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‘This One Is So Hot’: The Censorship of Walt and Mearsheimer

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I now have a copy of the letter John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt sent to the board of the Chicago Global Affairs Council after it cancelled their September appearance there under political pressure. The letter follows, below.

A couple of comments. This is a sad business. Two distinguished profs who have both spoken at the Council before are disinvited regretfully/squeamishly by a respected professional friend, and informed that they might only speak if someone else comes to counter their statements. The old "context" argument used against Rachel Corrie and everyone else. Your views are too toxic to be heard unless we "balance" them. 

Walt and Mearsheimer point out that Michael Oren spoke at the Council earlier this year on Middle East matters without "context." Oren is a neoconservative who made aliyah to Israel in the 70s  and who served as an officer in the Israeli army. John Mearsheimer served as an officer in the United States Air Force. Let us be very clear about this: A former officer in the Israeli Army who lives in Israel (and has lately served in the Israeli Reserves) may hold forth about our policy in the Middle East, but a former officer in our Air Force has no place to do the same. You don’t have to be a nativist to find this mindboggling. Mearsheimer and Walt are all for Oren speaking, they just want to be able to speak too. And just compare the literary and analytical work of Oren and Mearsheimer; there is no comparison. Oren is a polemicist, Mearsheimer a serious student of American policy. Deeply dispiriting. Where is Alan Dershowitz, to decry the censorship? 

I’m upset. I tell myself that this just shows how afraid the other side is of the truth, but face it, they’re winning. Last night my wife said at dinner that I am "paying a price" for my views on the Middle East. I have a long career as a journalist. I lost a blog-job earlier this year over these issues, I can’t get paying assignments to write about these matters; and they are all that I care about, as my country fumbles through the aftermath of 9/11 and Iraq. I sense some of that same sorrow in the Walt and Mearsheimer letter that follows. At the peaks of their careers, they have devoted themselves to these policy issues out of some sense of duty; and they’re not being allowed to speak.  It appears from the letter that a friendship has ended: the authors’ with Marshall Bouton. How long before the country wakes up from this madness?

August 5, 2007

[Addressed, individually, to board members of the Council, and to members of Council committees]

We are writing
to bring to your attention a troubling incident involving the Chicago Council
on Global Affairs. We do so reluctantly,
as we have both enjoyed our prior associations with the Council and we have
great respect for its aims and accomplishments. Nonetheless, we felt this was an episode that should not pass without

On September
4, 2007, our book The Israel Lobby and
U.S. Foreign Policy
will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, one
of the most highly respected publishers in the United States. Through our publisher, the Council issued an
invitation for both of us to speak at a session on September 27, 2007. We were delighted to accept, as each of us
had spoken at the Council on several occasions in the past and knew we would
attract a diverse and well-informed audience that would engage us in a lively
and productive discussion.

On July 19,
while discussing the details of our visit with Sharon Houtkamp, who was
handling the arrangements at the Council, we learned that the Council had
already received a number of communications protesting our appearance. We were not particularly surprised by this
news, as we had seen a similar pattern of behavior after our original article
on “The Israel Lobby” appeared in the London
Review of Books
in March 2006. We
were still looking forward to the event, however, especially because it gave us
an opportunity to engage these issues in an open forum.

Then, on July
24, Council President Marshall Bouton phoned one of us (Mearsheimer) and
informed him that he was cancelling the event. He said he felt “extremely
uncomfortable making this call” and that his decision did not reflect his
personal views on the subject of our book. Instead, he explained that his decision was based on the need “to
protect the institution.” He said that
he had a serious “political problem,” because there were individuals who would
be angry if he gave us a venue to speak, and that this would have serious negative
consequences for the Council. “This one
is so hot,” Marshall maintained, that he could not present it at a Council
session unless someone from “the other side”—such as Abraham Foxman of the
Anti-Defamation League—was on stage with us. At the very least, he needed to present “contending viewpoints.” But he said it was too late to try to change
the format, as the fall schedule was being finalized and there would not be
sufficient time to arrange an alternate date. He showed little interest in doing anything with us in 2008 or beyond.

comments are in order regarding this situation.

