous because it singles them out as particularly powerful and subversive of "true" American interests. I definitely don't think we should be looking to the European media as barometers of a healthy discourse on Israel. Maybe people in the American media are simply being responsible. And perhaps "fear" is not exactly the right word: I mean, it's not like anyone thinks American Jews are about to throw rocks at journalists. I'd substitute "responsible" or "tactful."

On the other hand, as I've said before, I am worried that the absence of debate will be interpreted as further evidence that such a Jewish conspiracy exists. That is why, again, I would start by presenting alternative scenarios and starting a debate on what exactly M&W think constitutes "true American interests" vs. Jewish interests. I think that will make it very clear just how insidious this whole thing is.

The biggest problem I have with Judt's piece is actually his failure to acknowledge just how deeply flawed this study is. I don't think piecemeal condemnation is a morally or politically defensible choice.

Thanks to Noah S. for sending me this link.

No comments: