BOSTON — Bright morning sun shone through the 38th floor windows of the Harvard Club of Boston onto some 33 breakfasters, among them Stephen Walt, the academic dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the co-author of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy."
As Harvard Club's "Business/Public Policy Book Discussion Group" partook a repast of French toast with fresh raspberries, Mr. Walt commenced his talk on the subject of his 2005 tome "Taming American Power: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy." The gathering was merely the appetizer to a day-long event to be held at the Harvard Club's counterpart in the Back Bay, seven and a half hours of face time with President and Mrs. Carter, he of the 2006 book "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid." who spoke of the influence of the "Jewish lobby" on National Broadcasting Company's "Meet the Press" last fall. Said he: "I think there's a reticence, even in public fora, to describe both sides of the issues in the West Bank".
The convergence of two such events on the same day wasn't quite a return to the days of Father Feeney, the excommunicated Catholic priest who, according to a 1951 Harvard Crimson story preached to an audience of university students and others: "People have been calling me a Hitler. That's a typical Jew trick. The Jews in Boston are trying to take our religion away." But the events for two speakers, Messrs. Walt and Carter, on the same day does show how far one can go in talking about Israel and its supporters in polite circles these days.
Polite is how Mr. Walt, who wore an electric-blue shirt, red tie, and tightly trimmed beard, came across. Whether he was quoting Osama Bin Laden or Vladimir Putin to demonstrate the gap in public opinion between how Americans view America's actions and how those in other countries see them, he evinced an aire of academic detachment. "I'm not saying which view is right or wrong. I'm suggesting there is a difference on how we tend to see it and how they do." He said, "it's perfectly okay for American citizens to have attachments to foreign countries and to manifest that attachment in politics." He enumerated instances of American exercises of power abroad, such as bombing "a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan" or attacking "what we think are al Qaeda bases in Pakistan and kill[ing] 18 civilians."
The professor was the epitome of even handedness. In Mr. Walt's calculus of realism and moral relativism, little difference exists between, say, the tyranny of Iran and the democracy of America. To illustrate anger over American policies, Mr. Walt presented a Zogby International poll of public opinion in such countries as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon. The question missing from Mr. Walt's analysis is what if public opinion in those countries is wrong.
This standoffish at making moral judgments included one major exception -- Israel, with Armenia and India thrown as examples of country's with strong constituencies in America. Mr. Walt characterized this menacingly on his Power Point as "Penetration: manipulate U.S. political system in order to influence U.S. foreign policy."
At question time, the first query was about the favorable reception his report has received from David Duke, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Palestine Liberation Organization. "I don't feel good about it," he said. "Getting the endorsement from David Duke is not something anybody really relishes."
Another questioner asked Mr. Walt about errors in the "Israel Lobby" paper and his motivations in penning it. The critical tone of the questioner seemed to frustrate a green- jacketed fellow present who hollered, "which question are you going to answer?" Mr. Walt, who said his paper created dialogue on a little discussed subject, gave his response: "Everyone should be aware of what's going on here, which is fairly classic. We pointed out in our original paper that anybody who criticizes Israeli policies or anybody who criticizes the Israel lobby immediately gets attacked for being anti-Semitic. This is the standard operating procedure." Mr. Walt added that he and co-author John Mearsheimer had prepared a "30,000 word rebuttal" to their critics, including Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, which he said they would post to the web later this summer.