Noam Chomsky has, on Znet (at zmag.org), now joined the chorus criticizing the Walt-Mearsheimer article in LRB on the power of the Israel lobby. Chomsky gives the authors credit for debating a verboten subject, but says, It’s the oil and corporate interests, stupid (that have dictated policy in the Mideast).
It’s typical of Chomsky, as a materialist, to say this. He has always missed the sociological component of this issue, and he’s doing so now. Hitchens does the same thing on Slate (http://www.slate.com/id/2138741/) when he shrugs off the pro-Israel advisers in the Administration’s war party as just a bunch of passionate Jewish neocons who happened to end up at Bush’s elbow.
What both men are missing is the transformation of the establishment in the last generation, the growing strength of Jews in our leadership class. I am part of this transformation, and it has largely been a great thing: reflection of diversity, openness and growing sophistication in educational and cultural values.
The problem of the Jewish arrival in the leadership class is that we deny we’ve arrived. To say so goes against Jewish identity, as persecuted outsiders. Or it seems to echo anti-Semitic arguments the Nazis used about conspiratorial Jewish influence. But the result is that we completely fail to recognize our power, and fail, in certain respects, to exercise it responsibly.
That failure is evident in the most questionable aspect of U.S. policy in the Middle East: the refusal by anyone in the Establishment to condemn Israel’s near-40 year occupation of Arab lands. To his credit, Hitchens, a fellow traveler of the neocons, says as much in his Slate article.
But such statements are rarely heard in the mainstream. Congressmen can’t make them, at the risk of their careers. Artists can’t make them–witness the censorship of the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie at a progressive New York theater.
I know where it comes from. The refusal to condemn the occupation grows out of Jewish existential fears: the sense, born of the Holocaust, that at any minute we’re going to be wiped off the map. Hey, we are powerless victims. But (at a time of the fifth largest army in the world and Ivy League presidents who stand up for it) this is an unrealistic fear, and meantime the effect of that fear, the refusal to acknowledge the occupation (the “so-called occupation,” Congressman Elliot Engel said on BBC yesterday) means ignoring what most other states see plainly as an ongoing disaster. It’s all well and good to condemn radical Islam and suicide bombers. As I do. But what about the religious/nationalist zealots who are colonizing the west bank? Mum’s the word. It’s like the Catholic hierarchy refusing to admit the church has a pedophilia problem.
That is the real strength of the Israel lobby: taking this issue off the table in American public life, whether it’s the Congress, The New York Times or the Washington thinktanks. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s simply the reflection of the fact that people who grew up loving Israel are now an important part of the establishment, and they are inflexible when it comes to this issue. And that is the “stranglehold” Mearsheimer and Walt identified in the paper that couldn’t be published in America.