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Debating the Lobby in Manhattan

Here are a collection of articles about ground-breaking discussion of Jewish Lobby in New York. You’d find their conclusions expected and even timid; but do not forget: In the US and the West it is punishable by law to doubt inherent beneficence of Jewish rule, or even to admit its presence. Thus these reports can be compared to first breeze of glasnost in Gorbachev’s days in 1985 when the first objections to communist rule in Moscow were voiced. Exciting read, anyway:


 ‘Israel Lobby' Caused War in Iraq, September 11 Attacks, Professor Says

BY IRA STOLL - Staff Reporter of the Sun September 29, 2006 URL:

A tenured professor at the University of Chicago last night blamed the "Israel Lobby" in America for both the Iraq war and the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Speaking to a crowd of hundreds at the Cooper Union, he was met mostly with support from two other professors, Tony Judt of New York University and Rashid Khalidi of Columbia.

"The Israel lobby was one of the principal driving forces behind the Iraq War, and in its absence we probably would not have had a war," said the University of Chicago professor, John Mearsheimer, at a forum organized by the London Review of Books.

Later, in response to a question from the audience, Mr. Mearsheimer claimed that the "animus to the United States" of Qaeda terrorist mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed "stemmed from U.S. foreign policy toward Israel."

This, Mr. Mearsheimer asserted, "Simply can't be discussed in the mainstream media." He appeared to have forgotten the article that ran on September 20, 2001, on the op-ed page of the largest circulation American newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, that began with the sentence: "Is American support of Israel behind the hatred of this country that p ervades the Arab world and that literally exploded into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11?"

In fact, Mr. Mearsheimer claimed, "There is a considerable amount of evidence that there is a linkage between the two" - the two being American support for Israel and the terrorist attacks of September 11.

The event last night at Cooper Union was a discussion of a paper issued by the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University earlier this year and published in an edited version in the London Review of Books. The paper was authored by Mr. Mearsheimer and by an academic dean and professor at the Kennedy School, Stephen Walt. It described what it alleged to be a vast Israel lobby that included the editors of the New York Times, "neoconservative gentiles," the Brookings Institution, and students at Columbia. The "Lobby," the paper said, had the "ability to manipulate the American political system," "a stranglehold on the U.S. Congress," and was actively "manipulating the media."

The Kennedy School quickly distanced itself from the paper, removing its logo and printing a large disclaimer on the front cover of the paper.

A Brookings scholar and former American ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, said at the Cooper Union debate that the paper "lowers itself to the level of anti-Semitism" and was "very sloppy" in its scholarship.

A former foreign minister of Israel, Shlomo Ben-Ami, said at the event that the term "Lobby" as used in the paper "is a cover for the Jews, basically," and that there was an "element of scapegoating" in the case made by Messrs. Mearsheimer and Walt.

Messrs. Khalidi and Judt both bemoaned the fact that America's relations with Israel were not debated more hotly and frequently.

"In American political discourse there is one side to this debate," Mr. Khalidi said. "There are not two sides to this debate."

Mr. Judt said that the New York Times asked him whether he was Jewish before publishing his opinion piece on the Walt-Mearsheimer paper. Mr. Judt said he is Jewish, but he sought to distinguish himself from the American Jewish community. "For many American Jews, there is no daylight between America's interests and Israel's interests, the two are one and the same. We have to somehow unravel this connection," he said. He tried to draw a distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

Mr. Indyk criticized the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act signed by President Clinton as "counterproductive." He said it had split America from its allies in Europe. The bill had been championed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Mr. Indyk also noted he had been criticized by pro-Israel groups in America while serving in the State Department. "I have the scars to show it," he said.

Yet Mr. Mearsheimer said Mr. Indyk is "at the core of the lobby," along with another Clinton administration State Department official, Dennis Ross.

"That is ridiculous," Mr. Ross said.

He and Mr. Indyk made the point that the American government did not always do what the so-called Israel lobby wanted.

