Robert Fisk + Stephen Walt

Friday, April 28, 2006 4:17 AM

It is a measure of the significance of the recent Harvard "working paper" on the the "Israel Lobby" that the world's foremost newspaper reporter on the Middle East, Robert Fisk, felt obliged to pay Professor Stephen Walt a visit. Below, some excerpts from Fisk's report on his consultation with Walt at Harvard. Fisk is based in Beirut, Lebanon. Walt is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Walt's professional work-product focuses upon American diplomatic history and foreign policy, not the outlook from the Middle East on site. Walt sees the formulation, the manipulation; Fisk sees the end results up front and personal, on the ground "out there". Both are in agreement. The masterminds in Washington have unleashed a nightmare in the Middle East.

I remember sitting in Walker's, a bar in Dingle, Ireland reading Fisk's analysis in the Irish Independent regarding the terrorist attacks of 9/11 the day afterward, and thinking about his opening sentence: "So it has come to this." What was "it" exactly? Well, "it" was the decades-old conflict in Palestine between Zionism and the native inhabitants of Palestine; “it” was Zionism's alliance with Washington in pursuing that conquest. That is what "it" was, and everybody in Ireland, or at least inside Walker's, knew that, and none was a Harvard professor.

Since the publication of the Mearsheimer/Walt "working paper" exposing the "Israel Lobby" burst upon the scene in the middle of March in the pages of The London Review of Books, four commentators/experts whom I respect the most on this subject have had something to say about it. These are William Pfaff of the International Herald Tribune, Uri Avnery of Gush Shalom, Arnaud de Bouchgrave of UPI, and Robert Fisk of The Independent, London.

The big-picture, cerebral Pfaff came first on April 4th--"The Mearsheimeer-Walt Paper on the Israeli Lobby"--pointing out, inter alia, "The note of panic in some of the attacks on Mearsheimer and Walt contrasts with the fact that what they say is no secret in American foreign policy circles. People have for years taken for granted the informal censorship, or self-censorship, exercised in the government and the press on this issue." Driving home that point, Pfaff's own newspaper, the International Herald Tribune, did not run his column! The IHT is now entirely owned by the New York Times, out of New York City.  The IHT, based in Paris, is not an independent entity anymore. Alas, the 1960's and the New York Herald Tribune are long gone. The U.S. newspaper of record is pretending that the Harvard study does not exist, reflecting the make-believe world that America and Washington is living in.

Then came Uri Avnery, the pipe-smoking dean of Israel's peace bloc, Gush Shalom. In "Who's the Dog? Who's the Tail" of April 22nd, Avnery, as usual, told it like it is: "The findings of the two professors are right to the last detail. Every Senator and Congressman knows that criticizing the Israeli government is political suicide."

Then, Arnaud de Borchgrave's "Touching The Third Rail" of April 24th: "...the recent publication of 'The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,' an 83-page paper published on Harvard`s website by two prominent academics, ran into a firestorm of vilification from government, academia and the media for documenting what is already well established."

And now, yesterday, comes Robert Fisk. My own amateur contribution to the controversy, "Harvard Speaks" ran on March 20th: "... will anything positive come out of this devastating study by these two scholars and their research assistants? Will their "working paper", as it is called, be buried by the mainstream American news media, not to mention Washington itself? If this most important report is ignored, the reason will be that it reflects horribly upon the Republicans, upon the Democrats, upon the entire Washington establishment, upon Israel, and by implication upon the American media itself. In brief, it is a red hot potato which no one, except those on the margins, will want to touch."

It is a measure of the non-impact the Mearsheimer/Walt paper has had so far upon the passing scene that the war drums at the White House continue to beat for an aerial assault upon Iran--and still hardly a word of caution from Capitol Hill opposing this bizarre act of war, which is the most ambitious and wildly hyped project of "The Lobby" to date.

Robert Fisk: United States of Israel?

When two of America's most distinguished academics dared to suggest that US foreign policy was being driven by a powerful 'Israel Lobby' whose influence was incompatible with their nation's own interests, they knew they would face allegations of anti-Semitism. But the episode has prompted America's Jewish liberals to confront their own complacency. Might the tide be turning?

Published: 27 April 2006 [THE INDEPENDENT, London]

Stephen Walt towers over me as we walk in the Harvard sunshine past Eliot Street, a big man who needs to be big right now (he's one of two authors of an academic paper on the influence of America's Jewish lobby) but whose fame, or notoriety, depending on your point of view, is of no interest to him. "John and I have deliberately avoided the television shows because we don't think we can discuss these important issues in 10 minutes. It would become 'J' and 'S', the personalities who wrote about the lobby--and we want to open the way to serious discussion about this, to encourage a broader discussion of the forces shaping US foreign policy in the Middle East."

"John" is John Mearsheimer, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. Walt is a 50-year-old tenured professor at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. The two men have caused one of the most extraordinary political storms over the Middle East in recent American history by stating what to many non-Americans is obvious: that the US has been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of Israel, that Israel is a liability in the "war on terror", that the biggest Israeli lobby group, AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), is in fact the agent of a foreign government and has a stranglehold on Congress--so much so that US policy towards Israel is not debated there--and that the lobby monitors and condemns academics who are critical of Israel.

