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Freedman’s complaint

Samuel Freedman is the prominent Columbia University journalism professor who writes frequently on Jewish subjects. Like me, Professor Freedman has carefully studied the Mearsheimer/Walt “Israel Lobby” paper. Unlike me, he has managed to write about it with a light touch and a humorous sting: “A footnote’s footnote.” The column opens:

Reading through the chronicle of perfidy that is the working paper by two leading American political scientists on the Israel Lobby, I could barely contain my outrage. I had made it 20 pages deep into the report by Stephen Walt of Harvard and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and I hadn’t found myself listed among the conspirators.

There were Howard Dean, Dennis Ross, and Martin Indyk; there were Gary Bauer, Elliott Abrams, and George Will. But after years of writing about American Jews and Israel, to say nothing of that time a stranger at a Seder mistook me for Thomas L. Friedman, did I get any of the credit for tricking and pressuring and hypnotizing America into a self-destructive alliance with the Jewish state?

No, 20-odd pages into the professors’ screed, and my name had yet to be named. I couldn’t claim even the tiniest bit of responsibility for motivating al-Qaida and enticing America into Iraq, just two of the Israel Lobby’s achievements, according to Walt and Mearsheimer. I’d been left off the most elite Who’s Who (or should I say Who’s Jew) this side of the Harmonie Club or the Herzliya conference. What was I? Chopped liver?

Then, at last, I spotted a reference to me. Leaping into the paragraph, I felt my pride turning into indignation. The authors had cited a statistic from a column that I’d written back in April 2003 for USA Today, showing that American Jews tended to be less supportive of the Iraq invasion than the nation at large.

My work was being trotted out to prove that the Israel lobby didn’t even represent American Jewish interests. I didn’t get to be part of the cabal. I failed the tzitzis check. Bummer.

After drawing us in with his humor, Professor Freedman provides an angry personal glimpse of the pseudoscholarship of the Mearsheimer/Walt paper. Professor Freedman notes the paper’s distancing itself from the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the anti-Semitic Czarist fabrication that has become a best-seller in the Arab world. In my take on the paper, I observed that unlike the fictitious conspiracy portrayed in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the “Israel Lobby” conspiracy depicted by Mearsheimer and Walt has done serious damage to the United States. Professor Freedman makes a shrewder point:

You have to wonder why the professors would have thought it necessary to protect themselves against such a comparison. In fact, the Protocols doesn’t even offer the right parallel, though for reasons Walt and Mearsheimer cannot or choose not to grasp.

The best analog to their paper on the Israel Lobby is a 1991 publication by the Nation of Islam entitled The Secret Relationship Between Blacks and Jews. Like the professors’ paper, the Black Muslim tract is not a forgery or fabrication akin to the Protocols. It is, rather, an adroit exercise in cherry-picking, a document that takes painstaking care to employ Jewish sources in prosecuting a case of Jewish skullduggery.

The Secret Relationship draws on Jewish scholarship on such topics as Jewish prominence in Hollywood, Jewish involvement in slave-trading, and Jewish business stakes in black slums. Taken individually, the citations from such respected figures as Neal Gabler and Jacob Rader Marcus appear to be accurately quoted or paraphrased. The bigoted fiction comes in weaving together these strands into a whole cloth of irremediable, almost primordial Jewish hatred of blacks.

Walt and Mearsheimer, as I first realized pondering my own footnote, have done very much the same thing…

It seems to me that Professor Freedman has accurately taken the measure of the Mearsheimer/Walt paper. I would love to see the response of Mearsheimer or Walt to Professor Freedman’s column, but my guess is that neither can be reached for comment.

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