Mr. Indyk, on his way out of the two-hour session, told The New York Sun's Gary Shapiro that he thought the debate had been "vigorous." "It exposed a lot of the flaws in Mearsheimer's paper," he said.

The start of the event was delayed by more than half an hour as those who had tickets or who were invited guests were scanned by metal detectors.

(2) Tony Judt sides with Mearsheimer in debate vs Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross

 MondoWeiss: The Great Debate at Cooper Union Last Night

« Never Mind the Bollocks--Here Is Walt and Mearsheimer!

The Great Debate at Cooper Union Last Night

I got home quite late from the Israel lobby debate and am on deadline for print, so I won't get around to a full report till later, but thought it best to file a few impressions while the world is still making up its mind...

The debate was diffuse. It had few dramatic moments. There were six debaters with five different points of view, and the three men positing the existence of the lobby had not coordinated their points ahead of time and so were sorting out differences on stage. My friend Scott McConnell of the American Conservative said that he missed the great moment, the climactic clash, then reflected that maybe this is something that documentaries manage to create after the fact.

Yet: No one could leave the hall unconvinced that there is an Israel lobby. The quarrel was over scope and character. If the Israel lobby is the elephant in the room of American politics, here were six blind men each naming a different part of it they had felt in the dark. Well actually, four blind men. The three positing the existence of the lobby were joined by Shlomo Ben-Ami, from the other side, in a spirit of intellectual vigor and openness. All four speakers added to the audience's understanding. The other 2, Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross, longtime elephant-fattener-uppers, were determined to show the audience that the elephant was a hamster. They failed.

The debate belonged to Tony Judt. He arrived late to the hall in a turtleneck - everyone else was in ties - and might have been Mariano Rivera, for his confidence and dispatch. He was the most imaginative speaker, and imagination is required when you are describing a King kong sasquatch no one has seen and whose wranglers say doesn't exist. When Shlomo Ben-Ami and Martin Indyk said that John Mearsheimer was antisemitic for speaking of a collection of Jews who influence policy, Judt demolished them by quoting Arthur Koestler when he became an anticommunist and said that Just because idiots and bigots share some of his views doesn't discredit the views. The job of the social scientist is to describe the true conditions of society; are these statements accurate or not? That is the only issue. I'm paraphrasing. Judt was way more eloquent.

Judt's second great moment was when he accused Indyk of being "faux-naive" - a civilized way of saying, You're lying - when Indyk kept saying that the lobby was one small factor in an American president's exertions of power. Here again, he used his imagination. Because when you're talking about something about which there is very little information, and those who know something about it are trying to deny its existence, you need imagination. Anyway, Judt described the real exercise of power. He said that when a small state defied an American president, and the president wanted to do something about it, he had a great number of seen and unseen ways of compelling that state to fall into line, all sorts of bullying and pressure and fury. None of these had been deployed in Israel's case, and lo and behold the settlements had continued to expand, over four decades... Again I'm paraphrasing. Judt also got the last word of the night when he explained to a hungry audience that knew in its bones it has been deprived, that this discussion was an astoundingly rare one, and mind you it was organized by the London Review of Books. Thus he gave the audience a real sense of how the U.S. discourse/policy works, which is what the evening was after all fumbling towards.

The most resonant moment of the debate was Judt's, too. He pointed out that when he had endorsed the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis, in an article for an unnamed major North American newspaper, he was asked by the editors whether he is Jewish, and told to stick that fact in the article. (Otherwise they couldn't publish it, was implicit or explicit, I'll have to check my tape). The newspaper - obviously - was the New York Times, in which Judt's op-ed taking Walt/Mearsheimer's side, appeared last April, as I recall, to stunning effect. I say resonant, and damning: Let's consider the lesson of this story: You can only speak out on this issue if you're Jewish? Oh my god, how did we get here...

