Tony Greenstein | 02 October 2011 | Post Views:

The Self-Destruction of Mearsheimer & Walt

The publication by the London Review of Books of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s The Israel Lobby on 23 March 2006 had a major impact. Their argument was quite simple. The United States had been following a policy of support for Israel in the Middle despite, not because of, its interests. Alexander Haig’s aphorism that support for Israel was cheap at the price, that it was an unsinkable aircraft carrier, held no sway.

The Israel Lobby that had successfully corralled and intimidated US politicians into supporting Israeli interests and those, like Republican Senator Charles Percy of Illinois who had shown signs of independent think had been quickly put to the sword electorally. Walt and Mearsheimer went to great lengths in the book to distance themselves from any hint of anti-Semitism. On the contrary they emphasised that the Lobby was not representative of US Jews, that the latter were less pro-war than the rest of the White population and that in any case the most important component of this lobby was the Christian Zionist movement of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

It was a classic example of ‘tail wagging the dog’ and from the start it had the whiff of a conspiracy theory about it. Why should the United States allow itself to be led by a tiny country like Israel? As Noam Chomsky pointed out in The Israel Lobby? (March 28, 2006) the problem with the thesis was that it made no comparisons with US behaviour in other parts of the world. In 1965 the United States was actively complicit in the murder of up to a million communists by General Suharto in Indonesia. In 1967 Israel destroyed the main figurehead of Arab nationalism, Col. Nasser of Egypt. In addition throughout the this period we had the application of the Monroe doctrine in Central and South America with the Brazilian army dictatorship, Pinochet in Chile, the Argentinian Junta and the murderous wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua.
To make no mention of the ‘war for freedom’ (of US multinationals) in other parts of the world is a curious omission that in itself destroys a major part of the Mearsheimer thesis, that the US’s interests lie in accommodating to Arab politicians in order to safeguard the supply of oil. They also failed to show why it was that the powerful US military-industrial complex that Eisenhower spoke about had failed to protest about this apparently absurd and self-defeating US foreign policy. After all isn’t the whole point of any foreign policy in the capitalist age to defend one’s interests (albeit that the rhetoric of the ‘fight for democracy’ is ever present.

But as well-known Professors of Political Science and International Relations at Chicago University, conservative or ‘realists’ as they argued (realism can be translated as amorality) no one expects them to have a radical or leftist agenda and it was precisely for that reason that their essay, and the follow-up book made such an impression. For sure they were attacked in the usual manner, as ‘anti-Semites’ but the American establishment protects its own and no threat to either individual, unlike Norman Finkelstein, ever materialised.

But Chomsky got it right in a nutshell when he said that ‘M-W deserve credit for taking a position that is sure to elicit tantrums and fanatical lies and denunciations, but it’s worth noting that there is nothing unusual about that. … Therefore, any attempt even to bring up plain (undisputed, surely relevant) facts is either ignored (M-W can’t be ignored), or sets off most impressive tantrums, slanders, fabrications and deceit, and the other standard reactions. Very easy to demonstrate, and by no means limited to these cases. Those without experience in critical analysis of conventional doctrine can be very seriously misled by the particular case of the Middle East(ME). But recognizing that M-W took a courageous stand, which merits praise, we still have to ask how convincing their thesis is. Not very, in my opinion.’

The ritual accusations of anti-Semitism came up against the fact that Mearsheimer & Walt made it extremely clear that they weren’t supporters of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of the type that Atzmon indulges in as a matter of course. They made it clear that ‘the Lobby’s activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise it are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better.’

Contrast this with Atzmon’s The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion (Verse 2)

‘The idea that Zionists have taken over America might sound bizarre in the first instance … Last month I heard Israel Shamir’s observation [an open fascist and holocaust denier] regarding this very issue…. “Some times […] great empires are taken over by very marginal groups”. We might have to acknowledge that this is the case with America. American foreign policy is dictated by a very marginal group of Zionist activists, even by the state of Israel itself. …

Silvia Cattori asked Atzmon whether he is not concerned at the fact that his assertions ‘may bring to mind the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” issue? Are you not playing with fire here?’ Silvia Cattori Interviews Gilad Atzmon. But if there is one thing Atzmon likes, it is to play with fire. He responds making it clear that it is totally irrelevant if the Protocols are a forgery or not

‘over the years I have written extensively about the “Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion”, and I have repeatedly argued that questions to do with the authenticity of the Protocols are, in fact, completely irrelevant: the grim reality depicted by AIPAC, or Haim Saban, who speaks openly about transforming American politics via ‘lobbying, donations and media control’ is entirely self evidential. And what about Lord Levy being the number one British Labour Party’s fundraiser, at the time this country launched an illegal war against an Arab State?’

