an exchange between
Jeffrey Blankfort and George Salzman
April 8, 2006
this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-04-08.htm
When I came upon Jeffrey Blankfort's work about a year ago, it was at once clear that he was incredibly informed, in detail, about efforts of groups and individuals to control public discourse in the U.S. regarding the state of Israel. I posted two of his essays, one two years old at the time and the other one year old, on my website,
1. The Israel Lobby and the Left: Uneasy Questions
2. War for Israel
and said I wanted to post the one he was just then completing,
3. Damage Control: Noam Chomsky and the Israel-Palestine Conflict
In a note with 3., I said "This is the third provocative "yearly” essay by Jeffrey Blankfort . . .” In just three weeks these three major essays, spanning three years of his efforts, enriched my site. I thought it was important stuff, but the third one did trouble me, because of what I saw, and still believe to be, Jeff’s overemphasis on his attempts to hypothesize Chomsky’s motivations for his position regarding The Jewish-Israeli Lobby.
Now, nearly a year after I posted the above three essays, here is Jeff's letter of 30 Mar 2006, followed by my response. Since I began my reply, over a week ago, of course I’ve read lots more, and have been working on the weblog and on corespondence, so I haven’t tried to incorporate references to subsequent (and ongoing) criticisms of the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis (see my blog at http://pwgd.org/gs/, Category "The Jewish-Israeli Lobby" for their thesis and controversy about it. I simply couldn't encompass it all. I'm especially indebted to Manuel Garcia for his own work, and for introducing me to J.A. Miller's work.
Subject: Blankfort interview resent
Hi George, I am resending this because an incomplete message went out earlier.
I suspect that the view you have from Oaxaca is quite different when it comes to evaluating Chomsky’s impact within progressive circles on the issue of the lobby than what you would find if your were in the US. I have encountered almost no one here, including those who support his position, who would minimize his impact on people’s thinking on this issue. A clear example of that is the virtual absence of support within the so-called left for the well-documented article by John Mearsheimer and Steven Walt on the Israel Lobby that was published in The London Review and which has seen them skewered by the lobby’s pit bulls led by Dershowitz while being sandbagged from the "left” by Chomsky on ZNet and by Joseph Massad earlier on Al-Ahram and reprinted on CounterPunch. I would have hoped that Chomsky might have acknowledged the lobby’s power when it had Harvard’s logo removed from the paper’s title page and an insulting disclaimer placed on the page right below their names, and that he would speak in behalf of Walt who now has been forced to step down as the dean of the Kennedy Center after its largest funder, who happens to be Jewish, publicly complained about his article and the use of his title. This has been a typical pattern of the left in general that has left every victim of the lobby hanging out to dry, including Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and Congressman Earl Hilliard in 2002. I assume that to have risen to their defense would have been to acknowledge the lobby’s power. Walt is only the latest victim.
Instead, Chomsky compares the criticism of Mearsheimer and Walt to what has befallen those who have challenged the accepted narrative on the destruction of Yugoslavia which on the face of it is nothing less than outright nonsense. Quite the opposite, in fact, it being Prof. Chomsky who was able to get an interview, designed to embarrass him on that subject, removed from the London Guardian’s web site.
While you say you think nothing would be served by my having a debate with Chomsky — a position I really have difficulty understanding — you might at least agree that his refusal to even read or respond to my article, or so he has told others, is hardly an attitude that one would expect from a person who has been voted "the world’s foremost intellectual.” I did, in fact, have a friendly debate with Chomsky’s anointed heir apparent, Stephen Zunes, which was broadcast on Berkeley’s KPFA and had you not asked to be removed from my mailing list, you would have been informed of it. (Chomsky, BTW, is on my mailing list) As it is, you can still listen to it on http://www.radio4all.net/proginfo.php?id=12876.
I don’t believe that my criticisms of Chomsky fall into the category of personal attacks. I have not called him "crazy”, or "obsessed” as he has written about me. If you find something I have written about him that compares to that it was not intentional, but I don’t think you’ll find anything like it. As for Finkelstein, I have the highest regard for him and while he generally agrees, as I understand it, with Chomsky’s position on the lobby, he is not aggressively pushing it. I am also not aware of any issue in which he has a strong disagreement with Chomsky.
