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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Censorship of Walt and Mearsheimer

August 14, 2007

*'This One Is So Hot': The Censorship of Walt and Mearsheimer*
**

I now have a copy of the letter John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt sent
to the board of the Chicago Global Affairs Council after it cancelled
their September appearance there under political pressure. The letter
follows, below.

A couple of comments. This is a sad business. Two distinguished profs
who have both spoken at the Council before are disinvited
regretfully/squeamishly by a respected professional friend, and informed
that they might only speak if someone else comes to counter their
statements. The old "context" argument used against Rachel Corrie and
everyone else. Your views are too toxic to be heard unless we "balance"
them.

Walt and Mearsheimer point out that Michael Oren spoke at the Council
earlier this year on Middle East matters without "context." Oren is a
neoconservative who made aliyah to Israel in the 70s and who served as
an officer in the Israeli army. John Mearsheimer served as an officer in
the United States Air Force. Let us be very clear about this: A former
officer in the Israeli Army who lives in Israel (and has lately served
in the Israeli Reserves) may hold forth about our policy in the Middle
East, but a former officer in our Air Force has no place to do the same.
You don't have to be a nativist to find this mindboggling. Mearsheimer
and Walt are all for Oren speaking, they just want to be able to speak
too. And just compare the literary and analytical work of Oren and
Mearsheimer; there is no comparison. Oren is a polemicist, Mearsheimer a
serious student of American policy. Deeply dispiriting. Where is Alan
Dershowitz, to decry the censorship?

I'm upset. I tell myself that this just shows how afraid the other side
is of the truth, but face it, they're winning. Last night my wife said
at dinner that I am "paying a price" for my views on the Middle East. I
have a long career as a journalist. I lost a blog-job earlier this year
over these issues, I can't get paying assignments to write about these
matters; and they are all that I care about, as my country fumbles
through the aftermath of 9/11 and Iraq. I sense some of that same sorrow
in the Walt and Mearsheimer letter that follows. At the peaks of their
careers, they have devoted themselves to these policy issues out of some
sense of duty; and they're not being allowed to speak. It appears from
the letter that a friendship has ended: the authors' with Marshall
Bouton. How long before the country wakes up from this madness?

August 5, 2007
[Addressed, individually, to board members of the Council, and to
members of Council committees]

We are writing to bring to your attention a troubling incident involving
the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. We do so reluctantly, as we have
both enjoyed our prior associations with the Council and we have great
respect for its aims and accomplishments. Nonetheless, we felt this was
an episode that should not pass without comment.

On September 4, 2007, our book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy
will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, one of the most highly
respected publishers in the United States. Through our publisher, the
Council issued an invitation for both of us to speak at a session on
September 27, 2007. We were delighted to accept, as each of us had
spoken at the Council on several occasions in the past and knew we would
attract a diverse and well-informed audience that would engage us in a
lively and productive discussion.

On July 19, while discussing the details of our visit with Sharon
Houtkamp, who was handling the arrangements at the Council, we learned
that the Council had already received a number of communications
protesting our appearance. We were not particularly surprised by this
news, as we had seen a similar pattern of behavior after our original
article on "The Israel Lobby" appeared in the London Review of Books in
March 2006. We were still looking forward to the event, however,
especially because it gave us an opportunity to engage these issues in
an open forum.

Then, on July 24, Council President Marshall Bouton phoned one of us
(Mearsheimer) and informed him that he was cancelling the event. He said
he felt "extremely uncomfortable making this call" and that his decision
did not reflect his personal views on the subject of our book. Instead,
he explained that his decision was based on the need "to protect the
institution." He said that he had a serious "political problem," because
there were individuals who would be angry if he gave us a venue to
speak, and that this would have serious negative consequences for the
Council. "This one is so hot," Marshall maintained, that he could not
present it at a Council session unless someone from "the other
side"—such as Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League—was on stage
with us. At the very least, he needed to present "contending
viewpoints." But he said it was too late to try to change the format, as
the fall schedule was being finalized and there would not be sufficient
time to arrange an alternate date. He showed little interest in doing
anything with us in 2008 or beyond.

Several comments are in order regarding this situation.

