Trending Topics:

After article was rejected and publishers yawned, Walt and Mearsheimer dropped ‘The Israel Lobby’ in 2005

on 21 Comments

The authors of The Israel Lobby went on Chicago radio station WBEZ last week to reflect on their achievement after ten years. No, not 60 Minutes. Not The New York Times. Not MSNBC. But WBEZ radio.

It is a great interview by Jerome McDonnell about a stupendous achievement. As I wrote ten years ago, this book is up there with Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, as a bombshell that will help transform society.

Below are some choice bits from the interview.

Publication ruined both men’s chances to serve in government or in university administration. Mearsheimer:

I had no interest whatsoever in a government position. But I did think that when we wrote the piece, that it would mean that we would never get a high level government position. Even medium level government position. It would also make it almost impossible for us to get any meaningful administrative job in the academic world.

Mearsheimer was then 59 years old and in Chicago. But Steve Walt was a sprightly 50 and on I-95, on the Harvard springboard to presidential elbows. The book forever changed his horizon:

I was academic dean in the Kennedy School. I think it’s fair to say that both universities did stand by us in the sense that they didn’t put any formal censure on us. There were various ways of what you might call informal marginalization at least for a while, because the leaderships in both universities were very nervous about the fallout. Universities don’t really like controversy very much.

I did understand that this was probably going to eliminate any possibility of government service in my case, which is  something I do regret, because it’s something I would have appreciated, had that opportunity presented itself at some point down the road.

Walt went on to say that they had to do it. “If we weren’t willing to do that, then hardly anybody else would be. We couldn’t lose our jobs. We didn’t necessarily need government employment to pay the mortgage.”

The two men actually gave up on the article and book years before it was published because doors kept closing. Here is some of the history.

Mearsheimer spoke about the idea first at the American Political Science Association meetings in Boston in 2002; and a friend said the Atlantic wanted to commission an article on that very subject. The Atlantic magazine assigned Walt and Mearsheimer in 2002. Then it got cold feet and killed the piece in early 2005. At that time, Walt said, the two scholars thought that no other outlet in the United States would publish it, but they could flesh it out as a “short book,” so they consulted a “number” of publishers and a couple of literary agents.

We got what you would call polite interest but nothing you could call enthusiasm. At one point we basically decided to drop the project entirely.

Jesus H. Christ.

After that, though, an editor who had a copy of the piece showed it to a scholar at UCLA who reached out to Mearsheimer and said the London Review of Books might be interested. The LRB version was eventually published in March 2006, and “provoked an immediate firestorm,” Walt said.

Ironically once it provoked that firestorm, suddenly publishers and literary agents recognized that there was a product people were interested in and suddenly they were contacting us and offering us book contracts.

Mearshimer said it was the internet that published that piece as much as the LRB:

The internet was indispensable for making this article available to people all over the world. If this had been published in the London Review of Books in 1985 or 1990 when there was no internet, hardly anybody would have taken notice. But in the age of the internet, this article just ricocheted all over the world very, very quickly.

Rashid Khalidi at Columbia University told me that the morning after the piece had hit the internet, 14 different people had sent him a link for the piece. It was such a big bombshell.

Now here is the sad conclusion. Mearsheimer:

I don’t think we– or anyone else– has  had much influence on policy. I think the lobby is still as powerful as ever. It’s now more out in the open, and that’s not necessarily a good thing for a lobby, but it’s still remarkably effective. This is why you saw all those Republicans falling all over themselves in the 2016 Republican primaries to say how devoted they were to Israel, because they understand that you don’t want to cross the lobby.

Or to put that another way: This interview was not on 60 Minutes, MSNBC, or the New York Times!

The authors deal with the fact that the lobby failed on the Iran deal. They never said that the lobby could not be defeated; but that delivering a defeat would require spending a lot of political capital, as President Obama did. And P.S. the lobby isn’t finished with the Iran deal!


Philip Weiss

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

Other posts by .

