The Antisemitism Lobby

When a self-described ‘self-hating’ Jew holds forth on what vexes him about ‘Jewish identity’, Professor Mearsheimer of ‘Israel Lobby’-fame thinks it should be recommended reading.

Gilad Atzmon: more famed for his antisemitic views than his music
Petra Marquardt-Bigman
On 6 October 2011 09:41

Did you know that the Jews declared war on Germany well before the Nazis adopted anti-Jewish policies?

I have to confess that despite my Ph.D. in contemporary history, I was completely ignorant of this “fact” – but that’s because this particular spin of the Jewish anti-Nazi boycott of late March 1933 is of course a favorite among people who think the Nazis were right about the Jews.

Just like how Joseph Goebbels, the notorious Nazi Minister of “Public Enlightenment and Propaganda,” felt that there was “intrinsic” truth to the antisemitic forgery known as “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” there are still people who see “prophetic qualities” in this forgery, which reads to them like an accurate description of “the political reality in which we live.”

Such views are not restricted to the far-right fringes and neo-Nazi groups, but are also held by supposedly leftist “anti-Zionists.”

Among the latter type is the Israeli-British jazz saxophonist Gilad Atzmon, who apparently has a lot of spare time that he devotes to expressing his disdain and hatred for all things Israeli and Jewish.

Indeed, a Guardian profile of him noted that it “is Atzmon’s blunt anti-Zionism rather than his music that has given him an international profile, particularly in the Arab world, where his essays are widely read.”

Notable among Atzmon’s admirers is Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan, who approvingly quoted Atzmon in his dramatic outburst when he attacked Israel’s President Shimon Peres during an event in Davos in 2009.

However, the Guardian’s description of Atzmon’s views as “blunt anti-Zionism” is simply an attempt to whitewash Atzmon’s rabid antisemitism. It is plainly not anti-Zionism when somebody rejects comparisons between Nazi Germany and Israel by hysterically claiming that such a comparison is really unfair to Nazi Germany because “Israel is nothing but evilness for the sake of evilness. It is wickedness with no comparison.”

Indeed, in fall 2006, the Guardian itself published a piece by David Hirsh, an expert on antisemitism, who made the case that Atzmon’s views represented a “new strain of openly anti-semitic anti-Zionism.”

But when Atzmon demanded and got a right of response, he defended his views by citing “the work of the prominent American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt who have exposed the vast influence of the Israel Lobby in America.” Atzmon added confidently: “In fact the views expressed by myself in the piece quoted by Hirsh are no different than those of Mearsheimer and Walt. Those views are now becoming an integral part of the Anglo American academic discourse.”

As it turns out, Atzmon was on to something: in late 2006, he was a fan of Mearsheimer’s and Walt’s work on the “Israel Lobby” – and by now, Atzmon has written a book, and Mearsheimer and Walt are his fans.

When the news broke that John Mearsheimer, who is the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, had provided a favorable blurb for Atzmon’s new book-length ruminations about Jewish and Israeli evils, many people were in disbelief and expected that Mearsheimer would quickly distance himself from Atzmon’s odious writings. However, Mearsheimer actually did the opposite.

This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. When Walt’s and Mearsheimer’s “Israel Lobby” was published a few years ago, many reviewers already noted that the book would appeal to people with antisemitic views.

Since then, Mearsheimer has done more to cultivate this audience: In April 2010, he delivered the Hisham B. Sharabi Memorial Lecture at the Palestine Center in Washington, DC, which he devoted to the topic: “The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. New Afrikaners”.

Towards the end of this lecture, Mearsheimer suggested that “American Jews who care deeply about Israel” could be divided into various categories, including “righteous Jews” and “new Afrikaners.” He then provided the criteria that should be used to assign Jews to the appropriate category, illustrating his approach by sharing with his audience which American Jews would qualify for which list.

Mearsheimer’s list of “righteous Jews” included Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Richard Falk, Norman Finkelstein, Tony Judt, Tony Karon, Naomi Klein, MJ Rosenberg, Sara Roy, Philip Weiss and “many of the individuals associated with J Street and everyone associated with Jewish Voice for Peace, as well as distinguished international figures such as Judge Richard Goldstone.”

By contrast, Mearsheimer’s “new Afrikaners” list included “most of the individuals who head the Israel lobby’s major organizations”, among them “Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress, and Morton Klein of the Zionist Organization of America.”

Mearsheimer also added to this list “businessmen like Sheldon Adelson, Lester Crown, and Mortimer Zuckerman as well as media personalities like Fred Hiatt and Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post, Bret Stephens of The Wall Street Journal, and Martin Peretz of The New Republic.”

To illustrate what it takes to make Professor Mearsheimer’s “righteous Jews” list, let’s pick the example of Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University, who wrote in 2007: “There is little doubt that the Nazi Holocaust was as close to unconditional evil as has been revealed throughout the entire bloody history of the human species. [...] Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not.”

More recently, Mearsheimer’s “righteous Jew” Richard Falk caused a controversy when he posted an antisemitic cartoon on his blog.

All too obviously, Gilad Atzmon could expect that Mearsheimer would embrace him as a “righteous Jew.” And who knows: maybe next time Professor Mearsheimer teaches a “Seminar on Zionism and Palestine,” Atzmon’s opus will be on the list of required reading. 

Petra Marquardt-Bigman is an Israel-based freelance writer and researcher with a Ph.D. in contemporary history. She blogs at the Jerusalem Post

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