"Anyone who criticises Israel's actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle East policy," the authors have written, "...stands a good chance of being labelled an anti-Semite. Indeed, anyone who merely claims that there is an Israeli lobby runs the risk of being charged with anti-Semitism... Anti-Semitism is something no-one wants to be accused of." This is strong stuff in a country where - to quote the late Edward Said--the "last taboo" (now that anyone can talk about blacks, gays and lesbians) is any serious discussion of America's relationship with Israel.

Walt is already the author of an elegantly written account of the resistance to US world political dominance, a work that includes more than 50 pages of references. Indeed, those who have read his Taming Political Power: The Global Response to US Primacy will note that the Israeli lobby gets a thumping in this earlier volume because AIPAC "has repeatedly targeted members of Congress whom it deemed insufficiently friendly to Israel and helped drive them from office, often by channelling money to their opponents."

But how many people in America are putting their own heads above the parapet, now that Mearsheimer and Walt have launched a missile that would fall to the ground unexploded in any other country but which is detonating here at high speed? Not a lot. For a while, the mainstream US press and television--as pro-Israeli, biased and gutless as the two academics infer them to be--did not know whether to report on their conclusions (originally written for The Atlantic Monthly, whose editors apparently took fright, and subsequently reprinted in the London Review of Books in slightly truncated form) or to remain submissively silent. The New York Times, for example, only got round to covering the affair in depth well over two weeks after the report's publication, and then buried its article in the education section on page 19. The academic essay, according to the paper's headline, had created a "debate" about the lobby's influence.

They can say that again. Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the UN, who now heads an Israeli lobby group, kicked off by unwittingly proving that the Mearsheimer-Walt theory of "anti-Semitism" abuse is correct. "I believe," he said, "that anti-Semitism may be partly defined as asserting a Jewish conspiracy for doing the same thing non-Jews engage in." Congressman Eliot Engel of New York said that the study itself was "anti-Semitic" and deserved the American public's contempt.

Walt has no time for this argument. "We are not saying there is a conspiracy, or a cabal. The Israeli lobby has every right to carry on its work--all Americans like to lobby. What we are saying is that this lobby has a negative influence on US national interests and that this should be discussed. There are vexing problems out in the Middle East and we need to be able to discuss them openly. The Hamas government, for example--how do we deal with this? There may not be complete solutions, but we have to try and have all the information available."

Walt doesn't exactly admit to being shocked by some of the responses to his work--it's all part of his desire to keep "discourse" in the academic arena, I suspect, though it probably won't work. But no-one could be anything but angered by his Harvard colleague, Alan Dershowitz, who announced that the two scholars recycled accusations that "would be seized on by bigots to promote their anti-Semitic agendas". The two are preparing a reply to Dershowitz's 45-page attack, but could probably have done without praise from the white supremacist and ex-Ku Klux Klan head David Duke--adulation which allowed newspapers to lump the name of Duke with the names of Mearsheimer and Walt. "Of Israel, Harvard and David Duke," ran the Washington Post's reprehensible headline....


As far as Dershowitz is concerned, it isn't hard for me to sympathise with the terrible pair. He it was who shouted abuse at me during an Irish radio interview when I said that we had to ask the question "Why?" after the 11 September 2001 international crimes against humanity. I was a "dangerous man", Dershowitz shouted over the air, adding that to be "anti-American"--my thought-crime for asking the "Why?" question--was the same as being anti-Semitic. I must, however, also acknowledge another interest. Twelve years ago, one of the Israeli lobby groups that Mearsheimer and Walt fingers prevented any second showing of a film series on Muslims in which I participated for Channel 4 and the Discovery Channel - by stating that my "claim" that Israel was building large Jewish settlements on Arab land was "an egregious falsehood". I was, according to another Israeli support group, "a Henry Higgins with fangs", who was "drooling venom into the living rooms of America."

Such nonsense continues to this day...


But something surely has to give. Across the United States, there is growing evidence that the Israeli and neo-conservative lobbies are acquiring ever greater power. The cancellation by a New York theatre company of My Name is Rachel Corrie - a play based on the writings of the young American girl crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza in 2003 - has deeply shocked liberal Jewish Americans, not least because it was Jewish American complaints that got the performance pulled.

"How can the West condemn the Islamic world for not accepting Mohamed cartoons," Philip Weiss asked in The Nation, "when a Western writer who speaks out on behalf of Palestinians is silenced? And why is it that Europe and Israel itself have a healthier debate over Palestinian human rights than we can have here?" Corrie died trying to prevent the destruction of a Palestinian home. Enemies of the play falsely claim that she was trying to stop the Israelis from collapsing a tunnel used to smuggle weapons. Hateful e-mails were written about Corrie. Weiss quotes one that reads: "Rachel Corrie won't get 72 virgins but she got what she wanted."


Perhaps the most incendiary paragraph in the essay--albeit one whose contents have been confirmed in the Israeli press--discusses Israel's pressure on the United States to invade Iraq. "Israeli intelligence officials had given Washington a variety of alarming reports about Iraq's WMD programmes," the two academics write, quoting a retired Israeli general as saying: "Israeli intelligence was a full partner to the picture presented by American and British intelligence regarding Iraq's non-conventional capabilities."

Walt says he might take a year's sabbatical--though he doesn't want to get typecast as a "lobby" critic - because he needs a rest after his recent administrative post. There will be Israeli lobbyists, no doubt, who would he happy if he made that sabbatical a permanent one. I somehow doubt he will.

Copyright, The Independent, London