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The Power Of Suggestion

But if they’ve dropped the vampiric word, they haven’t dropped the vampiric implication. The new book suggests that the lobby for the Jewish state—unlike the lobby for, say, ethanol—is not just another successful interest group but somehow illegitimate because of its success, and that its influence on American policy has become so powerful and malign that no one dares challenge it (except, well, them, and a good number of Jews). ~Ron Rosenbaum

I don’t know why anyone should bother to answer this, except that the repetition of falsehoods long enough practiced has a way of making those falsehoods seem to be self-evident truth.  The authors state in no uncertain terms that “the lobby” is not illegitimate and its activities are not improper.  They say the following on p.13:

The Israel lobby is not a cabal or a conspiracy or anything of the sort.  It is engaged in good old-fashioned interest group politics, which is as American as apple pie.  Pro-Israel groups in the United States are engaged in the same enterprise as other interest groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the AARP, or professional associations like the American Petroleum Institute, all of which also work hard to influence congressional legislation and presidential politics, and which, for the most part, operate in the open.  With a few exceptions, to be discussed in subsequent chapters, the lobby’s actions are thoroughly American and legitimate.

So the new book flatly rejects what Mr. Rosenbaum says that it suggests.  Preoccupied as he is with questions of moral imagination, he has apparently let his imagination get the better of him. 

He then goes on to quote Eliot Cohen’s scurrilous attack on the authors and then pretends to be agnostic about whether or not the quote from Cohen is true.  It’s an old Ciceronian-style trick: “I will not speak today about the gentleman’s lurid crimes and disgusting debauchery, as I am unsure whether they ever happened…”  Cohen was reiterating the lie that the authors accuse pro-Israel activists of being equivalent to foreign agents, and with amazing boldness claimed that Mearsheimer and Walt are the ones demonising policy differences in an article entitled, “Yes, It’s Anti-Semitic.”  Indeed, there is no demonisation going on in the book, and for a “polemic” (as Rosenbaum calls it) it is amazingly free of invective.  It is staid, at times a bit dry.  If they were trying to write a “polemic,” they have been unsuccessful.   

No, the polemic is Mr. Rosenbaum’s.  Mr. Rosenbaum is annoyed because he thinks they quoted him out of context and put his quote in a passage that could give readers a very misleading impression of what he’s talking about.  He is troubled that someone would impute views to him that he does not hold!  Why, the nerve!  He has noted that the authors have pledged to correct the error, which is more than can be said for the legions of critics who routinely, happily impute views to the authors that they do not and that they categorically reject.  Mr. Rosenbaum is one those of critics falsely imputing views to others when he writes:

Wisse’s book doesn’t treat the idea of Jews having power as something necessarily threatening.

But Mearsheimer and Walt do not treat the “idea of Jews having power” as something “necessarily threatening.”  They don’t find it at all threatening.  They are quite at ease with “the idea.”  “Jews having power” isn’t the issue, and Mr. Rosenbaum must know that it isn’t, and he must know they don’t object to this idea.  They see pro-Israel interest groups wielding influence in ways that they deem harmful to U.S. strategic interests, much as an environmentalist might see lobbyists for developers as advocates for policies harmful to nature.  I might object to Ankara’s influence in Washington without thereby having a problem with “Turks having power.”  This line of argument is ridiculous.  Opponents criticise this or that lobby because it advances what they see as the wrong kinds of policies.  That’s it.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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