Monthly Archives: October 2011

Netanyahu governs like Arafat did

An often overlooked irony of contemporary Middle East politics is how
deeply reminiscent the governing style of Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu is to that of the late Palestinian president,
Yasser Arafat. The mechanics of holding together a fractious national
liberation movement bear uncanny similarities to those of cobbling
together a diverse coalition within a flawed parliamentary democracy.

For most of its history under Arafat, the Palestine Liberation
Organization was not simply synonymous with Fatah. It was, rather, a
contentious coalition of diverse groups from the far left to the
moderate right.

Arafat was a master at operating a quota system in which everybody got
enough of the action to keep them on board. In more recent years under
President Mahmoud Abbas, and particularly Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad—who is not a member of either Fatah or the PLO—Palestinians
have been moving away from a quota system toward one with elements of
meritocracy and the selection of officials based on their ability to
perform rather than what faction they represent.

Coalition building in parliamentary democracies frequently involves
jockeying for positions between party leaders based on the number of
votes they can produce in the legislature. But Netanyahu has managed
to create an ideologically crazy-quilt coalition that is nonetheless
one of the most stable in Israel’s history precisely because all of
its members get exactly what they need.

Netanyahu’s governing style, therefore, has a great deal more in
common with Arafat’s than either would have been comfortable

Netanyahu himself gets to be prime minister even though his Likud
Party has one less seat than the largest group in the Knesset, Kadima.

And this, after all, is ultimately the whole point of the exercise.

Avigdor Lieberman, head of the third-largest party in the Knesset, the
largely Russian-immigrant Yisrael Beiteinu group, gets the number-two
spot, foreign minister. He has been waging a relentless war of
attrition against Netanyahu for leadership of the Israeli right,
although Netanyahu has thus far prevailed.

Eli Yishai, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party, also gets exactly
what he wants. Shas broke the traditional taboo of ultra-Orthodox
groups by getting involved directly in Israeli politics largely in
order to secure state funding for its religiously-oriented social and
educational programs. His post as interior minister is ideal for such

Finally, Ehud Barak continues in his personal fiefdom as defense
minister, even though he had to abandon the Labor Party. In spite of
terrible personal relations with outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi
Ashkenazi and some other leading generals, the military generally
regards Barak as someone who understands their perspective.

There are still bitter memories of unbridgeable gaps in communication
when former unionist and Labor Party leader Amir Peretz served as
defense minister during the last Lebanon war. So both Barak personally
and the military also get the minimum they require, as he is one of
the few current prominent politicians who essentially “speaks their

This quota system has not only allowed Netanyahu to become prime
minister without having the largest party in the Knesset, but to
develop one of the most stable coalitions in Israel’s history and
place him on the path of being one of the longest-serving prime
ministers the country has ever had. Mastery of such quota politics is
exactly what allowed Arafat to remain the unquestioned leader of the
Palestinian national movement for most of his life as well.

Well-managed quota systems make for very good politics, particularly
when the goal is staying in power by making sure everybody has a
“taste.” But it makes bold decision-making almost impossible.

Netanyahu, even if he were inclined to make concessions on peace, is a
self-condemned hostage to this structure. It took Arafat almost 15
years, from the early 70s to the late 80s, to maneuver the PLO into
accepting the principle of a two-state solution precisely because he
had to manage his own fractious coalition.

The distortions in policy are all too obvious. The only real reason
why Israel has not apologized to Turkey over the deadly flotilla
incident is that both Netanyahu and Lieberman are perfectly ready to
condemn each other for any such move, although refusing to do so makes
absolutely no sense. And Lieberman’s vote against the recent prisoner
swap with Hamas is ammunition in his pocket should there be another
confrontation with that organization, a trump card he’s holding
against his own prime minister.

So far, these machinations are working for Netanyahu’s political
career. But they are leading Israel into a set of self-defeating
policies of subservience to the settler movement, paralysis in the
face of regional upheaval, and an utter inability to make any serious
moves toward peace with the Palestinians. As they so often do
everywhere, in Israel today, good politics are producing bad, and
possibly disastrous, policies.

From Wall Street to Tahrir Square, Grassroots Efforts Cannot be Unfocused and Leaderless

The “Occupy Wall Street” protests in the United States raise a problem familiar to the contemporary Arab world: What happens to a political movement that is leaderless and unfocused?

