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.