University of Chicago political scientist John Mearsheimer was in town yesterday to elaborate on his view that American Jewish groups are responsible for the war in Iraq, the destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure and many other bad things. As evidence, he cited the influence pro-Israel groups have on "John Boner, the House majority leader."
Actually, Professor, it's "BAY-ner." But Mearsheimer quickly dispensed with Boehner (R-Ohio) and moved on to Jewish groups' nefarious sway over Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who Mearsheimer called " Von Hollen."
This line of argument could be considered a precarious one for two blue-eyed men with Germanic surnames. And, indeed, Walt seemed defensive about the charges of anti-Semitism. He cautioned that the Israel lobby "is not a cabal," that it is "not synonymous with American Jews" and that "there is nothing improper or illegitimate about its activities."
Got that? Mearsheimer mispronounced the name of some Congressmen. (Gotcha!) Walt seemed "defensive" about charges of anti-Semitism. (I suppose Milbank expected him to embrace the charge?) Also, while it's apparently anti-Semitic to suggest that someone with a Jewish surname may have a special affinity for Israel, it's perfectly fine to imply that those with Germanic surnames may have a special affinity for anti-Semitism.
I have no idea of Milbank's particular views on the subject of U.S.-Israel policy, but this sort of lazy, irresponsible journalism only helps to obstruct a sorely needed debate. Part of the strategy of the pro-Israel crowd is to keep their critics occupied with accusations, sometimes subtle, usually not, of anti-Semitism, in order to avoid having to deal with the question of why the U.S. shovels some $3 billion at Israel every year. It’s almost comical that no matter how often or how much Walt and Mearsheimer differentiate between "American Jews" and "the pro-Israel lobby," so many of their critics refuse to hear it, and persist with the charges of racism and conspiracy-mongering.
Some have argued that Walt and Mearsheimer are partly to blame for this, that they left themselves open to criticism by defining the lobby too broadly. I think there’s something to that critique, but it’s also pretty clear that the two men would be libeled as anti-Semites no matter how narrowly or rigorously they defined their terms. In neither their original paper nor yesterday’s panel did Walt and Mearsheimer suggest, as Milbank asserts, that "American Jewish groups are responsible for the war in Iraq". Indeed, yesterday they went so far as to address and refute that very claim. The fact that Milbank, one of D.C.'s foremost peddlers of the conventional wisdom, would open his column with such a blatant lie, and probably receive no penalty for it, indicates how obscure and bizarre this discussion so often is in the U.S., and what an uphill battle is faced by those who want to put the U.S.-Israel relationship under greater scrutiny.