Posted In:

21 Responses

  1. Ismail on September 25, 2017, 11:46 am

    “…this book is up there with Rachel Carson’s Silence of the Sea…”

    Did you mean “Silent Spring” or “The Sea Around Us”?

  2. aloeste on September 25, 2017, 1:13 pm

    die ewige Jude , of colossal power, to whom governments cower and grovel…

    give it up Weiss, what chance do you have against the most powerful force on Earth?

    • Mooser on September 25, 2017, 1:47 pm

      “give it up Weiss, what chance do you have against the most powerful force on Earth?”

      Would you like to sky-write “Surrender Phil Weiss” while riding a broom and cackling?

  3. MalcolmLeftly on September 25, 2017, 5:16 pm

    “Over the course of four tours in the White House, I never once saw a decision in the Oval Office to tilt U.S. foreign policy in favor of Israel at the expense of America’s interest.” David Gergen
    This –“Israel Lobby” piece– from Gergen though I would hope he’s calmed down a bit.

    I’ve never heard or seen Walt on Boston media. That isn’t to say it’s never happened but in such a media conscious city to not remember Walt on the air anywhere seems amazing. Or does it?

    • Emory Riddle on September 26, 2017, 7:38 am

      Here is a typical Gergen tweet: “Israeli ambassador Michael Orren provides valuable insights into Iranian danger. Tonite”

      Very credible guy.

  4. JosephA on September 25, 2017, 7:11 pm

    Thanks for sharing this story. From your keyboard and public radio to the American Public’s ears!

  5. John Douglas on September 25, 2017, 10:14 pm

    Courage from academia. I saw almost none as I roamed its corridors for 45 years. My thanks and respect go out to the great W & M.

    • RoHa on September 26, 2017, 12:46 am

      Courage or tenure, you can’t have the first before the second. Though most end up with neither.

  6. jsinton on September 26, 2017, 12:06 am

    “This is why you saw all those Republicans falling all over themselves in the 2016 Republican primaries to say how devoted they were to Israel, because they understand that you don’t want to cross the lobby.”

    The interesting thing here is that conservative voters REJECTED the Republican establishment candidates in favor of nincompoop Trump. Hell, Rubio lost to Trump in Florida! ALL voters rejected the entire establishment in 2016. Blacks and Hispanics simply stayed home. Mrs. Clinton had the mojo of a cinderblock. Sanders would have beat Trump like a tom tom. I believe “the lobby” had no small part in the demise, as people are tired of the pandering. Yes, “the lobby” is out in the open more, and it hurts.

  7. CitizenC on September 26, 2017, 10:19 am

    The book and article were indeed important landmarks, and brought the issue into the mainstream. But the authors pulled their punches in certain ways. They did not examine the first chapter of the story, the 1940s, when the nascent IL overwhelmed the opposition of the military and diplomatic establishments, and forced support for partition of Palestine and a Jewish state on the US government. They also claimed that the IL “is just another lobby, doing its job in US interest group politics”. This was in part defensiveness about the charge of anti-Semitism, which they addressed.

    The IL is not like other lobbies, it has operated at and beyond the margins of the law since its founding. In its early years it moved adroitly thru various legal gambits and incorporations to evade prosecution under foreign agent laws. The Fulbright hearings of the early 1960s forced the founding of AIPAC by existing IL personnel, and were the end of US sovereignty in the foreign agent area, as far as Israel was concerned. Grant Smith has shown all this in an important series of books based on documents unearthed with FOIA. He feels that the USG has essentially lost the ability to enforce the Foreign Agent Registration Act where Israel is concerned.

    Much of Mears/Walt’sr defensiveness was due to the refusal of the left, led by Chomsky, to consider the issue, imposing instead the “strategic asset” dogma. Chomsky wrote some trivial dismissal in response to the article, and ignored the book. The left is unchanged since Mears/Walt. The Israel Lobby argument is still viciously attacked as anti-Semitism, notably by Jewish Voice for Peace. Ten years after the article and book appeared, Chomsky’s friend Irene Gendzier tried to impose the “strategic asset” argument on the 1940s, in a risibly weak book.

