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Saturday, December 08, 2007

The turning point

Engage has had an embarras de richesse on Mearsheimer and Walt, notably Jeff Weintraub's impressive round-up of reactions. I haven't got time to read it all; Jeffrey Goldberg's article 'The Usual Suspect' in The New Republic was my random choice, and it's proved to be a good one.

It's an astonishing comment on the quality of M & W's scholarship that they dish up (see p. 6) the 'Ahmadinejad was mistranslated' myth - or would be astonishing if I hadn't already got a handle on their modus operandi.

Here's a sentence which is a poignant testimony to the intellectual gulf between America and Europe:-

'The Israel of Mearsheimer and Walt is simply unrecognizable to anyone who is halfway fair and halfway learned about the Middle East.'

But, alas, not just recognizable but familiar and uncontroversial to a a large segment of educated opinion in Europe. Including, to take a random exemplar, the Archbishop of Canterbury (more on him anon). Fairness and learnedness have long since been assumed to be beside the point.

For most of its history this stance has been driven far more by anti-Americanism than by anti-Semitism: this Israel, the demonic Israel, has to be the real one precisely because it is not America's Israel. But, to the extent that M & W's arguments are now within the limits of acceptable discourse, we stand at a dramatic turning point. We all love Jews, naturally, at least the victim Jews, the powerless minority Jews, and the brave Independent Jewish Voices. But you can always have too much of a good thing, and Europe's intelligentsia now have available to them an explanation, not just of Israel's misdeeds but of America's deplorable conduct too, in terms of too many and too powerful Jews.

Anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism collapse into a single prejudice, a Big Idea with which the enigmas of the course of world history can be made plain. The scholarship may be fifth-rate, but, as we know from history, that matters little if the idea is one whose time has come.

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