Why People Are Suspicious of Mearsheimer and Walt:

Leslie Gelb, in the NY Times, says the following about The Israel Lobby:

But as my mother often said, “They [M & W] asked for trouble” — by the way they make their arguments, by their puzzlingly shoddy scholarship, by what they emphasize and de-emphasize, by what they leave out and by writing on this sensitive topic without doing extensive interviews with the lobbyists and the lobbied.

Speaking of asking for trouble: On page 167 of The Israel Lobby, M & W quote Elliot Abrams, in a book he wrote about American Jews and Judaism, as follows: “there can be no doubt that Jews, faithful to the covenant between God and Abraham, are to stand apart from the nation in which they live. It is the very nature of being Jewish to be apart—except in Israel—from the rest of the population.” M & W write that this shows that Abrams is “hardly objective” about Israel and that this is a “remarkable comment” from someone who holds a high-level foreign policy position. M & W strongly imply that someone who wrote something like what Abrams wrote should be barred from policy-making positions.

Apparently, they are thinking along the same lines as Huffington Post columnist (and Yale Sterling Professor of English) David Bromwich, who writes: “He [Abrams] certainly did not expect to occupy a position that would require him to weigh the national interest of Israel, the country with which he confessed himself uniquely at one, alongside the national interest of a country in which he felt himself to stand “‘apart…from the rest of the population.'”

But Abrams never says anything remotely like that he feels himself “uniquely at one” with Israel. And not only doesn’t say that he is oblivious to America’s national interest, on exactly the same page of his book he says precisely the opposite (you can look it up an Amazon reader to check for yourself). Abrams specifies that there is no conflict between adhering to the Abrahamic covenant and being loyal to one’s country. Indeed, I would add that many very traditional Jews are fiercely loyal to the United States precisely because it gives them the freedom to pursue their unique traditions, without, for the most part, having people like Bromwich question their loyalty and belonging.

Abrams’s comment is not, as Bromwich articulates and M & W seem to believe, about Israel, but with traditional Judaism’s belief that God has ordained that Jews are “a people who dwelleth alone” and who, to fulfill their religious obligations, must have a communal existence separate from the Gentile population. This isn’t exactly news to anyone familiar with traditional Judaism, or with the fact that Jews who follow tradition tend to send their kids to Jewish day schools, shop at kosher supermarkets, and otherwise necessarily maintain a degree of “apartness”, not out of hostility but out of the fact that traditional Judaism requires it–traditional Judaism is primarily a religion of actions, not beliefs, and mere belief in the precepts of Judaism doesn’t cut it if the communal institutions don’t exist to allow the religion to be practiced.

For decades, classical Reform Judaism fought this, partly on the basis that it prevented assimilation and led to unnecessary tensions, and partly in an attempt to stem the tide of Jewish converts to Christianity (10% of the Jewish populations in Germany, Hungary, Austria, etc. in the 19th century). The Reform argued that Jews should drop their distinctive traditions and be like everyone else, creating a Judaism primarily based on shared moral values, similar to liberal Protestantism except without Jesus, and with synagogue instead of church (some Reform congregations went so far as to switch the day of Sabbath services to Sunday, and until relatively recently if a worshiper put a kippah (yarmulke/skullcap) on in certain Reform synagogues, an usher would come by and ask him to remove it). But even the Reform have largely given up on trying to separate Jews from their peculiar ancestral traditions (and indeed their leaders are mostly encouraging a return to tradition).

Meanwhile, Abrams’ quote obviously doesn’t suggest dual loyalty–though if the Sterling Professor of English at Yale can’t see this, either it’s not as obvious as I think, or he isn’t trying very hard. The reference to Israel in the quote merely states the obvious–that in a country with a Jewish majority, where the schools teach a Jewish curriculum, kashrut is the rule by default in supermarkets and restaurants, Jewish holidays are national holidays, etc., Jews living in Israel don’t have any need to maintain any “apartness” to fulfill their religious obligations.

If M & W find Abrams’s quote so “remarkable,” I wonder what they would think about a Roman Catholic government official who had written a book on American Catholicism making an innocuous statement like that “to be faithful to the Church, Catholics must keep in mind that they must respect the authority of the Vatican.” Unlike Abrams’s statement, that one on its face does suggest dual loyalty, but anyone with a modicum of understanding of Catholic society would no better than to engage in such know-nothingism.

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