The other three intellectuals' knowledge was more limited. John Mearsheimer deserves the greatest credit of all for breaking the seal on this discussion. But his actual knowledge of the lobby is drawn from reports of people who have seen Kong in the jungle, and lived to tell. So he read from one account or another of the lobby's existence, and its function in pushing for the Iraq war. Living in Chicago, he lacks intimate knowledge of its workings. His best moment came when he said that the U.S. ought to put pressure on Israel to come into line on matters that are important to us and if it fails to do so, or chooses a different course, the U.S. and Israel "should go their separate ways." This was a clean and bracing view of the relations of states. While ideal, in a realistic way, it certainly describes the usual behavior of the U.S. when a small state defies it on a critical question. E.g., the settlements. And the absence of democracy in the West Bank. We could have frozen those settlements with a wave of the hand...

Rashid Khalidi was the emotional life of the debate. He spoke of the lobby in more sweeping terms than Mearsheimer; he conveyed in a way no one else was able the ways in which the pro-Palestinian view is suppressed in the American scene. He got off the best line of the debate. His neighbor Dennis Ross's mike wasn't working. Khalidi passed him his own. "This is the first time that a Palestinian has ever enabled the Israeli side to narrate..." he said, in so many words. Laughter. And after that the audience waited on his words.

Enough for now. It was a fabulous night. We all left improved. The London Review of Books had extended the boundaries of knowledge, and freedom.


"Congress is bought and paid for by AIPAC, a point that even Indyk and Ross seemed to concede, even as they claimed that an American President could act with complete freedom."

More on Thursday Night's Israel Lobby Debate in N.Y.

Philip Weiss
New York Observer

As I went downtown on the subway Thursday I wondered whether I wasn't going to seem a fool for how excited I'd been in the days leading up to the debate. Then when I got there that selfconsciousness vanished, because the excitement was so palpable. The lines snaked all around Cooper Union. This had to do in part with the security measures to prevent anyone from blowing the place up, but more to do with the stormsurge of interest. All the tickets had been sold, and there were a couple hundred people on a line just to get extra seats. I had bought an extra ticket, and impetuously gave it to a girl on the line.

The hall was subterranean. You went down into one of the great spaces of New York, with arched wings of dressed brownstone going off the columns to the walls, and then the pleasure was the pleasure of intellectual seriousness. Later I learned that the Great Hall was the place where the NAACP and the women's suffragists' movement was born. I saw a great number of people I half-know, and it was evident that the ideas that Walt and Mearsheimer put forward are of tremendous interest to many serious people. Lewis Lapham was sitting behind me, Ham Fish was a row away. I saw Adam Shatz of the Nation, Michael Massing of NYRB, Mary Kay Wilmers, the editor of the LRB, and so on. Even my wife had come. It's hard to get her out.

Today I wonder how much of this debate I will remember years from now, and wonder if it won't be the moment in which Rashid Khalidi gave Dennis Ross his microphone because Ross's had failed, and then Ross said a little too smoothly he always tried to empower Palestinians, and Khalidi said, with a kind of ingenuousness, "I would give you the shirt off my back, but it's too small." LRB had, smartly, interspersed the two sides at the two tables; despite all the fighting, there was a feeling of community, sustained when Shlomo Ben-Ami stayed after the debate with his three "adversaries" to answer the unending questions from the hardcore.

The first half hour was spent attacking the scholarship of the LRB paper, then the next hour and a half was spent arguing about the dimensions of the lobby.

The waterboarding administered to Mearsheimer over "shoddy scholarship" seemed to me further proof of the existence of the "lobby." The shortcomings in Mearsheimer and Walt's paper are that they drew broad conclusions on the basis of scarce press reports about this or that scarcely-seen event, and so there was an element of supposition about their conclusions. But since when is reliance on published reports rather than on "original" research and interviews a disqualifier for publication? With some passion, and the feeling of being marginalized, Shlomo Ben-Ami attacked Mearsheimer for leaving Israel out of the paper as a living entity. He's right. But 1, the paper's not about Israel. And 2, more to the point, why does this work have to attain such a high bar, in terms of breadth—the quality Ben-Ami saw as lacking—in order to broach the issue? I guess the paper had to be perfect to be published. And that's the problem. Nothing is perfect, so nothing can be published. When in reality, democratic debates are filled with speculation and interpretation. In a word, intellectual freedom. The discourse has none of that here.

