Kicking footnotes of ‘The Israel Lobby’

The Israel Lobby by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt has 106 pages of footnotes over 1,200 footnotes in total. The book’s boosters like to cite this fact as somehow proving the scholarly virtue of the authors. “Mearsheimer and Walt have corroborated all their arguments with a wealth of primary and secondary sources,” gushes one prof. In fact, most of the critics who have actually perused the footnotes have made the valid point that they almost never point to primary sources or interviews. The book was researched off the Internet, and the notes are just padding for a preconceived theory. But do the sources cited in the notes say what Mearsheimer and Walt say they say? Even this is doubtful. Here’s an example.

The context is their claim that U.S. support for Israel is primarily responsible for the drop in America’s popularity in the Muslim world. Policies supportive of Israel, they write, “help explain why many Arabs and Muslims are so angry with the United States that they regard Al Qaeda with sympathy and some are willing to support it, either directly or tacitly.”

Of course, no one denies the drop in America’s popularity, but there is a debate about its causes. Some would argue that the Iraq war made the difference. Thus, Rashid Khalidi asserted last month that “Iraq has changed everything. In Washington, a city obsessed with the present, it was easy to forget that as recently as a few years ago, the United States was not particularly disliked in the Middle East and that al-Qaeda was a tiny underground organization with almost no popular support.” To counter this notion, Mearsheimer and Walt need to prove that the United States was particularly disliked before the Iraq war, precisely because of U.S. policies toward Israel and the Palestinians.

So how do they attempt that? On page 68, they present the evidence:

The Pew Global Attitudes Survey reported in 2002 before the invasion of Iraq that “public opinion about the United States in the Middle East/Conflict Area is overwhelmingly negative,” and much of this unpopularity stems from the Palestinian issue.73

The footnote at the end of this sentence points to page 54 of the relevant Pew report.

I found this claim intriguing, so I decided to check it out by going back to the Pew Report. You can download it yourself right here. If you do, you’ll discover what I did: that there’s no evidence whatsoever, on page 54 or any other page, that U.S. unpopularity in the Middle East stemmed in any part from the Palestinian issue. In the entire report, Israel and the Palestinians are mentioned only once, on page 3. There the issue isn’t Arab or Muslim opinion at all. It’s the opinion of Europeans and Americans on whether Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict posed the greater threat to them. This was the only question in the survey questionnaire (Q11) that mentioned Israel or the Palestinians, and it wasn’t even posed to Middle Easterners.

Academic incompetence? Intellectual dishonesty? Over-reliance on the many “research assistants” and “fact-checkers” whom the authors acknowledge? All that really matters is that not one of these 1,200-plus notes should be taken at face value. Not only do the authors only cite sources that support their argument. They cite sources that don’t, while claiming that they do. How many other bogus references pad the back-matter of this book? We’ll probably never know, because no one will ever have the patience to wade through them all.