24 September 2007

23 September 2007 - Abe Foxman's The Deadliest Lies

I spent some time this evening reading Abe Foxman’s The Deadliest Lies, which the Anti-Defamation League leader published as a response to Walt & Mearsheimer, Jimmy Carter and the lot. It’s written in a simple, song-song style, which may strike some readers as somewhat pedantic, and also begins with a description of antisemitism in the U.S., which I found somewhat superfluous.

Yet Foxman’s arguments are sound, even if they’re not too different from what others have said. Foxman hits the nail on the head when he challenges M&W to “[w]in the policy debate,” noting that instead they resort to “complaining about the process and suggesting that their opponents . . . are somehow using unfair tactics to withhold the victory that Mearsheimer and Walt believe they deserve.” (89-90)

Foxman presents a few recent examples of cases in which the ADL and other Jewish groups actively opposed and criticized Israeli policy: the expansion of certain settlements, the law restricting marriages between Palestinian and Israeli citizens, and a few others. M&W acknowledge such diversity, when it suits them, though elsewhere they portray Jewish support for Israel as hawkish and intolerant.

Next, Foxman turns to historian (and former IDF soldier, now turned anti-Zionist) Tony Judt. Foxman shows how Judt offered the feeblest defense of M&W, ignoring challenges to their ideas and merely arguing that their work didn’t receive the attention he felt it should have. He also tells his side of the infamous cancellation of Judt’s speech at the Polish consulate, saying it should not have been canceled.

Foxman disputes Judt’s account in its essentials, declaring: “I never actually called the Polish consulate to complain about the Tony Judt speech.” (160) He says that his critics rushed to print their protests before checking the facts, which is not hard to believe. He did not “censor” Judt, he says, nor does he equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, though he believes some criticism of Israel is illegitimate.

Finally, Foxman turns to Jimmy Carter and Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. He points out the fallacy of the Israel-apartheid analogy, and says Carter deliberately provoked controversy by using the word “apartheid” in his title. Unfortunately, Foxman describes the situation in rather vulnerable terms: “The Jews of Israel don’t want to rule the Palestinians—they want to live apart from them . . .”. (185)

This is, strictly speaking, different from apartheid South Africa, which was a system of domination in which the existence of separate nations was really a self-serving illusion (substantially different from the form of “apartness” that was enforced by segregation laws, many of which pre-dated the “apartheid” system). But anti-Israel partisans will make a facile feast of Foxman’s use of the word “apart.”

Foxman criticises Carter’s historical revisionism and one-sided recollections, drawing on the critiques provided by former Carter associate Kenneth Stein. He also documents some of Carter’s apparently religiously-based hostility to Israel. He acknowledges that Carter is “a good man,” but argues that he, like M&W, will “give comfort and support to bigots and opportunists” who hate Jews and Israel (214).

I’m a bit uncomfortable with the “comfort and support” line of argument. It is the type of tactic that can be used all too easily to shut down debate. Critics of Zimbabwe’s government, for example, are routinely lumped with racists. But that does not mean the motives of M&W, Judt, and Carter, whatever they are, should be entirely beyond question. Why only Israel? Why Israel more than others?

Foxman closes with an appeal to the “Jewish liberal or progressive” to speak up and join debates within the Jewish community. Ironically, this is the same recommendation arrived at by M&W, though with a different intention in mind. Foxman wants to strengthen Jewish institutions and the Jewish relationship with Israel; M&W want to weaken, undermine, dismantle and re-define.

Perhaps the most powerful part of the book is the foreword, written by former Secretary of State George P. Schultz. In clear prose, Schultz debunks the idea that the “Israel lobby” controls American foreign policy, and defends the U.S.-Israel relationship. Foxman’s probably won’t convince those who don’t agree with him, but in The Deadliest Lies he’s provided a primer that will be useful to those who do.

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