The NYT Confronts Mearsheimer and Walt–Not Quite Head On
I’ve been a political activist for 54 years. During that time I’ve had plenty of chances to do stupid things and I’ve taken full advantage of the opportunities. But I’ve developed only one perversion: I not only read New York Times editorials, I collect them.
One thing is for certain. John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy" has made the big time. It’s been discussed in the Times, read by the city’s intellectuals and many others worldwide via its website, which 1.9 million individuals hit daily.
‘Out of town’ born residents may have wondered why "Essay Stirs Debate About Influence of a Jewish Lobby" was placed in the paper’s 4/12 Metro section, reserved for stories about corruption trials of Brooklyn Democrats. But, while Jews are only ca. 2% of Americans, there is nothing more local than an attack on Zionism in a city where 8% of the total population, and 30% of all whites, are Jews.
Alan Finder told us that other "opinion journals" attacked the professors, "part of a group of foreign policy analysts, known as realists, who believe that international politics is fundamentally about the pursuit of power," as anti-Semitic. But he took no position on the contents of their critique.
The Times hasn’t taken a stand on the merits of their arguments for two reasons: Its record on Jewish issues before the creation of Israel in 1948 was shameful and got worse afterwards. A former executive editor spoke for it in the 11/14/01 issue. It’s willful blindness to the holocaust was "surely the century’s bitterest journalistic failure."
Forbes Magazine laughingly calls itself a "capitalist tool," but today’s Times is convinced that it is capitalism’s official organ. Indeed if control still rests tightly in the hands of the Ochs and Sulzberger families, publishers since 1896, now worth well over half a billion dollars, a former Federal Communications Commission Chair is on its board of directors and Bear Stern Securities, Brown Brothers Harriman, Charles Schwalb, Citibank, Goldman, Sachs & Co., JP Morgan Chase Bank and Merill Lynch are major stockholders.
Originally from Germany, the Ochs and Sulzbergers started as members of the "Reform" Jewish sect, which preached Tory American patriotism. When the Times defended Atlanta Jew Leo Frank, lynched in 1916 after false rape and murder charges, death threats put Adolph Ochs under "neurological" treatment. He recovered, but thereafter it deliberately fled from fights against anti-Semitism and spiraled right. In 1922 it hailed Mussolini’s Fascism as "the most interesting governmental experiment of the day …. We should all be glad that he is going at it vigorously."
Of course, when Hitler came to power in 1933, even it admitted to "qualms which the news from Berlin must cause to all friends of Germany." But
"It is announced that the national finances will be kept in strong and conservative hands …. There is thus no warrant for immediate alarm. It may be that we shall see the ‘tamed Hitler’ of whom some Germans are hopefully speaking. Always we may look for some such transformation when a radical or demagogue fights his way into responsible office."
Tame Hitler quickly vanished from editorials. But wherever possible the paper evaded dealing with Nazi anti-Semitism. By 1942 it buried Washington’s 1st announcement of the Holocaust on page 10.
Of course the present publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr., bears no responsibility for his kin’s Hitler era infamies. But he knows that if the Times prints an editorial word in favor of any Mearsheimer/Walt thesis, Zionists would fight back, exposing its morbid role in the Hitler era. That can’t do it any good. But there is a more important reason why it can’t accept their line.
The Ochs and Sulzbergers privately dismissed pre-state Zionism as utopian and sectarian, raising questions as to Jews’ loyalty to the US. In 1946, Arthur Hays Sulzberger gave a synagogue speech denouncing Zionist attacks on calls for liberalizing America’s immigration laws, passed in 1924 to keep down the number of Catholic and Jewish immigrants. These Zionists wanted Jews in Displaced Persons camps in Germany to have no choice but to go to Palestine. They retaliated by getting the city’s Jewish department stores to pull ads from the paper.
Zionism was an offstage noise in 1933-39 Jewish New York. The important political players were the reformist socialists who led the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. They quit the Socialist Party to support Roosevelt. Their major rival were the Communist Party’s Jews. Both despised Zionism for seeking charity donations from Jewish capitalists who should have given the money to their Jewish and other workers. They condemned the World Zionist Organization for its "Transfer" Agreement with Hitler. To get Jewish money out of Germany, the WZO sold Nazi goods in the Middle East and shipped it oranges to Europe via Nazi boats. But the holocaust stunned them. Both left elements regressed into nationalism.
Most capitalists mobilized by the Zionists had shared the broad community indifference to Zionism. Most knew little to nothing about Zionism’s Hitler era record. But the slaughter had the same effect on them as on 90% of the Jews, who suddenly supported the creation of a Jewish state as a refuge for survivors.