The wave of discontent in the West is directly linked to the grave economic conditions facing the middle classes in these societies. The focus on Wall Street reflects a sense of deep resentment at the continued massive profits by the same financial companies that are rightly blamed for the meltdown of 2008 and the ongoing financial crisis.

When President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party used this discontent to sweep Republicans out of the White House and both houses of Congress in a crushing 2008 victory, the reaction on the right was, literally, hysterical. It gave rise to the “Tea Party” movement that purported to be as angry at Republicans and former President George W. Bush as with the Democrats.

However, unlike the all-inclusive Occupy Wall Street movement, the Tea Party was exclusive. It repeated an essential demand outlined in Richard J. Hofstadter’s classic 1964 essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” to “take the country back” from a monstrous and alien conspiracy aiming to destroy it. This rage was best expressed more recently in the paranoid panic of sobbing talk-show host Glenn Beck.

Mainstream Republicans were able to mobilize the energy of the Tea Party to win back the House of Representatives in 2010, a classic example of how a spontaneous, grassroots movement can be cultivated, funded and directed by an organized political leadership. It became a movement that looked like a leaderless and spontaneous outburst of popular sentiment, but that was in effect put to work by a highly organized party in the focused service of a specific political goal.

The irony is that the intense passions released by the Tea Party have now become a liability in the next challenge facing the Republicans, namely unseating Obama and retaking the White House. For this, they will need to appeal to a broad-base of mainstream, independent and swing American voters, who are likely to regard Tea Party rhetoric as unhinged.

The Occupy Wall Street movement, by contrast, shows no signs of being mobilized by a political party or organization to create real change in politics or policy. Any movement so broad-based, leaderless (though there are some organizers who can be identified) and, frankly, unfocused runs the risk of simply fizzling out without leaving any lasting legacy.

Disappointment with Obama and the Democrats runs so high that it is hard to imagine Occupy Wall Street developing into a potent base to aid his re-election. However, the most logical consequence would be an emboldened and more aggressively reformist Obama second term. The lack of convergence between the organized liberals in the Democratic Party and the protesting leftists thus far seems complete, in contrast to the way Republicans used the Tea Party for their own purposes.

Arabs should be very familiar with this conundrum. The Egyptian experience in particular has shown the limitations of a leaderless, spontaneous movement. It creates momentum but cannot harness it. That can only be done by organized political groupings.

The Tahrir protesters sought the departure of President Hosni Mubarak and his sons, and the military arranged for that and took over. This amounts to regime decapitation but not regime change. Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood is quietly and effectively preparing to become the main beneficiary of planned parliamentary elections, while professional politicians like the former Arab League secretary general, Amr Moussa, are campaigning for the presidency. For now the military rules, and it has become a criminal offense to mock these new collective pharaohs.

In other words, the ideals of the Tahrir protesters, apart from the absence of Mubarak, hardly seem to have been realized. Existing organizations, predictably, are using the momentum the protests created for their own ends. Power is in the streets, as Lenin said, just waiting to be picked up. Among those picking it up these days are Islamist mobs and army rioters attacking Coptic protesters.

There is movement toward a new system in Egypt, but what it will look like is anybody’s guess (although I did suggest a three-way power-sharing arrangement months ago, recognizing this is a highly optimistic scenario). All organized groups are jockeying to take advantage of the space and momentum created by the protesters, to the exclusion, and possibly at the expense, of most of the protesters themselves.

Another good example of a grassroots movement disconnected from organized political leadership is the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign that sometimes targets the Israeli occupation, and sometimes Israel itself. In neither case is it well coordinated with a Palestinian national leadership that can translate the momentum it produces into results. Until it is, the efforts of the so-called BDS campaign are unlikely to have a significant effect on the strategic equation. The endeavor might make people feel good, but it won’t make much of a difference.

Protest and grassroots movements, by being focused and connected to existing political institutions, can have a genuine impact. Otherwise they risk their efforts being co-opted or simply fizzling out with a whimper.

A New Sectarianism is Reshaping the Arab World

Across the Arab world, terrifying sectarian dynamics are starting to
emerge, essentially pitting Arab Sunnis versus all religious
minorities. The elements of this have been obvious for quite a while,
but the pattern has become so pronounced and almost pervasive that it
demands to be recognized no matter how frightening the prospects.

