The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
John Mearsheimer Dances With the Dark

In my otherwise not particularly effusive review of the sloppy and tendentious book on the Israel lobby by John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt, I was careful to say that while many of the book’s errors and some of its rhetorical patterns mimicked classic anti-Semitic conventions, the book itself offered no proof that the two authors were anti-Semites themselves.  You can be honestly mistaken about an important subject without necessarily being a hater.

That judgment still stands re Professor Walt.  I think he’s wrong about why American policy is so supportive of Israel, and I think his errors confirm anti-Semites in their prejudices, but I don’t have any reason to go beyond that.

Professor Mearsheimer, however, seems to have danced with the dark side a little more intimately.  From Jeff Goldberg over at the Atlantic (and, by the way, if any readers catch themselves thinking that “of course” it would be a Jew who reported this news, you may want to reconsider just how free you are from certain ugly prejudices) comes the news that Professor Mearsheimer has blurbed a genuinely anti-Semitic book by a deeply twisted anti-Semite — who happens also to be Jewish.

The author Mearsheimer endorsed argues among other things that we should re-open the question of whether medieval Jews actually used to kill Christian children and use their blood to make matzo for Passover.  He points out that poor Adolf Hitler’s actions against German Jews only came after US Jews called a boycott on German goods following Hitler’s appointment as German Chancellor.  Gosh — if it weren’t for those pushy, aggressive Jews and their annoying boycotts, the Holocaust might not have happened!

Or did it happen?  Gilad Atzmon thinks we should take another look.  Says Atzmon:

I think that 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be entitled to start to ask the necessary questions. We should ask for some conclusive historical evidence and arguments rather than follow a religious narrative that is sustained by political pressure and laws. [emphasis J. Goldberg]

Via Meadia agrees with part of this; Holocaust denial should be fought with argument and evidence rather than laws, and European laws on this topic are misguided.  But this is not normally the intellectual company a Distinguished Professor at the University of Chicago is expected to keep.

Writes Professor Mearsheimer about Atzmon’s latest book:

Gilad Atzmon has written a fascinating and provocative book on Jewish identity in the modern world. He shows how assimilation and liberalism are making it incredibly difficult for Jews in the Diaspora to maintain a powerful sense of their ‘Jewishness.’ Panicked Jewish leaders, he argues, have turned to Zionism (blind loyalty to Israel) and scaremongering (the threat of another Holocaust) to keep the tribe united and distinct from the surrounding goyim. As Atzmon’s own case demonstrates, this strategy is not working and is causing many Jews great anguish. The Wandering Who? Should be widely read by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Perhaps Professor Mearsheimer hadn’t read the book thoroughly before blurbing it.  Perhaps the book itself (which Via Meadia has not read) is less incendiary than some of Mr Atzmon’s other statements, and Professor Mearsheimer did not know the whole story when he agreed to blurb the book.  Conceivably, Professor Mearsheimer thought that since he could oppose the Israel lobby without being an anti-Semite, all other critics of Israel were similarly as benign.  If there is a good explanation that makes Mr. Mearsheimer look imprudent and unlucky rather than complicit, we will be happy to share it with our readers.

But if the situation is even roughly as Goldberg describes, then Mr. Mearsheimer’s reputation will take another lurch down, and we may even hear some thoughts from Professor Walt about his co-author.

Meanwhile, read Goldberg’s whole post here.  He also provides a link to Atzmon’s own website, so you can read his work and decide for yourself what kind of author Professor Mearsheimer has chosen to blurb.

Published on September 23, 2011 11:27 am
  • http://meaninginhistory.blogspot.com mark wauck

    Dear Professor Mead,

    Like you, I haven’t read either Gilad Atzmon’s book or his web site, nor do I plan to do so. However, your blog appears to contain several inaccuracies that seem to arise from accepting several of Jeffrey Goldberg’s statements at face value.

    For example. You suggest that Atzmon believes the Holocaust may not have occurred: “Or did it [i.e., the Holocaust] happen? Gilad Atzman thinks we should take another look.” Your statement appears to mirror Goldberg’s claim that Atzmon “traffics in Holocaust denial.” You quote a portion of one paragraph from Goldberg’s three paragraph citation from Atzmon that is intended to support the claim that Atzmon “traffics in Holocaust denial.” However, you excise the last sentence of the paragraph you cite, which appears to take the Holocaust as historical fact:

    “I think that 65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, we must be entitled to start to ask the necessary questions. We should ask for some conclusive historical evidence and arguments rather than follow a religious narrative that is sustained by political pressure and laws. We should strip the holocaust of its Judeo-centric exceptional status and treat it as an historical chapter that belongs to a certain time and place.

    Whatever else Atzmon is saying in this paragraph, he appears to accept the Holocaust as historical fact, as a “chapter” in history that “belongs to a certain time and place.”