Two friends of mine faulted Mearsheimer for reading from testimonies about the lobby rather than offering a synthesis. Having seen him a few times, I thought he was back on his heels, yet it is understandable to me. He was under attack from the first second, in Yankee Stadium no less, in the first open debate of his ideas. He was without his co-author, Steve Walt (who had important family obligations in Boston), and Walt, of Harvard, knows the court of the east coast in ways that Mearsheimer, who is more of a tough outsider, does not. The most vicious charges were leveled at Mearsheimer--you are alleging a "cabal," Martin Indyk kept saying--and yet the author wasn't given any more time than anyone else in which to respond.

After the debate a friend of mine confronted Indyk in the hallway outside. "I was leaving and couldn't resist giving him a piece of my mind," my friend reports. "I've never laid eyes on the guy before, except on television occasionally. I told him that his vicious and snide remarks had backfired with the audience and that if he had treated his adversaries with respect, he would have fared better. He looked rather taken aback and vanished into an elevator."

Let's dwell on the "cabal" charge. Indyk was saying that Mearsheimer was guilty of anti-Semitic stereotype. Tony Judt blasted Indyk when he said that social scientists are called upon to observe reality, not decide whether what they're observing fills some bigot's ideas or not. Both Khalidi and Judt would say that the paper did not go far enough. Again I'll refer to Judt's bold statement about the NYT Op-Ed page requiring him to state he was Jewish when he wrote in support of Walt and Mearsheimer last April. This is tragic. If you think that only 1.3 percent of Americans are allowed to speak out on this issue&#%151;the lobby, whatever it is—we're in bad shape. I know: the Holocaust; if non-Jews express themselves, the next thing you know the Jews will be kicked out of Century and Cosmos Club and the U.S. Senate and there will be camps. Our discourse is being held hostage by these old ways of thinking.

Khalidi made a similar contribution, saying how rare it was for Palestinian voices to be included in public debate. And if Walt had been there, I imagine this confessional spirit might have freed him to tell of the special pressures that have come to bear on him at Harvard, the financial blackmails to the institution that have arisen from his speaking his mind (I mentioned these threats in the Nation last spring), and the ways in which his own burgeoning career, at 51, has been potentially punctured by his stance.

We're not talking about a cabal. We're talking about a thousand acts of devotion by American Jews who care about Israel and have most of them not been there. This simply cannot be divorced from an understanding of the culture of power, and the role of Jews in the establishment. Ross and Indyk were two of several Jews on the Clinton team negotiating at Camp David. (According to Clayton Swisher's book, The Truth About Camp David, there was only one Arab-American in the big team.) This morning on Meet the Press, the two Ohio Senate contenders, Mike DeWine and Sherrod Brown, argued all about terrorism, and the word Israel came up once, as a source of grievance, but there was no mention of the Occupied Territories, let alone the denial of democracy to over 1 million Palestinians there. As for my commenters who talk about the clash of civilizations, I agree with you, Islam needs to break on through to modernity; but if you think we can ignore these questions, you're nuts. But as Meet the Press demonstrates, our leadership cannot discuss them openly. American presidents have been against the settlements but done nothing really to stop them. And Congress is bought and paid for by AIPAC, a point that even Indyk and Ross seemed to concede, even as they claimed that an American President could act with complete freedom.

I repeat a metaphor from my last blog. It's the elephant in the room, and here are 6 blind men coming out of the room, and telling you what they know about it....