Throughout the region, political forces are lining up time and again
along this extremely dangerous binary divide. For instance, the
ecumenism of the Egyptian revolution has given way to the most
gruesome sectarian violence between the military and Islamist mobs on
the one hand and Coptic protesters on the other hand. This was
particularly evident over the weekend, with deadly clashes and
sectarian incitement raging throughout Cairo.

The Syrian regime has done its best to cast the uprising in that
country in a sectarian light, with a disturbing degree of success.
Regional support for Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite-minority rule is now
almost entirely restricted to non-Sunni Arabs (as well as Iran),
including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, the Shia-led Iraqi government, Shia
parliamentarians and activists in Kuwait and other Gulf States, and a
significant number of Christians in Lebanon and Syria.

By contrast, Assad’s alliance with Hamas, the Palestinian branch of
the Muslim Brotherhood, has collapsed largely along sectarian lines.
Support for Assad among Arab Sunnis has dropped to virtually zero,
including all Sunni-dominated governments. Support for his rule has
also further exacerbated the already deeply-damaged reputation of
Hezbollah among Arab Sunnis.

The Sunni Arab world, meanwhile, has been largely silent about the
campaign of relentless persecution and repression against the Shia
majority in Bahrain, implicitly backing the oppressive rule of the
Sunni-minority royal family.

Sectarian tensions simmer in Kuwait but are held at bay by the
country’s wealth and small population. In Saudi Arabia, however, they
have been bubbling away for months, particularly in the country’s
oil-rich eastern provinces. Last week they boiled over in Al-Awamiyah,
as Shia rioters were fired on by security forces. Saudi spokespersons
dismissed the incident as “nonsectarian” and merely criminal in
nature, but immediately undermined their arguments by blaming Iran for
the unrest.

The narrative of the last few years of the previous decade—the
“culture of resistance” (which supposedly included both Sunni and Shia
Islamists and some Arab nationalists) versus the “culture of
accommodation” (a term of abuse for all moderate or pro-Western forces
in the Arab world)—has been completely subsumed by this emerging
sectarian narrative.

It will be rightly objected that this scattershot analysis is
superficial, and that in each society there are many detailed and
specific forces at play, particularly in countries as diverse as
Lebanon or Iraq. It will further be observed that there are many
exceptions to this pattern, such as the role of imprisoned Sunni
social democrat Ibrahim Sharif in Bahrain or the presence of
Christians, Alawites and others in the Syrian opposition.

It is absolutely true that when you look at individual groves, there
are many details that do not correspond to this narrative or dynamic;
but it’s also plainly the new shape the broader forest is taking. I’ve
been watching this pattern emerge for a long time without being
willing to clearly identify it in writing, both because there are so
many details that complicate, and even contradict, such a reading, and
in hope that other dynamics would prevent a regional sectarian divide
from becoming definitive.

I now think it’s impossible to deny that the single most important
factor shaping the Arab regional dynamic is a sectarian divide, not
between Sunnis and Shia, but between Sunnis and everybody else. On the
sidelines are also significant divisions between Arabs and ethnic
minorities such as Kurds or Berbers, but it is the sectarian split
that is the real dividing line these days. This new sectarian
consciousness has greatly assisted the rise of Turkey as a regional
power, strongly aligned with Arab Sunnis, at least for the moment.

Iran is probably the biggest single loser in the regional realignment
so far, and the mainstay of many governments trying to blame unrest on
“foreign powers” (along with al Qaeda, Israel, the United States,
Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey, depending on which government is
making excuses). However, an Arab world divided along sectarian lines
will continue to provide potential openings for Iran in Shia and other
non-Sunni areas, even where they have had little or no influence in
the past.

The emerging sectarian narrative threatens to rip apart many Arab
societies, and indeed the Arab world in general. More than military
dictatorships or violent organizations that may seek to exploit these
tensions, the illusions that Sunni Arabs across the region are seeking
to impose a new and repressive order on non-Sunni Arabs, or that
non-Sunni Arabs are subversive elements or disloyal agents of Iran or
other foreign powers, pose the gravest threat to a better future in
the Middle East.

