Walt and Mearsheimer as Scholars of Jewish History

One thing that Walt and Mearsheimer do in their rebuttal is to list the large number of policymakers, including Jews like Feith, Perle, Wurmser and Wolfowitz (I would add Abrams), who are “deeply committed” to Israel and helped get us into the war in Iraq. “We emphasize again that we see nothing wrong with this [commitment], as all Americans are entitled to such attachments and are free to express them in political life,” they add.

Identifying the neoconservatives as Jewish is one of those unspoken/spoken things in public life today. Two years ago, Wolfowitz was asked a question about the neoconservatives at the American Enterprise Institute and quipped, “Don’t you mean Jewish?” He was being ironical; his point was that the identification was itself antisemitic.

This is not very straightforward. Before W&M came along, two Jewish conservative scholars wrote books that described the neocons as Jewish. The Neoconservative Revolution: Jewish Intellectuals and the Shaping of Public Policy, by the late Murray Friedman. And The Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State, by Benjamin Ginsberg.

Ginsberg’s book came out in 1993 and is an important work for anyone trying to understand Jewish power, the Jewish presence in the American establishment. Indeed, though Ginsberg’s politics are opposite to mine, I admire him for doing what an intellectual should do, and working to describe new social patterns. Ginsberg’s historical theme is simple: Jews have risen again and again because our skills have proven essential to states trying to become modern. We made Spain what it was in the 15th century. We allowed the German and English states to rise in the late 19th century. “Jewish academics, intellectuals, and artists were the leading figures in German theater, literature, music, art, architecture, science and philosophy…. ” Etc. The words “Jewish financier” appear countless times in Ginsberg’s book, for an obvious reason: the Jewish genius for finance has lifted and empowered the modern state. (Yivo, which burlesqued the issue of Jews & Money by inviting the vapid Niall Ferguson to talk about it, should invite Ginsberg to make up for the lapse).

Ginsberg wrote out of trepidation. The Jewish rise had been followed by expulsion, discrimination, extermination. Thrown out of Spain, concentrated in the Pale, gassed in Germany… Ginsberg feared, and presumably still does, that the remarkable rise of Jews in the U.S. will result in a backlash.

These fears did not stop Ginsberg from talking about “predominantly Jewish neoconservatives” who had moved to the right “inexorably” because of “their attachment to Israel.” During the Reagan administration these neocons had worked alongside the “Israel lobby,” which was thought to be Washington’s “most powerful lobby,” to oppose the Soviet Union. They “used their access to the print and broadcast media…” (Including the New Republic!) They had helped cement American support for Israel by working with “high ranking Jewish officials” in government.

Ginsberg regarded this Jewish presence as a good thing, though he feared the rise of a populist backlash, evidenced by such statements as Pat Buchanan’s description of Israel’s “amen corner” in the U.S.

Since Ginsberg’s book in 1993, it is amazing to consider that we have been attacked on 9/11, in part because of our support for Israel’s humiliation of the Palestinians, and entered into one of the greatest disasters in our country’s history, Iraq, in part because of concerns for Israel’s security, and the pattern he described has not been raised in the mainstream, only murmured by Chris Matthews and others, till Walt and Mearsheimer landed with all four feet last March in the LRB to try and force the issue into the U.S. discourse, and were then smeared by many leading newspaper writers (who have never read Ginsberg) as antisemites.

At a time when The New Republic thinks nothing of raising Mitt Romney’s Mormonism as an issue—and legitimately—it is really amazing that no leading newspaper or broadcast outlet has done the simple, honorable thing of reporting on the Iraqi neocons’ attachment to Israel.

This is a great lapse. The reasons for it are twofold: 1, American journalistic culture has a strong Jewish strand. (Ginsberg on London and Berlin: “Jewish financiers and newspaper publishers were important participants in [the British imperialist power structure]… Of the 21 daily newspapers published in Berlin during the 1870s, 13 were owned by Jews and four had important Jewish contributors. All three newspapers specializing in political satire were controlled by Jews”) A great number of journalists now working in powerful positions exulted, as I did in my elementary school, in June 1967 when Israel pasted the Egyptian and Syrian air forces; devotion to Israel is something we grew up with and were inculcated with, and therefore do not tend to question as being not in America’s best interest. 2, Iraq is a disaster. Jews fear that Americans will blame the Jews. We have racial memory; we know that the Holocaust grew out of resentment over Jewish numbers and influence. It could happen here.

Ginsberg and my father worry about that. They are smart guys. To dismiss their fears would be foolish. The only intellectually honest response is: Of course it could happen here…

Yet it is the American way to talk about real issues, and that is, again, W&M’s great contribution, to take a subterranean conversation, unhealthy for American democracy, and approach it with academic rigor. In that sense, they are scholars of Jewish history. For as Ginsberg (and the California scholars Albert Lindemann and Yuri Slezkine) has shown, the rise of Jewish elites, including thinkers and financiers, is a theme of western history, a necessary component of modernism. Charting the rise of the neocons in the U.S. is part of that historical study.

I’ve gotten into that study because of the debacle of Iraq, and the Jewish braintrust that played a role in the disaster. I feel engaged in this discussion Jewishly; the neocons’ Jewishness has brought me back to my own. I recognize that many Jews are made defensive by the neocons’ contribution to our blasted Middle East policy. “In Dark Times, Blame the Jews,” the Forward reflexively dismissed Walt and Mearsheimer, and many liberal Jews feel a similar disdain for W&M. For my part, I would say that these dark times present a crisis in the identity of 21st century Jewry; there are better ways to be Jewish than to demonize Islam and support the occupation of Arab lands.