Revenge of the footnotes, cont’d

In his superb column on the Mearsheimer/Walt “Israel Lobby” paper, Professor Samuel Freedman observes:

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. Ben-Gurion, Barak, Joseph Lieberman, Haaretz, even little ol’ me – their evidence of an Israel Lobby committed to damaging American interests takes the form wherever possible of the written and spoken words of Jews. The subtext, of course, is that no reasonable person could possibly doubt the insidious power of the Israel Lobby when the Jews themselves admit it.

In their efforts to delegitimize Israel and to undermine American support for it, Mearsheimer and Walt provide an incredibly misleading account of the twentieth-century Arab-Jewish and Arab-Israeli conflict. The Jewish stuggle for Israel’s birth, according to Mearsheimer and Walt, was laid in crime and has gone downhill from there. Israel accordingly carries the weight of “a dwindling moral case” (the title of the section covering pages 8-13 of the Mearsheimer/Walt paper). Readers who are familiar with the relevant history may hear the cuckoo singing in virtually every sentence of the paper’s purported historical overview.

Consistent with the methodology noted by Samuel Freedman, Mearsheimer and Walt make great use of Israel’s revisionist “new historians” such as Professor Benny Morris. Equally indicative of Mearsheimer/Walt methodology is the systematic exclusion of contrary sources such as Efraim Karsh’s devastating critiques of the “new historians” in Fabricating Israeli History and in his many articles on the subject such as “Benny Morris’s Reign of Error, Revisited.” To achieve their ends Mearsheimer and Walt mercilessly exploit the ignorance and animus of their intended audience.

Like Samuel Freedman, Professor Morris represents, so to speak, another footnote who responds to the relevant portion of the Mearsheimer/Walt paper. In an important essay for the New Republic, Professor Morris more or less gives the lie to the Mearsheimer/Walt version of the Arab-Israeli conflict: “And now for some facts.” It takes Professor Morris several thousand words to undo what Mearsheimer and Walt have done in a few paragraphs, but thus it is when mud is flung against the wall. Here is the introduction to Morris’s essay:

John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt’s “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” is a nasty piece of work. Some of what they assert regarding the terrorist tactics of certain Zionist groups during the 1930s, and the atrocities committed by Israeli troops in the War of 1948, and the harsh Israeli measures against the Palestinians during the second intifada, and certain activities of the pro-Israel lobby in the United States over the past decades–some of this is correct, and I realize as I write this sentence that it will henceforth be trotted out by the Mearsheimers and Walts of the world, as by their Arab admirers, while they omit the previous sentence and all that now follows. But what these distinguished professors have produced is otherwise depressing to anyone who values intellectual integrity.

Mearsheimer and Walt build their case mainly by means of omission: they tell certain facts while omitting others, sometimes more apt and crucial. And occasionally they distort facts and figures. The thesis of their study, which was supported by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, is that America’s support of Israel runs contrary to American national interests, and that it is not grounded in “a compelling moral case.” To establish the latter contention, they deny that Israel is the weaker party in the Arab-Israeli conflict; and that it is a democracy; and that “Israel’s conduct has been morally superior to [that of] its adversaries.”

In order to highlight the authors’ methodology and to give an accurate picture of their scholarship, I wish to focus on several historical points that they make to sustain their case. (I will leave it to others to show what should be perfectly obvious: that the pro-Israel lobby is not the conspiratorial tail that wags the American dog.) I must confess to a personal interest in the matter. Like many pro-Arab propagandists at work today, Mearsheimer and Walt often cite my own books, sometimes quoting directly from them, in apparent corroboration of their arguments. Yet their work is a travesty of the history that I have studied and written for the past two decades. Their work is riddled with shoddiness and defiled by mendacity. Were “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” an actual person, I would have to say that he did not have a single honest bone in his body.

Morris writes in conclusion:

In their introduction, Mearsheimer and Walt tell their readers that “the facts recounted here are not in serious dispute among scholars…. The evidence on which they rest is not controversial.” This is ludicrous. I would offer their readers a contrary proposition: that the “facts” presented by Mearsheimer and Walt suggest a fundamental ignorance of the history with which they deal, and that the “evidence” they deploy is so tendentious as to be evidence only of an acute bias. That is what will be not in serious dispute among scholars.

Morris’s essay may hasten the day when the Mearsheimer/Walt essay will be seen for what it is. In my view, it is a work of malicious charlatanry.


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