Oaxaca, Sunday, April 8, 2006
I’m glad you are "forcing” me to clarify my position regarding debates among intellectuals, a group I seem to aspire to join, against my better judgement. But first I want you to know that the reason I asked you to take me off your mailing list was because I felt swamped by all the articles from the Jewish press and the immersion in the issues of the Israel-Palestine conflict. I didn’t want to be consumed by that one facet, important though it is, as is each facet of the global struggle. It’s to your credit that you are able to remain so focussed for so long. That of course is how you have become an expert on the nefarious doings of (I like Bruzonsky's <email@example.com> almost epithet) "The Jewish-Israeli Lobby”. I will listen to the debate between you and Zunes now that I know about it.
I’ve read several commentaries on the Mearsheimer-Walt paper:
17 Mar 2006 A Note of Dissent: On the Israel Lobby Piece by Mearsheimer
18 Mar, 2006 The Jewish-Israeli Lobby
20 Mar 2006 David Duke Claims to Be Vindicated By a Harvard Dean
21 Mar 2006 Jewish Extremists Circle Their Wagons in Hate Campaign Against Harvard Dean, by David Duke - David Duke website, at
23 Mar 2006 A Harvard School Distances Itself from Dean’s Paper
23 Mar 2006 Blaming the lobby
24 Mar 2006 Harvard's Paper on Israel Drew From Neo-Nazi Sites
24 Mar 2006 KSG Seeks Distance from Paper: Controversial paper on "Israel Lobby” will not display KSG logo or series, by Paras D. Bhayani - Harvard Crimson Staff Writer, http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=512378
28 Mar 2006 The Israel Lobby?
2 Apr 2006 The Israel Lobby and its impact on America
Qumsiyeh maintains his amazing Human Rights Blog, with a wealth of references to the Israel-Palestine conflict and related items. He’s enormously well-informed, wonderfully partisan but (in my view) far too compassionate towards his and my "enemies”. Here's what he has to say (short and factual) in this entry:
Journalist Charley Reese speaks about the attack on the scholarly paper authored by Prof. Walt (Harvard) and Prof. Mearsheimer (Chicago) and analyzing the Israel lobby and its impact on America: http://www.antiwar.com/reese/?articleid=8791 [1 Apr 2006 —G.S.] I think the detail and meticulous scholarly work is likely the reason Zionists and their allies saw this paper as more threatening than previous work along the same line (by a series of commentators starting from Prof. Edward Said over 25 years ago). To date, I have not seen a single scholarly refutation of the work (the work itself is 82 pages nearly half in footnotes and documented sources). The statements (not rebuttals) by Chomsky and Massad were regrettable since they also failed to bring evidence for their off-the-cuff remarks and dismissal of the research paper. The original abridged version without footnotes was published in the London Review of Books (a copy is at http://www.ifamericansknew.org/us_ints/lrblobby.html). The full version which I highly recommend to all activists who want a deeper understanding of politics can be downloaded here: http://ksgnotes1.harvard.edu/Research/wpaper.nsf/rwp/RWP06-011 or here http://papers.ssrn.com/abstract=891198. More on this controversy: US professors accused of being liars and bigots over essay on pro-Israeli lobby, by Julian Borger in Washington, The Guardian 31 March 2006 http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,1743769,00.htmlHere is another piece of evidence of the lobby’s reach admitted to by the lobbyists themselves: Arab TV Station Put on U.S. Terror List, by Marc Perelman, Forward, 31 March 2006 http://www.forward.com/articles/7592 (Hizballah is a legal political party in the Lebanonese parliament. It formed after it succeeded as a resistance movement in ending nearly three decades of the Israeli illegal occupation of South Lebanon).I also read Charley Reese’s article after Qumsiyeh mentioned it. Of the various critiques of the Mearsheimer-Walt article, I think the best one is by As'ad Abukhalil <firstname.lastname@example.org>, whose nom de guerre is "The Angry Arab”. It’s fairly short, totally rational, and full of passion, because, although he too is an academic intellectual, he’s a Lebanese Arab with fire in his gut, and he hasn’t yet been "tamed” like most of us academics. His bio includes "He is now professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley. His favorite food is fried eggplants with Arabic (please do not call it Israeli—they stole our lands, let us not let them steal our food and culture) bread.” As'ad is critical of the Mearsheimer-Walt piece partly on the same grounds as Chomsky and Joseph Massad <email@example.com> of Columbia University, namely that it tends to exonerate the U.S. government, placing major responsibility on "The Lobby”. Massad’s piece is also very good, considerably longer than As'ad's, much more restrained in style, as befits "The University of the House of Morgan” (Upton Sinclair's more fitting name for Columbia). Chomsky's article is the only other one that attempts reasonable adverse criticism of the Mearsheimer-Walt piece, though as Qumsiyeh says, it's a statement, not a rebuttal. (Bruzonsky’s comments are very brief and non-specific — he says, correctly, that Mearsheimer and Walt pull their punches).
