Walt and Mearsheimer's arguments against what they dub "the Lobby" and American support for Israel are best summarized in their own unsubtle words:
- "In the same way, the creation of Israel in 1947-48 involved acts of ethnic cleansing, including executions, massacres and rapes by Jews, and Israel's subsequent conduct has often been brutal, belying any claim to moral superiority."
- "Unlike the US, where people are supposed to enjoy equal rights irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity, Israel was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship."
- "Jewish Americans have set up an impressive array of organisations to influence American foreign policy, of which AIPAC is the most powerful and best known."
- "Israel receives about $3 billion in direct assistance each year, roughly one-fifth of the foreign aid budget, and worth about $500 a year for every Israeli."
- "The US has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around."
- "Israel is hardly the only country that spies on the US, but its willingness to spy on its principal patron casts further doubt on its strategic value."
- "Pressure from Israel and the Lobby was not the only factor behind the decision to attack Iraq in March 2003, but it was critical."
Whilst these claims are no doubt polemic, controversial and arguable, considerable evidence is also presented in the 82 pages of the full working paper. Like any academic paper, it presents a reasoned argument supported by citations, footnotes, statistics and quotations. Although the American media declined to seriously discuss the content of the paper, preferring to focus on the allegations of anti-Semitism, foreign newspapers such as The Independent, The Financial Times, The Australian and even Ha'aretz praised the paper and acknowledged the suppressive atmosphere stifling debate in America. As Jefferson Morley of the Washington Post noted "In the international online media, it has attracted largely positive coverage. By contrast, U.S. and Israeli commentators have described their findings as outrageous and scandalous."
Most criticism of the paper centers around perceived anti-Semitism and, secondarily, upon factual inaccuracies and poor scholarship. Alan Dershowitz in his reply states "It is not only the words - false and unbalanced as they are - that invoke old stereotypes and canards. It is the "music" as well - the tone, pitch, and feel of the article - that has caused such outrage from academics and concerned citizens from all across the political and religious spectrum". Commentator Christopher Hitchens, whilst admitting that "AIPAC and other Jewish organizations exert a vast influence over Middle East policy", said the conclusions of the paper were "partly misleading and partly creepy". Eliot Cohen called the paper "a wretched piece of scholarship" as well as "bigotry".
Observers of the academic debate about Israel in America will know that accusations of anti-Semitism, and the accompanying McCarthyist tactics of intimidation, censorship, and blacklisting, are common and a threat to academic freedom. The accusations do nothing to root out real anti-Semitism (if it even exists at universities) and create a "chilling effect" that discourages free expression. Columbia University has been rocked by orchestrated campaigns designed to intimidate, silence and sabotage speakers deemed to be "anti-Semitic" for their views on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Their tactics include spamming email accounts, filling lecture halls and loudly disrupting lectures. Recently, Alan Dershowitz attempted to suppress Norman Finkelstein's book, "Beyond Chutzpah", going so far as to write to the Governor of California. Books, plays and art that support the Palestinian point face strong grass-roots opposition and calls for censorship. An organization known as Campus Watch is devoted to blacklisting academics with inappropriate views about Israel, encouraging students to inform on their professors. Mearsheimer and Walt can now expect to be heckled in their lectures, monitored and blacklisted, all in addition to the very public accusations of anti-Semitism; a smear that has a tendency to linger.
In fact, the American Jewish establishment has made it quite clear by their actions: any criticism of Israel may be considered "anti-Semitism". As Walt and Mearsheimer point out, "criticise Israeli policy and you are by definition an anti-Semite." Whilst The Anti Defamation League concedes "Criticism of particular Israeli actions or policies in and of itself does not constitute anti-Semitism" it then goes on to claim "questions of motivation arise, when Israel is singled out for criticism for actions or policies". As left-wing Rabbi Michael Lerner has observed "The ADL lost most of it's credibility in my eyes as a civil rights organization when it began to identify criticisms of Israel with anti-Semitism". There is no clear line drawn between what is considered legitimate criticism of Israel and what is considered illegitimate hate speech. Discussing Israel, and indeed your own country's foreign policy, is a minefield.
The implications are absurd. For example, a cursory examination of the United Nations General Assembly voting record shows global opposition to Israel's actions in the occupied territories, not just from neighbouring Islamic countries in the Middle East, but also from Europe, Asia, South America and Africa. There are numerous resolutions that single Israel out for criticism of it's violations of international law. In fact, the only countries who consistently vote in support of Israel are America, who has used it's security council veto to block more than 30 resolutions against Israel, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau. So it appears that, using the logic that singling out Israel for criticism is anti-Semitism, the vast majority of people on the planet are "anti-Semitic".
The flip side of this vigilance and paranoia about perceived anti-Semitism is the relative tolerance of bigotry against Arabs and Muslims in both Israel and America. Conservative commentators such as Ann Coulter, Michael Savage and Bill O'Reilly publicly call Arabs and Muslims "ragheads", "non-humans", "prehistoric groups" and face little or no censure. In Israel, a far right group advocating the effective expulsion of Arab citizens by redrawing Israel's borders has had great success in the recent election; a recent poll of Israelis has exposed "widespread racism" against Arabs. Surely, if political correctness is of such paramount importance to the debate, all forms of bigotry should be focused upon.
Mark Mazower has observed that even Israeli academics are not immune from scrutiny. "There is something peculiarly Kafkaesque about the idea of an American Jewish watchdog monitoring Israel for anti-semitism, yet once the mechanism and mindset exist, this is where the logic of vigilance leads: anti-Semitism may be found anywhere." In the face of such hysteria, some simple common sense is the best antidote. Regardless of where you stand regarding the Israel debate, it's crucial that participants commit themselves to an open and frank discussion of the facts, rather than engaging in character assassinations and fear mongering. Silencing academics may be convenient for certain interests in the short term, but in the long term a lack of honest criticism of foreign policy can only harm America and Israel.