Then Joseph Stalin decided to back Israel’s creation. The cold war on, he wanted the British out of the Middle East. He reasoned that if the Zionists ran them out of Palestine, London’s Arab puppets would finally start kicking them out of the region. Stalin’s line allowed the CPUSA’s ranks to do what they wanted to do, and the emotional wave generated by this singular cross-class unity inundated the Times. Thousands of Jews joined hundreds of young Communists, Jew and gentile, black and white, in dancing the hora, the Israeli folk dance, around the Times Tower as its electric sign announced the creation of Israel and its recognition by Stalin and the US.
Sulzberger surrendered. The 5/16/48 editorial after Israel’s independence declaration even insisted that "The decision by the Government of the United States to recognize Israel calls logically for a corollary decision by the same Government to lift its present arms embargo."
Support for US taxpayers arming Israel to the teeth remains unquestioned dogma, even though Sulzberger is aware of Zionist bigotry. His assimilationist father married a Christian and she raised him. In 1969 he visited Israel. "The Family," a 4/19/99 New Yorker article, told of his
"challenging a senior official of the Israeli government who suggested that, no matter what happened in the world, everyone around the table would always have a homeland in Israel. ‘Excuse me, but I’m an Episcopalian! Is this still my country?’ Arthur, Jr. said loudly. Thirty years later, he continues to regard the Israeli’s comment as racist."
Can we reasonably hypothesize that Sulzberger sees much of what we see, whatever Times editorials say and don’t say? Lefts and Zionists argue with Mearsheimer and Walt re the degree of pro-Zionist neo-con responsibility for the Iraq invasion, but no one doubts that the lobby played a major role in building public support for what the paper now knows is a disastrous war, won or lost. However Sulzberger’s national Democratic electoral commitment makes it very difficult for his paper to editorially denounce the lobby.
The Democrats are more crucially dependent on Zionist campaign contributions than the Republicans. If the paper put the lobby under a critical editorial microscope, they would still hustle rich Zionists for bucks. And it knows it can’t go over to McCain or any ‘moderate’ national Republican candidate and hold the allegiance of its educated readers, who cynically see the Democrats as lesser evils, domestically, or share its support for them as rational imperialists.
Unfortunately for the Times, sooner or later it will have to take an editorial position on the lobby. It can’t evade what is being discussed in its pages. As soon as Finder’s reportage appeared, the Council for the National Interest put an ad in its 4/16 issue:
"What happens in Palestine deeply influences what will happen in Iraq and in the war on terror. As a recent study by professors at Harvard and the University of Chicago concludes, ‘Saying that Israel and the United States are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: rather the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around.’"
Paul Findley of CNI was driven out of Congress by the lobby when he questioned US ties to Israel. We have met. His anti-Zionism started from conservative premises similar to Mearsheimer/Walt but he is now genuinely devoted to justice for the Palestinians.
The issue got hotter with a 4/19 op-ed by Tony Judt, an ex-editor of the New Republic who broke with Zionism in 2003:
"Is Israel, in Mearsheimer/Walt’s words, ‘a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states?’ I think it is, but that too is an issue for legitimate debate."
Judt gave us the classic right-wing argument against concern that anti-Semites cheer on Mearsheimer/Walt.
"The damage that is done by America’s fear of anti-Semitism when discussing Israel is …. bad for Israel: by guaranteeing it unconditional support, Americans encourage Israel to act heedless of consequences."
Dialectically, the Times’ dilemma also exposes Mearsheimer/Walt’s and Judt’s contradictions. In the tale, the mice decided that if the cat had a bell around its neck, they would hear it and hide. Unfortunately, they had no answer to an old mouse’s "But how do you bell the cat?" Mearsheimer and Walt were cofounders of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. Its prime organizers were Cato Institute conservatives with 1980s Democratic presidential wannabe Gary Hart providing ‘center’ cover. To all observers’ amazement, they proclaimed to be "united by our opposition to an American empire."
They claim a ‘libertarian’ vision of what American capitalism should be like. The US is on top of the world economically. It should relax. Constantly expanding militarily imperialism is too statist for them. They want someone in capitalist Washington to make Israel ‘make nice’ to the Palestinians so that rich Muslims can make nice to America. But who do they think is going to do this? Bush? Rebellious Republicans? The Democrats?
The Democrats and Republicans have been imperialists since before the Spanish-American war. Opposing Bush and neo-con imperialism but not opposing both parties isn’t anti-imperialism. De facto it’s a call for a new emperor with smarter advisers, i.e., themselves. Sociologist C. Wright Mills encountered their type in academia during the Vietnam war. ‘We have to be realistic’ was the pro-war professors’ national anthem as they and Washington marched to defeat. His "crackpot realist" description of them perfectly fits Mearsheimer and Walt.
