Stephen M. Walt & John J. Mearsheimer: 'Waltheimer' on the Hot Seat

Historians in the News

"If you talk about an influential set of interest groups that is mostly though not exclusively comprised of Jewish Americans, some may think you are saying that there is some kind of secret conspiracy to control U.S. foreign policy," says Stephen M. Walt, gazing at the more than 500 people who have pressed into the narrow aisles of a Washington bookstore on this sweltering September night. "Anybody who raises this issue is virtually certain to be accused of being anti-Semitic."

The crowd gathered at the store is the largest anyone on hand can remember, and television cameras are here to record the event. People are jostling for positions and standing on tiptoe to get a better look at the two scholars in gray suits who, for the past 20 months, have been at the center of one of the greatest intellectual dust-ups in recent memory.

"So I want to be very clear at the outset," Walt continues, enunciating each word. "Both my co-author and I reject every one of those anti-Semitic conspiracy theories."

Those words will be repeated throughout the fall as Walt, a professor of international relations at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, and John J. Mearsheimer, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, take their warning about the detrimental influence of the Israel lobby on American foreign policy to packed audiences across the country. Since a shortened version of their argument was published in the London Review of Books in March 2006, Mearsheimer and Walt have received the kind of attention most academics can only dream of — and the sort of condemnation that inspires nightmares.

The New York Review of Books declared "The Israel Lobby" the most hotly debated academic essay since Samuel P. Huntington's 1993 article, "The Clash of Civilizations?" Within three months of publication, a footnoted version of the essay posted to the Web site of the Kennedy school had been downloaded 275,000 times. (In an effort to disassociate itself, the Kennedy school later removed its logo from the essay's cover page online and enlarged the font of the disclaimer stating that the authors' views do not reflect those of Harvard University or the University of Chicago. Walt says that was done with his support.) Most significantly, the hot blast of controversy attracted the attention of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, who offered the two a reported $750,000 advance to flesh out their ideas about the Israel lobby in a book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, which was published in September....

comments powered by Disqus