By Dan Fleshler | August 15, 2009
There is a peculiar, paranoid style of Jewish politics. Its logic would be shameful and contorted even it didn’t come from descendants of the people who invented sophisticated, multi-layered Talmudic pilpul: once someone is deemed beyond the communal pale, an enemy of the Jews, then you become tainted if you approvingly quote anything he or she has ever written.
When reviewing my book in the Jerusalem Post, Jonathan Schanzer blamed me for citing Rob Malley’s thoughts on how the American Jewish community influences State Department policymakers: “The author also does himself a disservice by quoting Robert Malley, who coauthored articles after the collapse of the Oslo process with Hussein Agha, a former adviser to Yasser Arafat, blaming Israel and exonerating Arafat.” This is not exactly classic guilt-by-association. It is worse. It is guilt-by-thought-association. (Actually, it’s worse than that, because it completely distorts what Malley and Agha have written).
Similarly, a Realistic Dove commentator once insisted that MondoWeiss, the hard-hitting and often disturbing blog from Philip Weiss and Adam Horowitz, be removed from my blogroll. I have often used this space to argue passionately with Weiss, but have also agreed with him. Either way, his blog often provides information available nowhere else. Why is agreeing with him sometimes, let alone keeping him on a blogroll, equivalent to embracing every one of his thoughts?
To these thought police, probably the worst sin is giving the slightest hint that you agree with anything that Stephen Walt or John Mearsheimer have ever propounded about Israel and the Israel lobby. My book takes exception to some of their characterizations of the Jewish community and foreign policy decisionmaking. But, in addition, I wrote that while “they got a lot of things wrong…,they also got a lot of things right.” To some, making the latter point was the equivalent of saying something obscene in front of little children.
So now it can be told (take a deep breath, Danny): I OFTEN LIKE WHAT STEPHEN WALT WRITES ON HIS BLOG. I think that, more often than not, I am a foreign policy “realist,” too. In his reaction to the controversial op-ed in the NY Times by Hussein Agha and Rob Malley, he wrote almost precisely what I was going to write. It was so close, in fact, that I didn’t bother to write anything. The money quote, for me:
…(T)he most significant lines in the entire essay were the last two, where they write “the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel.” Again, they didn’t explain what they meant by this, so it’s hard to know what they were trying to say.
The implication, however, is that Israel still has to decide what kind of state it is going to be. Will it be a modern secular democracy with a certain Jewish character, but where non-Jews are fully equal citizens both de jure and de facto? If so, then two states will work, and the two conflicting narratives about the past could gradually cease to matter very much. In the most optimistic scenario, the whole sorry history of the Zionist-Arab conflict might eventually be regarded as a painful historical episode but not part of anyone’s future agenda, much as Alsace-Lorraine eventually ceased to be an issue between France and Germany. Or will Israel continue to pursue the dream of Greater Israel, increasingly fueled by ethno-religious claims and the growing political power of religious extremists? If so, then it will become an apartheid state and will eventually face a Palestinian struggle for democratic rights….Needless to say, these different visions will have far-reaching implications for relations between Israel and its neighbors, the rest of the world, and between Israel and the Jewish diaspora…I wish Agha and Malley had been less coy in raising this important set of issues.
He sounds like a left wing, progressive Zionist. In fact, he sounds a bit like Ehud Olmert, just before he left office. So kick me out of the tent, folks. But after you do, you might want to try a daring experiment: forget that Walt wrote one book or a few blog posts that you didn’t like, and garner whatever truth he has to offer. The truth is always worth hearing, whether it comes from Arutz Sheva (the settlers’ radio station), or Philip Weiss, or Benjamin Netanyahu, or Mahmoud Abbas, or Walt and Mearsheimer.