Back to the Future

Like cancer, ideas can metastasize. In 2007, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt–the former a professor at the University of Chicago, the latter at Harvard–came out with The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. A “situation [that] has no equal in American history” had arisen, they wrote in the book (and in a paper bearing the same title posted on Harvard’s website). A domestic pressure-lobby–a body mostly comprising “American Jews making a significant effort in their daily lives to bend U.S. foreign policy so that it advances Israel’s interests”–had accumulated “unmatched power” and was using it to “skew” the American political system for its own narrow ends. Among other things, the Jewish lobby had used its “stranglehold” on Congress and “manipulation” of the mass media to propel the United States into war in Iraq.

Mearsheimer and Walt provoked a raging controversy, but apart from a few pockets in the universities and on the far left and right (the white supremacist David Duke was among their most enthusiastic endorsers), the book was mostly given short shrift. Reviewing The Israel Lobby in the New York Times, Leslie Gelb, former head of the Council on Foreign Relations, expressed dismay at the “puzzlingly shoddy scholarship” that led Mearsheimer and Walt to “fuel, inadvertently, .  .  . the fires of anti-Semitism.”

But if the respectable center dismissed the book in the United States, matters stand quite differently abroad. Before their book was published, Mearsheimer and Walt tried to peddle a shorter version, but found no takers. The article wound up appearing in the London Review of Books in 2006. The locale was not an accident. The soil in Great Britain was fertile for their thesis. Today, three years later, we can see some of its fruits.

An official inquest is now under way in London into the decisions that led Tony Blair’s government to join with the United States in going to war in Iraq. On the five-member board of inquiry sit Sir Martin Gilbert and Sir Lawrence Freedman, both distinguished historians and students of warfare. But their scholarly credentials are not what is today garnering attention.

Writing in the Independent, Oliver Miles, Great Britain’s former ambassador to Libya, has unearthed “facts” about the two men that he says are “not usually mentioned in the mainstream British and American media”: Both, he writes, “are Jewish.” This detail of their background, says Miles, threatens to undercut the credibility of the inquest: “Membership should not only be balanced; it should be seen to be balanced.”

In the same newspaper, the columnist Richard Ingrams called Miles’s comments “helpful.” The Iraq war, after all, was “initiated .  .  . by a group of influential American neocons .  .  . nearly all of whom were ardent Zionists.” Given the panel’s composition, the question arises of whether it will “investigate or even refer to the U.S. neocons and their links to Israel?” In other words, can Jews be trusted to investigate themselves?

Anti-Semitism has deep roots in England. In the 12th century, many of the country’s Jews were put to the sword in a wave of massacres. The 13th century began with the introduction of the yellow badge, the mandatory marking that Jews were compelled to wear, and ended with the mass expulsion of the Jews.

Fast forward to the 20th century. In its first half, anti-Semitism was rampant among the upper classes. It also thrived in the gutter. Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists–the “blackshirts”–drew fully a quarter of the vote in London’s 1937 municipal elections.

Today, Britain is awash with hatred of Jews carried in by followers of radical Islam who have found a congenial home in which to preach their genocidal doctrines. British soccer fans–where so many of the country’s violent dregs are concentrated–have never been shy about giving voice to neo-Nazi slogans. Anti-Semitic incidents in the first six months of 2009 alone–vandalism, hate mail, and direct violent attacks on Jews–already exceeded the entire number for 2008 and reached a level not seen since such statistics began to be compiled in 1984.

Both the soccer hooligans, the Muslim fanatics, and the perpetrators of violence are situated on the fringe. In the post-World War II era, the British establishment was resis-tant to the most blatant forms of a prejudice severely discredited by the scope of German atrocities committed in its name. To the extent it remained visible, it typically took the form of phantasmagorical demonization of the state of Israel.
(Tags: England, Anti-Semitism,)


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