Freedom of Speech on the Israel Lobby

  • by: Juan Cole
  • recipient: Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
This petition calls on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to forthrightly condemn the castigation of Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as anti-Semites for their academic paper, "The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy."

 To: Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

We note with dismay that when eminent political scientists John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard published their “The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy” in the London Review of Books, they were subjected to a barrage of ad hominem attacks. In particular, they were smeared as “anti-Semites”. This epithet was hurled at them by the Anti-Defamation League, Eliot A. Cohen, Alan Dershowitz, Representative Eliot Engel, Richard L. Cravatts, and many others.

Merriam-Webster gives the following definition of anti-Semitism:

Function: noun
: hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group

We protest the character assassination of eminent American academics, firm supporters of civil rights for all, as racist bigots for their academic analysis of the domestic dimension of US foreign policy. No paper about other ethnic lobbies’ impact on foreign policy (e.g. Cuban-Americans, Irish-Americans or Armenian-Americans) would have elicited such over-heated and patently unfair charges of racism.

We fear that the real motive in the brandishing of the serious charge of “anti-Semitism” so readily at any discussion of the US relationship with Israel is an attempt to chill public debate and to discourage the critical evaluation of American Middle East policy and of Israeli policy in the region. Such a misuse of the word “anti-Semitic” is profoundly anti-democratic. Democracy requires free public debate of all issues affecting the public weal.

We deeply fear that this practice is becoming a form of “crying wolf,” and that the force of the term “anti-Semite” is being rapidly eroded as a matter of moral sensibility. True anti-Semitism does exist and is an evil. Let us vigilantly combat it rather than mischaracterizing academic papers.

We also fear that an impression is being created that elements in the American Jewish community are hostile to academic freedom of speech and inquiry, and are hostile even to the first amendment of the US constitution. As admirers of the historic role the American Jewish community has played in furthering civil liberties in the United States, we are concerned and saddened at this development.

We call upon the Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations forthrightly to condemn the smearing of Professors Mearsheimer and Walt, and of other academics who subject Middle East policy issues to critical inquiry, as “anti-Semites.”

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