Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Cigar Store Indian and the Israel Lobby














The Liberty & Power blog on the History News Network
had an interesting discussion on the Mearsheimer & Walt piece on the Israel Lobyy. These comments by Aster Francesca caught my attention:
I don't trust M&W at all.
This piece presents all the classic elements of anti-semetic conspiracy theory- Jews with vast financial power secretively manipulating 'our' society. Now, there's nothing in the article which is prima facie anti-semitic and M&W scrupulously just lay out a factual case which just *happens* to coincide with the world as viewed according to the hoariest old hatreds and stereotypes.
What makes me very suspicious of the authors is that they must know this, and yet write their piece in the cute, dissembling dispassion of academic postivism as if they are totally oblivious to the cultural resonance of their theory. They give a few 'we are not antisemitic' statements, scrupulously portray their concepts and generalisations as particular, contingent, and historical, and warranted by fact... all the while talking about the 'unique' influence 'the Lobby' (always capitalised) has to override American national interest. I don't have the knowledge to refute their technical case, and as Chomsky and others have said, it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand as anti-semetic. But M&W's prim neautrality macks to me of the dog that didn't bark.
M&W may or may not be antisemites, but the fact that their conclusions do converge with those of neo-Nazis and they write as if they don't know it makes me very, very suspicious.
At the very least, it takes incredible chutzpah and callousness to publish an article so coincident with historic antisemitism without making a firm, clear, impassioned, and *substantial* stance to disassociate oneself from this history, and making some effort to show some awareness of the potential harm publishing something like this can cause. Yes, one should present uncomfortable truths- but if one finds oneself in a position where what one believes to be true causes discomfort because your ideas closely resemble others *meant* to cause hatred and suffering, then you have some explaining and self-examination to do. The fact that M&W make no such examination suggest to me either on obnoxious sense of entitlement (as Gayle Rubin said, ignorance of what your words mean to others is a characteristic privilege of power) or real malice carefully squeakily cleaned up for public presentation.
Either way, I don't trust anyone who plays a game while pretending they don't have an angle on it. M&W may not be bigots, but this is precisely the way classy, intelligent bigots with a reputation to lose *would* write and *do* write. They could have taken a serious effort to make their piece useless to real bigots- and there are still a great number of those behind closed doors. Why didn't they?

So let's see... We shouldn't criticize affirmative action because racists like David Duke do that also? Or we shouldn't be bashing multilingual education because that's something that anti-Hispanics do? And we shouldn't show pics of black or brown rapists on the evening-news because that "*happens* to coincide with the world as viewed according to the hoariest old hatreds and stereotypes." It all reminds me of the Cigar Store Indianepisode on the "Seinfeld" televsion show, where Elaine's Native American friend, Winona, is dating Jerry. Jerry is very interested in her but keeps finding himself offending her unintentianally all the time. When they go out on a date, he finds it hard not to blurt out words like "scalper," "reservation," and "Indian giver."
And btw, historians: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was published many, many years before the State of Israel -- and the Israel Lobby -- were established and when Jews in the West had almost no political power (as Jews). Hence to compare the "Protocols" to criticism of Israel and the Israel Lobby -- two powerful political entities -- is silly and misleading.

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