Jonathan Chait

Why Can't Jews Be More Like Noam Chomsky?

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John Mearsheimer gave a speech last week at the Palestine Center outlining his latest thinking on the Middle East. Mearsheimer explained that a two-state solution has become impossible, and laid the blame for this state of affairs upon Israel. "Zionism's core beliefs are deeply hostile to the very notion of a Palestinian state, and this makes it difficult for many Israelis to embrace the two-state solution," he charged, taking Palestinian acceptance of a two-state solution as a given.

In fact, a 2009 poll of Israelis and Palestinians jointly commissioned by One Voice Israel and One Voice Palestine explodes Mearsheimer's data-free assertions. In the survey, when asked about a Palestinian state from the Jordan river to the sea -- that is, occupying all of Israel -- 71% of Palestinians called such an option "essential," and another 11% called it "desirable." By contrast, when Israelis were asked about a Greater Israel occupying the same territory, just 17% called it essential, and another 10% desirable. This proves the opposite of Mearsheimer's claim: most Israelis do not reject the notion of a Palestinian state.

None of this is to imply that the Palestinian desire to completely uproot Israel is the only impediment to a two-state solution. The point is merely that Mearsheimer's world view is both wildly slanted and rooted in empirically false beliefs.

Toward the end of his lecture, Mearsheimer explained that the American Jewish community is divided between good Jews and bad Jews, with the latter holding the upper hand:

American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories.  The first two are what I call "righteous Jews" and the "new Afrikaners"... 

When push comes to shove on issues relating to Israel, the hardliners invariably get most of those American Jews who care a lot about Israel to side with them.  The righteous Jews, on the other hand, hold considerably less sway with the great ambivalent middle, at least at this point in time.

Mearsheimer helpfully cited his list of "righteous Jews," including the likes of anti-Zionists like Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, and Naomi Klein. The "new Afrikaners," by contrast, includes the heads of most major Jewish-American organizations. ("It would be easy to add more names to this list," Mearsheimer adds. No doubt.)

Imagine a conservative were to divide the African-American community into the enlightened blacks (Clarence Thomas, Ken Blackwell, Michael Steele, Walter Williams, etc.) who reject paternalistic liberalism, and also happen to represent a tiny fringe within the community, and the bad blacks, who represent the mainstream African-American perspective. Most conservative elites would find this sort of thing embarrassing. Since Mearsheimer, along with Stephen Walt, published "The Israel Lobby," many liberals made a concerted effort to inject their ideas into the mainstream. The more sensible response is to have a sane debate about the role of the Israel lobby, while acknowledging that Walt and Mearsheimer's beliefs about Jews and the Middle East are simply kooky.

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