A few years ago, The Israel Lobby, by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, provoked a nasty contretemps among liberals. Critics, including me, saw it as fevered conspiracy-mongering that amounted to an attack on the political rights of American Jews. There were few defenders per se — even staunch Israel critics conceded the shoddiness of their argument — but the defense of Walt and Mearsheimer's rights became a crusade for many liberal intellectuals. Ezra Klein, for instance, repeatedly described the criticism of the two as a cynical smear campaign designed to silence them, and later wrote that the unfair attack on Walt and Mearsheimer motivated him to write about the Middle East.
Now Mearsheimer is back in the news, and not in a way that's going to make his defenders (or again, more precisely, the critics of his critics) feel very good.
Mearsheimer has blurbed a book by Gilad Atzmon, a self-described "self-hating Jew" with some ugly beliefs. Here's Atzmon invoking the broad correctness of "The protocols of the Elders of Zion":
[W]e must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously. It is beyond doubt that Zionists, the most radical, racist and nationalistic Jews around, have already managed to turn America into an Israeli mission force. The world's number one super power is there to support the Jewish state's wealth and security matters. The one-sided pro-Zionist take on the Israeli¬ Palestinian conflict, the American veto against every 'anti-Israeli' UN resolution, the war against Iraq and now the militant intentions against Syria, all prove beyond doubt that it is Zionist interests that America is serving. American Jewry makes any debate on whether the 'Protocols of the elder of Zion' are an authentic document or rather a forgery irrelevant. American Jews do try to control the world, by proxy. So far they are doing pretty well for themselves at least. Whether the Americans enjoy the deterioration of their state's affairs will no doubt be revealed soon.
And here are his thoughts on ... other stuff:
65 years after the liberation of Auschwitz we should reclaim our history and ask why? Why were the Jews hated? Why did European people stand up against their next door neighbours? Why are the Jews hated in the Middle East, surely they had a chance to open a new page in their troubled history? If they genuinely planned to do so, as the early Zionists claimed, why did they fail? Why did America tighten its immigration laws amid the growing danger to European Jews? We should also ask for what purpose do the holocaust denial laws serve? What is the holocaust religion there to conceal? As long as we fail to ask questions, we will be subjected to Zionists and their Neocons agents’ plots.
Now, obviously, the fact that Mearsheimer endorsed Atzmon's book does not mean Mearsheimer has endorsed every one of Atzmon's beliefs. Mearsheimer could certainly choose to endorse this particular book without defending Atzmon as a general thinker. Yet here is Mearsheimer today, writing on Walt's blog, defending Atzmon as a general thinker. And the book itself contains such charming observations as:
You may wonder at this stage whether I regard the credit crunch as a Zionist plot or even a Jewish conspiracy. In fact the opposite is the case. It isn’t a plot and certainly not a conspiracy for it was all in the open.
Fagin is the ultimate plunderer, a child exploiter and usurer. Shylock is the blood-thirsty merchant. With Fagin and Shylock in mind, the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians seems to be just a further event in an endless hellish continuum.
Now, I haven't read the book and I don't know the context of these quotes. But unless the context is something like, "The following paragraph was inserted surreptitiously by a Nazi infiltrator at the printing house and it's too late to excise it but please don't associate me with these crazy statements," then it probably can't help much.
The supposed logic behind those liberals who insist Walt and Mearsheimer are the victims of a smear campaign is that legitimizing their views helps open the "Overton window" to less wacky left-wing views. I don't see the legitimacy when conservatives play this game with Glenn Beck, the supply-siders, climate science skeptics, and a host of other wingnuts cynically used by the less-crazy Republicans, and I don't support it on the left, either.