First, since
the publication of our original article on the Israel lobby, we have appeared
either singly or together at a number of different venues, including Brown
University, the Council on Foreign Relations, Columbia University, Cornell
University, Emerson College, the Great Hall at Cooper Union, Georgetown
University, the National Press Club, the Nieman Fellows Program at Harvard
University, the University of Montana, the Jewish Community Center in Newton,
Massachusetts, and Congregation Kam Isaiah Israel in Chicago. In all but one of these venues we appeared on
our own, i.e., without someone from the “other side.” As one would expect, we often faced vigorous
questions from members of the audience, which invariably included individuals
who disagreed in fundamental ways with some of our arguments. Nevertheless, the back-and-forth at each of
these events was always civil, and quite a few participants said that they
benefited from listening to us and to our interlocutors.

Second, the
Council has recently welcomed speakers who do represent a “contending
viewpoint,” and they have appeared on their own. Consider the case of Michael Oren, an
Israeli-American author, who appeared at the Council on February 8, 2007, to
talk about “The Middle East and the United States: A Long and Complicated
Relationship.” Oren has a different view
of U.S. Middle East policy than we do; indeed, he gave a keynote address at
AIPAC’s annual policy conference this past spring that directly challenged our
perspective. We believe it was entirely
appropriate for the Council to have invited him to speak, and without having a
representative from an opposing group there to debate him. The Council has also
welcomed a number of other speakers on this general topic in recent years, such
as Dennis Ross, Max Boot and Rashid Khalidi, and none of their appearances
included someone representing a “contending view.”

One might
argue that our views are too controversial to be presented on their own. However, they are seen as controversial only
because some of the groups and individuals that we criticized in our original
article have misrepresented what we said or leveled unjustified charges at us
personally—such as the baseless claim that we (or our views) are
anti-Semitic. The purpose of these
charges, of course, is to discourage respected organizations like the Council
from giving us an audience, or to create conditions where they feel compelled
to include “contending views” in order to preserve “balance” and to insulate
themselves from external criticism.

In fact, our
views are not extreme. Our book does not question Israel’s right to exist and
does not portray pro-Israel groups in the United States as some sort of
conspiracy to “control” U.S. foreign policy. Rather, it describes these groups and individuals—both Jewish and
gentile—as simply an effective special interest group whose activities are not
substantially different from groups like the NRA, the farm lobby, the AARP, or
other ethnic lobbies. Its activities, in
other words, are as American as apple pie, although we argue that its influence
has helped produce policies that are not in the U.S. national interest. We also suggest that these policies have been
unintentionally harmful to Israel as well, and that a different course of
action would be better for both countries. It is not obvious to us why such views could not be included in the
Council’s schedule.

Although we
find it somewhat unseemly to refer to our own careers, it is perhaps worth
noting that we are both well-established figures with solid mainstream
credentials. We are fortunate to occupy
chaired professorships at distinguished universities, and to have been elected
members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. We have both held important leadership
positions at Chicago or Harvard, each of us serves on the editorial boards of
several leading foreign policy journals (such as Foreign Affairs and Foreign
), and we have both done consulting work for U.S. government
agencies. Given our backgrounds, the
idea that it would be inappropriate for us to appear on our own at a Council
session seems far-fetched.

Finally, and
most importantly, we believe that the decision to cancel our appearance is
antithetical to the principle of open discussion that underpins American
democracy, and that is so essential for maximizing the prospects that our
country pursues a wise foreign policy. In essence, we believe this is a case in which a handful of people who
disagree with our views have used their influence to intimidate Marshall into
rescinding the Council’s invitation to us, so as to insure that interested
members will not hear what we have to say about Israeli policy, the U.S.
relationship with Israel, and the lobby itself. This is not the way we are
supposed to address important issues of public policy in the United States, and
it is surely not the way the Council normally conducts its business. This is
undoubtedly why Marshall, who is a very smart and decent man, felt so
uncomfortable calling us to say that the event had been cancelled. He knew this decision was contrary to
everything that the Council is supposed to represent.

The Chicago
Council is obviously under no obligation to grant us a venue, and we are not
writing in an attempt to reverse this decision. But given the importance of the issues that are raised in our book, we
are genuinely disappointed that we will not have the benefit of open exchange
with the Council’s members, including those who might want to challenge our
arguments or conclusions. The United States and its allies—including
Israel—face many challenging problems in the Middle East, and our country will
not be able to address them intelligently if we cannot have an open and
civilized discussion about U.S. interests in the region, and the various
factors that shape American policy there. Regrettably, the decision to cancel our appearance has made that
much-needed conversation more difficult.







John J.

R. Wendell
Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science

University of





Stephen M.

Robert and
Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs



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