That would be my takeaway from the debate: Our journalism is broken. There are 100 books about Iraq out now, from people who have been there. There is not 1 book out about the Israel lobby. Walt and Mearsheimer essentially performed a journalistic function, and did what journalists would call a clip job—assembling previously-published reports before making large conclusions. A basic function of democratic society is completely kaput here. I did a front page magazine story for the NYT on the gun lobby. Never has there been one on the Israel lobby. There aren't TV documentaries on it; 60 Minutes and Ted Koppel are not trying to pin down Abe Foxman about his mission or Malcolm Hoenlein about whether he called Clinton during Camp David, let alone going near AIPAC. Our society's lens is simply not turned on these institutions in anything like the way it ought to be.



Debating the Lobby in Manhattan/Israel Sends in the Clowns,By MICHAEL J. SMITH

September 29, 2006

Debating the Lobby in Manhattan

Israel Sends in the Clowns


Does it seem implausible that one might actually feel sympathy for a professor at the University of Chicago? So I would have thought; but as John Mearsheimer got the waterboard treatment from Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross last night at New York's Cooper Union, there was something undeniably poignant in his situation. Mearsheimer, an earnest, polite, owlish gent, had the bemused air of a man trying to reason with a pair of rabid Dobermans.

The occasion was a "debate," hosted by the London Review of Books, on the question, "The Israel Lobby: Does it have too much influence on US foreign policy?"

Noam Chomsky observes somewhere that "debates are one of the most irrational institutions that humans have devised," because they "demand irrationality" on the part of the combatants. He neglected to add that they also often bring out the worst in the spectators. And when the subject is Israel, and the debate takes place in New York, where this topic usually evokes irrationality on a titanic scale -- well, the ensuing spectacle is likely to delight a misanthrope's heart.

My high misanthropic hopes were greatly reinforced, while we waited for the program to start, by my immediate neighbors, who were solemnly, and approvingly, discussing the ideas of that mighty thinker, Thomas Friedman. Aha, I thought, mentally rubbing my hands, this is going to be good.

The prosecution team consisted of professors Mearsheimer, Rashid Khalidi from Columbia, and Tony Judt, from NYU. Appearing for the defense were Israel lobbyists Indyk and Ross, both of whom also served Israel's cause as prominent members of the Clinton administration. They were joined by redundant Israeli labor party politician Shlomo Ben-Ami. (Why, you ask, was a former Israeli cabinet minister invited to discuss a question of American politics? That's a very good question, and I wish you had been there to ask it at the time.)

The debate was "moderated" by Ann-Marie Slaughter, who is dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs at Princeton. (The name of this institution always makes me laugh -- as who should say, the Henry VIII School of Women's Studies, or the Lester Maddox Institute for Racial Amity.)

The beleaguered Mearsheimer, of course, is one of the authors, with Stephen Walt, of the succès-de-scandale paper "The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy," which created quite a stir when it appeared last spring. The sound of carpet-chewing from Alan Dershowitz's Cambridge house reportedly gave many Harvard faculty a week's worth of sleepless nights.

What became known as the "Mearsheimer-Walt thesis" is, to paraphrase bluntly the authors' careful formulations, that the Israel lobby has been successful in "distorting" American foreign policy in Israel's interest. In particular, Mearsheimer and Walt argue, we would not have had an Iraq war without the Lobby's contribution. These are, to say the least, fighting words.

Indyk and Ross showed up in fighting trim, and Slaughter threw them a slow soft one in her first question: Was the Mearsheimer-Walt paper anti-Semitic?

Well, more or less, yes, was the predictable answer from Israel's defense bench. Mearsheimer, said the imposing, silver-maned Indyk, postulates a sinister "cabal" (he must have used this word a hundred times over the next two hours) that includes "anyone who has a good word to say about Israel." With regard to the Iraq war, Indyk's trump card was that the Israel lobby couldn't have made that happen, since the Israel lobby really wanted to go after -- Iran! Mearsheimer, who has presumably heard this sort of thing quite a lot lately, watched Indyk with an unblinking, curious, naturalist's gaze, as though he had discovered a new subspecies of E. Coli.

