Dershowitz vs. Mearsheimer & Walt
Assessment by Lorenzo Matteoli April 29th, 2006
A debate is going on on the internet initiated with the publication of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" By John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, Working Paper Number:RWP06-01.
The paper solicited many reactions and has been widely referred to in the US press.
The most important reaction, in the form of a "rebuttal", was published by prof. Alan Dershowitz .
The two papers can be found at:
"The Israel Lobby debate "
I circulated both papers among friends and felt the need to post my own assessment on the exchange.
Here it is.
I read Dershowitz’s rebuttal and checked it again with the M&W working paper on the Israel Lobby.
The three main critical points by Dershowitz are the “method of scholarship” the “marshalling of facts” and the “logical analysis”.
Dershowitz denounces a number of errors and inaccuracies in M&W’s working paper. Particularly disconcerting are some “wrenched” quotations (Ben Gurion’s and Ehud Barak’s) which M&W should admit are their responsibility or due to unchecked sources.
Some “facts” have been wrongly reported by M&W (Israel citizenship being based on the principle of blood kinship).
The relationship of Israel’s Army with the Armies of the Arab neighbouring countries is interpreted by Dershowitz as being definitely inferior whereas M&W assume a strong superiority of the Israelis: the point remains contentious.
Dershowitz’s rebuttal elaborates on a number of issues challenging the M&W working paper, both on form and content, accusing their paper of presenting a “conspiratorial view of history” and challenging the “logic” of quoting the critics of Israel by Jewish commentators as relevant.
On the other hand Dershowitz does not challenge or comment upon a number of points made by M&W.
Reading again the M&W working paper and striking off the sections challenged by Dershowitz, their main assumptions seem to me to withstand the rebuttal:
a. There is an Israel Lobby, structured and pervasive in the US (CAMERA, WINEP, AIPAC, JINSA) active in the political arena, in the media and in the information of public opinion, some activities of the “lobby” on US campuses are disturbing;
b. The US foreign policy does privilege Israel on a number of issues (financial aid and military supplies and assistance, vetoes in the UN). It is reasonable to conclude that there is a link between this privilege and the activities of the “lobbies”;
c. It is true that criticising Israel can expose one to the accusation of “anti-Semitism”: Some of the reactions to M&W’s working paper clearly prove that.
Dershowitz’s rebuttal is very useful to clear the issue of a lot of ideological and cultural “clutter”. I look forward to M&W’s response to Dershowitz’s rebuttal. Answers are needed even if their main assumptions stand.
One word about Dershowitz’s comment on Chomsky’s statement (“if the Nuremberg laws were applied today, then every post-war American President would have to be hanged.”)
Noam Chomsky is right there: Anybody who reads the Nuremberg laws will see the solid ground for that statement in the history of the numerous useless wars of aggression waged by the various Presidents, only to serve their personal political agenda. (cfr War made easy by Norman Solomon).
Qualifying Chomsky of “hatred for the United States” for that statement is a sign of nationalistic subservience.
One comment could be made to M&W’s assumptions in the Israel Lobby working paper and that is: so what?
Lobbies are a common M.O. not only in the US political arena, The US foreign policy can privilege whatever nation or country the Government decides is deserving of such privilege.
The anti-Semitism innuendo is of more concern, but that is a danger for the expression of any ethnical opinion, from which no society is exempt. Also concerning are the activities of the “lobby” on US Campuses reported by M&W and not challenged by Dershowitz.
The implications and consequences of specific US /Israel related foreign policy will be an interesting field for the “so what?” debate.
I think that Mearsheimer & Walt’s working paper and Dershowitz’s rebuttal appropriately open that debate.
Lorenzo Matteoli April 29th, 2006