Thursday, 12 June 2008

'Israel Lobby' Professors Get Hospitable Greeting in Israel

June 12, 2008

Jerusalem — The first appearance in Israel by Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer since the publication of their controversial book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, impressed a largely student audience at the Hebrew University, but left some faculty members wondering about their honesty.

A threatened boycott failed to have any effect, and the talk passed off with nothing more dramatic than some lively debate and repeated declarations from the pair that they are neither anti-Semitic nor Israel-haters.

Their presentation, "Is the 'Israel lobby' good for Israel?," attracted 200 people. Mr. Walt told The Chronicle that they were visiting Israel at the invitation of the veteran left-wing campaigner Uri Avnery and decided to add a university appearance to their schedule.

Mr. Walt is a professor of international relations at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Mr. Mearsheimer is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago.

Their work has been criticized as anti-Jewish and intellectually dishonest, charges that led some to call for the lecture to be canceled.

"Any discussion of the Israel lobby takes place in the shadow of centuries of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish conspiracy theories," said Mr. Walt. "John and I reject any one of those anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The Israel lobby is a normal U.S. interest group. There's no conspiracy, no cabal, no secret plot here."

Robert Wistrich, a professor of modern European history and director of the university's Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Anti-Semitism, said he was willing to assume that they are not anti-Semitic.

"I don't think that's the point, though," he said. "Those who object to their kind of discourse about the lobby are right to point out that in a very attenuated and benign form, with all the academic qualifications they make, it is uncomfortably reminiscent of very familiar arguments that clearly were anti-Semitic in the past. Some of it is disingenuous. It's a kind of cover." —Matthew Kalman

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