These narratives are almost always implicit, but they are on the brink
of becoming hegemonic. Counter-narratives, based on deeds as well as
words, are more urgently needed than ever. If they wish to avoid it,
Arab political and religious leaders are going to have to move quickly
to prevent this stark sectarian divide from defining the regional
landscape into the future.

Arab and Muslim Americans should welcome the death of al-Awlaki

The elimination in a CIA drone strike of Anwar al-Awlaki, al Qaeda’s major English-language sock puppet and propagandist, has many problematic aspects. However, from an Arab- and Muslim-American perspective it can only be a very good thing.

Awlaki was not a “key leader” in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. His death will do virtually nothing to change the political situation in Yemen. Most Yemenis are unaware of his existence and do not care about his death. AQAP is only one of a myriad of Islamist and Salafist-Jihadist groups in Yemen, and is not a major factor in the power struggle between members of the Yemeni elite. This struggle will likely determine the outcome of the battle over that country’s future.

That said, Awlaki’s death was highly significant on two counts. First, he was a key figure in al Qaeda’s current strategy (as clearly articulated by its paramount leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri) of seeking to organize terrorist attacks in the West. Zawahiri’s recent statements have emphasized the need for extremely small groups and preferably lone individuals who have self-radicalized on the basis of the kind of propaganda relentlessly issued by Awlaki through the Internet.

Zawahiri has insisted that Western al Qaeda sympathizers should operate in the greatest secrecy, preferably alone, because communications invariably lead to discovery and the collapse of terrorist plots. Most would-be “jihadists” in the West are failing to heed such advice. They are also, typically, focusing on military targets that are difficult to attack, rather than “soft targets” such as civilian areas. This tactic is largely proving to be a failure because few Western Muslims are interested in violence. And in the rare cases that they are, they have generally disregarded Zawahiri’s admonitions and have been apprehended before launching successful attacks.

However, in at least one dreadful instance, Awlaki’s propaganda helped inspire and direct a major and successful act of terrorism on American soil: the Fort Hood massacre conducted by Major Nidal Hasan. Awlaki was apparently in e-mail contact with Hasan before he embarked on his murderous rampage, and Awlaki’s insidious propaganda plainly helped inspire that outrage. Awlaki has also been linked to a plot to ship explosives in printer cartridges on commercial airliners bound for the United States, as well as to the Nigerian “underwear bomber” who failed to bring down a commercial airliner over Detroit. Neither of those plots succeeded, but both almost did.

Second, Awlaki was an American born in New Mexico and a former senior cleric at a large and important mosque just outside Washington, DC. This has been exhibit A in the claims of professional Islamophobes and anti-Arab racists that the American-Muslim community poses a significant threat to the rest of American society. Awlaki’s activities, even if they are seen mainly as “speech acts,” posed a direct and very serious threat to the wellbeing of Arab- and Muslim- Americans generally because of his identity and virulent extremism.

American officials have said that the simultaneous death of another American al Qaeda extremist, Samir Khan, who was editor of the group’s English-language propaganda publication Inspire, was a bonus and that Awlaki was the main target. However, Khan’s loss may be an even bigger blow from a practical point of view to al Qaeda, which has lost someone key in radicalizing Western Muslims.

But Khan was little-known in the United States, while Awlaki was a malignant cancer on the reputation of Arab- and Muslim-Americans. He was also frequently cited by those who would stigmatize these communities as a potentially dangerous fifth column requiring discriminatory special treatment from the government.

The bottom line is that Awlaki preached that all Americans, of whatever origin, were fair game and should be killed at every possible opportunity. That, of course, includes Arab- and Muslim-Americans. So Awlaki not only threatened the reputation of these communities, but also potentially their members as well. This man wanted us all dead, so eliminating him was, quintessentially, an act of self-defense.

There are real and important constitutional issues and due process concerns about this assassination, and they will have to be debated in the coming months. However, due process arguments need to take into consideration the practical implausibility of the capture and trial of these individuals, what such an effort would have entailed, and the real options the US government faced in dealing with them.

These concerns notwithstanding, Arab- and Muslim-Americans should welcome the elimination of a man who posed a real and serious threat to their standing and, indeed, their very lives.