Atzmon could not be clearer. It is ‘irrelevant’ if the Protocols are a forgery. What they say is ‘entirely self-evidential’ i.e. true.

Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf: [Chapter XI: Nation and Race’ Volume I: A Reckoning] had a slightly different take on the Protocols:

‘They are based on a forgery, the Frankfurter Zeitung moans and screams once every week: the best proof that they are authentic. What many Jews may do unconsciously is here consciously exposed. And that is what matters. It is completely indifferent from what Jewish brain these disclosures originate; the important thing is that with positively terrifying certainty they reveal the nature and activity of the Jewish people and expose their inner contexts as well as their ultimate final aims. The best criticism applied to them, however, is reality.’

If you would be hard put to find a distinction between the two attitudes then that is because there is very little between Atzmon’s view of the Protocols and Hitler’s. At best, Atzmon says it is irrelevant if they are a forgery, because they are true in any case. Hitler merely says that the fact they are true is in itself proof they aren’t a forgery. Or as Oscar Wilde noted, it is a difference without a distinction.

Even The Times, a mere 90 years ago, hardly a progressive paper then or now, carried a 3-part series by Phillip Graves demonstrating that the Protocols were a crude forgery.

M&W however emphasised that the reason why potential critics fall silent is that ‘some key members are Christian Zionists like Dick Armey, who said in September 2002: ‘My No. 1 priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel.’

And M&W went on to allege that ‘Although neo-conservatives and other Lobby leaders were eager to invade Iraq, the broader American Jewish community was not.’ Just after the war started, Samuel Freedman reported that ‘a compilation of nationwide opinion polls by the Pew Research Center shows that Jews are less supportive of the Iraq war than the population at large, 52 per cent to 62 per cent.’ Clearly, it would be wrong to blame the war in Iraq on ‘Jewish influence. Rather, it was due in large part to the Lobby’s influence, especially that of the neo-conservatives within it.’ (My emphasis)

It was clear that whatever other faults that attached to this essay, no fair minded person could accuse them of being anti-Semitic. Which is not to say that the Zionists performed their regular acrobatics in trying to prove that the sun moved around the Earth.

The carefully crafted reputation of Walt and Mearsheimer has now been destroyed by the blurb that Mearsheimer wrote for Gilad Atzmon’s new book ‘The Wandering Who?’. He wrote:

Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it increasingly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their ‘Jewishness.’ Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Since he has accused his critics of not, unlike himself, reading the book we must take his word on that score. Which renders what he has written above more culpable. Take the following:
The Organism

It is of course possible that there is no decision-making process at all. It is more than likely that ‘Jews’ do not have a centre or headquarters. It is more than likely that they aren’t aware of their particular role within the entire system, the way an organ is not aware of its role within the complexity of the organism.14 No single operator within the collective is fully familiar with the collective’s operative mode but is only aware of his or her personal and limited role, function or duties within it. This is probably the Zionist movement’s greatest strength. It transformed the Jewish tribal mode into a collective functioning system.

Leaving aside the comparison of Jews collectively with an organism, we are told that there is in effect an unconscious conspiracy. Is that different to how Hitler argued in the above quote?

In his Credit Crunch or Zio Punch? Atzmon ascribes both war and economic crisis to Jewish duo – Wolfowitz and Greenspan. To be sure they were powerful individual figures, but there was nothing specifically Jewish about their politics, they were neo-conservatives. They played no part in the sub-prime mortgage disaster and the phenomenon of the toxic investments. Why single out these two amongst many?

