The Israel Conspiracy…uh, Lobby

There is much ado today about “The Israel Lobby,” a long essay written by Stephen Walt of Harvard University and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and published in the London Review of Books. The bottom line is simple and familiar: the Israel lobby has taken over Washington. Within the academy, it’s the sort of thing that Juan Cole and Rashid Khalidi have been claiming all along, without getting any traction. And it’s what Walt himself argued in a few pages of his book, Taming American Power, which appeared last fall, and which also got very little traction.

This newest article, obviously the work of Walt more than Mearsheimer, cobbles together a lot of half-truths and untruths that have been out there on the far fringe, and gives them “academic respectability” (which, as I have shown time and again, is usually a contradiction in terms when it comes to the Middle East). In particular, the authors have put together an “unedited version,” in which the notes are as long as the text, and which carries the title of a Kennedy School of Government “Faculty Research Working Paper.” This is presumably intended to make the study appear even more “academic.” But it’s really a piece of journalistic sensationalism, reminiscent of the 1987 book The Lobby by Edward Tivnan. The Washington correspondent of Haaretz called the new article “academic garbage” in his blog this morning, and offered it as an example of “the decline of academic values and the misuse of academic titles by contemporary American pseudo-scholars.” That it is, but it’s got plenty of competition.

Back in the fall, a donor to Harvard asked me to counter Walt’s argument that Israel is a liability. So I wrote a short rebuttal, sent it off, and filed it away. I have no idea whether it went any further, or whether it reached Walt himself. But now seems a perfect moment to resurrect it, so here it is, just as I wrote it in October. It doesn’t address all the arguments made in the new essay, because Walt didn’t make all those arguments in his book. But it will do for now. It’s over at Sandstorm: click here.