April 3, 2006

The Israel Lobby Paper and the Duke Meme

I am often intrigued by the work of Steve Sailer, who writes on the taboo subjects of race, immigration, and the non-taboo subject of movies. Sailer's views are generally "paleo"--anti-immigration, anti-Iraq War, anti-deficit spending. Not, as Seinfeld says, that there's anything wrong with that.

In this post, Sailer comments on the interesting fact that 30% of the Google hits on the Mearsheimer-Walt paper on the "Israel lobby" also refer to David Duke, the antisemitic writer and sometime Congressional candidate:
The Lobby in action: When you Google on Mearsheimer Walt lobby, you find 177,000 references on the Web. When you Google on Mearsheimer Walt lobby "David Duke" you get 55,700 references. So, 30% of all articles mentioning the Israel Lobby study by the two prestigious foreign policy scholars drag in the NY Sun's utterly irrelevant David Duke red herring smear.

That, in a sick way, reflects an impressive degree of coordination and ruthlessness. At the intellectual level where you've even heard of Mearsheimer and Walt, you have to be aware, deep down, that you are humiliating yourself by repeating the David Duke smear. But, apparently, tens of thousands of people are so dedicated to preserving the Israel Lobby's continued stranglehold on public discourse that they willingly publicly abase themselves morally and intellectually.
The Mearsheimer-Walt paper is noteworthy principally because of the association of its authors with Harvard and the University of Chicago, and because it contends that the "Israel lobby" is (a) powerful, (b) mistaken, and (c) harmful to U.S. interests.

Although the Mearshimer article is flawed and overstated in many ways that perhaps I will discuss one day, there can be no doubt that nearly unconditional support for Israel is the norm in Washington, due in part to effective, organized lobbying by pro-Israel groups. The level of support offered to Israel, regardless of its conduct, is also surprising--over $500 per capita per year to a country that is clearly now part of the developed world and would be even more prosperous if it could overcome its lingering attraction to socialism and subsidies. Although I don't believe that Israel is any more to blame for Bin Ladenism than Ferdinand and Isabella, who expelled both the Muslims and the Jews from Spain, as long as we avoid a civilizational war between the West and the Islamic world, Israel is more albatross than eagle.

The fact that David Duke took up the paper for an "I told you so" dance is, however, logically no more evidence of the paper's worth than the Communists' adoption of Abraham Lincoln's name for their volunteer corps in the Spanish Civil war is to an evaluation of Lincoln's career, or the use of the term "Patriot Act" is justification for the enactment of a prosecutor's wish list in the aftermath of 9/11.

And yet . . . there are plenty of antisemites, including those in Soviet Russia, who disguise their venom as "anti-Zionism" when it turns out that a "Zionist" is just another name for any Jew. Jews, who are entitled by history to be wary, have sensitive, even oversensitive antennae for antisemitism. A fact of life and probably a sensible adaptation in most parts of the world.

And if the thesis is that there is a tightly organized and diabolically clever Israel lobby, the sudden emergence of thousands of posts alluding to David Duke's adoption of the Mearshimer paper is neither, as Sailer suggests, clear evidence of centralization nor of ruthlessness.

It shows that a lot of people have a "anti-Zionism=antisemitism" meme close to the surface, one that is sometimes accurate. And it shows that the argumentum ad hominem is also banally common. Sailer's buddies at VDare use the phrase "treason lobby" to refer to pro-immigration forces all the time. It's a silly and over-the-top phrase, to be sure, designed to inflame more than to persuade, but it doesn't say much about the anti-immigration movement other than that some of its members are inclined to rhetorical excess, and find it comforting to attack their opponents' bona fides rather than their reasoning and evidence.

Likewise, the Duke references have little logical bearing on the Mearshimer paper's merits, but it's certainly not clear they're calculated or centrally planned.

The fact is that it's extraordinarily hard to discuss rationally anything related to Israel, because of the emotional connections on all sides. The Duke references are a small point at best, and their existence doesn't have much to say, one way or the other, about the nature or power of the Israel Lobby.

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