Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Reviews of Walt and Mearsheimer: Moving Past the 'Lobby' and Getting Stuck in the 'Middle'
by Jeremiah Haber
The Magnes Zionist

The reviews of Walt and Mearsheimer’s book-length version of the 'Israel Lobby' in the mainstream media have run from the mixed to the negative.

More accurately, they have been negative, with some crumbs thrown to the authors for having raised certain questions and broken certain taboos. The consensus of the reviews that I have seen is that the book is a one-sided indictment against Israel’s policies and supporters, a screed that needs to be balanced.

That certainly seems to have been the view of the Washington Post, which commissioned Samuel Freedman to review the Israel Lobby together with Abe Foxman’s 'refutation,' The Deadliest Lies. Freedman, who teaches journalism at Columbia University, and who wrote an interesting book called Jew vs. Jew a few years back, has a lot to say against both books.

To his credit, he takes Walt and Mearsheimer much more seriously than Abe Foxman, whose silly little book I leafed through in Barnes and Nobles. Freedman is an intelligent man and a first-rate journalist. But his implied conclusion that the truth lies somewhere in the middle reveals him in all his glory as a liberal Zionist – hardly the fairest reviewer for a book on the Israel Lobby. And yet, virtually all the reviews in the major media outlets have been by liberal Zionists, both Jewish and non-Jewish.

By 'liberal Zionism' I mean the view that supports the state of Israel as founded in 1948 by political Zionists like Ben-Gurion. While liberal Zionists are often critical of Israeli policies (especially those advocated by the Israeli right and their hawkish allies, e.g., the settlements), they assume that a) that there are two sides to the Israel-Palestine story, and b) a lot of justice is on the Israeli side.

So when they read works by such disparate authors as Walt and Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter, Tony Judt and Norman Finkelstein, they cannot refrain from saying, “Yeah, but what about the responsibility of the Palestinian side for the mess?”

This is because they fundamentally accept the Zionist narrative of Jewish history that culminates in the State of Israel, and they reject the Palestinian narrative that a foreign settler movement displaced the natives who, as the majority population in Palestine, had every expectation of a belonging to an Arab Palestine with a Jewish minority.

Now, one can favor Israel over the Palestinians without accepting the justice of the Zionist narrative. One can argue that Israel is a state recognized by the United Nations and that there is a prima facie case for favoring a state over a non-state collective, a favored position that will evaporate when Palestine becomes a state. But this is not the position taken by the reviewers. To a man they appeal to the comfortable (and banal) adage that the truth lies between the two extremes. The difficulty, however, is that they locate the 'center' in the Zionist camp. Those who take a position that dissents from political Zionism, even if that position accepts de facto the state of Israel, are dogmatic and one-sided.

The triumph of Zionism in this country is not so much that nobody 'normal' today questions the wisdom, or the justice, of the establishment and continued existence of a Zionist state. Rather, it is that nobody questions the correctness of the Zionist narrative that justifies the Jewish claim to a state at the expense of the Palestinian claim. Because if they did, then the failure to establish a strong and vibrant Palestinian state sixty years after the UN supported such a state, a state that is at least the equal of the Jewish state, would not allow them to sleep at night.

I am not saying that reviewers should have been chosen who reject the Zionist narrative. But why not ask people who have no vested interest in either narrative to review the book? Or, if liberal Zionists, are being asked, why not liberal Palestinians, like Rashid Khalidi (who happens to be critical of the book’s thesis.)?

As long as the world does not impose a solution that levels the playing field between Israeli Jew and Palestinian, there is no point in talking about 'balance'. The situation there is incredibly skewed in favor of Israel, which has virtually all the cards, and against the Palestinians, which has virtually none.

Let me demonstrate Freedman’s fundamental acceptance of the liberal Zionist narrative with the following passage.

It is certainly the right of Mearsheimer and Walt to advance these arguments, and their analysis of Camp David in particular echoes that of Robert Malley, one of the American mediators there. There is no lack of Israeli culpability in the Middle East morass, most obviously for the settlement enterprise. Still, one can leave this book with only the faintest realization that the political majority in Israel had been prepared to withdraw from most of the occupied territories to conclude a peace agreement with a Palestinian state -- until the Al-Aksa intifada brought terrorism as deeply into sovereign, pre-1967 Israel as the Tel Aviv beachfront.

Having withdrawn from all of Gaza in 2005, Israel received a steady barrage of rocket attacks, which undermined public support for further disengagement from portions, at least, of the West Bank. The authors do not have to concur with the Israeli reaction to those events, but they prove their intellectual dishonesty in barely even mentioning them… Thus, while Mearsheimer and Walt endorse a two-state solution, they still lump into the nefarious Israel lobby some of the very diplomats -- Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross, to name two -- who tried to negotiate precisely such a peace agreement.

