Saturday, April 22, 2006

PROF. JUAN COLE, who teaches history at the University of Michigan and writes the award-winning blog, Informed Comment, is apparently on the verge of being offered a tenured professorship at the Yale Center for International and Area Studies and the Yale History Department.

But not if the "academic freedom for right-wing scholars only" crowd has its way. As Glenn Greenwald reports, the campaign to block Prof. Cole's appointment was kicked off by a New York Sun piece co-written by Eliana Johnson (Scott "Powerline" Johnson's daughter) and Mitch Webber, a student at Harvard Law School.

... The article selects multiple half-sentence snippets of Cole's writing in order to "demonstrate" that he harbors a "deep and abiding hatred of Israel"; that "if it were up to Mr. Cole, the country wouldn't exist at all"; and that he is "best known for disparaging the participation of prominent American Jews in government."

As usual with this crowd, charges of being anti-semitic and of "hating Israel" are labels applied to anyone who opposes the Israeli government's policies toward Palestinians and/or who thinks the U.S. government is too one-sided and uncritical in its support for Israel. In the instance of Prof. Cole, Johnson and Webber also base their accusations of anti-semitism on Cole's endorsement of the recent article by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer published in the London Review of Books, titled "The Israel Lobby."

If Yale proceeds with the appointment, it will bring in one of the few professors in the United States, perhaps the only one, who has publicly endorsed the recent paper warning against American support of Israel by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard.
Only last month, Mr. Cole made headlines for effusively praising the Walt/Mearsheimer paper. The paper essentially charges Jewish government employees with loyalty to Israel over America; it accuses Jews of stifling public dialogue through control of the press, think tanks, and government; and it alleges that Jews dupe non-Jews into "fighting, dying ... and paying" for causes that are "not in the American national interest."

Others [sic] academics defended Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer's right to express their views, while expressing horror at the paper's falsehoods and conspiratorial worldview. Even Noam Chomsky found the paper's thesis "[n]ot very [convincing], in my opinion." So far as we know, Mr. Cole is the only professor who has publicly endorsed the paper's scholarship and findings.

Naturally, they don't name these "other academics" or link to them; and there is no "horror" in the brief Chomsky quote we are given.

However, having just read through the Walt/Mearsheimer piece, I conclude that the Sun piece's characterization of it is utter nonsense. My credentials for identifying anti-semitism when I see it or hear it are quite probably much more direct and well-earned than those of Scott Johnson's daughter; and I found no anti-semitism in what Walt and Mearsheimer wrote. They are quite critical of the Israeli government's policies toward the Palestinian people; and they think that terrorism has been greatly abetted by the U.S. government's attitude that there is only one legitimate point of view in the Middle East: Israel's. One can disagree with that conclusion (which I do not) -- but there is no rational way it could be characterized as anti-semitic.

Walt and Mearsheimer actually make a point of declaring their understanding of and sympathy for the importance of the Jewish people having their own state after almost being exterminated by the Nazis. But, they gently add, the Jewish people's suffering cannot become an excuse or a justification for violating the human rights of another people:

... Because Jews were persecuted for centuries and could feel safe only in a Jewish homeland, many people now believe that Israel deserves special treatment from the United States. The country's creation was undoubtedly an appropriate response to the long record of crimes against Jews, but it also brought about fresh crimes against a largely innocent third party: the Palestinians.

Walt and Mearsheimer also go out of their way to make it clear that what they call "the Israel lobby" is no different from any other special interest lobby in American politics; that Christians as well as Jews are part of it; and that American Jews are just as diverse in their political positions as any other identifiable ethnic or religious grouping in the United States.

We use 'the Lobby' as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that 'the Lobby' is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them. In a 2004 survey, for example, roughly 36 per cent of American Jews said they were either 'not very' or 'not at all' emotionally attached to Israel.