The great shortcoming of this entire discussion is that it focusses on disagreements over the power of the Jewish Israel Lobby to influence U.S. government policy. At the extremes, Chomsky dismisses the Lobby as a relatively minor player, almost inconsequential in the larger scheme, while Blankfort thinks it is the major determining force. Setting aside the non-committal report in The Harvard Crimson, the rabid trash in The New York Sun (which mirrors Dershowitz's ballistic frenzy), and David Duke who loves the Mearsheimer-Walt piece as vehemently as Dershowitz hates it (and with equal, perhaps greater rationality), all the other commentators believe correctly that the Palestinian Arabs are being savaged by the State of Israel, either aided and abetted by, or controlled by, the U.S. And that's what they’re disputing, whether it’s either or or. But it’s ridiculous to argue about which is more to blame for the atrocities — who is more responsible. There’s no shortage of "blame” for the terrible actions of the U.S. and Israel. Both nation-states are contemptable and do not warrant legitimacy in the eyes of the world’s people.
Whether or not Jews play a determining role in "The Israel Lobby”, and whether or not The Lobby is a major player in determining U.S. policy, the activities of many many Jewish people and organizations in trying to cover up Israel’s universally known criminal actions, is contemptable. Mearsheimer and Walt do not judge whether the many Jewish-identified activities supportive of the government of Israel are good or bad, but their paper provides plenty of evidence for the existence of a large loosely-connected, primarily Jewish network that tries like crazy to be effective. I believe this could well be seen as the essential residual message of their paper, that it is basically correct, and that the (increasingly revealed) behavior of the network poses a potentially devastating threat to American Jews. If Jeffrey Blankfort and Mark Bruzonsky are correct in believing this group is very powerful, then the network does pose a terrible threat not only to Palestinian Arabs but to all peoples. I am in total accord with Blankfort’s and Bruzonsky’s efforts to expose the network, to finger all the culpable individuals, and to make them, as individuals, social pariahs. Behaving as they do should become unacceptable, for American Jews and for everyone else as well. The way to make this happen is to get the truth widely disseminated. That, as I see it, ought to be a major task.
We need to be clear that the indisputably bad behavior of this particular group of Jews (people like Alan Dershowitz <firstname.lastname@example.org> respond with totally irrational rage to any criticism of the State of Israel and with hatred for the critics) is not because they are Jews but because they, like almost everyone in today’s world, are culturally conditioned by an entire set of values on which their actions are premised (I’ll mention some such values shortly). If there were Italians fearful of losing their place in the world, who were heavily invested with their Italian nationality and ethnicity, if Italians as Italians had suffered tremendous waves of mass murder inflicted on them, there would be among them those who felt that Italy was their last bastion, that whatever Italy did (as when Abyssinian villagers were being massacred by airplanes as Mussolini sought to recolonize "Italian” Africa), criticism of the Italian nation-state would send those individuals ballistic, and they would attack the critics of "their sacred ideological homeland.” They would lie, try to cover up what the Italian government was doing, manipulate public opinion, pull out all the stops, in short, act in a totally despicable manner.
The reason I focus on the dominant values (that shape the thinking of the majority of the world’s people) is because I see these as the basis for the dominant global culture of death and destruction. Here are some "bad” values, taken from my paper "Changing History, 1”, which is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/2006-03-18.htm (the notes are in that paper):
1. The belief that people are inherently "bad" and must therefore be controlled — by a force external to themselves, of course — to behave in socially non-destructive ways.
2. The belief that people are naturally "lazy2, that it’s bad to be "lazy", and that they must therefore be forced to work.
3. The belief that "there will always be Indians and Chiefs", i.e. it's just "natural" that some people will give orders and other people will obey.
4. The belief that those who are wise and powerful have a moral obligation to force their will upon the less informed and submissive mass of people. This is of course not by any means universally held, but is the dominant view in most powerful hierarchies, for example, in the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
5. The belief that nationalism and patriotism are virtues which should be strongly promoted.
6. The belief that nation-states are legitimate institutions for achieving the well-being of the people who live in their geographic areas, or at least of their citizens.
7. The belief that people of different ethnicities, religions, nationalities, or histories (e.g. "indigenous" vs. "latecomers") are really different "kinds of people", and are not "brothers (and sisters) under the skin".
8. The belief that political systems based on "representative government", such as so-called representative democracies, are legitimate structures for serving the well-being of the vast majority of the population.