Gilad Atzmon and John Mearsheimer: self-criticism, self-hate and hate

I've long been an advocate that self-criticism, both as an individual and as a group, is an essential element of healthy political engagement. Group-think, political orthodoxy and correctness, and chauvinistic received wisdom are the worst kinds of political poison. Triumphalism and/or paranoia are the inevitable consequences, and they lead to grotesque distortions of perception and judgment. Self-criticism, especially of a group one identifies with and participates in, is not only healthy, it is indispensable. Without it, political thought is reduced to mere cheerleading, defensiveness and quickly degenerates into irrational hatred of the other while indefensibly championing the self.
So healthy self-criticism is to be applauded and supported whenever it emerges. It is also an essential element of dialogue between groups, because without it an understanding of other parties' grievances and the failings and even crimes done in one's own name are simply not acknowledged. While continuously defending Arabs, Arab Americans and Muslims from anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia, I've tried to engage in as much self-criticism of the failings of these identity groups as possible in my writings, and this has inevitably garnered me a great deal of criticism from those who disapprove of it. Some have argued that at a time when the Arab and Muslim communities in the United States are under heavy attack from bigots and racists, now is the time to circle the wagons and not to look inward, openly, honestly and self critically. Anyone who reads my work will know that I reject this categorically.
Self-criticism, though, is very different from its more extreme relative: self-hatred. When constructive self-criticism gives way to embracing bigoted narratives that demonize and stigmatize identity groups with which one either does or did identify with, this is no longer self-criticism but self-hatred. There is a small coterie of professional former Muslim Islamophobes, such as the man who sometimes calls himself “Walid Shoebat,” and anti-Arab racists of Arab origin most notably Brigitte Gabriel, who make a tidy living off of peddling this garbage to credulous American audiences, particularly from the evangelical Christian and Jewish ultra-right lecture circuit and book-buying public. It is one of the great tragedies of contemporary American public discourse that there is a real, and indeed growing, market for this kind of bile, no matter how over the top. These individuals, in fact, compete with and outbid each other in how extreme they can be in their anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric, and often have acrimonious relationships based on market share jealousy.
The dichotomy between self-criticism versus self-hatred has recently reemerged in a controversy regarding the endorsement by University of Chicago Professor John Mearsheimer of a new book by the Israeli (or former Israeli) jazz saxophonist and political agitator Gilad Atzmon. Mearsheimer has been heavily criticized in some quarters for this endorsement, and has defended himself on the Foreign Policy blog of his some-time co-author Harvard professor Stephen Walt. Mearsheimer's main defense is that he found nothing objectionable in the book (which I have not read and will not bother to read either, for reasons which will become abundantly clear), and was not familiar with Atzmon or his other writings. The first thing that needs to be pointed out is that it was incumbent on Mearsheimer not simply to pick up the text he was sent but do a little bit of homework on the author he was being asked to embrace. Had he done so, he would have realized that Atzmon long since crossed the line from Jewish self-criticism to self-hatred in a repulsive and indefensible manner.
In his defense, Mearsheimer acknowledges that Atzmon is, indeed, self-hating, but he seems to confuse unhealthy self-hatred with healthy self-criticism: "The more important and interesting issue is whether Atzmon is a self-hating Jew. Here the answer is unequivocally yes. He openly describes himself in this way and he sees himself as part of a long dissident tradition that includes famous figures such as Marx and Spinoza." But Aztmon is not a dissident, in any meaningful sense of the word, leveling constructive criticism against his fellow Jews and Israelis. Instead, as Mearsheimer would have discovered if he had done his homework, Atzmon frequently traffics in the worst kind of anti-Semitism. Comparing him to Spinoza is simply absurd, and he goes far beyond Marx in his condemnations of his fellow Jews. Moreover, I don't know any self-respecting Marxists who aren't embarrassed by some of the harsher passages in Marx's writings about other Jewish Europeans.