    The IL has also been addressed by diplomats, politicians and academics, since the 1940s. Paul Findley, George Ball, and Michael Cohen are examples.

    Nonetheless, Mears/Walt gave the issue renewed prominence, made a major contribution, and paid a price, as Phil says.

  8. Elizabeth Block on September 26, 2017, 11:57 am

    I guess we could call this the Kap Effect, after Colin Kaepernick. (Or maybe the Curt Flood Effect, after another athlete who sacrificed his career for a cause that benefited others but not himself.)

  9. Elizabeth Block on September 26, 2017, 12:01 pm

    Some years ago I got into an email tangle with (I think) Steven Rosen, who said there were academics whose careers had suffered because of their SUPPPORT for Israel. I asked him to name a few. He said he couldn’t think of any off the top of his head, and directed me to CampusWatch – which tracks critics of Israel. Of course there aren’t any.

      • Mooser on September 26, 2017, 3:23 pm

        “Jon 66”, the article asks “Was a Maryland University professor fired for being pro-Israel?” and concludes that she was not.
        You might check that before linking it.

      • amigo on September 26, 2017, 3:39 pm

        Jon 66 , here is a much more difficult question.

        Now you know what dozens of Palestinian academics experience on a regular basis.Think Steven Salatia or Norman Finkelstein.

        BTW , Miz Landa was engaged in efforts on behalf of an anti BDS group who are hell bent on silencing any and all criticism m of the rogue entity.

        My heart bleeds for her.In any case the report is based on her input.Don,t know about you , but I take the word of a Zionist or apologist for Israel with a grain of salt.

      • YoniFalic on September 26, 2017, 4:58 pm

        Because I am an academic, I am most interested in cases of apparent attempts to stifle free speech in the university marketplace of ideas.

        I put the following comment up on Richard Silverstein’s blog.

        I don’t see where Melissa Landa has an actionable complaint. She does not seem to have been tenured, and the university had no obligation to renew her contract.

        I am very careful to keep my web posting or tweeting separate from my academic work because I have no desire to become a target of Zio censors as Finkelstein, Salaita, Kovel, Abu el-Haj, and Massad were. (For posting I have reverted to my family’s name in the Ukraine and don’t use my legal fake Hebrew name that my grandfather adopted after emigration to Palestine.)

        The Kovel case seems very similar, and Joel Kovel took no action against Bard beyond writing a letter to Bard President Botstein. I suspect there were [no] deep-pocket funders for a pointless lawsuit. The situation is quite different when a Zio wishes to bring a pointless complaint.

      • Jon66 on September 26, 2017, 8:53 pm

        I’m not a lawyer and have no idea if the lawsuit has merit. I don’t know if she was let go because of her pro-Israel views, but there seems to be some evidence that it was at least a factor. Elizabeth stated that there were NO academics who have suffered for these views. That’s a different standard than a lawsuit.

      • Keith on September 27, 2017, 1:17 am

        YONI FALIC- “I have no desire to become a target of Zio censors as Finkelstein, Salaita….”

        One of the big differences between Finkelstein and Salaita versus Melissa Landa is that Finkelstein and Salaida are being hounded by the Zionist network forever. These guys cannot get an academic job anywhere, nor, perhaps, any job of significance. They have become permanently unemployed. On the other hand, Melissa Landa will likely get an academic position somewhere, the threat of charges of anti-Semitism and potential lawsuits by Zionist organizations a powerful inducement to go along to get along. If, for some reason, she departs academia, I am sure her prospects of employment are quite secure. Anti-Zionism attacked, pro-Zionism supported. Apples and oranges. No comparison in regards to the consequences.

  10. Citizen on September 27, 2017, 10:55 am

    Corker said Trump has already made up his mind on his pending October 15th decision re the Iran Deal up then for reapproval or not.

  11. Krendall Mist on September 30, 2017, 11:13 pm

    For the last time—the phenomena W & M wrote about was and is not a “lobby.” It is Jewish racist supremacy enforced by a small number of extraordinaily wealthy, zealous individuals/families and organizations

Leave a Reply