John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the authors of a controversial paper criticizing the role of the “Israel Lobby” in American foreign policy, are at work on a book-length version of their findings to be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
The two, who have argued that it “is hard to imagine any mainstream media outlet in the United States” printing their work, first published their paper in the March 23 edition of the London Review of Books. A longer version was posted on the Web site of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where Walt is a professor of international affairs. Mearsheimer is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago.
The paper – which argues that America’s “unwavering support for Israel… has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world” – has sparked a wide range of responses among scholars, pundits and former diplomats. Some have called it the stuff of conspiracy theory and antisemitism, while others have praised it as a welcome foray into a subject often thought to be taboo. The debate played out again on September 28, when the London Review of Books staged a lively debate in Manhattan featuring Mearsheimer, Tony Judt of New York Univeristy, Columbia University’s Rashid Khalidi, onetime Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and Clinton administration Middle East specialists Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk.
Many of the Jewish leaders troubled by the first incarnation of the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis were dismayed anew by word that it is to be republished as a book.
“They are saying what David Duke would be saying, what Pat Buchanan would be saying,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “The difference is that they have the patina of respectability, and now they will have another coat of it.”
Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was an enthusiastic supporter of the paper and claimed that his views had been “vindicated” by it. With figures like Duke in mind, Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, worried that Mearsheimer and Walt’s scholarly credentials could serve to further embolden fringe groups. “We shouldn’t underestimate the damage – and the potential damage – of this paper and the legitimacy it gives to the haters,” he said.
Some were especially troubled by the fact that it was Farrar, Straus and Giroux that had decided to acquire the book. The publishers of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Bernard Malamud – and a host of contemporary Jewish writers – FSG is commonly regarded as one of the country’s most distinguished publishing houses.
“The imprimatur of being published by FSG is hard to match,” said Samuel Freedman, a professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. “When a publishing house with its credibility and its reputation acquires a conspiracy theory, it can’t help but make that conspiracy theory look more valid than it deserves to look.”
Many commented on the irony of how a scholarly paper that wore as a badge of pride its purported exclusion from mainstream American media outlets has now been embraced by the most elite of American book publishers.
That the two scholars were shut out from the American mainstream was, according to David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, “a disingenuous claim from the start. It was a way to try and market themselves as victims of the ‘all-powerful group’ they were writing about. It fed into their own conspiratorial notions.”
But not all were dismayed by news of the book. Philip Weiss, a journalist who has written about the Mearsheimer-Walt paper for both The New York Observer and The Nation, said that an expanded version of the thesis would be a welcome addition to an overdue debate. “I think there’s a lot of interest in these ideas,” Weiss said. “The conversation’s just begun.”