The Assassins

by , June 20, 2006

When John J. Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and the heavyweight of the realist school of international affairs, and Stephen M. Walt, former dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, published their now famous essay on "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," the outcry from all the usual suspects was stupendous. After all, the professors had unapologetically said what everyone knows to be true: that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is geared to Israeli and not American interests. It is a case of altruism sui generis.

If anyone says that – out loud, that is – the price they pay is exorbitant, and clearly Mearsheimer and Walt were and are prepared to pony up. Anyone who crosses "the Lobby," as their paper puts it, risks incurring the wrath of "the Great Silencer." This means, in plain terms, that anyone who criticizes Israel, or, more significantly, notices the Lobby’s decisive influence over U.S. policymakers, risks their career, whether it be in politics, the media, or academia.

In regard to this last, Mearsheimer and Walt report that the Lobby has recently begun a campaign to "take back the campuses," and I would point out that the latest victim is Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan. Professor Cole is a Middle East expert, a distinguished scholar, and an articulate critic of our interventionist foreign policy. His popular blog, Informed Comment, richly deserves its name, and he has lately become someone the more in-depth media outlets turn to when they want knowledgeable commentary about current events in the region. The news that he was up for an appointment at Yale University, to head up a new department of Middle Eastern studies, was just what the Lobby needed to hear to swing into action.

Cole’s sin: he, like Mearsheimer and Walt, had noted the inordinate influence of what The Nation magazine termed "American Likudniks" on the course of our foreign policy, and it wasn’t long before the appointment was buried in a blizzard of outraged op-eds in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Sun, while the neocon contingent of the blogosphere was frothing at the mouth. In what was quite clearly an organized effort, Joel Mowbray, a smalltime neocon columnist who specializes in smearing enemies of the Lobby with the tar brush of "anti-Semitism" – his enemies list includes Gen. Anthony Zinni and the U.S. Justice Department, which had the temerity to prosecute admitted Israeli spy Larry Franklin – sent a letter to a good number of Yale donors, alerting them to Cole’s pending appointment and urging action. Jewish Week reports that “several faculty members said they had heard that at least four major Jewish donors … have contacted officials at the university urging that Cole’s appointment be denied."

In the end, Cole’s appointment was nixed – and a central contention of Mearsheimer and Walt’s analysis was confirmed. As they wrote:

"Groups within the Lobby put pressure on particular academics and universities. Columbia has been a frequent target, no doubt because of the presence of the late Edward Said on its faculty. ‘One can be sure that any public statement in support of the Palestinian people by the pre-eminent literary critic Edward Said will elicit hundreds of emails, letters and journalistic accounts that call on us to denounce Said and to either sanction or fire him,’ Jonathan Cole, its former provost, reported. When Columbia recruited the historian Rashid Khalidi from Chicago, the same thing happened. It was a problem Princeton also faced a few years later when it considered wooing Khalidi away from Columbia."

Yale’s turn came soon enough. Whose turn will it be tomorrow?

In the Lobby’s arsenal, character assassination is a major weapon of choice, and this was wielded against Cole time and again. Michael Rubin, a former employee of the Coalition Provisional Authority whose views are so extreme that he now accuses the Bush administration of selling out its original program of "regime change," wrote:

"While Cole condemns anti-Semitism, he accuses prominent Jewish-American officials of having dual loyalties, a frequent anti-Semitic refrain. That he accuses Jewish Americans of using ‘the Pentagon as Israel’s Gurkha regiment’ is unfortunate."

This "Gurkha regiment" phrase, lifted out of context, occurred in the course of Cole’s analysis of the Larry Franklin espionage case, in which Franklin, a Pentagon analyst who specialized in Iran, admitted passing sensitive classified intelligence to Israeli officials via Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, two top officials of the pro-Israel lobbying group scheduled to go on trial soon. Here is the original context:

"Here is my take on the Lawrence Franklin espionage scandal in the Pentagon.

"It is an echo of the one-two punch secretly planned by the pro-Likud faction in the Department of Defense. First, Iraq would be taken out by the United States, and then Iran. David Wurmser, a key member of the group, also wanted Syria included. These pro-Likud intellectuals concluded that 9/11 would give them carte blanche to use the Pentagon as Israel’s Gurkha regiment, fighting elective wars on behalf of Tel Aviv (not wars that really needed to be fought, but wars that the Likud coalition thought it would be nice to see fought so as to increase Israel’s ability to annex land and act aggressively, especially if someone else’s boys did the dying)."

Franklin is not Jewish, and the Jewishness of these "pro-Likud intellectuals" has nothing to do with Cole’s opposition to their activities, which seem – in Franklin’s case, and also Rosen’s and Weissman’s – to include espionage on behalf of Israel. It is typical, however, of the Lobby to smear anyone who criticizes them as an "anti-Semite" – an accusation that, if it sticks, effectively immunizes the neoconservatives who put Israel first from all criticism.

Tellingly, Rubin doesn’t reveal his own involvement in the Franklin affair, but one of the charges against the former Pentagon analyst is that Franklin reiterated the contents of a classified draft national-security presidential directive (NSPD), co-authored by Rubin, in which it was proposed that the U.S. should undertake a policy of "regime change" in Iran, just as it did in Iraq. And Rubin, who worked with Franklin and other neocons in the infamous Office of Special Plans – the source of much of the bogus "intelligence" that misled Congress and the American people in the run-up to war – has been a leading defender of his colleague, as an interesting piece in The American Prospect pointed out:

"In the current probes of Franklin and AIPAC, Michael Rubin has led the strident charge. On September 4, during the media flap over the investigations, Rubin sent an e-mail memo – obtained by the Prospect – to a list of friendly parties targeting two of Washington’s more respected mainstream journalists, calling them key players in an ‘increasing anti-Semitic witch hunt.’ The memo fingered Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage as one likely source of the leaks about the investigation, and also urged that, if the accusations had any merit, the White House demand the evidence be made public. ‘I’m increasingly concerned about the leaks spinning off from the Franklin affair,’ Rubin wrote. ‘It was bad enough when the White House rewarded the June 15, 2003, leak by canceling consideration of the NSPD. It showed the State Department that leaks could supplant real debate. … Bureaucratic rivalries are out of control.’"

Cornered, the Lobby screeches "bigotry!" – but this is merely a reflex, uttered without sincerity or any indication that even the accusers take it seriously. It is merely meant to blacken the name of anyone who stands up to the threats and intimidation routinely employed by a cabal of ruthless political operatives, who have no more of a moral compass than a flamethrower.

The utter ruthlessness of the Amen Corner’s tactics resembles nothing so much as the tactics and methods of a covert action carried out by agents of a foreign power, and, indeed, some of these people – such as Larry Franklin, for example, along with his accomplices – are foreign agents, who would stop at nothing to achieve their goals. Character assassination is, for them, a routine matter – and, in certain cases, physical assassination is not out of the question. The news that Lebanon has uncovered an Israeli spy ring that routinely engaged in a number of assassinations ought not surprise anyone. With all the mysterious explosions occurring in that tortured land, and with Israel’s long history of involvement – both open and clandestine – in that country, this hardly comes as a shock. Perhaps now the great mystery of who killed Rafik Harriri – a heinous act somewhat dubiously attributed by UN investigators to Syria – will be opened up to some new interpretations. Oh, but nix that – everybody knows that the Mossad would never, ever engage in assassinations, and to even imply such a thing is to confess that one’s favorite reading material is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Read more by Justin Raimondo