But there was a slightly tired, perfunctory, pro-forma quality about Indyk's obligatory insults and falsehoods. None of the defenders seemed to have his heart in it, really -- and the audience, to their credit and my surprise, wasn't buying it, either. The defense team had to say these things -- that's how the game is played -- but their threadbare invective evoked groans and hisses from the groundlings, and in any case, the trio had other, more important, fish to fry.

The other fish in question, it appears, is that all these guys would very much like to be back in office. And on this point, sadly, they seemed to have much of the audience with them.

Judt, and Mearsheimer, and Khalidi, don't have this problem. They all have tenure at good universities -- or, in Khalidi's case, at a university that suburban parents still think is a good one. They get published, and people cite them. They're at the pinnacle of their profession, and only death or Alzheimer's can knock them off it. But Indyk, and Ross, and the Woody-Allenish Ben-Ami, wielded state power once, and now they don't. They're on the outside looking in, and would love to have their helicopter rides, and their bodyguards, and their sense of importance back again.

So the burden of their song, last night, was that the Lobby is not the problem. Rather -- they sang, in close three-part harmony -- rather, the problem is that we have these awful Republicans in power here in the US, and the awful Likudniks -- now wearing a centrist smiley-face -- in power back in the Promised Land. Want to make things better? Throw the rascals out, and put us back in.

The rodentine Ross put it most crassly: "If Al Gore had been president, we would not have had an Iraq war." The crowd, I'm sorry to say, loved it. Ben-Ami took up the same tune and modulated into a slightly different key: "One thing that doesn't exist in your analysis," he thundered, "is Israel!" -- a line which, depressingly, may have nudged the applause-meter up to its maximum for the evening. "Israel's behavior is the responsibility of its elected leaders!" More applause, and sage murmurs of "he's very intelligent!" from my neighbors in the peanut gallery.

The defense team indignantly rejected the idea that a US administration should ever "force" Israel to do anything -- while strenously claiming, in the next breath, that Bill Clinton, to his everlasting credit, had put the screws to Israel in a way that made Torquemada look like a bleeding-heart. So... if you have a problem with the Israel lobby, then your best bet is to elect a Democrat. Now there is an original idea.

If you've read Clayton Swisher's remarkable book, The Truth About Camp David, then the picture that Indyk and Ross and Ben-Ami were painting of an assertive Clinton holding Israel's feet to the fire will look a little strange. In fact, last night was something of a reunion for Indyk and Ross and Ben-Ami, who were all participants in the Clinton "peace process" -- and all working for the same side, though Indyk and Ross held US passports and Ben-Ami an Israeli one. As Aaron Miller, Ross' former deputy from that period, famously observed later, "far too often, we functioned in this process, for want of a better word, as Israel's lawyer."

But the rewriting of history, and the retrospective rose-tinting of Democratic and Labor administrations, is a favorite liberal game, and the Manhattan congregation largely approved. Indyk, Ross and Ben-Ami were able to put over the virtuoso turn of denying, in one breath, that the Israel lobby has any power, and promising, in the next breath, to neutralize that power if they could only get back into their helicopters.

They have a point, of course. Neither Israel nor its Lobby are monoliths. The Likudniks are now in the ascendant in both, and our tuneful trio are, relatively speaking, sidelined. There are different ideas about tactics and strategy, priorities and alliances, among different elements at both ends of the Washington-Jerusalem axis.

But of course -- as Mearsheimer came close to saying, at one point -- the best proof of the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis was sitting in front of us all night, in the form of Ross and Indyk themselves. These two have spent their careers alternating between organizations like AIPAC and WINEP on the one hand, and guarding the Middle East henhouse in government on the other. The twists and turns of tactics and diplomacy, as one faction replaces another, don't conceal an underlying, essential continuity.

