As someone who has been highly critical of Mearsheimer and Walt (authors of the infamous "Israel Lobby") paper, but who gave them more of the benefit of the doubt than some of their critics (you can find some of my previous posts on them here), my eyebrows were raised when I saw that they had agreed to speak at a forum sponsored by the venomously anti-Israel and pro-Islamicist Council on American-Islamic Relations [update: irony alert: criticizing the "Israel lobby" for acting contrary to American interests before a group that, at the very least acts as an apologist forIslamicist terrorism]. After all, M & W had piously refused to debate their thesis with academics who pointed out flaws in their methodology, errors in their facts, and their use of highly tendentious sources. Mearsheimer, moreover, told the Forward that
"I don't have an agenda in the sense of viewing myself as proselytizing or trying to sell this," Mearsheimer told the Forward. "I am a scholar, not an activist, and I am reticent to take questions from the media because I do believe that this is a subject that has to be approached very carefully."
This is a bit difficult to square with his performance at CAIR, as reported by Dana Milbank in the Washington Post, (hat tip: Instapundit) which includes this gem: Before leaving for an interview with al-Jazeera, Mearsheimer accepted a button proclaiming "Walt & Mearsheimer Rock. Fight the Israel Lobby." "I like it," he said, beaming.
Milbank detected an anti-Semitic flavor to their remarks, but having not been there, I'll just pass his impression along without comment.
In any event, far from maintaining their posture as "objective" scholars, which would, for example, entail actually responding to academic criticism of their work, M & W seem well on their way to joining the Norman Finkelstein school of professional (and disreputable) critics of Israel.
Meanwhile, an interview published in Mother Jones in July provides further evidence of how infinitely malleable, and ultimately weak, M & W's thesis is. Mearsheimer says, "Regarding Iraq, we argue that the lobby—and here we are talking mainly about the neoconservatives—was pushing hard for a war against Iraq from early 1998 on." Putting aside the accurcay of this statement (my own strong recollection is that push for "regime change" in Iraq among conservatives, neo and otherwise, dated back to Saddam's invasion of Kuwait), Mearsheimer apparently thinks that "the lobby" can be used interchangeably with "neoconservatives," even though, by any measure, neoconservatives are only a tiny portion of Israel's U.S. supporters, and their agenda of international democratization, by force if necessary, is far, far broader than anything narrowly pro-Israel. By M & W's logic, apparently any foreign policy position taken by any group or indvidual that is pro-Israel can be considered an action by the nefarious Israel lobby. Liberal Jewish organizations coming out against genocide in Bosnia or Sudan? Ignore them, just part of the Israel lobby. An evangelical Christian organization protests against persecution of Christians in Muslim countries? Israel lobby. And so on. In case you wonder why there has been such a firestorm over the M & W paper there's a significant part of it; if their thesis is accepted, anyone who is pro-Israel is going to have their views on any issue even tangentially related to Israel dismissed as yet more shilling for Israel.
UPDATE: Here's a transcript of the CAIR event. I withdraw the comparison to Finkelstein; M & W aren't that bad. On the other hand, they continue to assert that the war in Iraq was a neoconservative plot, and as such, a plot of the "Israel lobby", subject to the same obvious criticisms I note above. Mearsheimer also manages to discuss what he considers excessive U.S. support for Israel in the Lebanon war without ever mentioning that Hezbollah has killed more Americans than any other terrorist group other than Al Qaeda, that Hez's sponsors Syria and Iran are causing the U.S. all sorts of trouble in Iraq, that Hez has played a large role in destabilizing relatively pro-U.S. forces in the Palestinian territories, and that Hez is the mortal enemy of relatively pro-American forces in Lebanon. Why wouldn't the U.S. want Israel to utterly defeat Hezbollah?