Mearsheimer’s “provocative” turn from “Israel Lobby” Jews & Gentiles to “New Afrikaner” Jews

In the next few days, I’m going to post something about how the Dish’s categories of Jews, such as “the Goldfrab-Krauthammer wing,” compares to the category of the “New Afrikaners” in John Mearsheimer ‘s recent speech at the Palestine Center, “The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. New Afrikaners.” I want to look at how flexible these kind of categories soon become and why.

Before I post about that question, I wanted to get a few preliminary points out of the way about Sullivan’s charitable treatment of Mearsheimer’s speech. I won’t address the factual errors in the speech or the problems in Mearsheimer’s time-lines that the Dish didn’t pick up on. I’d rather look at a few things he got wrong not for need of general research:

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What happen to the non-Jews who enable this alleged wrongdoing?  Mearsheimer had said in his book The Israel Lobby and in discussions about his book, that it was important to emphasize that he was not indicating a “Jewish Lobby” but a lobby of various American factions, including many non-Jews, joining together in support of Israel.

But here’s Mearsheimer now:

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.”

I don’t see what exempts various gentiles from being considered part of this New Afrikaner cohort. Perhaps Mearsheimer can explain how gentiles have left the picture, or at least explain what happened to the necessary “carefulness” that he espoused before.

One could argue that Mearsheimer is saying that the process of the “Righteous Jews” gaining adherents from the “great ambivalent middle” Jews will be what turns America away from supporting Apartheid Israel. Gentiles will see that if Jews are starting to decrease their support for Israel, then it is probably less deserving of their support. Unfortunately, Mearsheimer writes:

The key to determining whether the lobby can protect apartheid Israel over the long run is whether the great ambivalent middle sides with the new Afrikaners or the righteous Jews.  The new Afrikaners have to win that fight decisively for Greater Israel to survive as a racist state.

Mearsheimer contends that the New Afrikaners have a particular lobbying power over American Jewry. So even trying to exculpate Mearsheimer on the grounds that he thinks Jewish opinion will be the vanguard for American gentile opinion, it appears that these New Afrikaners hold a special place within his “Israel Lobby” so that they right now command Jewish opinion and by extension hold back gentile opinion from changing toward justice.

In fact, Mearsheimer helpfully connects the New Afrikaners to the Lobby by noting,

I would classify most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations as new Afrikaners.  That list would include Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America, just to name some of the more prominent ones.  I would also include businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of the New Republic.  It would be easy to add more names to this list.

Easy, yes. But it would be literally impossible to add a non-Jewish name to the list, since it precludes gentile members of the Israel Lobby.

In the very near future — ten years, Mearsheimer predicts! — it will be all the more necessary for the New Afrikaners to do the hard work that is essential within the Israel Lobby. Gentile members will be like miscellaneous troops, not decisive in planning operations or in the combat necessary to sustain apartheid. That’s what follows if you want to get behind a myopic defense of Mearsheimer’s turn from “Israel Lobby” to “New Afrikaner” Jews.

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Sullivan writes, trying to accuse Mearsheimer’s critics/dissenters of being out of control in their rhetoric:

In fact, Mearsheimer is clear (read the speech) that the apartheid state he fears is in the future, not now (many Israelis believe the same) […]

Yes, let’s read the speech. Mearsheimer is addressing the idea that American Jews’ support for Israel’s actions are what enables the country’s wrongdoing. As Mearsheimer describes the imminent future of “full-fledged” or “full-blown” apartheid, this wrongdoing only differs in degree, not kind.

In Mearsheimer’s account, Israel turns from an “incipient apartheid” with “racist” and “heinous” policies that treat Palestinians “like animals” — he describes all this as in the present — into a “full-fledged” or “full-blown” apartheid, which will just take a mere 10 years. He says:

The final alternative to a two-state solution is some form of apartheid, whereby Israel increases its control over the Occupied Territories, but allows the Palestinians to exercise limited autonomy in a set of disconnected and economically crippled enclaves.