Judt broke with Zionism but he also has realpolitik concerns for "the imperial might and international reputation of the United States." Alas, Washington has "chosen to lose touch with the rest of the international community on this issue."
Bush and the neo-cons are so close-linked that its hard to envision a scenario where he breaks with them and retains credibility with anyone. Some Republicans are beginning to wonder where he is leading them. However its his ties to Islamic fanatics, not his hyper-Zionism or Christian zealotry, that upset most of them. Rank and file Republicans were scandalized by pictures of two happy guys, Bush and Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, holding hands at the ranch. Then Bush’s Iraqi Shia clients responded to Sunni terror with their own. Then came the Afghan Abdur Rahman infamy.
Bush was ahead there. Al-Qaada and the Taliban were on the run. Suddenly his native satraps’ prosecution of a Christian convert outraged them. They can’t justify Christian military dying to establish ‘friendly’ Islamic states with laws calling for executing converts to their religion. Their critique of Bush has little in common with the profs’ or Judt’s.
That leaves conservative anti-Zionists with the Democrats, exactly as with the Times. Except that Hillary Clinton still stands by her vote for funding the invasion. And now she constantly makes the rounds of New York’s sex-segregated Orthodox synagogues, seeking support from rabbis and male congregants who begin every day with a prayer to God: "Thank you for making me a man, not a woman."
The 1/11/06 Village Voice described her ties to Brooklyn State Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Zionism’s David Duke. The Klansman mainstreamed into the Republicans. Hikind went from Meir Kahane’s Jewish Defense League, listed by the US and Israel as terrorists, to the Democrats. He is against giving even an inch of the West Bank back to the Palestinians. He opposed her 2000 campaign until she went to him. Now he’s in and out of her office. "’Are you going to endorse Hillary Clinton?’…. Hikind said yes, stressing how great a friend she is."
THE GREAT PROTESTANT CRUSADER
The Zionist response to the profs started with ‘Duke praises Mearsheimer and Walt.’ That didn’t work. So Martin Peretz pointed out, in the 4/10 New Republic, that their working paper is nearly 35,000 words, with 210 footnotes, yet
"The word ‘oil,’ however, appears in the document exactly seven times — all of them generic or trivial. None of the references relate to the systematic U.S. dependence on foreign crude or … to the truly powerful lobby that has worked for many decades to satisfy it through arranging that the producer governments get what they want: mainly protection against radical Muslims."
That a denunciation of the Zionists around Bush has gotten so much media attention is certain evidence that Bush has lost his home-front. But Zionists insisting that the US truthfully is the Marxists’ oil-greedy imperialist ogre, is just as sure a sign that Israel is likewise losing the propaganda war here. Un fortunately neither realists nor Zionists completely describe the Bush/neo-con relationship that produced the Iraq debacle.
Modern history is full of governments rushing into disastrous wars. However we have to go back to Portugal’s 1578 invasion of Morocco for the closest analog to Bush invading Iraq. King Sebastian was three when he came to the throne. Educated by fanatic Jesuits, he grew up with a passion for a crusade against Morocco. Advisors inherited from his father opposed him. Portugal had a lot on its hands in Brazil and the East Indies. But the more they argued against it, the more he surrounded himself with mad monks who thought a crusade was a terrific idea.
Sebastian and 40,000 troops sailed away. Six, not 6,000, came back, none named Sebastian. The kingdom collapsed. In 1580 Spain marched in. Portugal literally disappeared from the map until 1640 when a nobles’ revolt regained independence. The Jesuits and monks were Sebastian’s neo-cons. Without them, no crusade. But he was king. He went to war, not them. If he wasn’t crazy, he would have listened to dad’s staff.
"Over-determined" is the historians’ term for such phenomena. The neo-cons are Bush’s monks. But he was President. If he wasn’t as demented as Sebastian he wouldn’t have listen to them.
It is also possible to blame oil imperialism for Iraq and apparently explain it. And Bush does have God’s unlisted phone number and chats with him at least once a day. Each theory seems to cover the facts. But neither oil, the lobby nor born-again fanaticism, alone, explain our Sebastian. He is simultaneously ex-governor of the epicenter of America’s oil industry and a Jesus freak who surrounds himself with Jewish nationalists. Yet, when he got up after 9/11 to announce a "crusade" against Al-Qaada, Jesus, the oil industry and the Zionists were equally stunned when he used the worst possible word under those circumstances.
‘MONEY DOESN’T JUST TALK. IT SHOUTS!
