Open University

Questions Of Anti-semitism, Continued

By

by David Bromwich

I wish to comment on Jeffrey Herf's extended use of the defamatory epithet
anti-Semitic, and Alan Wolfe's remark that nicknaming of
this sort is
coercive and dishonest. Herf says that Mearsheimer and Walt in their
article on
the Israel lobby employed an ancient style of anti-Semitic argument: namely the
attribution of exorbitant influence to Jews working behind the scenes. But
Mearsheimer and Walt do not cite examples of secret influence. They have no
concern with secret influence, claim no special knowledge of it, and appear
uninterested in finding it, if it exists. They address, rather, instances of
political influence through political lobbying, instances which are public,
open, and easily checked. They do so in the belief that the influence of the
Israel lobby has clouded the public discussion of
America's self-interest.

Could one make a similar comment on the Cuban anti-Castro lobby in America or, a
couple of decades ago, the Irish-American supporters of the IRA, without
being accused of being soft on Communism or anti-Catholic? I am not sure. But
there is this relevant difference: the effects of the more fervid anti-Castro
lobbyists on American policy since the Bay of Pigs have been intermittent and
spasmodic; and the U.S. government seems never to have been much tempted to
interpose itself as an active force in Northern Ireland. By contrast, this
country has taken on large commitments in the Middle East. The claim of an
organization like AIPAC must be that its efforts to
persuade Americans of an
identity of interests between Israel and the United States are both legitimate
and well-founded. The reply of its critics is that there may be a divergence of
interests between the U.S. and Israel, and that the power of the lobby prevents
an adequate hearing for qualified judges of that divergence.

Here are three questions a critic of Mearsheimer and Walt might ask. First, is
there such a thing as the national self-interest of the United States? Second,
is there such a thing as the national self-interest of Israel? Third, are these
interests distinct, so that there may be points at which they diverge? If the
answers to all these questions are yes, then a fourth question arises. 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?

As for the recent imputation of anti-Semitism to Jimmy Carter, on the ground
that he hopes the Israeli administration of occupied lands will not follow the
pattern of apartheid: Carter was saying nothing that readers like Herf, Wolfe,
and I could not have found in an article by Akiva Eldar in Haaretz (May 13,
2003) here. This article describes statements by Ariel
Sharon in the preceding
months, to more than one person, that he considered the "Bantustan model"
the most appropriate solution to the Palestinian conflict. The cowardice of
Brandeis University in threatening to cancel an invitation to a former
president of the United States unless he would consent to a "counterpoint"
response, is, as Wolfe properly says, entirely in keeping with the
opinion-discipline enforced at other universities by advocates of creationism,
feminism, race studies, and so on. We expect no better of institutions,
perhaps; but individual scholars ought to hold themselves to a less pliable
standard. In this respect, the accusation that is offered "more in sorrow"
about a supposed former friend is far uglier than a head-on accusation. The
purpose of the slander is to exact conformity without being seen to want to
silence opposing views. The procedure is gutless, and its effects are
stupefying.

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