Although this by no means sounds like an acceptable situation, this is a very limited definition for what constitutes apartheid. Additionally, it uses a pair of related ideas that allow people to project their own subjective impressions and at whim call Israel as it is now an apartheid. For “limited autonomy” describes a whole range of bad to mediocre situations for different cohorts across the world.

“Increases its control” (which we assume is the corollary of limiting autonomy) is a matter of what exactly? That phrase could mean almost anything. 50 more checkpoints than there were before Netanyahu took down so many of them? Defunding the Palestinian police force and replacing them with Israeli patrols? In any case, “increases its control” could be a matter of degree, not kind.

Mearsheimer says at the outset, “Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy,” and if we look what Mearsheimer says exists in Israel and the West Bank now — the block quote just above — we see that it is near identical to his description of what would constitute apartheid in the near future:

As anyone who has spent time in the Occupied Territories knows, it is already an incipient apartheid state with separate laws, separate roads, and separate housing for Israelis and Palestinians, who are essentially confined to impoverished enclaves that they can leave and enter only with great difficulty.

It seems that Israel only has to keep being the Israel of today, doesn’t even have to make things a smidgeon harder, for ten years to change the Gaza-Israel-West-Bank area from an “incipient” apartheid into a “full-fledged” apartheid. Therefore, it’s not worth very much (except maybe a laugh and a sigh) when Sullivan says,

In fact, Mearsheimer is clear (read the speech) that the apartheid state he fears is in the future, not now (many Israelis believe the same) […]

Many Israelis do not believe that so little would have to happen, as Mearsheimer does. BTW, Mearsheimer says nothing in his prophecy about a potential loss of Israeli Arab or Palestinian Arab legal rights, or of the Israeli Lefts right to free expression. That would be a definite qualitative change toward apartheid. Mearsheimer doesn’t even allude to any change in the settlement area (which has virtually not been changing, BTW) outside the three main blocs along the Green Line.

Since his description of the present that is practically the same as his description of his dystopic future, Mearsheimer is not writing clearly, in a trustworthy fashion. Given the assurances he gave his readers less than a year ago, we can’t trust that his mind is not already coming to conclusions he doesn’t want to share explicitly.

The chances are very slim, but perhaps he thinks he’s writing like some Straussian pseudo-sophisticate, with multiple meanings … Some people envy what they condemn. Such machination is very unlikely, but the possibility should illustrate that Mearsheimer’s speech contains many pregnant comparisons and open pockets for readers than texts usually do, especially when talking about something you’ve previously acknowledged to be delicate.

[…] Palestinians are going to end up living in Greater Israel, which will be an apartheid state.  Again, one might even argue that they have already reached that point

says Mearsheimer.

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Goldblog and others equate this [cateogization of Good Jews and Bad Jews] to Father Coughlin’s rants in the 1930s. The only problem with this analogy is that

Well, if what follows is the only problem one can find with this analogy, it doesn’t seem to give much credit to Mearsheimer’s speech, but I digress …

Mearsheimer’s point is that the hardline neocons are misguided because they are hastening the moral and demographic collapse of Israel, rather than stopping it.

And one of Coughlin’s points is that the Bad Jews are hastening the moral collapse of would-be good Jews in American Jewry, but I’m still rudely interrupting …

So he is not criticizing [a group of] American Jews for being Jewish or for supporting Israel over America (the “dual loyalty” red herring) but for being, in his view, mistaken in how they believe Israel should be saved.

In fact, Mearsheimer is making a “dual loyalty” accusation. How would commitment to Israel as it turns from an “incipient apartheid state” to a “full-fledged” one, be in America’s interest, when as Mearsheimer  says, “Apartheid is not only morally reprehensible, but it also guarantees that Israel will remain a strategic liability for the United States.” He says that these New Afrikaner Jews will demonstrate commitment to blind support of Israel will be always be paramount, even through its apartheid future. So, the “dual loyalty” idea is redolent.

