Walt and Mearsheimer Get Past the Antisemitic Charge

If you go to the Foreign Policy website, you see the new magazine cover with the giant question: “Does the Israel Lobby Have Too Much Power?” This is of course a response to Walt & Mearsheimer, who are given the last word in an FP roundtable.

This is amazing. When Walt & Mearsheimer came forward in March in LRB, they were chopped down immediately by Alan Dershowitz and Eliot Cohen as “anti-semitic.” Dershowitz said they had “destroyed their professional reputations.” Now here they are with their professional reputations in tatters—on the front of Foreign Policy?! FP was acknowledging the fact that these men’s ideas are simply too important, and too many people agree with them, not to be taken on fairly.

The point was underscored by W-M’s appearance last week on the Diane Rehm Show. Author and negotiator Dennis Ross took vigorous exception to their ideas, but there was no name-calling. No mention of anti-semitism. This is Walt & Mearsheimer’s first achievement, breaking the seal on a verboten and important subject and making it so the rest of us are allowed to talk about it without picking buckshot from our hinders.

As for the antisemitic charge, <a href="Professor Michael Desch answers it in a fine piece in The American Conservative:

In the fall of 1991, Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, Germany’s leading public-opinion specialist, was due to return to the University of Chicago for a faculty appointment when Commentary revealed that as a graduate student in Nazi Germany she made anti-Semitic remarks in her dissertation and in the Nazi newspaper Das Reich. Noelle-Neumann never denied these charges, and she and her defenders at the university argued that her comments ought to be seen in the context of the times. Mearsheimer, then chair of the political science department, along with Walt and a few other colleagues, publicly called on Noelle-Neumann to provide a fuller explanation of her behavior along with an unconditional apology for her anti-Semitic comments.

[T]hat position was not an aberration. Friends and colleagues understand that Mearsheimer and Walt are acutely aware of the long and painful history of anti-Semitism and in no way intended to give aid and comfort to Israel’s enemies… Brandeis University professor Robert Art’s reaction was typical: “I have known John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt for over twenty-five years. I consider both good friends and valued colleagues. Neither John nor Steve is anti-Semitic, and both are strong supporters of Israel. It is a cheap shot to call them anti-Semitic and enemies of Israel. As an American Jew, I would never associate with individuals who hold such views.”

Meanwhile, UMichigan scholar Juan Cole has been circulating a petition that describes the antisemitic charge as an attempt to silence critics of Israel, and “calls on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to forthrightly condemn the castigation of Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt…” It has 1500 signatures and counting, chiefly from academics.