I'm not going to subject my readers to any lengthy catalog of the worst of Atzmon. It's well-documented, and the fact that Mearsheimer is, or at least claims to be, unaware of any of this is, in itself, an embarrassment to any self-respecting academic who wants to comment on such issues. Atzmon calls himself a leftist, but in a straightforwardly racist manner distinguishes between genuine Marxism and a pathological Jewish version: "Jewish Marxism is very different from Marxism or socialism in general. While Marxism is a universal paradigm, its Jewish version is very different. It is there to mould Marxist dialectic into a Jewish subservient precept. Jewish Marxism is basically a crude utilisation of ‘Marxist-like’ terminology for the sole purpose of the Jewish tribal cause. It is a Judeo-centric pseudo intellectual setting which aims at political power." According to Atzmon, "Jewish Marxism is there to suppress any form of engagement with the Jewish question by means of spin. It is there to stop scrutiny of Jewish power and Jewish lobbying." As Andy Newman correctly noted in The Guardian, "This is a wild conspiracy argument, dripping with contempt for Jews."
Atzmon has also disturbingly argued that, "American Jewry makes any debate on whether the "Protocols of the elder of Zion" [sic] are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews (in fact Zionists) do control the world." Atzmon argues that he is only referring to Zionists and not Jews, so these comments cannot be considered anti-Semitic. Yet the first sentence in the passage clearly refers to “American Jewry” in general and the second to “American Jews” which he describes in general as being “in fact Zionists.” His disclaimers are completely unconvincing and are absolutely belied by the language and structure of his text, which are not equivocal. It's also noteworthy that this article appears to have been permanently removed from his website, but it can still be accessed here. As Atzmon himself notes, the bracketed comment “in fact Zionists” does not appear in his original text, and he added it later to try to establish that his essay “contains no anti-Semitic or anti Jewish sentiment." I'd challenge any reader of the full original text linked above to agree with that assessment.
One could go on much further, but there's no need. The above quotations demonstrate unequivocally that, for whatever reason, Atzmon does not traffic in healthy self-criticism, but in fact indulges in fairly extreme forms of anti-Semitism, and therefore in self-hatred of an extremely unhealthy variety. A lot of this is very reminiscent of the anti-Semitic ravings of another self-described former-Israeli, "Israel Shamir," who my former co-author, Ali Abunimah, and I warned pro-Palestinian activists about back in April 2001. Not surprisingly, Atzmon is a big fan of Shamir, claiming that, “As an ex-Jew, Shamir is a very civil and peaceful man and probably is the sharpest critical voice of ‘Jewish power’ and Zionist ideology.”
Regarding Shamir, Abunimah and I wrote, “Perhaps some are ready to overlook statements that appeal to anti-Semitic sentiments because the person making them identifies himself as a Jew. But the identity of the speaker makes such statements no less odious and harmful. We do not have any need for some of what Israel Shamir is introducing into the discourse on behalf of Palestinian rights, which increasingly includes elements of traditional European anti-Semitic rhetoric. Such sentiments will harm, not help, the cause.” Based on his comments cited above, and so many others, obviously exactly the same calculation applies to Atzmon. He may see himself as a champion of Palestine and the Palestinians, but through his self-hatred, which has degenerated, at least in those statements, into hatred pure and simple, he can only harm it, and indeed badly.
Gilad Atzmon is no Israel Shahak, a real leftist critic and a genuine heir of Spinoza, who was at the same time a devoted citizen of Israel who served all his required military and other civic duties while railing against its policies and attacking what he saw as the idiocies of Jewish religious fundamentalism. Shahak is often falsely cited as self-hating or anti-Semitic, but he was neither. His was a genuine, healthy form of self-criticism, and although he occasionally took self-criticism to its extremes, he knew where the line between self-criticism and self-hatred was, and he never crossed it. Atzmon, as the above citations demonstrate, does what Shahak never for a moment did, and engages in a fairly advanced version of self-hatred. And with self-hatred of this degree, there is really no distinction with simple hatred itself. As many of the anti-Arab racists and Islamophobes of Arab and Muslim origin demonstrate, being a part or formerly a part of an identity group doesn't in and of itself stop someone from becoming a purveyor of the worst forms of hate against it.