Mearsheimer says in his speech, “These are individuals who will back Israel no matter what it does, because they have blind loyalty to the Jewish state.” That seems to preclude siding with American interests if there is a conflict.

Very bad reading on the part of the Dish.

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Then, there is his choice of the phrase “Righteous Jews.” Andrew questions mildly whether this three-part categorization of Jews is “deliberately provocative,” and I’ll get to that in the post forthcoming. But now I should deal with the particular phrase Mearsheimer chose for his group of noble Jews.

This phrase is a  reference to the inclusive idea of “Righteous Gentiles” in Judaism, and “righteous gentiles” in Holocaust. It’s not “deliberately provocative”; instead, the phrase seems antisemitic.

It’s a subversion, an ironic allusion (a “reclamation” from a rather twisted perspective) of the term “righteous gentile” in the Jewish lexicon. Religions have the right to such moral judgments; it’s their stock and trade. But in Mearsheimer’s new lexicon, people who stand against “New Afrikaner” Jews will gain the right to pronounce such totalizing pronouncements on sects of people who are just, unjust, and in between. They will not make these pronouncements for deeds as dramatically clear as saving Jews from Nazis or insuring universal salvation, and allowing non-Jews a way to serve God without having to convert. Mearsheimer claims the right to confer “righteousness” on much meaner grounds, and more subjective, egocentric grounds — polluting humanitarian concerns with perceptions of what’s in our national interest.

To say someone is a “righteous Jew” according to Mearsheimer’s lexicon is  an anti-ecumenical claim, quite unlike saying someone is a “righteous gentile” in the Jewish lexicon, which means either commending people for risking their own lives to save a human being, or assuring people that they don’t have to be a part of a certain tribe to get salvation.

Mearsheimer is noting the hubris with which “the Jews” — the Lobby has become secondary here — have claimed the right to stand in judgment of non-Jews, when in a modern context, it could easily be the other way.

For a person who professes such concern about fighting antisemitism, it is alarming that Andrew did not see fit to address that issue in the choice of the phrase “Righteous Gentiles” or point Dish readers to any discussion of it by Mearsheimer’s critics.

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Finally, there is the bizarreness of Andrew thinking it not significant enough to merit commentary that Mearsheimer’s list of “Righteous Jews” is dominated by people whose ideal is a “one-state” solution, and only think a two-state solution is a short-term one or better than the status quo.

This is simply strange for a “fervent Zionist” such as Andrew not to mention. Instead he tries to argue something that’s contrary to the facts, that Mearsheimer is condemning these “New Afrikaners” particularly because they are hurrying up Israel’s destruction … But that would imply these Righteous Jews are praiseworthy for the opposite reason. Yet that is not so. Mearsheimer writes:

most righteous Jews believe that the Palestinians deserve a viable state of their own, just as the Jews deserve their own state. […]  Some righteous Jews, however, favor a democratic bi-national state over the two-state solution.

So what is going on?

One could argue that Mearsheimer is describing these groups by what he says they would do in a hypothetical future in which Israel became a full-blown apartheid. Mearsheimer believes that anti-Zionists have already proved that they will emerge as “Righteous Jews” if that comes to pass; however, most supporters of a two-state solution over one bi-national state haven’t. So Mearsheimer ends up including [emphasis mine]

many of the individuals associated with J Street

which supports a two-state solution,

and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace,

which does not support a two-state solution, or a one-state solution. JVP remains officially indifferent while supporting, in either case, the “right of return” for Palestinians.

This argument on behalf of Mearsheimer is dependent on acknowledging that he is playing a strange game, whereby he’s describing three groups of people who already exist, yet defining them based on a particular hypothetical future — a racist dystopia that, he can tell from their current behavior, they will support or condemn.

I don’t understand how a fair-minded person would feel comfortable with making that argument on Mearsheimer’s behalf.

