I happened to catch a re-run of a C-SPAN bookstore session with Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer last night, co-authors of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, and it sent me back in memory to a grim encounter that took place some years ago in a CUNY faculty seminar when someone raised the subject of Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.  The seminar, which had bonded on a number of human rights issues over more than a semester, suddenly divided angrily between those who were critical of Israel and its defenders.  The issue had been a news report (during the Rabin era) of Israeli soldiers smashing the hands of Palestinian stone throwers with two by fours or some such.

Two things were striking.  The seminar divided nearly along the lines of ethnic identity — Jews defending Israel and non Jews criticizing it.  But further, and most distressing, were the spontaneous anti-Semitic comments of a number of the latter which emerged with this outburst — things about bad experiences with Jewish landlords, etc.

I was particularly horrified because, as the oldest member of the seminar, I bore grim childhood memories both of the anti-Semitism that I had experienced back then and the horrors of the Holocaust that were shockingly revealed in our Movietone News and Life Magazine pictures of the last minute survivors of the death camps.  I had early on had it with anti-Semitism — both the brutally frank kind as well as the “some of my best friends” version.  As an undergrad at Yale I had editorialized against the anti-Semitic admissions practices there (“none of those Eastern European types from Brooklyn and the Bronx”).  And I had spoken out about the rare Jewish faculty members outside my major department in philosophy where one of my teachers, Paul Weiss, had confirmed the prejudices reflected in my sudden awareness of the lack of Jewish faculty elsewhere in the university.  This was in the mid 1950s.  When I started my teaching at Vassar College in 1963 I found precisely the same restrictions (e.g. through service on its Scholarship committee where anti-Semitism was made explicit by 3 college power figures who complained that “those Jewish Hunter High School students are over achievers.”  Vassar then had only one Jewish faculty member.

Walt and Mearsheimer were tip-toeing a bit around the anti-Semitic reactions to be unleashed by exposing the doings of the Israel lobby publicly and suggesting that some of the lobby’s pressures were not in the best interests of either Israel or the U.S.  Was the Iraq war in part pressed upon us by it?  Certainly our neocons, Perle and Wolfowitz — later key figures in the Rumsfeld Defense Department — were conferring with such as Netanyahu in Israel as early as 1996 about supporting an attack on Hussein and Perle wants us today to attack Iran.  A quick Google search will confirm this, including his publications about same.

My bottom line here is that I desperately hope that Israel will now make urgent efforts to make peace with the Palestinians.  There are extremists on both sides doing their best to maintain the hostilities, but the primary responsibility for making peace lies with those who have the power — who are running military operations on the turf there — both the U.S. and Israel.

Walt made a passing reference to the very large percentage of Americans distressed by the way things are going as a possible negative towards Israel.  I would hate to see a new burst of anti-Semitism emerging from the war and Israel’s role in favoring it. I receive postings from a number of groups — some with ethnic identities — and that connection is made explicit in many comments.

Last night I also saw a rerun of David Horowitz (coming to Columbia soon!) attacking academics in general — most anyone not at the far right of the political spectrum — and also connecting “liberals” to criticisms of Israel.  He is doing Israel no favor with his ugly attacks.  Some one should explain to him that the Cold War is over and that his anti-Communist games are not going to fly in the new garb of attacks on the critics of Israel.  Our current decider-in-chief is a bit threadbare now and I don’t want to see Israel suffering from fallout from the supposition that he has been conned by Israel — g-d forbid an attack on Iran which can be read this way.

Mearsheimer and Walt (and Jimmy Carter) should be listened to free of personal attacks — particularly the ‘anti-Semite’ routine.  Such can backfire.  We have a mess to clean up in the Middle East and we had better bring our best minds to bear there — from all possible perspectives.

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent  212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]
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