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 their 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.