Breaking the silence

Salon.com has a good piece by Juan Cole on the “Overwrought response to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s brave paper” on the influence of the Israel Lobby, a paper I had excerpted on this blog back on March 20. And for which I had more overwrought (& anonymous) responses than for anything else I published on Nomadics blog. You can read the whole of Cole’s piece here, or these excerpts below:

Predictably, most of paper’s harshest critics have avoided engaging its key arguments. Instead, they have raised straw men, attempted to shift the debate to the question of whether it is even acceptable to raise the subject, and either hinted or outright alleged that Mearsheimer and Walt are bigots. These tactics allow critics to sidestep all the crucial questions raised by the paper, while at the same time signaling to others tempted to comment that if they stick their heads up, they will be cut off.

The logical fallacy of guilt by association characterizes many of the more strident responses. For example, the staunchly pro-Israel paper the New York Sun gleefully pounced on white supremacist David Duke’s endorsement of “The Israel Lobby.” But in 1989, Duke ran as a Republican for a seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives. Would it be fair to tar the Republican Party with Duke? It isn’t important with whom Duke agrees — he is a crank. It is important who agrees with him. No one in his or her right mind would accuse Walt and Mearsheimer of doing so.

Other critics have accused the authors of anti-Semitism, which is to say, of racial bigotry. Elliot A. Cohen of the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University published an emotional attack on the authors in the Washington Post, saying “yes, it’s anti-Semitic.” Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz also accused Mearsheimer and Walt of bigotry. The Harvard Crimson reported that “Dershowitz, who is one of Israel’s most prominent defenders, vehemently disputed the article’s assertions, repeatedly calling it ‘one-sided’ and its authors ‘liars’ and ‘bigots.'” Dershowitz went so far as to allege that the paper paralleled texts at neo-Nazi sites. No one who actually knows either Mearsheimer or Walt, as this author does, could possibly find Dershowitz’s charges plausible. Again, such arguments are red herrings, implying guilt by association. Because he cannot refute the substance of the paper, Dershowitz must compare his academic colleagues to neo-Nazis. (And he has the gall to actually deny that critics of Israel tend to be smeared as anti-Semites.)

The charge of anti-Semitism (where what is really meant is any criticism of Israeli policy and/or the Israel lobby) is unacceptable and antidemocratic. I have suffered from it a fair amount because I have written critically about Israel, in particular its creeping colonization of the West Bank — a U.S.-backed policy that is largely responsible, along with George W. Bush’s Iraq war, for America’s record-low popularity in the Arab and Muslim world.

Dershowitz penned a quick response, which he elbowed onto the Web page of the Kennedy School at Harvard. No other working paper has been treated this way, with instant rebuttals being posted to it. Both Dershowitz’s attempt to impugn the characters of the authors and the fact that he was given privileges not granted others only confirm some of the main allegations of the original paper. (In contrast, Harvard has not rushed to put up a response from, say, a pro-Palestinian academic.)

And I certainly agree whole-heartedly with the following two paragraphs, for having spent enought time in Arab countries to vouchsafe Cole’s analysis:

Anyone who has spent any time in the Arab or Muslim world knows that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and America’s support for Israel’s unjust treatment of the Palestinians, are the main sources of anger at America and have been for decades. In a recent Zogby poll, one question that was asked of Arab publics was whether their dislike of the United States was because of its values or its policies. Here are the percentages that said it was because of U.S. policies in the region: Jordan, 76; Morocco, 79; Lebanon, 80; Saudi Arabia, 86; United Arab Emirates, 75; Egypt, 90. Another question was why people thought the U.S. invaded and occupied Iraq. Here are the percentages for those who believed it was to “protect Israel”: Jordan, 64; Morocco, 82; Lebanon, 82; Saudi Arabia, 44; Egypt, 92. That is, not only are Americans disliked for their invasion of an Arab country, but the Arab public generally attributes the assault to a desire to protect Israel. All those instances when the Americans vetoed U.N. Security Council censures of Israel for its predations against Palestinians or neighbors, all those tens of billions of dollars in aid the U.S. gave Israel, all the times it winked at atrocities such as the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and indiscriminate shelling of Beirut have added up over time.

Arabs and Muslims like Americans and democracy just fine in principle. What they don’t like is U.S. foreign policy. Their main grievance before 2003 was of U.S. complicity in the dispossession of the Palestinians. Now they have another major objection, the U.S. occupation of Iraq — and they clearly see the two as related. I am not arguing that the Arab public is correct, only that critics are blind if they cannot see that it is knee-jerk U.S. support for the worst Israeli policies that has soured Arabs and Muslims on the United States. To avoid accepting this conclusion, we would have to believe that they have consistently lied to pollsters for decades, and we would have to take it upon ourselves to represent the Arabs and Muslims, since they cannot represent themselves.

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