One of the consistent deformities in American policy debate has been challenged by a couple of professors, and the reaction proves their point so neatly it's almost funny.
A working paper by John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, professor of international affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, called "The Israel Lobby" was printed in the London Review of Books earlier this month. And all hell broke loose in the more excitable reaches of journalism and academe. For having the sheer effrontery to point out the painfully obvious — that there is an Israel lobby in the United States — Mearsheimer and Walt have been accused of being anti-Semitic, nutty and guilty of "kooky academic work."
As I've noted before, no one denies there is an Israel lobby, and no one criticizes M&W merely for pointing out there is an Israel lobby.
Watch Professor Bernstein write about it, and about the influence of pro-Israel individuals more generally: "There is an Israel lobby. AIPAC is a registered pro-Israel lobby. AIPAC is one of the most influential organizations in the United States. Most American Jews support Israel. Some of the those Jews are very influential people. A smaller, but still substantial, percentage of American non-Jews support Israel. Some of those non-Jews are very influential people. Pro-Israel Americans hold high positions in academia, government, the media, and even write for blogs."
Wait a few days.
Check technorati, and see if anyone is criticizing me for "pointing out the painfully obvious." No? Well maybe it's because unlike M&W, I haven't extrapolated from these facts to a [as Ivins puts it] nutty and kooky "academic" thesis, including the idea that anyone who supports Israel is part of a "lobby". Just how nutty? M&W first footnote: "Indeed, the mere existence of the Lobby suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organized special interest group to bring it about." Two obvious nutty things: first that the U.S. has ever given Israel "unconditional support" [M&W explicitly reference allegedly "unconditional" U.S. support for Israel on page 6 of their paper]; and second, that the existence of a lobby for a cause has anything to do with whether the cause is in the national interest or not. Do these Harvard and Chicago professors think that policies that ARE in the national interest just get pristinely through Congress without any lobbying? Pick any policy you think IS in the national interest (including the U.S. being anti-Israel!) and I can almost guarantee there is a lobby for it.
I acknowledge that some critics of M&W have gone over-the-top in their attacks on the paper. But let's not pretend that critics of the paper are attacking them for insubstantial reasons. Some pro-Israel activists try to undermine their opposition by calling them anti-Semites, even when it's not justified. Some who are unsympathetic to Israel try to undermine their opposition by claiming that perfectly legitimate criticism of their views is the work of pro-Israel hysterics who, for example, call you an anti-Semite if you mention that AIPAC is influential. Ivins, though avowedly pro-Israel herself, has fallen for those pushing the latter line on the M&W paper.
So, from Ms. Ivins, either a retraction, or evidence that anyone criticized M&W for pointing out there is an Israel lobby is due.[Also, contrary to what Ivins implies, folks didn't pick on Mearsheimer and Walt's paper because they go around looking for obscure academic papers to attack. Rather, the paper was quickly sent around by the Palestinian Authority to contacts all over the U.S., and appeared rather quickly on anti-Semitic websites worldwide. It's not M&W's fault that, e.g., David Duke praised their paper, but it would be horribly irresponsible to let the flaws in the paper go unanswered when it's being publicized by the likes of him.]
UPDATE: Meryl Yourish has more detailed criticism of Ivins' piece.