Jewish Americans also differ on specific Israeli policies. Many of the key organisations in the Lobby, such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations, are run by hardliners who generally support the Likud Party's expansionist policies, including its hostility to the Oslo peace process. The bulk of US Jewry, meanwhile, is more inclined to make concessions to the Palestinians, and a few groups -- such as Jewish Voice for Peace -- strongly advocate such steps. Despite these differences, moderates and hardliners both favour giving steadfast support to Israel.
The Lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom believe Israel's rebirth is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda; to do otherwise, they believe, would be contrary to God's will. Neo-conservative gentiles such as John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former UN ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will are also steadfast supporters.

The US form of government offers activists many ways of influencing the policy process. Interest groups can lobby elected representatives and members of the executive branch, make campaign contributions, vote in elections, try to mould public opinion etc. They enjoy a disproportionate amount of influence when they are committed to an issue to which the bulk of the population is indifferent. Policymakers will tend to accommodate those who care about the issue, even if their numbers are small, confident that the rest of the population will not penalise them for doing so.

In its basic operations, the Israel Lobby is no different from the farm lobby, steel or textile workers' unions, or other ethnic lobbies. There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy: the Lobby's activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise it are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better. By contrast, pro-Arab interest groups, in so far as they exist at all, are weak, which makes the Israel Lobby's task even easier.

This is not anti-semitism -- any more than public opposition to the Iraq war or to the Patriot Act or to the Bush administration's treatment of detainees in the war on terror is anti-American or unpatriotic. But it's functional for the wingnuts to make the equation, because it ends the discussion.

Anyone who has ever read anything written by Professor Cole -- and I have, and I have disagreed with much of it -- knows that the claim that he is anti-Semitic is a baseless and defamatory myth. It is a smear that is achieved only by the depressingly common attempt to equate hostility towards the political agenda of Likud with hostility towards Jews generally, a tactic that is nothing short of disgusting.

This false equivalence is intended to stifle all debate on any matters relating to the Middle East by positing an equivalence between anti-Semitism and a criticism of a specific, minority strain of political ideology. One either must refrain from criticisms of the actions of Israel, and refrain from commenting on the influence asserted by its government over American policy, or else one will be publicly branded an anti-Semite. One is perfectly free to criticize other countries, and even criticize the level of influence their governments exert on American policy (to name but a few, condemning the influence on American policy of China, or Mexico, or Saudi Arabia, is all the rage, including among many of these same people). But the same arguments applied to Israel makes one an untouchable anti-Semite.

The intellectual bankruptcy of the argument is self-evident. It is no different than accusing someone who opposes the French Socialist Party of hating the French, or accusing someone who opposes some South American right-wing party of hating Latinos. Or accusing someone of opposing President Bush of hating America and loving Al Qaeda. This tactic is an inane but destructive character smear that has been allowed to fester for way too long. But it festers because anyone who complains about it guarantees that they, too, will be similarly branded as an anti-Semite or terrorist-lover, and so most people prefer to avoid the issue.

The same people agitating to block Professor Cole's appointment to Yale frequently argue that countries like Iran or Iraq or Islamic extremism generally are the greatest threats to American interests and world peace. They vigorously defend the Israeli government's views with regard to its dispute with the Palestinians, insist that Israeli interests are virtually identical to American interests with regard to the "war" against Islamic extremism, and argue that Israelis are essentially blameless for the general climate of hatred and conflict in the Middle East. And, needless to say, they ought to be allowed to espouse those views, on college campuses and outside of them.

Jane Hamsher calls it "second-generation junk thinking," put out by overprivileged types who have remained contentedly sheltered all their lives from any contact with people who might threaten the way they view the world. The last thing these folks want is to be questioned by someone who actually knows what he's talking about.

This childish world view, unsullied by any contact with people from other cultures or life experience, scornful and elitist and promoted beyond anything it would earn as a result of its own merits, exists not only on the page -- it is running the country and playing Army Men with the Middle East. No doubt they resent it mightily when Professor Cole shows up to puncture their delusional bubbles and deliver, in the words of Wolcott, a "righteous punk smackdown." Once again they send the second-rate and intellectually shiftless to defend the fort.

Read that Wolcott essay. It's delicious.

1 comment:

dingo said...

Hey, great site. I stumbled on your post dealing with Juan Cole and his problems at Yale.

Very elegant blog. I don't have a lot of time right now but I'll check back later.