    The second example has to do with your statement that Atzmon “argues among other things that we should re-open the question of whether medieval Jews actually used to kill Christian children and use their blood to make matzo for Passover.” Once again you appear to be relying on Jeffrey Goldberg’s representations–your statement is essentially a paraphrase of Goldberg, with much of it verbatim:

    “In this new book, Atzmon suggests, among other things, that scholars should reopen the question of medieval blood libels leveled against Jews–accusations that Jews used the blood of Christian children to make matzo, and which provoked countless massacres of Jews in many different countries.”

    To support his claim re Atzmon’s views on the blood libel, Goldberg links to a site that quotes from Atzmon’s book (without citing a page number). Unfortunately, the quote from Atzmon’s book doesn’t support Goldberg’s contention. In the passage–which neither Goldberg nor you quote–Atzmon does NOT call for for a reopening of the question of the historicity of the blood libel. Rather, he appears to offer an anecdote regarding his teenage years as a sort of self congratulatory paean to his iconclastic mindset. Here is that passage:

    ““It seems I didn’t learn the necessary lesson because when we studied the middle age blood libels, I again wondered out loud how the teacher could know that these accusations of Jews making Matzo out of young Goyim’s blood were indeed empty or groundless. Once again I was sent home for a week. In my teens I spent most of my mornings at home rather than in the classroom.”

  • WigWag

    “Professor Mearsheimer, however, seems to have danced with the dark side a little more intimately.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    This isn’t the first time that Professor Mearsheimer has “danced with the dark side” since he published his Jew-hating trope with Stephen Walt. There was also the speech he gave in April, 2010 where he took it upon himself to divide the world into two categories; “righteous Jews” and “bad” Jews.

    During his bizarre speech in which the Professor actually seemed genuinely unhinged, he announced that not all Jews were horrible. He applauded the “righteousness” of Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, and Philip Weiss. He also decided to throw in a few kind remarks about J. Street, Richard Goldstone, Human Rights Watch and Jewish Voice for Peace.

    As for the rest of the Jews, his willingness to blurb Atzman’s book provides ample evidence of what he believes. Atzman has suggested that perhaps Jews really did use the blood of Christian children to bake the Passover Matzo; it looks like this sounds about right to Professor Mearsheimer.

    Jeffrey Goldberg exposed Mearsheimer’s anti-Semitism during his April, 2010 speech just as he exposed “blurb-gate.” Goldberg’s post from 2010 can be found here,

    http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/05/mearsheimers-list/39807/

    One can imagine poor Steve Walt sitting in his office at the Kennedy School wondering what the hell he can say to thread the needle on this one. I doubt that Walt will offer Mearsheimer a full-throated endorsement although it wouldn’t surprise me if in his heart of hearts he wants to. Walt is probably desperately trying to think up something he can say to support his collaborator from the University of Chicago that will pass the smell test.

    I’m sure he will think of something. After all if Professor Walt can find a way to excuse the behavior of Khadafy and the murderous behavior of Hamas and Hezbollah, surely he can think of something appropriately kind to say about his increasingly deranged co-author.

  • Luke Lea

    Well, if I were in Jewish shoes I would certainly work for American support of the state of Israel. So let me append this short note I wrote to an American Jewish friend earlier today who’s worrying about his son in the Israeli army:

    He is going to be fine — not to say there aren’t problems in Israel. The long-term demographic trends, the heredi, and probably other things of which I am not aware. Even so to me the idea that Israel will not continue to exist is unthinkable. And as long as America supports her she will. I think the organized American Jewish community, to the extent that it exists, should change its tactics and long-term strategy to that end. In particular, relying on evangelical support while doing nothing to shore up the economic interests of our white working-classes is long-term foolish. I am thinking of our current trade and immigration policies, which are undermining the American standard of living. It is no secret that Jewish organizations and influential Jewish individuals played crucial roles in getting both of these policies adopted (1965 Immigration Act, Nafta, Gatt) and that they are doing little to rectify the situation today. That needs to change. Ashkenazi Americans, frankly, need to become the champions of ordinary working people like they were in the 1920′s and 30′s. A no brainer really.

  • PetraMB

    While I can see why Prof. Mead would like to be rather cautious here, the case is really more clear-cut. As the blogger Adam Holland has explained, he contacted Mearsheimer and asked him if he really stands by his endorsement of Atzmon, and Mearsheimer confirmed that he does. Adam Holland therefore rightly concludes:
    “Mearsheimer, in praising Atzmon, lends his name and that of his university to the promotion of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial. That is simply inexcusable.”

    http://hurryupharry.org/2011/09/23/john-mearsheimer-supports-anti-semitic-author/

    Holland’s post, btw, also includes many relevant quotes from Atzmon.

    It’s also worthwhile noting that Mearsheimer, in his Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC, on 29 April 2010:

    http://www.thejerusalemfund.org/ht/d/EventDetails/i/9322

    proposed that
    “American Jews who care deeply about Israel can be divided into three broad categories. The first two are what I call ‘righteous Jews’ and the ‘new Afrikaners,’ which are clearly definable groups that think about Israel and where it is headed in fundamentally different ways. The third and largest group is comprised of those Jews who care a lot about Israel, but do not have clear-cut views on how to think about Greater Israel and apartheid. Let us call this group the ‘great ambivalent middle.’”