9. The belief that capitalism is the best form of organization for nations and for the entire global society, best in terms of providing for the maximum possible well-being of the most people.
10. The belief that war can be an honorable activity, and that "just wars" are possible.
11. The belief that the world is too large and too complex to be organized on a basis of local autonomous communities based on direct democracy, communities that work towards maximum self-sufficiency and sustainability, and that huge, centralized governments cannot be replaced by a different functional system.
12. The beliefs that giant corporations are more efficient, more productive, and more beneficial to the general society than small enterprises, and that they "deserve" to enjoy the protection of governments as though they were "persons" pursuing, as people have a natural right to do, their lives, liberties and "happiness", the corporate pursuit of "happiness" being of course the pursuit of profits.
13. The beliefs that money, which is used for "measured exchange", i.e. for the function of markets, and that the role of markets, i.e. "buying and selling", provides the best means for arranging an economy, and that the idea of "mutual aid", as advocated, for example, by Peter Kropotkin in his classic treatise  is contrary to "human nature" and therefore an impossibility.
14. The belief that competition in all activities is desirable, naturally leading to some being "winners" and others being "losers", which is how it should be.
15. The belief that physical labor should be avoided as much as possible, and that the physical exercise needed to maintain health is more appropriately obtained by sports and/or "exercise machines" in gymnasiums established for that purpose or private "rowing machines" and other such mechanical apparatus.
16. The belief that science and technology can be used to solve social problems, e.g. that nuclear energy can replace dwindling fossile fuel reserves.
17. The belief that the most powerful machines are the most desirable, and that speed is almost always a worthwhile goal to aim for, whether in travel, reading, manufacturing, and so on.
To begin with, the whole idea of a debate is based on the notion of "winning” an argument. As we all know, that often has much to do with who is more clever, has a larger repertoire of "factoids” readily available to support his or her position, can be shrewdly deceitful, and makes a personable appearance, than it does in trying to find out the truth of a given situation. Debating is not a cooperative effort to find the truth, but a competitive effort to persuade, on the spur of the moment as it were, a panel of judges or an audience — or a jury. It’s an integral part of the way lawyers are trained — the goal, above all, is to win. So favorable factoids are stressed, unfavorable ones ignored or downplayed. This is of course precisely the meaning of James Petras’ statement, "In what passes for Chomsky's "refutation" of the power of the Lobby is a superficial historical review of US-Israel relations citing the occasional conflict of interests in which, even more occasionally, the pro-Israel lobby failed to get its way. Chomsky's historical arguments resemble a lawyer's brief more than a comprehensive review of the power of the Lobby.” (bold added —G.S.) It’s in Thesis 12. in Petras’ paper on the blog at http://pwgd.org/gs/2006/04/03/james-petras-heavy-hitter-goes-to-bat-weighs-in....
At best such a debate, about the power, or lack of power, of The Jewish-Israeli Lobby, is an interesting question for some intellectuals. But, as both Al Giordano and Joe Bageant have correctly pointed out, the great majority of Americans couldn't care less what a bunch of pointy-heads are arguing about. In his essay, "Poor, White and Pissed”, at http://www.joebageant.com/joe/2005/02/poor_white_and_.html, Joe Bageant writes:
As for intellectual life, this is a town where damned few residents ever heard of, say, Susan Sontag. Even though our local newspaper editor did manage a post mortem editorial on Sontag, which basically said: Goodbye you piece of New York Jewish commie shit!, most people reading the paper at their breakfast tables around town were asking themselves, "Who the hell is Susan Sontag?" They would ask the same thing about Daniel Barenboim or Hunter S. Thompson because those figures have never been on Oprah.
Jeff, this is really why I think it's not important for you to try to arrange for formal debates with Chomsky or Zunes or others in the opposing camp on the question of the power of The Jewish-Israeli Lobby. All that formal crap in which each party has, say twenty minutes, to make a presentation, then another 5 or 10 for a rebuttal and summary, and then the people in the audience have a chance to show how clever they are by asking complex questions (or trying to give mini-lectures, fighting the moderator who attempts to stop them), etc., followed by a rousing round of applause as the oh-so-proper moderator thanks the debaters for their contribution to democratic debate. Fact is, the folks down at Burt’s Tavern where Joe pursues his "Learning by drinking bouts” don’t give a shit.
What I can’t escape is the foreboding resonance between David Duke’s perception of Jewish control of the media and Adolph Hitler’s perception of Jewish control of the major Austrian media by the end of his years in Vienna. I believe both perceptions are not without some substance, much more than I would wish.
With all best wishes,
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