Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Mearsheimer's Letter to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Following the Cancellation of His Appearance

In case you haven't heard, Walt and Mearsheimer were invited and then disinvited to speak before the Chicago Council of Global Affairs. Their talk was cancelled as a result of pro-Israel pressure, apparently by people who threatened the Chicago Council with reprisals. If this is true, then I am hoping that the heavy-handed actions of the sonei yisrael (roughly translated: the Israel Lobby) will help boost the sales of the distinguished authors' book against the heavy-handed actions of the sonei Yisrael.

I am cutting and pasting this from Phil Weiss's website because I wanted to save my readers from having to click. But Mondoweiss and Muzzlewatch should get the credit for bringing the story to the attention of decent people everywhere.

This news overshadows my post below on the Law of Return, but please take a minute to look at that, too!

August 5, 2007

[Addressed, individually, to board members of the Council, and to members of Council committees]

We are writing to bring to your attention a troubling incident involving the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. We do so reluctantly, as we have both enjoyed our prior associations with the Council and we have great respect for its aims and accomplishments. Nonetheless, we felt this was an episode that should not pass without comment.

On September 4, 2007, our book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy will be published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, one of the most highly respected publishers in the United States. Through our publisher, the Council issued an invitation for both of us to speak at a session on September 27, 2007. We were delighted to accept, as each of us had spoken at the Council on several occasions in the past and knew we would attract a diverse and well-informed audience that would engage us in a lively and productive discussion.

On July 19, while discussing the details of our visit with Sharon Houtkamp, who was handling the arrangements at the Council, we learned that the Council had already received a number of communications protesting our appearance. We were not particularly surprised by this news, as we had seen a similar pattern of behavior after our original article on “The Israel Lobby” appeared in the London Review of Books in March 2006. We were still looking forward to the event, however, especially because it gave us an opportunity to engage these issues in an open forum.

Then, on July 24, Council President Marshall Bouton phoned one of us (Mearsheimer) and informed him that he was cancelling the event. He said he felt “extremely uncomfortable making this call” and that his decision did not reflect his personal views on the subject of our book. Instead, he explained that his decision was based on the need “to protect the institution.” He said that he had a serious “political problem,” because there were individuals who would be angry if he gave us a venue to speak, and that this would have serious negative consequences for the Council. “This one is so hot,” Marshall maintained, that he could not present it at a Council session unless someone from “the other side”—such as Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League—was on stage with us. At the very least, he needed to present “contending viewpoints.” But he said it was too late to try to change the format, as the fall schedule was being finalized and there would not be sufficient time to arrange an alternate date. He showed little interest in doing anything with us in 2008 or beyond.

Several comments are in order regarding this situation.

First, since the publication of our original article on the Israel lobby, we have appeared either singly or together at a number of different venues, including Brown University, the Council on Foreign Relations, Columbia University, Cornell University, Emerson College, the Great Hall at Cooper Union, Georgetown University, the National Press Club, the Nieman Fellows Program at Harvard University, the University of Montana, the Jewish Community Center in Newton, Massachusetts, and Congregation Kam Isaiah Israel in Chicago. In all but one of these venues we appeared on our own, i.e., without someone from the “other side.” As one would expect, we often faced vigorous questions from members of the audience, which invariably included individuals who disagreed in fundamental ways with some of our arguments. Nevertheless, the back-and-forth at each of these events was always civil, and quite a few participants said that they benefited from listening to us and to our interlocutors.

Second, the Council has recently welcomed speakers who do represent a “contending viewpoint,” and they have appeared on their own. Consider the case of Michael Oren, an Israeli-American author, who appeared at the Council on February 8, 2007, to talk about “The Middle East and the United States: A Long and Complicated Relationship.” Oren has a different view of U.S. Middle East policy than we do; indeed, he gave a keynote address at AIPAC’s annual policy conference this past spring that directly challenged our perspective. We believe it was entirely appropriate for the Council to have invited him to speak, and without having a representative from an opposing group there to debate him. The Council has also welcomed a number of other speakers on this general topic in recent years, such as Dennis Ross, Max Boot and Rashid Khalidi, and none of their appearances included someone representing a “contending view.”

One might argue that our views are too controversial to be presented on their own. However, they are seen as controversial only because some of the groups and individuals that we criticized in our original article have misrepresented what we said or leveled unjustified charges at us personally—such as the baseless claim that we (or our views) are anti-Semitic. The purpose of these charges, of course, is to discourage respected organizations like the Council from giving us an audience, or to create conditions where they feel compelled to include “contending views” in order to preserve “balance” and to insulate themselves from external criticism.

In fact, our views are not extreme. Our book does not question Israel’s right to exist and does not portray pro-Israel groups in the United States as some sort of conspiracy to “control” U.S. foreign policy. Rather, it describes these groups and individuals—both Jewish and gentile—as simply an effective special interest group whose activities are not substantially different from groups like the NRA, the farm lobby, the AARP, or other ethnic lobbies. Its activities, in other words, are as American as apple pie, although we argue that its influence has helped produce policies that are not in the U.S. national interest. We also suggest that these policies have been unintentionally harmful to Israel as well, and that a different course of action would be better for both countries. It is not obvious to us why such views could not be included in the Council’s schedule.

Although we find it somewhat unseemly to refer to our own careers, it is perhaps worth noting that we are both well-established figures with solid mainstream credentials. We are fortunate to occupy chaired professorships at distinguished universities, and to have been elected members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. We have both held important leadership positions at Chicago or Harvard, each of us serves on the editorial boards of several leading foreign policy journals (such as Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy), and we have both done consulting work for U.S. government agencies. Given our backgrounds, the idea that it would be inappropriate for us to appear on our own at a Council session seems far-fetched.

Finally, and most importantly, we believe that the decision to cancel our appearance is antithetical to the principle of open discussion that underpins American democracy, and that is so essential for maximizing the prospects that our country pursues a wise foreign policy. In essence, we believe this is a case in which a handful of people who disagree with our views have used their influence to intimidate Marshall into rescinding the Council’s invitation to us, so as to insure that interested members will not hear what we have to say about Israeli policy, the U.S. relationship with Israel, and the lobby itself. This is not the way we are supposed to address important issues of public policy in the United States, and it is surely not the way the Council normally conducts its business. This is undoubtedly why Marshall, who is a very smart and decent man, felt so uncomfortable calling us to say that the event had been cancelled. He knew this decision was contrary to everything that the Council is supposed to represent.

The Chicago Council is obviously under no obligation to grant us a venue, and we are not writing in an attempt to reverse this decision. But given the importance of the issues that are raised in our book, we are genuinely disappointed that we will not have the benefit of open exchange with the Council’s members, including those who might want to challenge our arguments or conclusions. The United States and its allies—including Israel—face many challenging problems in the Middle East, and our country will not be able to address them intelligently if we cannot have an open and civilized discussion about U.S. interests in the region, and the various factors that shape American policy there. Regrettably, the decision to cancel our appearance has made that much-needed conversation more difficult.


John J. Mearsheimer

R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science

University of Chicago

1 comment:

Disgruntled Goat said...

no doubt we'll see an ad in the new york times, signed by 100 university presidents, proclaiming the importance of academic freedom and condemning the council. right? right?