This is historic: the Forward has published an article by Stephen Walt, the co-author of the Israel Lobby, laying out the argument in his article/book of 2006/2007 and describing the continued power of the lobby, witness the Israel Anti-Boycott Act in Congress and the opposition to the Iran deal.
There is just one big problem with the article, “That Israel Lobby Controversy? History Has Proved Us Right.” It is ten years too late. The Forward could have commissioned the Harvard professor back in ’06 and ’07. No, the Jewish newspaper deferred to the voices inside the Jewish community that said that Walt and co-author John Mearsheimer were anti-Semites. They were simply off limits. That policy held across Jewish spaces. Yivo hosted a long night of diatribes against the authors as bigots and though Yivo is dedicated to scholarship and learning, Yivo didn’t invite the authors to defend themselves. Too afraid to hear their ideas. The 92d Street Y and the NY power synagogues also ignored the authors at their many forums on Middle east policy; and it was rumored that Leon Wieseltier and Michael Walzer refused to appear on stage with them. Various establishment institutions duly cancelled Walt and Mearsheimer gigs, because of that intolerant mood. The New Yorker’s David Remnick made them out to be tin-foil-hatters. And any hope Walt had of serving in the White House or State Department went out the window.
But now Stephen Walt is publishing a straightforward reprise of many of the book’s arguments today in the Forward. And the Forward promptly gives Dennis Ross the microphone, to refute Walt. Dennis Ross the Israel lobby personified, who has told American Jews, “We need to be advocates for Israel” — not for Palestinians.
It’s really a pathetic reflection on the intellectual abilities of the Jewish establishment. Low. Like the time the 92d Street Y cancelled a Palestinian author’s appearance because his Jewish co-panelist had to drop out of the event, and the 92d Street Y didn’t want a Palestinian appearing by himself. The man had three daughters, all killed by Israel. You’d think he might have a basis for his statements about Israel. American Jews can’t hear it.
Why is Walt even presentable today when he wasn’t 10 years ago? Because the occupation is now 50 years old and its permanence is obvious to American liberal Zionists and so everything he and Mearsheimer warned about (apartheid) is being echoed by “legitimate” voices. Because the lobby’s role in the Iraq war has been recapitulated in Iran policy to the point that Barack Obama warned Israel supporters that he’d be “abrogating” his constitutional duty if he deferred to Benjamin Netanyahu, and everyone saw the Israeli interference. Because the power of the lobby over U.S. policy w/r/t the occupation is bringing “infamy” to Jews and breeding anti-Semitism– they say so now even at J Street. Because even leftwingers use the term “Israel lobby” these days to describe a real force in policy-making. Because the lobby is old hat.
Too bad that the Forward didn’t host Walt ten years ago, when his voice might have actually made a difference in restraining the settlement project. Nope, he had to be redlined.
The Harvard professor makes this interesting observation about Zionism.
The vast majority of American Jews remain deeply committed to liberal values, while Israel has been moving away from them for many years now. There is a certain tension between liberalism and Zionism, because liberalism assumes that all humans possess the same set of basic rights and it emphasizes mutual tolerance, while Zionism is a nationalist movement that in its current iteration privileges one people at the expense of another. Until 1967, however, that tension between liberal and Zionist values was muted because most Israelis were Jewish and the second-class status of Israel’s Arab minority did not receive much attention.
I hope the Forward commissions another piece from Walt, setting out the contradiction between Zionism and liberalism. As I wrote ten years ago, Walt and Mearsheimer are scholars of Jewish history. The Jewish establishment is finally waking up to this idea: that non-Jews can have important observations about the powerful Jewish presence in American public life. Too late to have done any good when it comes to a Palestinian state.