Free Speech and the Israel Lobby

Walt and Mearsheimer (WM) in a recent interview go into some detail on the way in which non-mainstream views on Israel/Palestine (I/P) do not have a great deal of play in the corporate US press. WM contend that while US discourse on I/P is clearly not 100% pro-Israel, that the preponderance of public discussion in the corporate media is overwhelmingly pro-Israel. They go on to say that “our publication of the book (the Israel Lobby“) doesn’t contradict this…..the fact is we had trouble getting our original article published in the US.”

They mention that various of their events and media arrangements were canceled in the US. In terms of critical reviews of their book, the reviews from Europe have been uniformly positive while mainstream/corporate press reviews in the US were almost all negative: the New Republic compared WM to Osama Bin Laden and Ahmadinejad. There were even positive reviews in Israel.

WM predicted exactly such a reaction to their work because of the machinations, (not claimed to in any way to be some cohesive conspiracy) of the Israel lobby that they detail in their book, almost like plotting behavior on a curve. They were branded as being anti-Semitic similar to Jimmy Carter when he released “Peace, not Apartheid.” Whether one agrees with all the elements of their argument or not, they assert that unconditional US support of Israel has been bad for the US. Further, they think an open debate is essential and this has not occurred precisely because of the power of the “Israel lobby” in the US.

We believe there is not a lot of Anti-Semitism in the U.S. or in Europe itself. And that charge is leveled at critics of Israel like us and Jimmy Carter, because it is an effective way of marginalizing and sidelining us. We are not Anti-Semites, Jimmy Carter is not an Anti-Semite, and the vast majority of people who like our book are not Anti-Semites, in fact many of them are Jews.

In terms of getting their original article published in the US, they were commissioned by the Atlantic to write the piece but it was canceled after several rounds of drafts, no reason was given, but it was obvious to WM that it was just too hot for the magazine. Ultimately, it became clear to them that they would never get the article, on which the book was based, published in the US. Through mostly luck, they found a home for the article with the London Review of Books, which has a history of printing very critical pieces on Israeli government actions and US support of Israel.

WM also, in the Counterpunch piece, detail the actual “lobby” stifling criticism of their critique. The Chicago Council of Global Affairs canceled a scheduled event “in order to protect the institution” and they claimed, post hoc, they needed someone to represent the “other side” although those from the “other side” such as Michael Oren, a self-avowed Zionist spoke at the Council without the “other side.”

Another speaking engagement at the City University of NY also was canceled, this time without comment. A similar cancellation occurred at Google headquarters, no explanation was initially offered. WM subsequently found out that the cancellation decision was made very high up in the company and was an unprecedented event.

The principle way that the Lobby creates this image of a beleaguered Israel is by working 24-7 to shape the discourse about Israel. The Lobby not only portrays Israel as a “David” surrounded by “Goliaths,” but it also goes to great lengths to silence those who argue that the opposite is the case.

WM think it is fine that there are those advocating for the most right wing of positions regarding Israel. They think this is misguided and bad for all actors concerned, Israeli, Palestinian and US, but they don’t think such positions should not be heard. They are concerned that alternative views are being stifled by the efforts of “the lobby” which they think is bad for free speech and ultimately for the US.

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