Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Send your letters to the OG . . . .

Tony Judt writes in the NYT op-ed today about the lack of debate in America about the nature of America's relationship with Israel. Judt's article was prompted by the "firestorm of vituperation and refutation" raised by the publication in the London Review of Books of a piece called "The Israel Lobby" by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, two academics at the Kennedy School of Government. (Mearsheimer and Walt have published a longer version of their essay here on the Kennedy School website.)

Judt's piece in the NYT, which has already initiated its own firestorm and letter-writing campaign, argues that the taboo against discussing America's unwavering support for Israel is bad for both Israel and America:
The damage that is done by America's fear of anti-Semitism when discussing Israel is threefold. It is bad for Jews: anti-Semitism is real enough (I know something about it, growing up Jewish in 1950's Britain), but for just that reason it should not be confused with political criticisms of Israel or its American supporters. It is bad for Israel: by guaranteeing it unconditional support, Americans encourage Israel to act heedless of consequences. The Israeli journalist Tom Segev described the Mearsheimer-Walt essay as "arrogant" but also acknowledged ruefully: "They are right. Had the United States saved Israel from itself, life today would be better ...the Israel Lobby in the United States harms Israel's true interests."

BUT above all, self-censorship is bad for the United States itself. Americans are denying themselves participation in a fast-moving international conversation. Daniel Levy (a former Israeli peace negotiator) wrote in Haaretz that the Mearsheimer-Walt essay should be a wake-up call, a reminder of the damage the Israel lobby is doing to both nations. But I would go further. I think this essay, by two "realist" political scientists with no interest whatsoever in the Palestinians, is a straw in the wind.

Looking back, we shall see the Iraq war and its catastrophic consequences as not the beginning of a new democratic age in the Middle East but rather as the end of an era that began in the wake of the 1967 war, a period during which American alignment with Israel was shaped by two imperatives: cold-war strategic calculations and a new-found domestic sensitivity to the memory of the Holocaust and the debt owed to its victims and survivors.

For the terms of strategic debate are shifting. East Asia grows daily in importance. Meanwhile our clumsy failure to re-cast the Middle East — and its enduring implications for our standing there — has come into sharp focus. American influence in that part of the world now rests almost exclusively on our power to make war: which means in the end that it is no influence at all. Above all, perhaps, the Holocaust is passing beyond living memory. In the eyes of a watching world, the fact that an Israeli soldier's great-grandmother died in Treblinka will not excuse his own misbehavior.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mearsheimer is at Chicago, not Kennedy. Note also that the only letter writers siding with Judt are from Canada, Vermont and New York. Tells you something... Never mind that the NYT lets stand someone's baseless accusation that an earlier NYRB Judt piece somehow supports a finding that Judt wishes Israel never existed. Fine case of OTOHOTOH-ism taking over mainstream media.

MK