For people who say their ideas can't get heard, those who contend "the Israel Lobby" has a poisonous grip on American foreign policy are getting a lot of airtime these days.
Stephen Walt, co-author of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," appeared on National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" on Tuesday. Another NPR program, "On Point," featured Mr. Walt of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and his writing partner, John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, on Wednesday. In her heavily promoted "God's Warriors" series, CNN's Christiane Amanpour featured a one-two punch of Mr. Mearsheimer and President Carter, the author of "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," in a special, "Jewish Warriors," broadcast three times in the week following its August 21 premiere.
Into this environment steps the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, whose new book, "The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control," attempts to counter the allegations and claims, errors and hyperbole of "the Israel Lobby" set. Mr. Foxman, who spent his early years in Vilna, Lithuania, hiding from the Nazis with his Roman Catholic nanny, is challenging calumnies that many believed to have been eradicated from polite discussion in America and elsewhere around the world. The book contains highly detailed and well-sourced refutations of the charges of Messrs. Carter, Walt, and Mearsheimer, as well as a new account of his involvement in last year's controversy surrounding a speech of historian Tony Judt, from whom Mr. Foxman is demanding an apology for being called a "fascist." The book also contains a powerful foreword by George Shultz, a secretary of state in the Reagan administration.
"A classic anti-Semitic canard about Jews, having disproportionate power and control, that Jews only care about themselves, has now been brought into mainstream America. Until recently these anti-Semitic canards were on the fringes of American society," Mr. Foxman, who at age 67 has helmed the ADL for two decades, told The New York Sun in an interview. "With the advent of the Mearsheimer-Walt article a year ago, aided and abetted by former President Carter, the issue as to whether Jews are loyal, whether Jews control, whether Jews put their interests above everybody else's interest, is now an issue of debate in mainstream circles. That is insidious, sinister, and dangerous."
For Mr. Foxman, the current arguments have an ugly resonance given the historical context: He cites the Dreyfus Affair, Hitler's allegations that Jews undermined the German effort in World War I, and Stalin's doubts about Jewish loyalty as significant precedents to the recent charges. "To survive Hitler and to survive postwar communist Europe and to relive these hideous canards, just because they're being paraded by professors with titles from Chicago and Harvard, does not change their reality," said Mr. Foxman, making clear he does not equate the current authors with either Hitler or Stalin.
At stake, says Mr. Foxman, is the ability of Jews to engage in American democracy as citizens, much like Irish Americans, Cuban Americans, Italian Americans and members of other ethnic groups. "Will Jews be less willing to act out their full citizenship on issues for fear of being accused of being disloyal or not loyal enough or more loyal to Israel than America?" If some American Jews want to advocate on behalf of Israel or any other cause, he added, "that's what American democracy is all about."
"The Deadliest Lies," which Mr. Foxman hopes will find its way onto academic reading lists that include the books addressed in his account, provides a litany of errors and illogicalities in the works it disputes. Among the offenses: the "denigration" by Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer of Israel's offer to Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000; their "minimization" of Palestinian-Arab terror attacks on Israeli civilians; their account of the demise of Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, the only politician they believe was forced out of office by the "Lobby," in an electoral defeat that Mr. Foxman attributes instead to the power of Chicago's Democratic machine; and numerous examples, omitted from the work of Messrs. Walt and Mearsheimer, of American administrations acting in opposition to Israel and its advocates.
Regarding Mr. Carter, Mr. Foxman quotes Kenneth Stein, a former aide to the president, to dispute the former president's assertion that Menachem Begin ever made any commitment during Camp David discussions on settlements in the West Bank, and certainly none involving stopping their growth.
Mr. Shultz goes even further in refuting the idea that any "Israel Lobby" dictates American foreign policy, enumerating America's sale of arms to Saudi Arabia during the Reagan administration and recounting Reagan's decision to visit the Bitburg cemetery. He also cautions against scapegoating. "When we make a wrong decision – even one that is recommended by Israel and supported by American Jewish groups – it is our decision, and one for which we alone are responsible," Mr. Shultz writes. "We act in our own interest. And when we mistakenly conclude from time to time – as we will – that an action or policy is in America's interest, we must take responsibility for the mistake."
In addition to addressing the arguments in a point-by-point fashion, Mr. Foxman's book identifies a possible agenda behind the work ofMessrs. Waltand Mearsheimer. "Their goal is to identify and target a scapegoat for what they consider the mistaken decision to invade Iraq," Mr. Foxman writes. "And that scapegoat, unsurprisingly is the Lobby, which, according to Mearsheimer and Walt, drove America into war not to serve the best interests of the United States but to serve their true homeland, Israel."
A significant portion of the book involves the circumstances of the Polish consulate's decision to cancel a speech by Mr. Judt last year, a story broken by the Sun's Ira Stoll. To advocates of the "Israel Lobby" hypothesis, the cancelation of the speech by Mr. Judt, who has called for "a single, integrated, binational state of Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians," seemed to confirm the suspicion that Israel's defenders squash debate on the Middle East. Mr. Foxman's chronology lays out an elaborate chain of detail to chronicle how his group's curiosity about the speech was misinterpreted as a call for the event's cancelation. According to Mr. Foxman, an ADL staffer made inquiries about the speech — a customary act of fact-finding — only to be later informed that the consulate had canceled it hours prior to its taking place. "That's a very dumb thing for them to do," Mr. Foxman remembers thinking at the time.
The inquiry had consequences for Mr. Foxman. A consulate employee incorrectly told the director of Network 20/20, under whose auspices Mr. Judt was to speak, that the vice consul was speaking with Mr. Foxman, he writes. From this, the Network 20/20 director surmised that the ADL was behind the cancelation, and informed Mr. Judt, who sent a broadcast e-mail blaming the group. Mr. Foxman became the focal point for the controversy and the subject of two open letters, one in Archipelago, the other in the New York Review of Books, the signatories of which refused to hear his version of the facts before signing their names to it.
Most hurtful to Mr. Foxman is Mr. Judt's characterization of him and another Jewish leader as "illiberal lying bigots – fascists" in an e-mail circulated in the heat of the fracas and published in press accounts at the time. In a May 25, 2007, letter to Mr. Judt, Mr. Foxman wrote, "I am deeply disappointed that, as a scholar of European history, you would use the term ‘fascist' so carelessly. I have devoted my entire professional life at ADL to fight hatred, intolerance and anti-Semitism and have consistently defended free speech as a bedrock principle … To compare me to the likes of Hitler, Mussolini and other authoritarian ideologues is not only … personally offensive to me, but it denigrates the memory of the countless victims of their bigotry and violence."
In a May 30 reply supplied to the Sun by Mr. Judt, the New York University professor, who otherwise declined to comment, stood by his version of the facts and recalled his decision to stop donating to the ADL. "I ceased to contribute only when it became clear to me that the ADL was more interested in identifying and attacking critics of Israel than it was in fighting hatred, racism or intolerance," Mr. Judt wrote. The next day, Mr. Foxman fired back a letter to Mr. Judt, saying of the epithets attributed to Mr. Judt, "You cannot pin these despicable descriptions of me and ADL on anyone else."
Mr. Foxman contends that all three episodes his book addresses are linked. "Both Mearsheimer-Walt and Carter make the charge that you cannot tell the story, because Jews stifle debate. And Tony Judt is an example of how that's used," he said. "The only thing that I find so sad is that we still have to argue and debate and answer some of the classical anti-Semitic canards."
Mr. Gitell (gitell.com) is a contributing editor of The New York Sun.