Deep Thoughts from Professor Mearshimer

On September 27, 2010, Professor John Meirsheimer delivered an address to a mesmerized gallery of the Semitically-challenged at Brown University. News of the event was trumpeted in the local Jewish press by no less a personage than Elizabeth Hollander, holder of the prestigious "interim co-chair" at J Street RI.

In her article entitled, "Mearshimer asserts:  the two-state solution is dead," Hollander glowingly describes the keynote speaker as "an award-winning international relations scholar." No doubt, she is paying tribute to the research methodology Mearsheimer and his co-author, Stephen Walt, employed in the work that made them famous -- The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy

In his Brown address, Mearsheimer's scholarly acumen was again on display as he outlined four possible outcomes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- among them, the establishment of a "bi-national democratic state" in which Arabs would outnumber Jews. As this would constitute what Hollander calls "an unpalatable outcome for most Jews," Mearsheimer suggested a second possibility: "ethnic cleansing," which, as Hollander explains, "would involve the expulsion of all Palestinians from greater Israel." Alas for the award-winning scholar, it is difficult to imagine this idea gaining traction in the Israeli Knesset, given that Meir Kahane, the last Knesset member to suggest anything like it, was "ethnically cleansed" from Israeli politics in 1988. Indeed, easily accessible resources reveal that Zionism's leading lights have consistently rejected the notion of ethnic cleansing. Still, one could argue that the evidence is subtle -- and it is easy to see how a busy scholar like Mearsheimer might have overlooked it given the many distractions that have emanated from the Middle East across the decades (such as the Arab League's self-proclaimed "war of extermination" against the Jews in 1948, the expulsion of 850,000 Jews from their homes across the Arab world following Israel's establishment, the ubiquitous Arab threats to "drive the Jews into the sea," and, most recently, Iran's threat to wipe Israel off the map). Let us, therefore, dwell no further on an understandable oversight.

Option three, according to Mearsheimer, calls upon Israel to establish "some sort of apartheid" in the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean -- an idea likely gleaned from the entrails of the same sacrificial animal Mearsheimer and Walt examined in researching their famous book. (Indeed, the fact that this particular animal is considered unclean in some parts of the world probably goes far to explain why Egyptian TV currently has no plans to turn The Israel Lobby into a 41-part TV series). In any event, Mearsheimer seems again to have strayed from the trail of evidence. Under Israeli law, Israel's Arab citizens are guaranteed full legal equality. Hence, provided one makes exception for the treatment of women, gays, and ethno-religious minorities in Arab lands, there has never been any evidence for apartheid in the Middle East -- and it is probably safe to assume that there never will be.

Tragically, Mearsheimer postulates that his fourth and final option -- the "two-state solution" -- has suddenly died. If true, an autopsy would likely disprove the putative cause of death, which Mearsheimer characterizes as Israel's "inability to make the concessions necessary for a viable Palestinian state." Again, I'm no world-famous scholar, but I seem to recall reading somewhere that when the Peel Commission first proposed partition in 1937, the Jews approved, and the Arabs rioted. Likewise -- and do correct me if I'm wrong -- when the U.N. voted in 1947 for two states in Palestine -- one Arab, one Jewish -- the Jews approved, while the Arabs opted for the aforementioned "war of extermination."

This is not to say that Israel hasn't stymied the peace process from time to time by jumping to unfounded conclusions: In 2000, Ehud Barak proposed a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 95% of the West Bank. Yasser Arafat answered the offer with a five-year terrorist war -- which Barak automatically assumed meant no. Similarly, when Mahmoud Abbas gave no answer at all to Ehud Olmert's statehood offer in 2008, Olmert reflexively took it to mean probably not. In neither case did Israel attempt to gather further evidence using Mearsheimer's trademark scholarly technique of not conducting any interviews and relying solely on secondary sources

The danger inherent in accepting conclusions that have not been rigorously verified is illustrated by the hasty interpretation of Mahmoud Abbas' recent refusal to talk peace during the first nine months of Israel's unprecedented ten-month building freeze in Judea and Samaria. Cynics claimed that Abbas dragged his feet so that he could reach the peace table just in time to watch the world shower opprobrium on Israel when the freeze expired. Apparently, it never occurred to Israelis that if Abbas had sauntered willy-nilly to the peace table, he might have missed an episode of the popular Palestinian Authority TV quiz show wherein $100 prizes are awarded to contestants who deny Israel's existence.

J Street wins kudos for covering Mearsheimer's important Brown University address and for all the other excellent "pro-peace, pro-Israel" work that it does. Obviously, the litany is too long to recount, but a brief sampling is worthwhile. Recently, for example, J Street co-founder Daniel Levy announced that Israel's recreation in 1948 was "an act that was wrong." Undoubtedly, this thoughtful remark explains the recent overwhelming upsurge in Arab support for Israel's continued existence. Likewise, J Street's persuasive Zionophilic arguments have won over former anti-Zionists like George Soros to the "pro-peace, pro-Israel" camp. Indeed, Soros contributes $250,000 to J Street every year

No J Street tribute would be complete without mentioning the organization's director, Jeremy Ben-Ami, whose input was apparently crucial to the Obama administration's delicate handling of Israel's "housing gaffe" during Joe Biden's visit last spring. A "hawk" on Israeli security, Ben-Ami declared in a November 2009 debate with Alan Dershowitz that Israel has the right to build "a very strong and tall and big wall"[1] between itself and those who would attack the Jewish state -- provided the wall is situated on a negotiated border. How pragmatic! Hitherto, peace talks have been hamstrung by Israel's stubborn pie-in-the-sky notion that the goal of negotiations should be a "durable peace," rendering security barriers unnecessary. Ben-Ami would, instead, have Israel seek a building permit from its enemies, telling it where it can build "a very strong and tall and big wall" to defend itself against the continuing jihad. The potential benefits of adopting this course are obvious. Once an agreement is reached, for example, the Obama administration might offer up to 12 months of U.N. vetoes in return for a construction freeze on what is already being touted as the Ben-Ami Barrier.

J Street's greatest legacy, however, must be credited to its entire membership. In her article on Mearsheimer, Ms. Hollander summarized the thesis of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy as asserting that a "pro-Israel lobby" exerts "influence on our ... policy toward the Middle East in ways that undermine the long-term interests of both Israel and the United States." The proof of this thesis -- formerly elusive -- is now on display whenever J Streeters look in the mirror.

Jack Schwartzwald is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at Brown University's Warren Alpert School of Medicine.

[1] This quote is found around minute 18 of the full 90-minute Dershowitz-Ben-Ami debate (available on DVD from Amazon), but not in the 30-minute abridgement circulating on youtube.