John Mearsheimer, political science professor at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, academic dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, seem to be conventional academic alpha males. These kinds of figures don't subject themselves lightly to loud, well-organized denunciations by advocacy groups. Former President Jimmy Carter opened the way by publishing Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Mearsheimer and Walt followed with an article in the London Review of Books, a response to critics, and now a book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Last night the two authors spoke at a meeting in Berkeley co-sponsored by Codys Books and Tikkun.
These two are not peddling anything very radical. Here is some of what they said, from my notes; quotation marks indicate I wrote down the words verbatim.
Since this talk was in Berkeley, several questions came at these authors from the left: just what are U.S. "national interests" and are those the same as the worlds peoples' interests? M&W were quite clear on what they consider "U.S. national interests."
When challenged about why Israel and India, countries which never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, should be treated as good guys, while Iran which did sign and has not been proven to be in violation is a pariah, they allowed as how the United States was indeed inconsistent about nuclear weapons.
These are not radicals or even liberals -- yet they have crossed a line and are getting the full pushback reserved for people the Israel lobby designates as enemies.
And these pressures reach down to the local level. I've worked for politicians running for offices no more genuinely important than dog catcher -- and to a man or woman, they believed that they must never utter the slightest question about Israel's virtue even privately or they would be opposed by influential people in their communities who made it their business to police the most local of politicians.
By stifling debate, people who believe they are acting as friends of Israel are actually storing up resentment in many quarters. In particular, young people, many of color, who will be the backbone of the future Democratic Party, don't get it. Many don't know about or don't feel very responsible for the Holocaust -- wasn't that something way back in history that Europeans did? If they know there are Palestinians, they identify with them more easily than a group of Europeans who dropped themselves on land lived in by Arabs. The idea of Jews as people oppressed and at risk simply makes no intuitive sense to them when Israel has the nukes.
The San Francisco Mission District has recently seen a round of this. An anti-gang arts organization painted a mural that included one segment showing Palestinians busting through a wall -- alongside slogans about self-determination and breaking down borders. Here in immigrant San Francisco, the parallels (accurate or not) between Israel's Wall and the U.S. border wall seem to many so obvious as to be almost not worth mentioning. But the Jewish Community Relations Council went ballistic; can't have such images here! Supporters of the youth, including anti-Zionist Jews, organized in support. Finally the youth agreed to compromise:
This kind of bullying behavior just pisses people off. We need the kind of dialogue that Mearsheimer and Walt open up in their world -- and the kind of dialogue the mural opens at the street level.
The not-yet altered mural.