Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The London Review of Bigotry

I had students in my World Politics course this semester read Mearsheimer and Walt's "The Israel Lobby." Grading the assignments, one of things that struck me was how substantially the essay's unablanced and decontextualized discussion influenced the student commentaries. The obvious problem is that students lacked sufficient background knowledge to offer full rebuttals. And a number of students had been marinated in anti-Israel propaganda, so they were down with "The Israel Lobby's" demonizations. It was an interesting experience as an instructor. I've met John Mearsheimer. Stephen Walt's balance of threat theory was fundamental to the theory I developed in my dissertation back in the day. And so while I've always avoided the anti-Semitic attacks on Mearsheimer and Walt, it's interesting to learn that The London Review of Books, where Mearsheimer and Walt's "The Israel Lobby" first appeared commercially, boasts the notorious reputation as "one of the most poisonously Judeophobic periodicals in western society." The quote's from Melanie Phillips, who points us to the new comprehensive analysis, "The London Review of Book: Ten Years of Anti-Israel Prejudice." And here's the discussion:


One of the main criticisms of the essay was that its central thesis relied upon anti-Semitic notions of disproportionate Jewish power in media and politics. Christopher Hitchens, by no means a reflexive supporter of Israel, responded to the essay in ‘Overstating Jewish Power,’ an article for Slate (27 March 2006). He criticised the way that Mearsheimer and Walt ‘present the situation as one where the Jewish tail wags the American dog, and where the United States has gone to war in Iraq to gratify Ariel Sharon,’ describing this as ‘partly misleading and partly creepy’.

On how convincing the pair’s case was, veteran Israel critic Noam Chomsky concluded: ‘not very’. He also criticised Mearsheimer and Walt’s ‘highly selective use of evidence’, offering alternative examples of US-Israel friction in which ‘Israel was compelled to back down’.

In marked contrast, the political far right was much more welcoming of Mearsheimer and Walt’s thesis. Former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke gave ‘The Israel Lobby’ his full approval, saying:

‘It is quite satisfying to see a body in the premier American University essentially come out and validate every major point I have been making since even before the war even started… the task before us is to wrest control of America’s foreign policy and critical junctures of media from the Jewish extremist Neocons that seek to lead us into what they expectantly call World War IV.’

The LRB published more of the same from John Mearsheimer in 2009 in ‘The Lobby Falters’ in which he complained that President Obama is unwilling to assert his authority over the pro-Israel lobby – ‘this is one opponent he is not willing to challenge’.

The full article is at the link.

I borrowed the title above from Melanie, who has additional commentary: "The London Review of Bigotry."