05/01/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Stephen Walt: Kramer Is Monstrous But Didn't Advocate Genocide!

Ali Abunimah and I really have put Martin Kramer on the map. Not exactly prominent before, today any Google search of the man produces hundreds of results on "Kramer" and "genocide." Good. His words should follow him for the rest of his career and particularly now as he assumes the Presidency of the first neocon liberal arts college in the history of mankind (financed, in part, by right wing Republican, union-busting casino billionaire, Sheldon Adelson). Imagine a whole college designed to produce young Marty Kramers, Daniel Pipeses and Steven Rosens!

When Ali and I (working separately) came across Martin Kramer's six minute speech advocating population suppression to reduce the number of ""surplus [Palestinian] men" we both thought it was a pretty clear case of calling for something tantamount to genocide.

But now Stephen Walt, one of the two authors of the historic "The Israel Lobby" writes that he isn't sure about that. Here is his "defense" of Kramer.

First, although a good case can be made that Kramer's remarks were tantamount to advocating genocide, I would not use that word to characterize them. The 1948 U.N. definition of genocide does include "imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group," and Kramer's call for an end to 'pro-natal subsidies" is very close to that part of the definition. But despite my respect for Abunimah and Rosenberg, I think the word "genocide" has become a loaded term that gets tossed around too loosely, which makes it easy for Kramer and his defenders to portray legitimate criticism of his extreme views as over the top.

What word you use to describe his comments is actually not that important, because their substance is so offensive to any decent person that you don't need to worry much about getting the right label for them. To illustrate this point, just imagine how Kramer would react if the Iranian government announced that it was worried its Jewish population (some 40,000 or so) was a potential "fifth column," and that it was therefore imposing measures intended to discourage Iranian Jews from having more children? Or what if a prominent academic at Harvard declared that the United States had to make food scarcer for Hispanics so that they would have fewer children? Or what if someone at a prominent think tank noted that black Americans have higher crime rates than some other groups, and therefore it made good sense to put an end to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and other welfare programs, because that would discourage African-Americans from reproducing and thus constitute an effective anti-crime program? Americans of all persuasions would appropriately denounce such views as barbaric and racist, and that's precisely how Kramer's chilling remarks should be viewed.

Walt's case is good, but not good enough for me to retreat from the term that I think is apt.

But here is the best part of Walt's response. Kramer is pretty much an academic nobody while Stephen Walt is chairman of Harvard's Political Science. He has also been demonized, libelled and attacked by the Martin Kramer/Daniel Pipes/David Horowitz axis that tends to demand the firing of anyone who deviates from the AIPAC line. They are McCarthyists.

Not Walt.

I take the issue of academic freedom very seriously and believe that the principle applies to Kramer, even though I found his remarks appalling. Thus, I believe that the Weatherhead administrators were correct in deflecting calls to dismiss him. (Some of you may recall that I thought that the head of Ben Gurion University of the Negev was wrong when she tried to censure Professor Neve Gordon, who is on her faculty and who called for a boycott of Israel. By the same logic, it would be wrong for Harvard officials to cut off Kramer because they disagreed with what he said or even found it offensive.)

But notice that the Weatherhead directors did not quite "refrain from passing judgment" on what Kramer said. The appropriate stance to adopt whenever a faculty member or affiliated researcher takes a controversial or unpopular position is strict neutrality; the institution, or its official representatives, should take no position at all about the validity of the person's views. Therefore, they should have defended Kramer's right to say what he did but refrained from commenting on whether the accusations against him were "baseless" or not.

It is also more than a little ironic that Kramer and his defenders are using the principle of "academic freedom" as a means of defense, given Kramer's past efforts to bring external pressure to bear on academics who made arguments about the Middle East that he found objectionable.

Third, the principle of academic freedom does not prevent scholars from challenging Kramer's racist ideas, and pointing out just how offensive they are. Nor does it prevent any of us -- and that includes academic administrators -- from questioning Kramer's judgment on matters relating to U.S. Middle East policy or from questioning the judgment of anyone who thought that having him affiliate with Harvard was a good idea.

One final point. It is important to emphasize that many Israelis and most American Jews would undoubtedly find Kramer's views offensive. At the same, however, he is hardly an isolated extremist, or some messianic settler sitting in a trailer in an illegal outpost in the West Bank. On the contrary, he is an especially well-connected individual, with appointments at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and of course Harvard. Moreover, he is not the only Israeli who has expressed such hateful views about the Palestinians. Of course, one can find equally hateful sentiments about Israeli Jews coming from Palestinians and Arabs. But the key difference is that they don't hold appointments at prestigious institutions like Harvard.

There you have it. Among the many differences between Stephen Walt and Martin Kramer is that one believes in academic freedom and one doesn't. The other is that Walt is a mensch and Kramer is a schleimeil. If Walt wasn't a mensch, Kramer would be selling pencils in Harvard Square. Me, I'm no mensch. I'd fire him.