Anti-Israel Propaganda Masquerades as Scholarship at Harvard

The Saudi sheikh who gave Harvard $20 million to advance the anti-Israeli agenda in the United States did not have to wait long for the university to deliver. In a recently released paper from the Kennedy School of Government, Stephen Walt, the academic dean of the school, and John Mearsheimer a University of Chicago political scientist, have produced a work of anti-Israel propaganda masquerading as scholarship that calls into question the standards at America’s most prestigious university.

The paper, “The Israeli Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” demonstrates once again that the greatest threat to Israel on campus is not anti-Israel student theatrics, but faculty who use their academic positions to advance their personal agendas. By loading their 41-page diatribe with another 40 pages of footnotes, many from post-Zionists and anti-Israel sources, the authors apparently believe their misrepresentation of Middle East history can pass for scholarship.

Usually in the academic world, papers are subject to peer review, which is supposed to be a form of quality assurance. Indicative, however, of how this system has broken down in the case of scholarship regarding Israel, this paper seems to have escaped scrutiny by anyone with even a passing knowledge of the subject.

Space does not allow for a point by point rebuttal to the specious arguments the authors make in nearly every paragraph (one can be found at, so I will restrict myself to a few specific examples and a broader overview of the defects in their paper.

A fundamental flaw is the authors’ apparent ignorance of Middle East history, exemplified by the suggestion that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons is a result of Israel’s nuclear arsenal. True scholars of the region would have known that Iran was motivated primarily by the perceived threat from its rival Iraq, not Israel, which it knows poses no threat. They also suggest that a nuclear Iran is no different than a nuclear China or North Korea even though neither of those Asian nations regularly threatens the United States and its allies, and that the Islamic theocracy has a very different world view than the communist dictatorships.

A central thesis is the familiar Arabist line that U.S. support for Israel harms relations with the Arab world. The problem with this theory, of course, is that as U.S.-Israel relations have grown stronger over the years, U.S.-Arab relations have also improved, so that the only outspokenly anti-American country is non-Arab Iran.

The report also focuses entirely on Israeli actions as though they occur in a vacuum. The authors never mention Palestinian terrorism or suggest that Arab, Muslim or Palestinian policies have anything to do with events in the region or U.S. and Israeli policy. They repeatedly call Israeli policy “expansionist” despite Israel’s long history of territorial concessions, including the disengagement, which they ignore.

The shocking ignorance of the professors is particularly clear in their repeated claims that Israeli policy, and U.S. support for it, is the cause of terror. They are apparently unaware that al-Qaeda is fighting a war against the West and bin Laden’s desire is to reconstitute the Muslim empire.

The authors’ bias is particularly clear when they discuss Iraq. They are obviously frustrated and angry about the decision to go to war with Iraq and seek to blame Israel and its supporters for what they see as an effort “to make Israel more secure.” They offer no evidence, but simply regurgitate the standard conspiracy theories about Jewish neocons running the White House and driving us to war.

Repeatedly, claims are made that show the authors’ unfamiliarity with the subject on which they’re writing. One example is their assertion that “pro-Israel forces have long been interested in getting the U.S. military more directly involved in the Middle East, so it could help protect Israel.” To the contrary, one of the principal arguments of the lobby has always been that Israel has never asked the U.S. to defend it or to send soldiers to fight on its behalf. Most friends of Israel, and Israelis themselves, oppose any formal military alliance because of the fear that a defense treaty might limit Israel’s freedom of action.

It is not until nearly the last page that the authors lay their cards on the table and disclose their real agenda, namely to see the United States “pressure Israel to make peace.”

The paper is an acute embarrassment to Harvard, which has not produced any serious scholarship about Israel since Nadav Safran published, Israel the Embattled Ally, more than 25 years ago. The paper caused such an immediate firestorm that Harvard logos that originally appeared on the report’s front page were removed and the paper now carries a sterner disclaimer that says the authors are “solely responsible” for the content and that Harvard and the University of Chicago “do not take positions on the scholarship of individual faculty.”

But they don’t get off that easy. Universities can’t publish papers and then try to disavow their contents when they are found to be scurrilous works of propaganda. This is an example, however, of how low the standards of even our most prestigious universities have fallen and illustrates the need for oversight. While universities once could be trusted to review material to insure it meets minimal standards of scholarship, today this is no longer the case.