Naturally the lobby had to respond to the Times’ discussion of itself with 4/22 letters. Seymour Reich of the Israel Policy Forum insisted that Washington is only pro-Zionist because, "beginning with President Harry S. Truman’s, every American administration has viewed Israel as an important strategic ally."
Except that we know, from his daughter, Margaret, exactly why he backed creation of a Zionist state. In her book, Harry S. Truman, she describes how
"More than once, the Palestine question was put to Dad in terms of American politics. At a cabinet luncheon on October 6, 1947, Bob Hannegan almost made a speech, pointing out how many Jews were major contributors to the Democratic Party’s campaign fund and were expecting the United States to support the Zionists’ position on Palestine."
Reich invented Truman viewing Israel as an important Middle Eastern ally. His State Department had pointed out that, strategically, it was the Arabs who had the oil. But Hannegan was Truman’s Postmaster General. In those good ol’ days, that meant Graftmaster General. He convinced Truman that unless these newly agitated Jewish rich funded him, he would lose the 1948 election. Like Richard Wagner presenting lead-motives in overtures to his operas and then dramatically repeating them throughout the shows, from that day to this, pandering to rich Zionists for campaign money is the 1st consideration in the Democratic Party’s "strategic" thinking concerning the Middle East.
Later, after Israel pulverized the Arab armies in 1967, Washington realized that those armies would fold if the Soviets invaded the Middle East. From then until the collapse of the Soviet Union, Israel was a standby military ally. But this didn’t negate the party’s central concern re campaign funding.
Naturally Mearsheimer and Walt point to this. Jews "make large campaign donations to candidates from both parties. The Washington Post once estimated that Democratic presidential candidates ‘depend on Jewish supporters to supply as much as 60 percent of the money.’" But they present no notion of how to stop this. As old-cons, they don’t call for abolition of private election funding.
This is a basic difference between "realism" and leftism. But this is also the core distinction between the Times and radicalism. In 1999, New York’s other Senator, Charles Schumer, made a Senate speech:
"We have a tremendously serious problem. We have a poison that is in the roots of this great tree of democracy…. That poison is cynicism. That poison is a view of the average citizen, rightly or wrongly — and in many cases, it is right — that the average person doesn’t have the influence of a person or a company or a group of great wealth…. [I]f we can no longer have the citizens believe, when this body debates an issue, that the debates are being divided by firmly held beliefs rather than by who is manipulating, controlling, or contributing to whom, then we can’t survive as a democracy. That fatal distance between people and their government will get larger and larger and larger."
With readers sharply aware of local and national corruption, Times chief editorialist Gail Collins constantly takes up reform. On 5/6, she warned us yet again re congress: "There’s also no reason to believe that the average lawmaker has any real intention of following even the extremely modest ethics improvements that do make it into law."
But she never mentions Zionist contributions. These aren’t a state secret. Major pro-Zionist ‘Jewish community’ journals, Forward and Jewish Week, run detailed accounts of them. Jews are only two percent of Americans. Zionists admit that they are an ever shrinking minority of that two percent, and the rich who put money into the hacks’ pockets are a minority among Zionists. How serious can the Times be about campaign reform if it never editorially confronts this egregious example of a moneyed minority of a minority of a minority corrupting both parties?
Indeed, this is in keeping with Times general hypocrisy about money in politics. For all of Collins’ wearisome sarcasm re politicians, at election time the Times lists the local Democrats and occasional Republicans it wants readers to vote for. The winners among them are a huge percentage of those crooked average lawmakers Collins whines about.
The wide discussion of Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s policy paper, including the gingerly Times take, tells us that most pro-capitalist intellectuals see Bush in deepening trouble throughout the Middle East. So they debate who to blame for getting us into these wars, without making the slightest effort to build a movement to get the US out of them.
Still, we thank the profs, Zionists and the Times. The academics succeeded in mainstreaming critical discussion of the lobby. But their approach is so narrow that it almost forced Zionists to respond by shouting about how, well and truly, the US is imperialist. And the Times’ failure to editorially draw even one conclusion from a discussion in its own pages, much less call for a new policy towards Zionism, focuses us on cleaning up the antiwar movement’s own act.
We have yet to set up an educational program, giving a rounded explanation of Washington’s wars, clearly identifying the sins, crimes and follies of all the players on the stage, foreign and domestic. With that in place, we can organize Americans to defeat the bipartisan demagogues and imperialists in the streets and electorally, once and for all and forever.
LENNI BRENNER is the editor of Jefferson & Madison on Separation of Church and State: Writings on Religion and Secularism and a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He also edited 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis. He can be reached at BrennerL21@aol.com.