BY JAMES TARANTO
Monday, March 20, 2006 3:32 p.m. EST
Duke 1, Harvard 0
With Yale struggling to control the damage owing to its admission of an unrepentant onetime Talib as a student (John Fund has the latest), Harvard now finds itself in a similarly embarrassing situation. It's the sort of Ivy League rivalry that causes "prominent alumni" of third-tier Western universities to break into a slightly guilty smile. The New York Sun reports on the latest trouble in Cambridge:
A paper recently co-authored by the academic dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government about the allegedly far-reaching influence of an "Israel lobby" is winning praise from white supremacist David Duke.
The Palestine Liberation Organization mission to Washington is distributing the paper, which also is being hailed by a senior member of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization.
But the paper, "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," by the Kennedy School's Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, is meeting with a more critical reception from many of those it names as part of the lobby. The 83-page "working paper" claims a network of journalists, think tanks, lobbyists, and largely Jewish officials have seized the foreign policy debate and manipulated America to invade Iraq. Included in this network, the authors say, are the editors of the New York Times, the scholars at the Brookings Institution, students at Columbia, "pro-Israel" senior officials in the executive branch, and "neoconservative gentiles" including columnist George Will.
Duke, a former Louisiana state legislator and one-time Ku Klux Klan leader, called the paper "a great step forward," but he said he was "surprised" that the Kennedy School would publish the report.
Now of course, just because Duke endorses Walt and Mearsheimer doesn't mean they endorse him. Indeed, we suspect they're as mortified by this praise as Yale is by the criticism it has received over Sayed Rahmatullah Hashemi. Yet without ascribing to them any invidious motives, it seems fair to say that their views dovetail disturbingly with those of unquestioned anti-Semites.
Walt and Mearsheimer argue that "neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America's support for Israel," and therefore the only possible explanation is "the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby." The premise is plainly false; the "Israel Lobby" in fact makes many strategic and moral arguments in its own favor. Walt and Mearsheimer merely disagree with them, and they spend the opening paragraphs of the paper explaining why.
We'll pass over their strategic arguments. We find them wrongheaded, but we will stipulate that one can in good faith take the position that the costs to the U.S. of supporting Israel outweigh the benefits.
Their rejection of the moral arguments, however, is highly problematic. They write:
[Israel's] backers . . . argue that it deserves unqualified support because it is weak and surrounded by enemies; it is a democracy; the Jewish people have suffered from past crimes and therefore deserve special treatment; and Israel's conduct has been morally superior to that of its adversaries. On close inspection, none of these arguments is persuasive.
Let's take these points one by one:
* Israel is weak and surrounded by enemies. To the contrary, they say, Israel is by far the strongest regional power. Further, "Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with it, and Saudi Arabia has offered to do so." This gives the Saudis far too much credit. True, as we noted in 2002, then Crown Prince Abdullah (now king) told the New York Times' Thomas Friedman that he was amenable to establishing full diplomatic relations, conditioned on Israeli withdrawal from the disputed territories (occupied by Egypt and Jordan before 1967 and Israel since). But Riyadh quickly made clear that it was unwilling even to talk to Jerusalem until after such a withdrawal. As we wrote then, "The Saudi position, in other words, amounts to: Give us land now, and maybe we'll give you peace later." It is true that Israel is the regional superpower, and that Cairo and Amman have signed peace treaties with the Jewish state, but it seems undeniable--and Walt and Mearsheimer do not deny it--that none of this would be true absent U.S. support for Israel. Thus their reasoning is circular: Israel doesn't deserve U.S. support because it has received U.S. support.
* Israel is a democracy. This they concede, but they also claim that "some aspects of Israeli democracy are at odds with core American values." In particular, they claim that Arab citizens of Israel "are treated as second-class citizens" and note that "a recent Israeli government commission found that Israel behaves in a 'neglectful and discriminatory' manner towards them." Yet even acknowledging that Israeli democracy is flawed, its political system is still vastly superior to those of its adversaries. Israeli Arabs enjoy more political and civil liberties than citizens of just about any Arab country; and the only Arab lands that come anywhere close to being democracies are Lebanon, Iraq and the disputed Palestinian territories--the last two only because of American intervention. That the Israeli government criticizes its own treatment of Arabs is a testament to its democracy; can anyone imagine, say, the Saudi regime offering similar criticisms of its treatment of Shiites, non-Muslims or women? American democracy, too, is not without its flaws. During World War II, for instance, black Americans were still disfranchised, and innocent Japanese-Americans were rounded up and put in camps. It does not follow that America was no better than Nazi Germany.
* Jews deserve a homeland because of their past oppression. Walt and Mearsheimer go so far as to allow that Israel's creation "was undoubtedly an appropriate response to the long record of crimes against Jews." But, they say, "it also brought about fresh crimes against a largely innocent third party: the Palestinians." They lay the plight of the Palestinians entirely at Israel's door, failing to acknowledge the Arab states' vast culpability. The Arabs rejected the 1947 U.N. partition of Palestine, which would have created a Palestinian Arab state including territories beyond the present-day West Bank and Gaza strip. The Arabs immediately declared war on the nascent Jewish state--a war in which Israel gained more territory--and they waged war again in 1967 and 1973. All Arab states except Jordan refuse to allow Palestinians to become citizens, preferring to let them linger as stateless refugees. Nor do the authors acknowledge that since the creation of Israel many Jews who settled there were fleeing persecution in Arab lands and (since 1979) Iran. Whereas Israel has 1.3 million Arab citizens, no Arab country except Morocco has more than a handful of Jewish ones.
* Israel is morally superior to its adversaries. Here they cite various alleged abuses by Israel during its war of independence and claim that "Israel's subsequent conduct has often been brutal, belying any claim to moral superiority." Even if we concede all the criticisms of Israel, they do not belie "any claim to moral superiority," only to moral perfection. Evaluating which side is morally superior would require a comparative analysis; the only thing Walt and Mearsheimer say about Arab misconduct is that "the Palestinian resort to terrorism is wrong but it isn't surprising. The Palestinians believe they have no other way to force Israeli concessions." No such excuses are offered for Israel's purported misdeeds.
Walt and Mearsheimer's method of analysis presumes Israel's guilt. Every past or present Israeli transgression is evidence of its wickedness, whereas Arab ones, if they are acknowledged at all, are "understandable." This approach paints a highly misleading picture. It is anti-Semitic in effect if not in intent.
Which brings us back to David Duke. His endorsement no doubt is anathema to Walt and Mearsheimer, but it is telling that he finds their ideas congenial.
Their brand of anti-Israel prejudice is much more common and respectable in Europe than in America (indeed, their paper was published in the London Review of Books), a fact that they would no doubt attribute to the mighty "Israel Lobby." But here is another difference between Europe and America: In many European countries, David Duke would not be allowed to speak because of postwar prohibitions on Nazi propaganda. Passing these laws surely was an act of prudence, and it may be that they are still necessary for the protection of European democracy.
By contrast, America's ability to tolerate the likes of Duke demonstrates the health of our body politic. It may be that Duke's presence even enhances that health. Think of him as a sort of vaccine that helps immunize us against more insidious forms of bigotry.