    Mearsheimer then proceeded to name names; needless to say, his “righteous Jews” primarily included the shrillest critics of Israel, some of them with views not so different from Gilad Atzmon.

    Equally needless to say, his “new Afrikaner” Jews included many American mainstream supporters of Israel.

    In my view, ever since this utterly offensive idea that American Jews should be assigned to “categories”, it was clear that Mearsheimer is pretty proud of his contribution to the mainstreaming of antisemitism.

  • Esperpento

    According to post at The Volokh Conspiracy by David Bernstein, Mearsheimer stands by the blurb: http://volokh.com/2011/09/23/john-mearsheimer-update/

  • A

    I’m afraid the first commentator made some very important points.

  • Corlyss

    Didn’t his mother warn him that he can be judged by the company he keeps? Something about fleas and dogs?

  • Douglas

    Corlyss,

    I disagree. Atzmon wrote: “I again wondered out loud how the teacher could know that these accusations of Jews making Matzo out of young Goyim’s blood were indeed empty or groundless.” If you think that is not anti-Semitic, if you think that there is some reason to consider whether Jews in the middle ages actually made Matzo out of Christian blood, then you probably need to take a good hard look in the mirror.

  • Frank Messmann

    Today on Stephen Walt’s website his colleague, John Mearsheimer, compellingly refuted what you and Jeff Goldberg maliciously and inaccurately wrote about these two brave scholars and Gilead Atzmon.

  • JJ

    Here’s what happening.

    The WASP establishment is losing patience with the Judaic war mongers. Period. (See Mullen’s warning the Israeli’s on another USS Liberty event).

    That is. It is an ethnic conflict. The WASP’s sat down for fear of being called bad names and watched their nation get turned into an army for Zion. Now, some will talk back and don’t care if they’re called bad names.

    Did you all think name calling would work forever?

  • http://ignoblus.blogspot.com Matt

    “You can be honestly mistaken about an important subject without necessarily being a hater.”

    Mr. Mead, I’d like to point out the problem I have with this. While one might be mistaken about about a subject such as the intelligence of African Americans without being a “hater,” such a person would certainly still be racist. It really shouldn’t be necessary to divine the nature of anyone’s soul in this debate. It is enough to describe the nature of the arguments. I have no interest in discussing Mearsheimer and Walt’s motivations, so I will concede that they were trying to save puppy dogs from the clutches of Cruella DeVille. All the same, it shouldn’t be difficult to say that the arguments they have presented since their notorious paper in the LRB have been antisemitic.

  • David Giante

    The problem is that the subjects of Jewish identity politics and Jewish political power (which is what we’re talking about here) are just too sensitive in this post-Hitler world for many people to discuss openly. It still takes considerable courage to even broach them, and alas there’s nothing in Prof. Mead’s resume that suggests he’s ever been much interested in courage.

  • Dan H.

    The WASP establishment is losing patience with the Judaic war mongers. Period. (See Mullen’s warning the Israeli’s on another USS Liberty event).

    Mullen is Irish Catholic.

    It’s silly to speak of the “WASP establishment”. It has declined considerably and doesn’t exist as some ruling group anymore.

  • John Cameron

    I happen to have a slightly different perspective on this book because, unlike Mr. Goldberg or Mr. Mead or Alan Dershowitz, I have actually read it.

    The aforementioned three seem to be spouting virtually identical viewpoints and sources. If one didn’t know better one would think that all three of them are parroting ideas from a book report that someone else who actually read the book did.(This is nothing new for Dershowitz)

    The comment about WASPs waking up is very much the case. At recent parties I have been to where Jews are not in attendance, Israel and its American allies are very much a topic of conversation among the more educated and politically aware. This conversation is being conducted among a group of people who know full well that while Jews got us into the Iraq war, it was Gentile kids who did the dying. We also know that Jewish money is easily the most corrupting influence in present day politics because it so thoroughly taints our foreign policy.

    In spite of what many on this blog think, WASPs still have the ability to simply exclude Jews as a group from the “polite society” they very much want to be a part of. “Polite society” in this case is best characterized as being society that is not dependent on Jewish financial largesse to exist. Without future entree into “polite society” Jews as a group will be forced to only associate with themselves or those who are on their payrolls such as the Al Sharptons, various vacuous entertainment figures, or corrupt politicians feigning friendship while at the same time sucking at the teat.

    Well to do WASPs are potentially Jews’ only true friends among the Goyim because we alone don’t need your money to exist or prosper. The more astute Jews like Gilad Atzmon know this. Interestingly enough, so does someone Woody Allen. And surprisingly enough even Gentile hater Alan Deshowitz has and inkling of this.

    Continue to anger us at your peril. You will end up being totally shunned, excluded, and ignored worldwide. This is already starting to happen as exclusive clubs both in and outside the USA which had previously slowly opened their doors to Jewish membership are now in the process of slowly closing them.