With the exception of interviews with a few left-wing journalists writing for congenial publications, John Mearsheimer and Stehen Walt have steadfastly refused to discuss their “Israel Lobby” paper. On Friday Robert Fisk devoted a column in the Independent to his interview with Stephen Walt; Fisk’s column ran under the cover depicting the unlovely flag above, sure to warm the heart of “Israel Lobby” fan David Duke and others of his ilk on the left and the right. (James Taranto notes via David T. that a similar image appeared on a flyer from International Third Position, “a neo-nazi group founded by Nick Griffin.”) Fisk’s column was kept behind the Independent’s subscription wall. It is now available here and elsewhere on the Internet.
In his column Fisk reports that the “Israel Lobby” paper was originally commissioned by the Atlantic four years ago. With characteristic sloppiness, Fisk darkly alleges:
[H]ow many people in America are putting their own heads above the parapet, now that Mearsheimer and Walt have launched a missile that would fall to the ground unexploded in any other country but which is detonating here at high speed? Not a lot. For a while, the mainstream US press and television – as pro-Israeli, biased and gutless as the two academics infer them to be – did not know whether to report on their conclusions (originally written for The Atlantic Monthly, whose editors apparently took fright, and subsequently reprinted in the London Review of Books in slightly truncated form) or to remain submissively silent.
Those Atlantic editors — allegedly frightened off by the mighty “Israel Lobby” — what do they have to say? I doubted the accuracy of Fisk’s dark speculation and, having been a reader of both the “Israel Lobby” paper and the Atlantic, I thought that the paper had probably failed to meet the Atlantic’s standards. Yesterday I placed calls to the Atlantic’s managing editor, its deputy managing editor, and its communications director. The editors failed to return my calls; the communications director would state only that as a matter of policy the Atlantic does not comment on the basis for the magazine’s rejection of articles.
As it happens, John Mearsheimer is quoted discussing the Atlantic’s rejection of the “Israel Lobby” paper in last week’s Nation article on the paper by Philip Weiss, with whom Mearsheimer spoke and corresponded for the article. Weiss reports:
Mearsheimer says by e-mail: “At the American Political Science Association convention in the late summer of 2002, I was talking to a friend about the US-Israel relationship. We shared similar views, and agreed that lots of others thought the same way. I said to him over the course of a dinner that I found it quite amazing that despite widespread recognition of the lobby’s influence, no one could write about it and get it published in the United States. He told me that he thought that was not the case, because he had a friend at The Atlantic who was looking for just such an article.”
The Atlantic had long hoped to assign a piece that would look systematically at where Israel and America shared interests and where those interests conflicted, so as to examine the lobby’s impact. The magazine duly commissioned an article in late 2002 by Mearsheimer and Walt, whom Mearsheimer had brought in.
They turned their piece in to The Atlantic two years ago. The magazine sought revisions, and they submitted a new draft in early 2005, which was rejected. “[We] decided not to publish the article they wrote,” managing editor Cullen Murphy wrote to me, adding that The Atlantic‘s policy is not to discuss editorial decisions with people other than the authors.
“I believe they got cold feet,” Mearsheimer says. “They said they thought the piece was a terrible–they thought the piece was terribly written. That was their explanation. Beyond that I know nothing. I would be curious to know what really happened.” The writing as such can’t have been the issue for the magazine; editors are paid to rewrite pieces. The understanding I got from a source close to the magazine is that The Atlantic had wanted a piece of an analytical character. It got the analysis, topped off with a strong argument.
Could the Atlantic editors have been telling the truth when they told Mearhseimer and Walt that they found the paper to be terrible? Or were they fearful of the opprobrium that would follow from their publishing an article with the opinions expressed by Mearsheimer and Walt? Read the paper in its full pseudoscholarly form and decide for yourself.
I’ve asked the Atlantic to reconsider its policy of declining comment on its editorial decisions in connection with this matter, and to disclose why it rejected the “Israel Lobby” paper for publication. I’ve heard something somewhere about “the public’s right to know.” I’m not optimistic that the Atlantic will talk, but I’m confident that its decision derived from the shoddiness and charlatanry of the paper rather than the purported heterodoxy of the paper’s opinions.
I can’t imagine why the Nation itself, for example, would not proudly have published Mearsheimer and Walt’s paper in a heartbeat. It would have followed up nicely on Gore Vidal’s twenty-year-old Nation essay “The Empire Lovers Strike Back,” casting aspersions on Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter as an “Israeli Fifth Column.” Indeed, Vidal’s essay is something like the template for the disgrace of the “Israel Lobby.” Vidal’s essay was published in the Nation’s 120th anniversary issue in March 1986; the “Israel Lobby” paper by all rights was the work with which to celebrate the Nation’s 140th anniversary last year. (Forgive Richard Samuelson for the pun in the heading.)