If I weren't such a misanthrope, I might be tempted to say that nevertheless, the glass is half full. Twenty years ago, such a discussion, in this venue, would have been unthinkable; any attempt to raise the topic at all would have been shouted down by a coalition of JDL thugs from Brooklyn, and tough little old ex-Communist ladies from the Upper West Side. Twenty years ago, you would not have seen Establishment figures like Mearsheimer and Walt saying such things. Twenty years ago, a New York audience would have received Indyk's cheap demagogy with thunderous applause rather than groans and boos.

So the times they are a-changin'. But we still have a ways to go. If I correctly assessed the temper of last night's crowd, they mostly still want to find a way to divide the baby -- to support and vindicate Israel, but without all these awful wars and walls. They would like to cajole the Palestinians into playing nice -- without giving them anything that Israel might want. They would like to bring Iran to heel, without putting any boots on the ground, if I may borrow the buzzword-du-jour.

In other words, I fear most of them want Bill Clinton back. And when I contemplate that idea, the glass looks a lot more than half empty.

Michael J. Smith lives in New York City. When his busy social schedule permits, he works at undermining the Democratic Party on his blog,

The Great Manhattan debate on the Lobby:

an additional report by Shamireaders’ own Dan of New York

(with a few great new discoveries among them Khalidi’s saying that the Mearsheimer/Walt paper overestimated the influence of The Lobby on foreign policy but also underestimated its influence on domestic policy such as The Patriot Act. This is exactly a point we were doing all along: the Jewish Lobby’s primary goal is not Palestine, but your freedom.):



On the way to the Israel Lobby debate at Cooper Union, we saw an anti-war rally with some sort of disturbance going on as a dozen young people ran around on the little island on Sixth Avenue across from the old site of the Peppermint Lounge. The twist to the rally was that it was a corny parody of a 60’s antiwar rally played out by some actors. So fake out: just another corporate tourist skit for Manhattan’s relentless disneyfication.

Two friends were with me; one was deathly ill but insisted on coming. And there was indeed a Nunc dimittis cast to the unprecedented event, exemplified by several moribund looking octogenarian gents in blue blazers who hobbled out at the end presumably to hail a cab to a funeral home: “Now, may Thy faithful servant depart...”

The Israeli team, Indyk, Ross, and Ben Ami incarnated the truth of Mearsheimer’s self-evident thesis. Indyk, for his career trajectory from Aipac research director to ambassador to Israel. Ross for his role as Israel’s lawyer at Camp David, and the Israeli Ben Ami for debating an American domestic issue. One of his absurd stratagems was to reproach Mearsheimer for having left out Israel from his forty-page paper on the American Israeli Lobby, evidence of “shoddy scholarship.” As they sat there I could imagine Indyk doing his velocirapter “stare of death” and menacing the mild unflappable Mearsheimer: “What is the audience going to believe? Us or the evidence of their own eyes?”

For connoisseurs and mavens of bullshit and squid ink there were a few choice delicacies to savor spread on wry. After Ben Ami’s vehement and otiose complaint (So what are we? Chopped liver?), my favorite of these was Ross’s contention that 9/11 couldn’t possibly have anything to do with Israel since at that time the Peace Process was proceeding so successfully that Arabs had no grievance against the US for its alliance with Israel. He grinned broadly like a winning game show contestant as he extruded this pearl of pilpul to the groans of some in the audience. Some people can’t take a joke. They really should have laughed but they probably read the New York Times and take the shell games of discourse management seriously.

The “Israelis,” – which I think is the best term of art with which to absolve Indyk and Ross of the charge of dual loyalty –represented the “good cops” and the “human face” of Zionism, the Labour left, hence the hair-splitting nano pilpulism as opposed to the heavy metal large bowel rage of a Dershowitz or Perle. The latter would have found it a bit trickier (but surely possible) to object “indykgnantly” to the term “cabal” in the paper since Perle himself, (aka the “Prince of Darkness--the antonomasia he enjoys) and his cohorts in the Pentagon indeed referred to themselves as “The Cabal.” These guys are basically deadpan schizophrenic comedians: “What? You think that’s funny? This soi-disant “Cabal” is one example of Mearsheimer and Walt’s clincher: The Lobby boasts of its power and vilifies and smears anyone who points out its power. Indyk, Ross, and Ben Ami’s basic line was whatever on earth you meant by The Lobby, it’s not us so you’re an anti-Semitic boob and we have little else to say. This posture was quite entertainingly acrobatic for the grotesque contortions they had to assume, rather like imagining Benny Morris delivering a eulogy at Deir Yassin in a red dress and stiletto heels.

