The NY Times weighed in in today’s Arts & Leisure section on the upcoming Walt-Mearsheimer book noting that they have been disinvited from speaking at numerous venues. I covered the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ shameful capitulation to the American Jewish fear machine. The Times article revealed that J.J. Goldberg, editor of the Jewish Forward had also backed out of moderating an evening with Walt and Mearsheimer. J.J. is a former Jewish student radical whose roots go back to the 1960s. He edits a forward-looking progressive newspaper that is far and away the most liberal national Jewish publication. So what is J.J. afraid of?
The article makes this otherwise liberal, tolerant journalist sound timorous:
As for City University, Aoibheann Sweeney, director of the Center for the Humanities, said, “I looked at the introduction, and I didn’t feel that the book was saying things differently enough” from the original article. Ms. Sweeney, who said she had consulted with others at City University, acknowledged that they had begun planning for an event in September moderated by J. J. Goldberg, the editor of The Forward, a leading American Jewish weekly, but once he chose not to participate, she decided to pass. Mr. Goldberg, who was traveling in Israel, said in a telephone interview that “there should be more of an open debate.” But appearing alone with the authors would have given the impression that The Forward was presenting the event and thereby endorsing the book, he said, and he did not want to do that. A discussion with other speakers of differing views would have been different, he added.
“I don’t think the book is very good,” said Mr. Goldberg, who said he read a copy of the manuscript about six weeks ago. “They haven’t really done original research. They haven’t talked to the people who are being lobbied or those doing the lobbying.”
J.J. says “there should be more of an open debate” yet he declines to participate. He doesn’t think the book is very good, yet he passes up an opportunity to make his objections to the book known to a broad audience. As for the charge of “not doing original research,” I don’t know that this is true. But even if it is, who says that a book on this subject has to contain original research. All that is required in my opinion is that the authors have something important and relevant to say to current conditions. And they’ve satisfied that requirement in spades.
I myself took issue with some of the arguments W-M brought forth in their original essay. But to throw the baby out with the bathwater as J.J. has done seems churlish and counter-productive. Hundreds of thousands of people are going to read this new book. Does the Jewish community want to throw a blanket of silence over the venture or does it want to engage in, and try to shape the debate? Does it want to make its views known to those hundreds of thousands or does it want to stand silently by and let events overtake it?
Progressive Jews know about the fear that permeates the organized Jewish community which leads it to try to silence voices like Walt-Mearsheimer. J.J. understands this problem too. So why would he contribute to such a nasty phenomenon by running and hiding from an opportunity to engage the two authors??
I know J.J. to be a principled, courageous journalist. But in this case, he’s made a mistake and not upheld those principles as he might have.
UPDATE: I wrote J.J. hoping there was story behind this interview that explained his views in a more nuanced, persuasive way and he graciously wrote a long reply laying out his thinking. In short, J.J. strongly objected to the essay and dislikes the new book even more. When approached by the publishers about moderating the event, he felt uncomfortable at the prospect of having to skewer the authors with his objections to their work. He didn’t feel that would be the proper role of a moderator. And he certainly didn’t feel good about being a more conventional moderator who merely facilitated the evening. The only format he felt comfortable with was the type advocated by the Chicago groups which disinvited Walt and Mearsheimer, where other speakers would represent a contrasting view to theirs.
J.J. also forwarded to me the editorial he wrote outlining his objections to the original essay and while he raises some good points and at least dealt with W-M’s actual arguments, unlike most of the opponents, I still fundamentally don’t find the critique which argues that the work is garbage to be at all persuasive. And that’s why I wish J.J. would’ve seen his way to decide this differently. I’d like to have seen the three of them go at it hammer and tong and see if some fundamental truth or clarity might’ve arisen from it all. And even if it hadn’t, it would’ve been worth the effort.
I read part of your long response to the original W-M article and I was glad to see you made some very good points.
The fact is that Congress would not give the support that it does to Israel if it weren’t popular with the voters, or at least does not arouse a counter-pressure. Any lobby, even one representing a small constituency such as the “Greek lobby” (which is quite powerful), or the Cuban lobby or the National Rifle Association would not have the power they do if there were strong groups opposing those positions. The pro-gun control people just do not have enough counter-clout. Israel’s support is more broad-based than those other lobbies I mentioned. Thus, pro-Arab, anti-Israel groups would not have to only compete in fund raising and buying influence (e.g. Saudi Prince Bandar giving a Jaguar automobile free to Colin Powell), which they do, but they have to directly confront Israel in the battle for public opinion, and due to the long-lasting friendship the American people have with Israel and respect for Israel’s shared democratic traditions, they have their work cut our for themselves, since Arab interests and cultural values are perceived as being very different than American ones.
