Mearsheimer’s Lists

Mark Gardener at the CST.

It is a curious fact that many of the academics and professors who so eagerly bash Israel and Zionism, do so whilst moonlighting from other issues in which they are actually specialist, but don’t seem quite so animated about.

When a professor uses their own academic field to bash Israel and Zionism, their impact upon the debate can be quite profound. One such professor was John Mearsheimer, co-author with Stephen Walt of The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, a book lent gravitas by the authors’ respective positions at Chicago and Harvard universities; and in particular by their leading roles in the grandiloquently titled school of “Structural Realism” (aka Neorealism).

The book was decried by some critics as antisemitic conspiracy theory in academic guise; and hailed by others as a studious, careful and urgent warning about the Zionist fifth column that it warned was driving American foreign policy.

Now, however, as Mearsheimer’s analysis drifts ever further from Capitol Hill, the more he becomes just another over-animated basher of Zionism and Israel: only more so, because now the learned Professor is categorising American Jews into lists; and holding them responsible for bringing Israel to heel.  As if this were not bad enough, his list of good Jews evokes the Holocaust by being called “righteous Jews”. In this context, his list of bad Jews as “new Afrikaners” seems almost benign, rather than being the deligitimising slur that it actually is.

Mearsheimer’s Lists and logic were laid out by him in a lengthy speech, delivered as the Sharabi Memorial Lecture at Washington D.C.’s Palestine Center and transcribed by the Jerusalem Fund.

Like many before him, Mearsheimer appears deeply frustrated and somewhat angered by the failure of Israel and Jews to fit his own predetermined view of the world. This leaves him grasping for answers that are increasingly reliant upon speculation rather than scholarly evidence. It is what is called cognitive dissonance and it is a very common point of refuge for those with fixed theories about how the world works: or at least how it would work if only there weren’t unseen forces, that a select few must bravely drag into the light. It is easy to slide from this into conspiracy theory, where the absence of evidence actually reinforces your belief that hidden powers must indeed be at work.

Of course, Israel and Jews already have something of a reputation for transgressing whatever ideological theories and historical certitude comes their way: regardless of whether it is Christian, Muslim, Marxist, Structural Realist or whatever. This obstinance has given rise to what may well be the most extensive list of conspiracy theories faced by any people. Mearsheimer’s speech reminds us of the “Jews run the media” aspect of antisemitic conspiracy theory, where he says

Israel and its supporters have been able to do a good job of keeping the mainstream media in the United States from telling the truth…But the Internet is a game changer…[it] allows Americans to learn the story that the New York times and the Washington Post have been hiding from them

However, by far the most significant aspect of Mearsheimer’s analysis is the central role he gives “American Jews” and “the Jewish American community” in the future prospects for peace. It may be “hardline Israelis and their American supporters” who comprise “the lobby”, but Mearsheimer’s logic dictates that it is only American Jews (rather than the US Government) who have the strength to slay the Zionist dragon

Hardline Israelis and their American supporters are aware of these problems [of apartheid Israel legitimacy], but they are betting that the lobby will defend Israel no matter what, and that its support will be sufficient to allow apartheid Israel to survive… In fact, one could argue that Israel could not have gotten as far down the apartheid road as it has without the help of organizations like AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League.  But that strategy is not likely to work over the long run.

The problem with depending on the lobby for protection is that most American Jews will not back Israel if it becomes a full-fledged apartheid state…there are good reasons to think that a marked shift in the American Jewish community’s thinking about Israel is in the offing.  This is not to deny that there will be some diehards who defend apartheid Israel; but their ranks will be thin and it will be widely apparent that they are out of step with core American values.

Mearsheimer goes on to explain how the crucially important American Jewish community currently stacks up. This is where he starts with the lists

Let me elaborate. American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories.  The first two are what I call “righteous Jews” and the “new Afrikaners,” which are clearly definable groups that think about Israel and where it is headed in fundamentally different ways.  The third and largest group is comprised of those Jews who care a lot about Israel, but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about Greater Israel and apartheid.  Let us call this group the “great ambivalent middle.”

It is Mearsheimer’s use of the term “righteous Jews” that really infuriates. To many Jewish eyes and ears, including my own, the phrase is an antisemitic provocation, with its spit and sneer comparison to the Holocaust-related term “righteous Gentiles”.

We cannot be certain that this is Mearsheimer’s intention, but he is no fool and we must assume that he expected his audience, and Jews in general, to understand the allusion. Mearsheimer does, however, explain what he means by “righteous Jews”. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t mean American Jews who risk death to their entire household by sheltering Palestinians from Israeli death squads, merely those who

believe that self-determination applies to Palestinians as well as Jews, and that the two-state solution is the best way to achieve that end. Some righteous Jews, however, favor a democratic bi-national state over the two-state solution.

I have the impression that Mearsheimer believes this group of Jews to be significantly smaller than it actually is. Nevertheless, you have to wonder how many of them would classify themselves alongside Norman Finkelstein, whom Mearsheimer includes in his personal avenue of the righteous, also populated by Philip Weiss, Noam Chomsky, Richard Falk, Naomi Klein and Tony Judt amongst others.

You may have guessed by now that the wrong list to be on is that entitled the “new Afrikaners”. This is not because Mearsheimer would place you in a Boer War concentration camp, far less a Nazi one: but rather because you would be epitomising all that is worst about American Zionist defenders of Israeli apartheid.

Mearsheimer specifies that

I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organisations as new Afrikaners.

He then goes on to list four such individuals and their organisations: the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations, and the Zionist Organization of America.

As with those whom he listed as “righteous Jews”, the list of “new  Afrikaners” have diverse motivations, methodologies and goals. The fact that Mearsheimer just lumps them all together into two lists – good and bad – exemplifies how far he has now strayed from his area of expertise.

Nevertheless, read (or watch) the remainder of Mearsheimer’s speech and you may well be cheered to discover that the “great ambivalent middle” Jews will rise from their slumber and save the day:

I believe that most of the Jews in the great ambivalent middle will not defend apartheid Israel but will either keep quiet or side with the righteous Jews against the new Afrikaners, who will become increasingly marginalized over time.  And once that happens, the lobby will be unable to provide cover for Israel’s racist policies toward the Palestinians in the way it has in the past.

So, there you have them, Mearsheimer’s Lists and the chilling historical echoes that this kind of Jew-categorisation evokes.

Aside from their content, what does the actual existence of Mearsheimer’s Lists say about his tactics and scholarship? The language employed is a poor simplification, poisonously expressed. Mearsheimer is from the Offensive branch of Structural Realism, but every explanation I have read of Offensive Realism describes it as an intellectually rigorous analysis of how states conduct power politics. Nowhere can I find an explanation that says it is an intellectual pursuit in which academics find un-academic ways to cause offence to the objectified targets of their vitriol.

It almost goes without saying that double standards are also at play here. Could we envisage Mearsheimer’s defenders tolerating such a categorisation of Muslims or of African-Americans?

Of course, Mearsheimer isn’t blaming The Jews per se, only those who are on the wrong list. The problem is, however, the longer it takes for the “great ambivalent middle” to fulfil Mearsheimer’s prediction, the more likely (and more deservedly) they are to end up on the wrong list. Worse still, if there’s one thing that you can predict about Jews, its that they don’t fulfil other people’s predcitions