Commentary – November 2007
Books in Review
The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy
By John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt
Review by Bret Stephens
Excerpts by HKO
What their collective labors have demonstrated beyond any doubt is that behind the authors’ conclusions lies a farrago of shoddy or non-existent scholarship and rank intellectual dishonesty.
For example: writing on Israel’s allegedly systematic violations of human rights and its “dwindling moral case” for American sympathy, Mearsheimer and Walt assert that, in the Six-Day War of 1967, Israeli soldiers murdered “hundreds of Egyptian prisoners of war.” The claim is made en passant, asserted casually as an uncontroversial fact. In a footnote, an Israeli journalist named Gaby Bron is cited as the main source.
Years ago, however, the same Gaby Bron, who had been a soldier in the 1967 war, told the historian Michael Oren that the story of this alleged massacre was completely false. “The 150 POW’s were not shot and there were no mass murders,” said Bron. “In fact, we helped the prisoners, gave them water, and in most cases just sent them in the direction of the Suez Canal.”
One charge of atrocity, one fallacious footnote to support it. Now consider the challenge for a reader or reviewer who must wade through not just ‘The Israel Lobby’s’ 355 pages of text but its no fewer than 1,399 footnotes, many of which contain references to multiple sources. The opportunities for intellectual mischief are staggering, and Mearsheimer and Walt rarely miss a chance to take them.
Amid the blizzard of detail, however, one thing stands out: the complete absence of original scholarship. Scarcely any primary source material cited; no first hand interviews; no hint that either Mearsheimer or Walt ever bothered to visit Israel during the course of their researches or so much as spoke to actual member of the “lobby” against which they level heavy charges of working at cross-purposes with vital U.S. interests.
How many readers will notice this travesty of academic standards?
Mearsheimer and Walt note that Sayyid Qutb, the spiritual godfather of Al Qaeda, was hostile to the United States because he saw it as a corrupt and licentious society and also because of US support for Israel. Leave aside the inconvenient fact that Qutb was executed by Nasser in 1966, before the U.S. became Israel’s primary patron.
Like so many anti Semites from intellectual and academic corners, they too are subject to believing what they want to believe and filtering facts to self justify preordained conclusions. The author noted that their rage at the “mayhem being committed in the Middle East” and the president they deemed responsible may explain why they “lost their sense of balance and slipped into conspiracy-mongering.”
Still this does not excuse the shoddy research and pathetic misinformation from two noted academics. They and the institutions they represent should be ashamed.