An important question that needs to be asked is , “let’s say the disengagment of American support that W-M or Jimmy Carter is implemented, what would be the results”. There is a historical precedent-Czechoslovakia 1938. France had a defense agreement with the Czechs. British Prime Minister Chamberlain said the Czechs were a “far away people of whom we know nothing”. Chamberlain and the French said clearly that it was not in those country’s interest to defend Czechoslovakia. There was even a demand for “self-determination” for an “aggrieved minority”. The British and French cut the Czechs loose, in the name of “peace” and self-interest. Did it bring peace?.
There is another historical precedent in 1967. The French, who had a close relationship with Israel prior to Frances withdrawal from Algeria in 1962, now told the Israelis they were cutting them loose, they were on their own. It was now in France’s interests to be seen to be supporting the Arabs. The Arabs heard this. Did it bring peace or war?
Okay, let’s now say the US adopts W-M’s policies. The US now votes with the rest of the world against Israel in the UN. The US cuts military aid (BTW-I WISH the US would cut its military aid to Israel, Israel doesn’t need it and it distorts Israel’s economy, but this is not the place to discuss it) cuts back sales of advanced weapons systems, etc. What would be the reactions of both the Israelis and the Arabs. We have a small test case-the destruction of Gush Katif. Sharon was told by Bush to make a dramatic destruction of Jewish communities to prove to the Arabs that Israel was making a “good-will gesture”. Did this bring peace and quiet to Sederot and the area around the Gaza Strip? Did it strengthen the supposed “moderates” like Abbas, or did it bring the “extremist” HAMAS to power?
If Israel is perceieved to be weaker and on its own, are the Arab states going to say, “okay, now that they are weak, we can now make concessions to them that we didn’t in the past to come to a peace agreement”, or are they going to say “see, they are weak, more pressure will get rid of them once and for all?”. What do you think will happen. Will W-M’s policies bring peace or war?
I think the claim that there is support for Israeli policy among the broad swath of the American populace is an unexamined assumption that needs to be more rigorously looked at. I’ve grown up constantly hearing this refrain, but mainly from the MSM echo chamber. Yes, it’s true that in polls large percentages support Israel, and so do I. If I’m asked by a pollster, “do you support Israel”?, my answer would be, “Yes”. When asked such a general question like this, the connotation I think for most people is existential–do you support Israel’s right to exist and right to live in security? Well I do, but I’m also extremely critical of Israel’s horrific policies toward the Palestinians and her neighbors generally (think Lebanon last summer) and believe this behavior needs to drastically change–even if that means fundamentally altering our relationship with Israel. I would venture that a lot of my fellow Americans fall into this boat. I think it’s hard for a lot of Americans to speak up more honestly on the issue because of the fear or threat of being labelled an “anti-Semite.” I would suggest this is particularly true for white, Gentile Americans who grow up with certain feelings of guilt, however ambiguous or generalized, about the Holocaust and the long history of European anti-Semitism (certainly not everyone possesses this kind of historical sensitivity, but many, like myself, do). Because of these dynamics, I think a lot of Americans are intimidated into silence and won’t engage in the minefield of the Israel-Palestine debate. There’s a certain amount of (empirically-grounded) conjecture in this, but I’ll bet a very large chunk of Americans would resonate with what I’m saying. Moreover, and even more importantly, the mainstream corporate media is so biased toward Israel, and de-humanizing of the Palestinians and Arabs generally, that it would be strange if this propaganda didn’t serve to manipulate and distort the American public’s attitudes toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And this of course brings us back to Walt and Mearsheimer and the Israel lobby.
Sorry for all the “I think” s above. A little bit of a stylistic stutter in there.
Richard Silverstein says
I think you misread Carter and W-M. They’re not arguing for disengagement. They’re arguing for an engagement that is balanced & represents the best interests of BOTH parties. For example, neither Carter nor W-M would argue if there was a potentially catastrophic event (say like the 1973 war) that endangered Israel’s existence that the U.S. shouldn’t act to help Israel. But to say they are favoring of cutting Israel loose is not correct.
I find it impossible to believe that George Bush told Ariel Sharon to do anything. If anything it was the reverse. And to say that the Gaza withdrawal was a “good will gesture” beggars belief. Sharon withdrew out of cold hard political calculation that had nothing to do with “good will gestures.”
Let me turn the tables on you: have Sharon’s, Olmert’s, Netanyahu’s, Shamir’s policies brought peace or war? Certainly a more realisitic, pragmatic approach like that offered by W-M is much more likely to bring peace.
Richard, it sounds as if Goldberg felt that his views on the book were too strong to allow him to be good moderator; he would be better used as a panelist at the event and CUNY should find someone less personally involved to moderate.
This is perfectly understandable to me, and I don’t think Goldberg can be faulted. What is still unclear is why CUNY backed out rather than just rearranging the participants. I suspect it was purely cowardice — without the imprimatur of a leader of the Jewish community serving as moderator, Ms. Sweeney felt too exposed to risk it.
In other words, this is still considered a “Jewish” discussion.