First, since the publication of our original article on the Israel
lobby, we have appeared either singly or together at a number of
different venues, including Brown University, the Council on Foreign
Relations, Columbia University, Cornell University, Emerson College, the
Great Hall at Cooper Union, Georgetown University, the National Press
Club, the Nieman Fellows Program at Harvard University, the University
of Montana, the Jewish Community Center in Newton, Massachusetts, and
Congregation Kam Isaiah Israel in Chicago. In all but one of these
venues we appeared on our own, i.e., without someone from the "other
side." As one would expect, we often faced vigorous questions from
members of the audience, which invariably included individuals who
disagreed in fundamental ways with some of our arguments. Nevertheless,
the back-and-forth at each of these events was always civil, and quite a
few participants said that they benefited from listening to us and to
our interlocutors.

Second, the Council has recently welcomed speakers who do represent a
"contending viewpoint," and they have appeared on their own. Consider
the case of Michael Oren, an Israeli-American author, who appeared at
the Council on February 8, 2007, to talk about "The Middle East and the
United States: A Long and Complicated Relationship." Oren has a
different view of U.S. Middle East policy than we do; indeed, he gave a
keynote address at AIPAC's annual policy conference this past spring
that directly challenged our perspective. We believe it was entirely
appropriate for the Council to have invited him to speak, and without
having a representative from an opposing group there to debate him. The
Council has also welcomed a number of other speakers on this general
topic in recent years, such as Dennis Ross, Max Boot and Rashid Khalidi,
and none of their appearances included someone representing a
"contending view."

One might argue that our views are too controversial to be presented on
their own. However, they are seen as controversial only because some of
the groups and individuals that we criticized in our original article
have misrepresented what we said or leveled unjustified charges at us
personally—such as the baseless claim that we (or our views) are
anti-Semitic. The purpose of these charges, of course, is to discourage
respected organizations like the Council from giving us an audience, or
to create conditions where they feel compelled to include "contending
views" in order to preserve "balance" and to insulate themselves from
external criticism.

In fact, our views are not extreme. Our book does not question Israel's
right to exist and does not portray pro-Israel groups in the United
States as some sort of conspiracy to "control" U.S. foreign policy.
Rather, it describes these groups and individuals—both Jewish and
gentile—as simply an effective special interest group whose activities
are not substantially different from groups like the NRA, the farm
lobby, the AARP, or other ethnic lobbies. Its activities, in other
words, are as American as apple pie, although we argue that its
influence has helped produce policies that are not in the U.S. national
interest. We also suggest that these policies have been unintentionally
harmful to Israel as well, and that a different course of action would
be better for both countries. It is not obvious to us why such views
could not be included in the Council's schedule.

Although we find it somewhat unseemly to refer to our own careers, it is
perhaps worth noting that we are both well-established figures with
solid mainstream credentials. We are fortunate to occupy chaired
professorships at distinguished universities, and to have been elected
members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. We have both held
important leadership positions at Chicago or Harvard, each of us serves
on the editorial boards of several leading foreign policy journals (such
as Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy), and we have both done consulting
work for U.S. government agencies. Given our backgrounds, the idea that
it would be inappropriate for us to appear on our own at a Council
session seems far-fetched.

Finally, and most importantly, we believe that the decision to cancel
our appearance is antithetical to the principle of open discussion that
underpins American democracy, and that is so essential for maximizing
the prospects that our country pursues a wise foreign policy. In
essence, we believe this is a case in which a handful of people who
disagree with our views have used their influence to intimidate Marshall
into rescinding the Council's invitation to us, so as to insure that
interested members will not hear what we have to say about Israeli
policy, the U.S. relationship with Israel, and the lobby itself. This is
not the way we are supposed to address important issues of public policy
in the United States, and it is surely not the way the Council normally
conducts its business. This is undoubtedly why Marshall, who is a very
smart and decent man, felt so uncomfortable calling us to say that the
event had been cancelled. He knew this decision was contrary to
everything that the Council is supposed to represent.

The Chicago Council is obviously under no obligation to grant us a
venue, and we are not writing in an attempt to reverse this decision.
But given the importance of the issues that are raised in our book, we
are genuinely disappointed that we will not have the benefit of open
exchange with the Council's members, including those who might want to
challenge our arguments or conclusions. The United States and its
allies—including Israel—face many challenging problems in the Middle
East, and our country will not be able to address them intelligently if
we cannot have an open and civilized discussion about U.S. interests in
the region, and the various factors that shape American policy there.
Regrettably, the decision to cancel our appearance has made that
much-needed conversation more difficult.

Sincerely,
John J. Mearsheimer
R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science
University of Chicago

Stephen M. Walt
Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs
Harvard
University

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