OPEN UNIVERSITY FEBRUARY 19, 2007
by Jeffrey Herf
As David Bromwich directly addresses my comments, I will respond. Again, like some others who respond to the Mearsheimer/Walt piece, he dimiishes the radicalism of their argument. John Judis insisted that an anti-Semitic argument would have to apply to American foreign policy around the world, not just the Middle East. Now David Bromwich argues that because Mearsheimer/Walt (M and W) did not refer to secret influences, their argument does not deserve the label.
Rather than repeat the case that Andrei Markovits I made in response in the London Review of Books last spring, I would urge interested TNR readers to read it or read it again and also to read the original Mearsheimer and Walt essay. M and W so vastly exaggerate the power of an "Israel lobby" and so vastly underestimate other key considerations influencing American policy in the Middle East that the result is an argument that blames this lobby for a host of problems and crises which it could not possibly have caused on its own. This focus on the Jews as the cause of America's foreign policy problems is similar to past anti-Semitic arguments of varying degrees of radicalism.
Is it permissible to speak of such a divergence in public discussions? If not, why not? But, if so, what have Mearsheimer and Walt done to violate the canons of decency approved by Herf? What is their offense beyond asking that discussions be more frequent, candid, and permissible without incurring the charge that by recommending such discussions at all, the recommender proves his anti-Semitism?
Of course it is permissible. The issue is not whether or not it is permissible to argue that the national interest of Israel and the United States may diverge or to point to the influence of ethnic lobbies on American foreign policy. Again, of course it is permissible to do so. Those arguments are made all of the time by critics of Israel. No one I know of and, certainly not I, have said it is not permissable. M and W's offense is to have gone beyond the bounds of the "frequent" and "candid" criticisms of Israeli policy that appear in the news columns and editorial pages of our leading newspapers. As a historian who has written quite a bit about anti-Semitism, I will not back off my criticism that the nature of the Mearsheimer/Walt argument evokes past anti-Semitic themes. Intellectuals and scholars need to be held to the highest standards, not only of moral decency but of scholarship as well. What Mearsheimer and Walt wrote, to great acclaim in some quarters and only muted criticism in others, was false and based on poor scholarship. Their right to do so should remain firm and intact. But sharp critique is no less permissible.