Mearsheimer includes only a few concrete examples of two-state supporters on this list of “Righteous Jews” (even qualifying J-Street’s inclusion) and many others who have spoken glowingly of a binational state. He predominately refers to supporters of the two-state solution in the “New Afrikaners” list, and mentions only one person who isn’t (Morton Klein).

It is “through the looking glass,” if not Orwellian malfeasance, to consider Mearsheimer’s categorization and lists as being supportive of the two-state solution and of a Jewish democratic state. Some other agenda has taken precedence over concern for Israel at the most basic level. For a reader of Mearsheimer’s speech to try to pass this tall tale off as truth, without the smallest acknowledgment of the inappropriateness of how one-state support eclipses the human rights virtues of “Righteous Jews,” shows that some other agenda has temporarily taken precedence over concern for Israel at the most basic level.

In the case of the Dish, I believe this agenda is self-justification as well as partisan fear, that one’s spokespersons for a portion of one’s cause are nasty characters. If Amnesty can speak up for Caged Prisoners …

In contrast, Andrew has decided:

I suspect the virulence and extreme rhetoric of those criticizing Mearsheimer’s challenging and provocative address is directly related to the brutal truth of the analysis he presents.

That’s interesting. I would think that the response to Mearsheimer’s “challenging and provocative address” is somewhat related to at least the “extreme rhetoric,” if not “virulence” in Mearsheimer’s speech. Does Andrew expect the Jewish community not to sound somewhat miffed by it? Should blacks have been just intrigued by The Bell Curve, or were they entitled to sound miffed? … What’s more sad than Jeffrey Goldberg, Noah Pollack and David Bernstein’s displeasure at Mearsheimer’s address — Andrew never addresses Hussein Ibish’s displeasure — is Andrew’s attempt at a posture of coolness and objective (non-Jewish?) intellectual perspective.

If Israel does not get out of the West Bank soon, if it does not remove every single settlement,

Andrew supports removal of “every single settlement” now? — he thinks that’s what’s essential for peace? (Hmm … That position, not shared by Obama or Jimmy Carter BTW, will allow the Dish to place blame on Netanayahu and cry about the “brutal truth” of the apartheid future, no matter what is happening in peace negotiations.)

if it does not act decisively to escape the death trap of Greater Israel, no Israel will survive as a morally defensible or democratic or Jewish state.

Far from being, as Goldblog asserts, an abandonment of foreign policy realism, Mearsheimer’s speech is a pellucid, if flawed, example of it. I suspect that’s why it wounds. The truth usually does.

“Pellucid”? Not only was Mearsheimer’s speech anything but pellucid — this sounds like a poseur’s word, used for overcompensation.

I suspect the truth that the Dish’s own position is so entangled with wanting a version of the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis to become orthodox, is why Sullivan ignores all the provocative ambiguities in the speech, pretends such sangfroid and plays indifferent to the through-the-looking-glass image of support for a “a morally defensible or democratic or Jewish state.”

I suspect this is also the reason he didn’t link to any discussion of “Righteous Jews” as an allusion to “Righteous Gentiles” and did not discuss or post an important email to him from another blogger — quoted also at the Engage blog — that asked common-sense questions about the ideologies of those on the “Righteous Jews” list.

And as for “foreign policy realism”? As Kenneth Walzer observes in a way that is plainspoken, unconcealed and respectful of readers’ intellects and right to know:

[…] says Mearsheimer, it is not Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East who will or will not make peace but righteous Jews and their allies in the United States who will help shape the Palestinian future. Israel will create apartheid; the Palestinians will experience it. Then the good Jews (and other good people) will rally other Jews (and other good people) and blunt the force of the Israel Lobby. Realism?

Nope: Israelism.

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  1. […] is also in America’s interest — ) Andrew is forgetting his own paralogic that both dividing Jews into good or bad and accusations of dual loyalty are antisemitic only when the person is arguing explicitly against […]

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