Why Mearsheimer found Atzmon compelling in spite of these attitudes, even if they are largely concealed, implicit or downplayed in his book, is a very disturbing question. Ever since he and Walt began criticizing the role of the pro-Israel lobby (Jewish power in Israel and the United States being a subject that deserves serious interrogation of the kind being done by Peter Beinart, among others), Mearsheimer (far more than Walt) has been developing an outright vendetta with the Jewish mainstream that, I fear, has become deeply personal and therefore distorted. Last year he gave a dreadful speech at the Palestine Center in Washington in which he abandoned his long-standing good advice to Arab and Muslim Americans to develop an alliance for a two-state solution with peace-minded Jewish Americans. Instead, he counseled Palestinians and their allies that Israel would never agree to the creation of a Palestinian state and that because of demographics and other factors, Palestinians would ultimately prevail, and that in effect they need do nothing to achieve that victory (save, he noted, not engaging in the kind of violence that might rationalize another round of Israeli ethnic cleansing). In response to that worst of all possible advice, I dubbed him the “Kevorkian of Palestine,” because I believe he was preaching a form of assisted suicide. He was repeating the siren song Palestinians and other Arabs have been telling themselves about Israel and Zionism since the 1920s: that demographics are destiny and steadfastness alone would secure a victory over the Israeli national project. To say that history has proven this logic incorrect, and led from defeat to defeat, would be a gross understatement.
I cannot claim to see into Mearsheimer's mind, but it struck me at the time that this terrible speech was probably prompted more by a desire to provoke and annoy his antagonists in the pro-Israel lobby than being intended to do anything to help Palestinians achieve independence or an end to occupation (or, for that matter, anything constructive whatsoever). In the same vein, it's hard not to see his endorsement of Atzmon's book as anything other than another extension of this unconstructive, unhealthy and unhelpful two-way vendetta he has with the Jewish-American mainstream. Like the anti-Semitic ravings of Shamir and Atzmon, Mearsheimer's endless quarrel with the Jewish-American establishment does nothing whatsoever to help Palestinians or Arab Americans achieve any of their important goals, most especially ending the Israeli occupation.
There is, of course, plenty of hatred that is not self-hatred but simple hatred of others. A recent video released by a Jerusalem Post editor, Caroline Glick, and her cohort Noam Jacobson is an excellent example of how certain strands of Jewish Israeli discourse are so rooted in a paranoid chauvinism that it shamelessly expresses itself in the most ugly racist stereotypes against a wide variety of other ethnicities and identities. There has been a shameful silence from mainstream Jewish-American groups and commentators about this video, and I would say that for the sake of their own credibility, Jewish Americans who agree with what I have said so far in this posting about Atzmon need to end that silence immediately and condemn this video for what it is: the most repulsive form of racism aimed at many ethnicities. One can only imagine the uproar had an editor of a major Arab newspaper produced a video remotely approaching this one in terms of stereotyping, racism and shameless hatred.
The phenomenon of Arab anti-Semitism is also disturbingly common and well-documented, and I've been a strident critic of it, especially here on the Ibishblog. Combating racism directed towards others from within one's own community is the first step in a serious self-critical engagement with one's fellows, compatriots and coreligionists. But self-criticism that crosses the line into self-hatred and becomes, therefore, hatred pure and simple directed against one's own community of origin isn't any better because of the identity, or former identity, of the purveyor of hate. There is no difference between chauvinistic hatred of the other based on ethnic paranoia and internalized hatred of what is, or used to be, one's own community based on some kind of neurotic and probably Oedipal rebellion and rejection. There are lots of outstanding Jewish and Jewish Israeli critics of Israeli policies, culture and attitudes, and lots of Arab and Arab-American critics of Arab governments, culture and attitudes as well. Walid Sheobat and Brigitte Gabriel are not among them, and neither are Israel Shamir or Gilad Atzmon. Hate is hate, and the source is immaterial and no defense whatsoever.
As for Mearsheimer, his defense of his endorsement is unconvincing, and by standing by it even when confronted with what he claims he did not know about Atzmon before "blurbing" his new book, he has provided his strongest critics with powerful new ammunition to dismiss his opinions as too distorted to merit serious consideration. He certainly can't be compared with Atzmon, and it may be that some of the accusations against him have been unfair. But there's no excuse for his ongoing endorsement, particularly now that he is fully aware of Atzmon's history and views, which he openly agrees amount to self-hatred but has not yet admitted clearly cross the line into anti-Semitic hate speech. Yet again, Prof. Mearsheimer gets a well-deserved F. With this latest blunder, he has finally and permanently flunked out of the respectable conversation about the Middle East and anything related to it.