Wednesday, May 10, 2006

After Walt and Mearsheimer

It's great to see Benny Morris take such a public stance. I thought he would stay on the sidelines and not get involved. I met him recently, on May 7, but we didn't talk politics. Seems like the sabbatical at the U of Maryland, College Park gave him the time, energy and motivation to step into the debate.

My question now is where we go from here. W&M's response to the polemic in which they are now engaged was not ludicrous and they seemed to come out stronger, not weaker. In their eyes, their main claim, that one cannot engage in sincere, honest debate about Israel-America relations without coming under scurillious attack from the "Israel Lobby", has been vindicated by the responses they received. I think it's important that, as Noah pointed out, someone from the military/policy establishment provide an alternative view on the strategic relationship between America and Israel.

I would also like to hear a little about W&M's exact prescriptions for American policy in the Middle East. What exactly do they want? The dismantlement of Israel as a Jewish state? The imposition of what they consider to be a "just" settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Israel? Cuts in military aid to Israel? If they'd come out and say what they're after, perhaps it would be easier to nail them.

One thing that really bugs me in W&M's message is their accusation that "the lobby" is constantly working to silence honest debate about the Israel-US relationship. Here's a sample from their follow-up in the London Review of Books:
But we believe this popularity is substantially due to the lobby’s success at portraying Israel in a favourable light and effectively limiting public awareness and discussion of Israel’s less savoury actions. Diplomats and military officers are also affected by this distorted public discourse, but many of them can see through the rhetoric. They keep silent, however, because they fear that groups like AIPAC will damage their careers if they speak out. The fact is that if there were no AIPAC, Americans would have a more critical view of Israel and US policy in the Middle East would look different.
The problem with these kinds of allegations is that they're quite hard to counter. It's so easy to say that people are being muzzled without offering any proof. My first instinct would be to say: let those who feel they are being silenced step up and speak up. But that could be pretty disastrous: I mean, it would open the floor to any nut who thinks they were somehow stymied by Jewish power.

In any case, W&M reveal a tendency to portray pro-Israel advocates as bullies in the foreign policy debate, rather than as other voices. For some reason, W&M are convinced that "the lobby" is concealing some dark truth about Israel from the public. It's as if they're saying that the Jews are keeping Americans from seeing the "real" Israel and that that is the reason why no one is questioning US-Israel ties. Does the American public not read newspapers (hmm, I guess most actually don't and many certainly skip the international section)? Among those people who follow international affairs, how many people really get their news from AIPAC's website?

The "bully accusation" is also evident from the way they talk about CampusWatch in their reply to Daniel Pipes's lampooning of their original piece. First, they say that Pipes misrepresented their view of "the lobby" by asserting that he falsely accuses them of depicting it as some secret cabal. Then, however, they add this little bit:
Readers will also note that Pipes does not deny that his organisation, Campus Watch, was created in order to monitor what academics say, write and teach, so as to discourage them from engaging in open discourse about the Middle East.
That is a really objectionable claim, but I see it made way too often. All the maligning of CampusWatch is such rubbish. Since when is it forbidden to critique what academics say? I've read some really good pieces on CampusWatch by Martin Kramer and they were entirely legitimate critiques about scholarship on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I can't think of any other outlet for this kind of critical writing. If demonstrators are allowed to randomly harass Israeli academics just for their being Israeli, if people are allowed to picket Daniel Pipes lectures, if activists can trash Bernard Lewis, why can't those on the other side of the academic "divide" respond by writing a few articles?


Passing Observer said...

Hello John, this is Vikram here, just been looking through your blog, i must confess, im a little lost with the political commentary, hehe. anyway man, i found this very interesting article on the Iran issue, you should check it out sometime, i just posted it on my blog,(yeah i know, im peddling, lol)

Derek said...

Thanks for keeping me on top of this. Your insight is greatly appreciated here in Boston. You and Amos make a great tag-team duo. Have you ever considered a professional wrestling career?

Derek said...

did anyone see this?

I thought it pertained to some of John's discussion about CampusWatch and Daniel Pipes.

Derek said...

enh, neither did that one.

just google "MIT, Brandeis, Paintings"

its about how brandeis made an israeli girl take down some paintings made by Palestinian kids and they're being shown at MIT now.

Amos said...

hey derek - I heard about that case. Sounds really stupid of Brandeis. I'll google those terms; I hope I can track down the specific article...

John said...

Hi Vikram and Derek!
Well, after looking up the Brandeis controversy on Google, I think I can understand why people were upset. Here's a link to one of the pictures:
Not sure if it will work... but it shows a star of david formed by a hissing snake ready to pounce at a Palestinian parent and small child.
To me, that is as offensive as showing Muhammad with a ticking bomb on his head (a cartoon that I also objected to).