Friendly criticism or this century's Protocols?
When US professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published their essay on The Israel Lobby in 2006, they argued that a right-wing, pro-Israel lobby held sway over Washington, causing leaders and Presidents to make harmful, wrong decisions for the sake of a small state thousands of miles away.
To them, while "Israel's enemies are weakened or overthrown," it is the US which "does most of the fighting, dying, rebuilding, and paying." The logic goes like this; if you see your taxes increasing and your soldiers dying, it is reasonable to ask questions of your government. If your government is being controlled by lobbyists linked to a sinister nation that is constantly at war, this lobby should be viewed as a huge problem for your country.
Many people who read the essay saw parallels between it and the classic form of antisemitism and anti-Jewish thinking - Jews are perceived as powerful, threatening, attempting to corrupt and control nations.
Mearsheimer and Walt suggest that anyone who says there is an Israel lobby "runs the risk of being charged with antisemitism" despite the fact that even Israel's media refers to America's "Jewish lobby". Fear of being called an antisemite is effective, as "no responsible person wants to be accused of it". Accusations of antisemitism should therefore be regarded as mischievous, insincere, and strategically deployed.
Mearsheimer and Walt have repeatedly denied charges of antisemitism. They insist they are but friendly critics of Israel and of US foreign policy. Moreover, to note the echoes of age-old conspiracy theorising about Jewish power would be to demonstrate the truth of the thesis.
He described Mein Kampf as 'a very very interesting read'
Mearsheimer's repudiation of antisemitism has been dealt a blow recently. He endorsed a book by Gilad Atzmon, an Israeli jazz musician who lives in London and describes himself as an "ex-Jew". His book about Jewish identity is entitled The Wandering Who?
Mearsheimer wrote for Atzmon's blurb that he had "written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it increasingly difficult for Jews in the diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their 'Jewishness'."
One wonders, is the book actually about diaspora identity, or diaspora Jewish behaviour? Atzmon has long argued that Jewish lobbies control the world, and support for Israel is merely a sub-set of a greater problem: that of Jewish power itself.
He has claimed that diaspora Jewish behaviour has proved the arguments of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, writing in 2006 that "American Jewry makes any debate on whether the Protocols are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do control the world." Tellingly, Atzmon included the bracketed words "in fact Zionists" after his bluff was called.
Atzmon even argued that Jewish behaviour will eventually prove Hitler correct. For him, "the imaginary future can re-write its past". Atzmon envisaged the "horrific situation" of "an Israeli so-called 'pre-emptive' nuclear attack on Iran that escalates into a disastrous nuclear war" killing tens of millions. He continued: "I guess that amongst the survivors of such a nightmare scenario, some may be bold enough to argue that Hitler might have been right after all".
After these, and other quotes were made public, Mearsheimer published a defence of Atzmon on Walt's blog, drawing attention to an Atzmon article last year in which he wrote "Jewish lobbies certainly do not hold back when it comes to pressuring states, world leaders and even super powers. AIPAC's behavior last week reminded me of the Jewish declaration of war against Nazi Germany in 1933." Praising it, Mearsheimer commented: "There is no question that this statement [that Jewish lobbies pressure super powers] is accurate and not even all that controversial".
Mearsheimer believes Atzmon's new book is "fascinating and provocative". He thinks Atzmon is a "universalist" who sees himself as a dissident "like Marx and Spinoza." But, far from being a universalist, Atzmon does little more than recycle familiar antisemitic canards. Atzmon thinks that Fagin and Shylock are not antisemitic, but are points on an "endless hellish continuum" linking fictional Jews of the past with contemporary Israel. This past week, Atzmon described Mein Kampf as "a very very interesting read", claiming that he "could hardly find anything about the Jews".
Mearsheimer and Walt will retain their academic standing, and will still be widely read tomorrow. The "Israel lobby" is not as powerful as they might imagine.
Joseph Weissman is a teacher