Smear and Fear

Editor’s note: Justin Raimondo is traveling. His column will return Friday.

Israel’s once-powerful lobby in the U.S. is running scared. The American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is facing a burgeoning scandal with the upcoming trial of Steve Rosen their longtime chief lobbyist, and Iran policy expert Keith Weissman, who are accused of spying on behalf of Israel. Their source in the Pentagon – Iran analyst and neoconservative ideologue Larry Franklin – was caught red-handed by the FBI handing over top secret information to the two AIPAC officials, who then turned the vital data over to Israeli embassy employees. Franklin pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12 years, with time off for good behavior – i.e., testifying against his fellow spies.

Another big problem for the Lobby is that people are beginning to wake up to their game. A recent study, published by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, shows how the Lobby has been able to dominate the foreign policy debate and divert policymakers from pursuing American interests, while assiduously pursuing Israel’s. The authors, John Mearsheimer, known as a spokesman for the “realist” school of foreign policy analysis, and Stephen Walt, academic dean of the Kennedy School, have since come in for a relentless assault, a furious round of smears so vicious and hysterical that the effect is almost comical.

Take, for instance, Alan Dershowitz’s contribution to the non-discussion, which insists on discerning the supposedly hidden “motive” behind the Mearsheimer-Walt piece. It couldn’t possibly be that they disagree with the Lobby’s agenda, and honestly believe that the debate over the centrality of Israel to American policy in the Middle East has been skewed – oh no. They have to be “bigots” out to spread “anti-Semitic canards” – and the “proof” of this is that they supposedly garnered some of their quotes from “Internet hate sites.”

How does Dershowitz know this? He claims his “staff” is compiling a “chart” that supposedly “proves” it. But since nothing short of looking over the authors’ shoulders as they did their research could possibly “prove” such a thing, Dershowitz’s “staff” is pissing in the wind. Dershowitz’s whole case can be summed up as “David Duke believes the same thing – therefore, it can’t be true.” The logical fallacy involved here is too obvious to be pointed out. Suffice to say that this about sums up the entire strategy of the Lobby in all the years of its operation: anyone who opposes them is a “bigot,” an “anti-Semite,” and is spreading the modern day equivalent of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

What a bunch of malarkey. This is victimology with a vengeance; it has usually worked in the past, though, and they are shocked that it doesn’t seem to be working now. By trying this gambit on two distinguished scholars, however, the Lobby is showing just how desperate they are. Dershowitz, by the way, doesn’t even try to confront the actual arguments made by Mearsheimer and Walt: instead, he spends some 20,000 or so words engaging in guilt by association.

Any mention of the term “neoconservatives” is taken by Dershowitz to mean “Jews” – but this is clearly not the case, as many neocons are not Jewish, although Jews are disproportionately represented in their ranks. But, then again, Jews are overrepresented in the ranks of the libertarian movement, the leftist movement, the antiwar movement, and probably a good many other ideological movements of one sort or another. That the neocons put special emphasis on their affinity for and support of Israel – as a matter of high principle – is directly relevant to the argument of Mearsheimer and Walt that attributes their influence on administration policy to its present state of distortion – not because the neocons are Jews, but because they are neocons.

Furthermore, Mearsheimer and Walt explicitly stated that Jews are not the only or even the most influential members of the Lobby: evangelical Christians are by far more numerous and carry much more political weight in their unconditional support for the Jewish state. Dershowitz fails to mention this, because it doesn’t fit into his distorted characterization. In addition, Dershowitz himself cites various groups and institutions listed by Mearsheimer and Walt, including the Brookings Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and just about every Washington think tank of note, and expresses incredulity that such an amalgam could constitute a unitary group:

“The so-called members of ‘the Lobby’ have little in common with each other, except for a preference for democracy over tyranny, belief in Israel’s strategic importance to the United States, support for an endangered American ally, commitment to the survival of a small democracy in which Jewish culture can thrive, and the recognition of the need for one nation that will always be open to Jews threatened with discrimination and persecution in a world with continuing if not increasing anti-Semitism.”