Here you have in a nutshell the faith of the liberal Zionist.

Israel is indeed responsible for much of the Middle East morass, “most obviously for the settlement enterprise,” as if everything pre-1967 was just hunky-dory and could be solved by a simple withdrawal to the 67 borders by ceding “much of the occupied territories,” with a “peace agreement.” It seems that according to Freedman, the Israel-Palestinian conflict could have been solved via Oslo, were it not for the al-Aksa intifada, “that brought terrorism as deeply into sovereign, pre-1967 Israel as the Tel Aviv beachfront.”

Aside from the fact that this factually incorrect -- Palestinians blew up Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv before, during, and after Oslo, it assumes that Israelis were once willing to conclude a peace agreement with the Palestinians that would create a strong, secure Palestinians state. As I have written before, this is pure balderdash. Nobody in Israel, except those on the extreme left, have ever supported the establishment of a Palestinian state -- rather, they support an emasculated demilitarized 'state' that survives because of its neocolonial relation to Israel, and that will not pose a threat to the security of the Jewish state.

Freedman, the liberal Zionist, seems to believe that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005. That is also balderdash. Israel never 'withdrew' from Gaza; it redeployed its troops for the most part on the other side of the 'Green Line' and later imposed a crippling siege against Gaza, when the Palestinians elected Hamas. In short, the people who felt that Gaza could be most effectively controlled by the presence of settlers and IDF troops lost out to the people who felt that Gaza could be most effectively controlled by withdrawing the settlers and the IDF. But the control of Gaza was never once in doubt.

This is the classic Zionist debate – the sort of 'Jew vs. Jew' that Freedman should have written about: How does one control the maximum amount of territory with the minimum responsibility for the natives? Had Ariel Sharon been interested in giving peace a chance – and, to his credit, he never once even hinted in that direction – he would have negotiated a withdrawal with the PA, and, more importantly, he would have negotiated a final settlement.

But the Gaza withdrawal was never about peace – and Sharon had the guts to say that. In fact, the Gaza withdrawal was intended to humiliate the Palestinians by implying that negotiating with them made as much sense as negotiating with wild animals. (Remember the liberal Zionist Benny Morris’s solution for the Palestinians in his interview with Ari Shavit – put them in cages.) Only a liberal Zionist, who identifies troop-redeployments with peace overtures, can spin the Gaza withdrawal as an opportunity for peace.

Because Freedman is a liberal Zionist – and I don’t criticize him for that, only the editors for asking him to review the book without full disclosure -- he is shocked that Walt and Mearsheimer lump Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross in the Israeli lobby. How dare they throw these two liberal peacemakers into the same camp as Abe Foxman, AIPAC, Daniel Pipes, and Norman Podhoretz? I mean, how many times were Indyk and Ross called self-hating Jews by the rightwing? And how hard did they labor for peace?

But the truth is that virtually all Jews in the US, from the far right to the Peace-Now-Meretz left, are a part of the Israel Lobby, or if you don’t like that term (I don’t), they are strong supporters of Israel, each in their own way. Again, this is not a criticism – believe me, some of my best friends are liberal Zionists (full-disclosure: I am a card-carrying member of Meretz, although, in my defence, I joined the party just to vote for Yossi Beilin in the primaries) . To see how deeply Zionist Dennis Ross is, one needs only read a few pages of The Missing Peace. The fact that he doesn’t share the 'Islamofascist' neuroses of Podhoretz and Pipes doesn’t make him into a centrist on Israel-Palestine.

So, who is on really in the middle and not just in the 'middle'? Well, Walt and Mearsheimer, Carter, Chomsky, Khalidi, for a start. They are all willing to allow a strong Zionist state in Palestine -- more than I can say for most Israelis with respect to Palestine.

Because the Zionist narrative has been accepted by the mainstream liberal press in the US, (but not, necessarily, by Middle East experts), one doesn’t need an AIPAC or a Foxman or a Dershowitz to make the case for Israel. The latter will always serve as the 'bad cops' to 'good cops' like Tom Friedman, Richard Cohen, Dennis Ross, etc. The real question is – and Walt and Mearsheimer don’t raise it – why has Israel been so successful in getting the Zionist narrative accepted?

It is not just the alleged political clout or money of an Israel Lobby. There may be many factors -- liberal Christian guilt for Christian antisemitism, sympathy for the Jews after the Holocaust, the shared Judaeo-Christian heritage on the Bible (the secret weapon of the Zionist), the success story of Jews in the US, including the high intermarriage rates, which makes it more difficult for Christians to act against members of their family. The Palestinians have failed to make the same impact on the consciousness of American non-Jews as have the Jews. They haven't been around as much. And they are 'oriental' in the a way that ashkenazi Israelis are not.

And they are Arab, and, mostly, Muslim.


also, I was lobbied by the 'Israel lobby'
Read it here

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