Fifteen years ago I said in an interview that the typical American Jewish leader "is moderate in his politics, successful in his business or profession, exercises considerable restraint in criticizing the powers that be, [and] is slow in seeing anti-semitism."
In fact, while we are regularly among the first to identify and combat any sort of injustice or bigotry against other groups, many Jews are reluctant to stand up and make a fuss in our own self-defense. And so it is especially perverse when hate-mongers harboring Jewish conspiracy theories try to insulate themselves against criticism by preemptively claiming that "Jews are too sensitive" or that "Jews are too quick to cry anti-Semitism." The truth is often quite the opposite.
Has anything changed since I encouraged the Jewish community to be more assertive and to demand that it be treated with the same respect to which all Americans are entitled?
The perfect test case came last month, when the academic dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a political science professor at the University of Chicago jointly published a "working paper" that parroted virtually every conspiracy theory ever articulated against Jews. Dean Walt and Professor Mearsheimer wrote that Jews control the media and the government; that we are loyal to Israel rather than to our "host" country; and that we dupe non-Jews, against their best interests, into fighting and dying for our interest. All that was missing from the Walt-Mearsheimer screed was the "blood libel": the medieval accusation that Jews use the blood of Christian children to make Passover matzo. (They came close by asserting another blood libel - namely, that Israeli citizenship is based on "blood kinship," a claim which is demonstrably false.)
I promptly wrote a response to the Walt-Mearsheimer paper exposing the authors' shoddy scholarship, their misstatement of "facts" (which are actually well-trafficked lies), and their blatant errors in logic. I also made a point of questioning the authors' motivation for writing the article in the first place. As I wrote in the introduction:
In essence, the working paper is little more than a compilation of old, false, and authoritatively discredited charges dressed up in academic garb. The only thing new about it is the imprimatur these recycled assertions have now been given by the prominence of its authors and their institutional affiliations. As [former Ku Klux Klan leader] David Duke observed: "The Harvard report contains little new information. I and a few other American commentators have for years been making the same assertions as this new paper." It "validates every major point I [Duke] have been making." It should have been easily predictable - especially to "realists" - that their "Harvard report" would be featured, as it has been, on neo-Nazi and extremist websites, and even by terrorist organizations, and that it would be used by overt anti-Semites to "validate" their paranoid claims of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy.
For responding to Mearsheimer and Walt's false charges, I was accused by The Nation contributer and Huffington Poster Philip Weiss of being a "vigilante" and by Dissident Voice as being one of "the attack dogs of the lobby." So much for the marketplace of ideas! Free speech for me but not for thee!
Though I have issued an open invitation to Walt and Mearsheimer to debate me, both on the merits of their article and on their motivation, neither has taken me up on my challenge. In fact, as soon as their article appeared, Walt and Mearsheimer hid themselves away and refused to speak on the record. A rare published interview response came out just this past Monday in the Irish Times, and it offers a revealing look into their article's sourcing.
Mearsheimer is quoted in the article as saying, "as for David Duke, we have no control over who reads our work but I can say that both of us abhor and condemn what Duke stands for." Fair enough. It is understandable that he would want to disassociate himself from the former Klan member. But immediately after the Duke quotation comes Norman Finkelstein, who says, "There is credible evidence for the claim that the Iraq war was a Jewish war." He then suggests that "the evidence is superficial but, nonetheless, there is evidence for it." It is his conclusion, therefore, that is most revealing: "So if, as the situation gets worse in Iraq, if Jews are scapegoated, it is in part a disaster of their own making."
Mearsheimer cannot disavow Finkelstein the way he did Duke, because he approvingly cited Finkelstein three times in his article. Let's look more closely, then, at precisely what it is Finkelstein said, in order to see the sort of worldview that Walt and Mearsheimer endorsed in their article by relying on Finkelstein and his ilk.
First, Finkelstein does not say "Israel war," but rather, he says "Jewish war." And he does not say that Israeli or Zionists are scapegoated; it is "Jews" who are scapegoated." Finkelstein is very explicitly talking about Jews. He cannot claim - as he often tries to do - that his overt anti-Zionism is being confused with anti-Semitism. Second, Finkelstein's claim that "there is credible evidence that the Iraq war was a Jewish war" is easily falsifiable. As even Walt and Mearsheimer acknowledge in their paper, Jews were "less supportive of the Iraq war than the population at large." How could this be a "Jewish war" if so many Jews were opposed to it? Moreover, many of those opposed to the war in Iraq - like me - are supporters of Israel and, according to Mearsheimer and Walt, members of "the Lobby." Finally, notice the way Finkelstein blames Jews for provoking anti-Semites into their bigotry. Finkelstein implicitly acknowledges that the Walt-Mearsheimer paper is a form of scapegoating, but instead of condemning scapegoating as a pernicious form of hate, Finkelstein says it is the Jews fault that they are scapegoated! This is bigotry plain and simple, and it is a favored claim of neo-Nazis and reactionary white supremacists such as David Duke. They recognize that lots of people hate Jews, but they blame it on the victim, just as Hitler did.
Nor is this the first time Finkelstein has blamed anti-Semitism on the Jews. Mearsheimer was on notice that Finkelstein regularly blames Jews for anti-Semitism, as he did in a Tikkun Magazine article last year, and in the very book to which Mearsheimer cites, in which one of Finkelstein's major theses is that "[a]longside Israel, [American Jewish elites] are the main fomenters of anti-Semitism in the world today....They need to be stopped."
So far the response to the Walt-Mearsheimer paper has been encouraging. Many prominent professors and writers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, have spoken out strongly against Walt and Mearsheimers false and conspiratorial account of Jews in America. Nearly every major newspaper and political magazine in the country has published condemnations. I compile and quote from many of these sources in my response paper. More recently, Professor Eliot Cohen addressed the anti-Semitism issue head-on in The Washington Post:
Inept, even kooky academic work, then, but is it anti-Semitic? If by anti-Semitism one means obsessive and irrationally hostile beliefs about Jews; if one accuses them of disloyalty, subversion or treachery, of having occult powers and of participating in secret combinations that manipulate institutions and governments; if one systematically selects everything unfair, ugly or wrong about Jews as individuals or a group and equally systematically suppresses any exculpatory information -- why, yes, this paper is anti-Semitic.
I am proud of the way the Jewish community has responded to the Walt-Mearsheimer paper. Jews should not be ashamed to stand up for themselves and decry the sort of people who would blame all their own problems, or all of America's problems, on Jewish "power," "influence," and "manipulation." Those attitudes are indisputably anti-Semitic. It is doubly anti-Semitic to justify this sort of Jewish scapegoating by saying that it is "of [the Jews] own making."
I continue to issue my challenge to my colleague, Dean Walt, "to look me in the eye and tell me that because I am a proud Jew and a critical supporter of Israel, I am disloyal to my country."
Alan Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. His latest book is Preemption: A Knife that Cuts Both Ways (Norton, 2006).