Of course this is compounded by the general ignorance of Walt and Mearsheimer regarding Zionism, so that they take Atzmon’s interpretation as the holy gospel. His reading of Zionist history is a travesty, which is unsurprising since Atzmon has adopted a Zionist analysis. On the contrary he has repeatedly stated that anti-Zionist is irrelevant and sent me an e-mail recently making it clear that he was pro-Palestinian not anti-Zionist. The problem is that you can’t be one without the other. Zionism was the cause of Palestinian dispossession and to pretend that one can ignore it is to ignore the reasons for expansion and the quest for Jewish racial purity in Israel.

He also buys into the myths of Zionism. Of Herzl he writes that:

‘On 15 October 1894 Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the sole Jewish member of the French army’s General Staff, was detained on charges of spying for Germany. Throughout his trial Dreyfus declared his innocence. For many it was clear that Dreyfus was a victim of a despicable racist allegation. Theodor Herzl, a prominent Viennese journalist who traveled to Paris to cover the trial, was moved by the saga and deduced from it that assimilation was doomed to fail.’

One is tempted to say that if Atzmon had read, not the myths of Zionist at his grandfather’s knee but Jacques Kornbergs article in the Journal of Modern History June 1980 ‘Herzl a Re-evaluation’ or Desmond Stewart’s clinical dissection of the Herzl myth in his acclaimed biography ‘Herzl – Artist & Politician’ Anyone at all familiar with the Dreyfuss Affair knows that virtually no one at first believed Dreyfuss’s protestations of innocence. The Jewish community considered him a traitor and Herzl displayed no such qualms. The foremost defender of Dreyfuss, Bernard Lazarre, who broke with Herzl precisely over this issue and Herzl’s accommodation to anti-Semitism, took nearly 2 years to write his pamphlet defending Dreyfuss. But let this pass.

Or possibly Mearsheimer believes that comments such as ‘

It doesn’t take a genius to gather why Julius and others are concerned with Fagin or Shylock. Fagin is the ultimate plunderer, a child exploiter and usurer. Shylock is the bloodthirsty merchant. With Fagin and Shylock in mind, the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians seems to be just a further event in an endless hellish continuum.’ (51)

Shylock was not only depicted the role of Jews within the economy of medieval Europe but Shakespeare also makes him into a human with feelings and pain. Dickens can be accused of anti-Semitism, probably correctly, though we should remember that despite his reputation he was also avidly pro-imperialist and supported Governor Eyre of Jamaica who murdered and executed those involved in a rebellion against British imperialism.

But Israel is a continuum of the role of Jews, as depicted? What is this if not playing into the hands of anti-Semites? Was white Rhodesia and South Africa a continuum or Australia and the United States?

Bearing in mind that this is a book on Jewish identity, it is pretty lightweight. Take the comment that

Once Judaism is renounced, what remains of Jewish identity is pretty threadbare. Once stripped of religious spirituality, all that is left of Jewish-ness is a template of negation fuelled by racial orientation and spiced up with some light cultural references such as matza balls and chicken soup. Sadly, I have to say that though very many emancipated and assimilated Jews have adopted universal humanist ideas and intermingled with humanity, secular collective Jewish identity has never matured into adopting a universal humanist ideological standpoint or even a philosophical insight. [55]

So these are the profound insights that Mearsheimer has come to applaud? Those of a common and garden racist whose understanding of Jewish identity, always problematic given the way it has changed, is confined to matzo balls and chicken soup?

It isn’t necessary to continue to demonstrate that this book, far from being the answer or explanation of the Jewish Question and Jewish Identity is the equivalent of the bar room bore in prose. There are no insights, merely prejudice. Academically the book is worthless. And what would you expect of someone whose take on the holocaust is that

Even Atzmon is not stupid enough to deny the holocaust in his own book. But his views are quite clear.

‘I am not a Holocaust scholar nor am I a historian. My primary interest is not the story of Auschwitz nor the destruction of European Jewry…. I do not wish to enter the debate regarding the truth of the Holocaust….’ (my emphasis)
Holocaust politics in the service of Anglo-American hegemony’ 28.1.07. accessed 5.3.11

Apparently Atzmon believes the ‘truth’ of the holocaust to be contestable. Or his ‘Purim Special – From Esther to AIPAC’ where he writes complaining that holocaust revisionists (deniers) are denied a fair hearing because ‘Most of the scholars, if not all of them, do not challenge the Zionist narrative, namely Nazi Judeocide, yet, more than a few are critical of the way Jewish and Zionist institutes employ the Holocaust…. no one goes as far as revisionism, not a single Holocaust religion scholar dares engage in a dialogue with the so-called ‘deniers’ to discuss their vision of the events or any other revisionist scholarship’. This despite the fact that ‘…. Holocaust religion was well established a long time before the Final Solution (1942)…. The Holocaust religion is probably as old as the Jews.’ It probably has not occurred to Atzmon that Einstein, despite his tolerant attitude, didn’t see the point of discussing the flat earth theory with its advocates either.

