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How Bad Ideas (Like an Undivided Jerusalem) Get Good Money

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The Senate is investigating gifts by drug companies to doctors. Says The Times:  

the more psychiatrists have earned from drug makers, the more they have
prescribed a new class of powerful medicines known as atypical
antipsychotics to children, for whom the drugs are especially risky and
mostly unapproved.

The other day on MSNBC, The Times’ Gardiner Harris spoke of this issue in ideological/ epistemological terms. He said that studies have shown that people form the ideas that they get money for forming–even brilliant doctors who have had years and years of education. The moderator cut him off, but Harris had made a great point.

This is a central problem with the Israel lobby’s presence in American life: it funds an orthodoxy that is often out of step with pluralist ideas. As a longtime freelance writer, I can tell you that I simply cannot get paid good money to write critically about Israel and its influence on our foreign policy. There are very few outlets that will pay anything for these views. Too bad for me. Meantime, there is a ton of money on the other side. Consider the idea that Jerusalem should be wholly controlled by Israel. This is patently a bad idea. It means allowing one group of religious nuts who cite ancient scripts to dominate two other groups of religious nuts who cite ancient scripts. All three of these religions have been around for a long time and aren’t going anywhere. Muslims have shown a willingness to blow themselves up over this question. And Jews have shown a willingness to murder U.N. negotiators over the same point. The proper role of the United States should be to try to impose some fairness on the issue: to make sure that Jerusalem is an international city. This idea is an obvious one, especially when you see Muslims forced by Israeli soldiers to pray outside the walls of the Old City.

And yet American politics is dominated by one of those three Biblical views: that Jews should control Jerusalem. Norman Podhoretz expresses this view in the latest Commentary. I imagine that Podhoretz would form this idea no matter what, but his views have long been publicized by a magazine subsidized till recently by the American Jewish Committee. David Wurmser, the top adviser on the Middle East to Vice President Dick Cheney, seems to hold a similar view of Jerusalem; he has opposed the Oslo peace process, and he has thanked a leading backer of an undivided Jerusalem for funding him when he was at the American Enterprise Institute. As I reported, and have many times repeated on this site, AEI quietly gives $96,000 a year to Dore Gold (one of a group of American Jews who made aliyah and now spend their time proselytizing their former countrymen about Israel), who also believes that Jerusalem must never be divided. Of his latest book The Fight for Jerusalem, Publishers Weekly says:

Gold is far from impartial. He displays an intense repudiation of
fundamentalist Islam, and the perceived ineptitude and ingratitude of
the West toward Israel, which he considers the only legitimate savior
of the city. Warning of the apocalypse, he concludes that today’s
Jerusalem is threatened by the "evil wind" of Islamic fundamentalism;
if redivided, he argues, the precious city will be the next great
victim of global jihad.

This is the kind of thinker that American Enterprise Institute gives $96,000 a year to? Holy smoke. Clayton Swisher showed in his book
that the issue broke down the Camp David discussions in
2000. Arab countries pressured Arafat, demanding assurance that Jews would not control
the city. U.S. negotiators accepted Israel’s demand that
Jerusalem be undivided. Arafat couldn’t accept that.

As Gardiner Harris said, ideas just don’t pop into brilliant people’s minds. Most ideas are social creations; and subsidy plays an important role in propagating them. Grant Smith of the Insitute for Research on Middle Eastern Policy has called for legislation on the thinktanks that would do for foreign-policy intellectuals what Congress wants to do for doctors: Show us where the gifts are coming from. He argues that money plays a significant role in forming consensus about often-dangerous ideas.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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