Dershowitz cannot have it both ways: either the authors of the study are claiming that the Lobby is a narrow “Jewish conspiracy,” consisting primarily or even exclusively of Jews, or else it is an impossibly broad construction that encompasses virtually everyone to the left of David Duke and to the right of Cindy Sheehan. Which is it?

Dershowitz complains that the authors fail to mention other powerful lobbies, e.g., the Saudi lobby, as having substantial influence on American policymakers. But this hardly invalidates the argument that the Israel lobby’s influence is usually decisive, especially when it comes to the formulation of American policy in the Middle East.

Dershowitz take umbrage at the Mearsheimer-Walt characterization of AIPAC as a “de facto agent of a foreign government,” and acts as if this is the equivalent of a blood libel – but why, then, is the U.S. government now saying that the evidence against AIPAC honcho Rosen and his accomplice is “overwhelming,” and why did Franklin plead guilty and take it on the chin with 12 years in the hoosegow? If AIPAC isn’t an agent of Israel, then the Communist Party was never an agent of the Soviet Union and the German-American Bund was never an agent of Nazi Germany.

A good part of Dershowitz’s attack on Mearsheimer-Walt consists of challenging their sources: Alex Cockburn is supposedly “discredited” because… well, just because Dershowitz says so. Also, he’s “anti-American.” So is Noam Chomsky, and so is Norman Finkelstein, according to The Dersh – but even if this is true, how does that “discredit” what they have written on this particular topic? The answer is: it doesn’t, as any beginning student of logic could tell you.

Dershowitz tries desperately to impugn Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s motives in writing their piece: the nastiness in his screed explodes in the reader’s face like a very bad smell. This is in stark contrast to the understated wording and calm, measured tone of the Mearsheimer-Walt piece itself, which nowhere engages in the kind of polemical overkill that underscores Dershowitz’s desperation – and the Lobby’s.

Dershowitz and other critics of Mearsheimer and Walt cite Daniel Drezner‘s remark that the study is “piss-poor” scholarship, but that term more accurately describes the hastily thrown-together tirades assembled by Dershowitz & Co. Emotionalism, ad hominem attacks, posing false choices, appeals to authority, reductive reasoning, hasty generalizations – there is hardly a logical error left out. As one commenter on Drezner’s blog pointed out, Mearsheimer and Walt have never written on this subject, yet suddenly they’re anti-Semites? It just doesn’t make sense.

Yet, it does make a twisted kind of sense if you look at the way the Lobby has operated for many years. Smear and fear – smear your enemies and intimidate anyone who might agree with them. That is, in essence, their method. A concerted effort to get the Kennedy School to disassociate itself from the work of Mearsheimer and Walt, and the sudden announcement that Walt will no longer serve as academic dean, indicate the Lobby’s efforts have been at least partially successful.

This is really too bad, since what is needed now more than ever is an open debate over the course of American foreign policy in the post-9/11 era, a discussion that cannot take place without engaging the Lobby and its inordinate influence. By launching a campaign of defamation against Mearsheimer and Walt, the Lobby has proved one of the central points made by the authors: that a real debate on Israel’s influence on American foreign policy has so far failed to take place due to the Lobby’s tactic of smearing anyone who dares take issue with them.

The central contention of Mearsheimer and Walt – that the level of support for Israel by the U.S. is not in America’s interest – is nowhere confronted by any of their critics. This is because their argument is irrefutable – and because their critics are operating from an entirely different premise, which has nothing to do with promoting American interests.

By trying to silence their critics, the Lobby is making a huge mistake, one that will likely boomerang as the trial of Rosen and Weissman gets underway. As it becomes all too clear how and why the Lobby is now trying to lure us into war with Iran, just as they lied us into war with Iraq – and the tape-recorded transcript of their treason is read aloud in court – the American people will begin to ask questions. And the Lobby is not going to like most of the answers…

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].