And if this seems and aberration then in 1001 Lies About Gilad Atzmon Atzmon declares that ‘

I must admit that I have many doubts concerning the Zionist Holocaust narrative. Being familiar with many of the discrepancies within the forcefully imposed narrative, being fully familiar with the devastating tale of the extensive collaboration between the Nazis and the Zionists before and throughout the Second World War, I know pretty well that the official Holocaust narrative is there to conceal rather than to reveal any truth. … ‘

Of course everything is a narrative, not a fact. But as Hanan Zoabi, the Israeli Arab member of the Knesset remarked, the Nakba is not a narrative, it is a fact. And there is of course the by now infamous quotes of Atzmon regarding Auschwitz in his ‘Truth, History and Integrity’ essay:

If, for instance, the Nazis wanted the Jews out of their Reich (Judenrein – free of Jews), or even dead, as the Zionist narrative insists, how come they marched hundreds of thousands of them back into the Reich at the end of the war?’ [my emphasis – TG] ‘If the Nazis ran a death factory in Auschwitz-Birkenau, why would the Jewish prisoners join them at the end of the war? [my emphasis – TG] ‘We should ask for some conclusive historical evidence and arguments rather than follow a religious narrative…’ ‘Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people stand up against their next-door neighbours? Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East.’

Yet what Atzmon does is not new. Arch Zionist Daniel Goldhagen attributed the holocaust to the wickedness and cruelty of Germans in ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioners’. Atzmon attributes the sins of Zionism and Israel to the Jews as Jews. The people differ, the methodology is the same.

Yet Mearsheimer could have reflected on the wisdom of what he wrote and had a second thoughts. There is no crime in admitting to getting things wrong. Instead he persists in asserting on the basis of an ambivalent quote in the book, that Atzmon is no holocaust denier. But the quote does not say that Atzmon accepts, the actualite of the holocaust. Rather it describes the impression on him as derived from his parents and society. Certainly he mentions the numbers tatooed on the arms of ex-inmates but that doesn’t prove the Zionist ‘narrative’ of the gas chambers.

Mearsheimer further compounds his original misjudgment, to put it mildly. He states that ‘

In the second half of this post, Atzmon says that AIPAC’s behavior reminds him of the March 1933 Jewish boycott of German goods, which preceded Hitler’s decision on March 28, 1933 to boycott Jewish stores and goods. His basic point is that the Jewish boycott had negative consequences, which it did. In Atzmon’s narrative — and this is a very important theme in his book — Jews are not simply passive victims of other people’s actions. On the contrary, he believes Jews have considerable agency and their actions are not always wise. One can agree or disagree with his views about the wisdom of the Jewish boycott — and I happen to think he’s wrong about it — but he is not arguing that the Jews were “persecuting Hitler” and that this alleged “persecution” led to the Holocaust. In fact, he says nothing about the Holocaust in his post and he certainly does not justify in any way the murder of six million Jews.

Here Mearsheimer is simply ignorant. The Jewish boycott of Nazi Germany, far from having negative consequences, led to the planned SA siege of Jewish shops being confined to one day, April 1 1933 rather than an indefinite boycott. What broke the boycott was the trade agreement signed between Nazi Germany and the Zionist Organisation.

What Mearsheimer has done is to totally discredit both himself and Walt’s thesis. In endorsing Atzmon they have endorsed the very charges that were levelled against them by the Zionists, i.e. that they are anti-Semitic. And this for a book that is derivative, mainly a combination of previous Atzmon essays knitted together and derivative in place of original. Whether Walt and Mearsheimer think the destruction of their reputations is a price worth paying will no doubt be for others to judge.

Tony Greenstein

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Tony Greenstein

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