Amidst all the lies, pilpulisms, schizophrenic comedy, academic negotiations, and discourse management, Mearsheimer was outstanding for his simple clarity and his calm under Indyk’s stare of death. It seemed miraculous that this provincial professor (actually he’s a Brooklyn boy) should stand up to the Scarlet A accusation and Indyk’s Spielbergian special effects with such serene bemused sangfroid.

The first question posed by the moderator had been “Was the paper “anti-Semitic?” While the reaction was not quite the gale force shit storm Dershowitz would have unleashed, the turds began flying and so besmeared, Mearsheimer soldiered on, without benefit of either psychological intensity, death stares, or glib verbal prestidigitation. And he had in fact been a soldier, an American soldier who came to academia through his own long march and who perhaps spoke from his conviction that American soldiers should not sacrifice their lives for Israel. And there was also the fact that he spoke the truth and in doing that the Holy Spirit was his advocate and our consoler. Perhaps he was “wise as a serpent”; he was certainly “gentle as a dove.”

Tony Judt, the only noteworthy American Jew to endorse the paper in print, towards the end of the debate compared The Lobby to the Irish, Poles, and Cubans perhaps to palliate the outrage that had taken place. Rashid Khalidi was swift on the uptake with what appeared to me at first another negotiation when he asserted that he thought the Mearsheimer/Walt paper overestimated the influence of The Lobby on foreign policy but also underestimated its influence on domestic policy such as The Patriot Act. He might have gone on to discuss The Military Commissions Act passed three days ago by congress that has effectively abrogated habeas corpus and the Bill of Rights for the infinite duration of the perpetual war against evil, extremism, and olive trees. RIP: American Republic.

Khalidi also got the biggest laugh of the evening since the audience seemed disinclined to bust a gut over the Israeli’s schizophrenic schlock. When Ross’s microphone wouldn’t work, Khalidi passed him his own, quipping, “this is the first time a Palestinian has ever had the chance to give the opposition permission to narrate.” The big laugh was for the recognition of the late Edward Said’s poignantly abject petition for the Palestinian to be granted “permission to narrate.” I thought it was interesting that Phillip Weiss of The New York Observer, in his self-absorbed and aptly titled column “Mondoweiss”, bleached the phrase into “enable to narrate” and so missed the poignancy of the point. In retrospect, the joke brings a tear with a smile since the Palestinians still don’t have permission to narrate their way far beyond a few beleaguered and expensive academic courses.

In any event, with the passage of the Military Commissions Act, Americans can enjoy greater solidarity with the Palestinians and their outlaw status. Now we are subjects of a not so benign global hegemony based on fear, terror, and torture administered by a new “unitary” executive. How did this happen? Who did this to us? Why? (rhetorical questions, folks: I’m a comedian too). The bill passed without opposition and only perfunctory kvetching from chatting class hacks and other MSM. The campuses are all chill and laid back and like, “whatever.” Indeed, the noteworthy opposition came from Arlen “Single Bullet Theory” Spector who enjoyed doing a few soft shoe turns and exhibiting his concern for the chilling effect the bill might have for civil liberties. Then he voted for the bill anyway, expressing his confidence that the courts will pilpul in perpetuity over it.

At the end of the last chapter of The Prince entitled “Exhortation to Liberate Italy from the Barbarians”, Machiavelli speaks of “the barbarous tyranny that stinks in the nostrils of us all.” Here in the erstwhile republic most folks don’t smell a thing but a few of us are breathing through the mouth as we watch and pray and narrate without permission.

Dan from New York