Avi Shlaim is a fellow of St. Antony’s College and a professor of international relations at the University of Oxford. He was born in Baghdad on October 31, 1945, and grew up in Israel, where he did national service in 1964-66. He read history at Cambridge University in Britain, and has remained in that country ever since, holding dual Israeli and British citizenship. Professor Shlaim is the author of numerous books, most notably The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World, and is a regular contributor to The Guardian, the leading liberal British broadsheet. He is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on the Israeli-Arab conflict…
Recently the Canadian anticonsumerism magazine Adbusters created an uproar when it pointed out that most of the intellectual architects of the Iraq war were Jewish, with a history of pro-Israel activity. Daniel Pipes, a Zionist militant and one of the “outed” neocons, said the article was absurd “because of the implication that religion defines politics.” Pipes himself has campaigned for years to have American Muslims put under government surveillance because of their religion, saying that within the United States “all Muslims, unfortunately, are suspect.” Do you think it is right that Jewish–and Muslim, for that matter–policy-makers and intellectuals should be held to account if there is a suspicion of dual loyalty, or do you think the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust should give Jewish groups and individuals a degree of absolution from such charges?
I think it is inaccurate to claim that American Jews were the principal force behind the war in Iraq. It is true that some of the neoconservatives happen to be Jewish, but not all of them. Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld are not. I would divide the proponents of the Iraq war into two groups: One would be the Jewish neoconservatives to whom the security of Israel is paramount–their thinking was that by destroying the Baath regime in Baghdad they would cut off a major source of support for Palestinian militants and create a new environment that would be much more conducive to peace between Israel and the Palestinians on Israel’s terms. The other group, led by Cheney and Rumsfeld, I would label the American nationalists, who after 9/11 felt that a very strong response was called for; they wanted to use US military power to strike at America’s opponents. The nationalists wanted to assert American supremacy and insure American domination globally, and in the Middle East in particular. So there are two agendas here: the nationalists’ and the Jewish neocons’. Both nationalists and Jewish neocons support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. One can argue that the occupation of the West Bank is in Israel’s interest; but no logical argument has ever been made that the occupation serves any American interest. My conclusion is that the neocon agenda for the new Middle East incorporates a right-wing Likud agenda, and the link with Israel deepens hostility to American actions in Iraq.
Daniel Pipes is also the founder of Campus Watch (accused by some of modern-day McCarthyism), which monitors and exposes Middle East academics for alleged anti-Israel activity. Recently he and his friends have managed to get a bill proposed in Congress that would prohibit government funds from university programs critical of American and Israeli policies in the Middle East. Can you see the range of academic debate available on Middle Eastern studies dramatically contracting in the near future?..