Last Friday at The Palestine Center in Washington, D.C., Professor John J. Mearsheimer opined that the two-state solution is a “fantasy,” and predicted that the Palestinian territories “will be incorporated into a ‘Greater Israel,’ which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa.” This will, in turn, become “a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream.”
But that, actually, wasn’t the controversial part of this speech by the already-controversial co-author of The Israel Lobby (the book which postulates that an overwhelmingly Jewish lobby influences American Israel policy in a way that harms U.S. interests). Even if you don’t agree with this stuff, you should learn to get used to it. The one-state solution has been amply and eloquently advocated for; even Israel’s own defense minister has used the “a” word.
No, what has gotten various folks’ collective goat was Mearsheimer’s decision to divide Jewish Americans into three groups: “New Afrikaners,” “who will support Israel even if it is an apartheid state”; “the great ambivalent middle,” which is what it sounds like; and “Righteous Jews,” who “believe that self-determination applies to Palestinians as well as Jews.” It’s this part of the speech that Jeffrey Goldberg compared to something out of Father Coughlin. And, I mean, ‘Righteous Jews’? Even if that’s not some sort of analogy to ‘Righteous Gentiles,’ Mearsheimer can kind of go to hell.
Sample Righteous Jews, according to Mearsheimer, are Noam Chomsky, Roger Cohen, Norman Finkelstein, Richard Goldstone, Tony Judt, Naomi Klein, and Philip Weiss. Most of those associated with J Street, says Mearsheimer, are Righteous Jews, too (I promise you J Street resents this categorization, and believes Mearsheimer just made its job more difficult). Sample New Afrikaners are also usual suspects: Abraham Foxman, Marty Peretz, Mort Zuckerman, et al. Mearsheimer’s prediction is that the great ambivalent middle, currently vaguely supportive of Israel, will slowly turn against the Jewish state as its fundamentally apartheid character becomes apparent.
Before going further, I’d like to say that the person whom Mearsheimer has most slandered is the intellectual who has probably lent the greatest and most influential firepower to the solution Mearsheimer would like to see reached, that is, the single bi-national state: Tony Judt. Agree with him on Israel or not (I, for one, don’t), Judt is a sensitive, scrupulous, thoughtful, and responsible scholar who, after painstakingly weighing his own affiliations and values, arrived at a policy conclusion. To group him with Norman Finkelstein is obscene.
This list isn’t even accurate, or at least in any way useful. The important distinctions, as Mearsheimer himself says elsewhere in the speech, are whether someone supports a single, bi-national, democratic state; two nationally-based states; or a Jewish-dominated single state. Yet Righteous Jew Roger Cohen believes in a two-state solution; Righteous Jew hotbed J Street vehemently does so as well. Righteous Jew Noam Chomsky, by contrast, eminently does not; and as for Righteous Jew Norman Finkelstein (!!), he is also David Duke’s favorite Jew. If Mearsheimer were striving to be helpful, he would have divided thinkers based on their preferred solutions to the conflict.
Then again, if Mearsheimer were striving to be helpful, he would have divided thinkers. Instead, Mearsheimer divides Jewish thinkers. “Imagine,” The New Republic’s Jonathan Chait writes, “[if] a conservative were to divide the African-American community into the enlightened blacks (Clarence Thomas, Ken Blackwell, Michael Steele, Walter Williams, etc.) who reject paternalistic liberalism, and also happen to represent a tiny fringe within the community, and the bad blacks, who represent the mainstream African-American perspective.” Seriously, just imagine it.
Meanwhile, Mearsheimer’s co-author, Stephen Walt, does distance himself from the speech somewhat—he thinks that it’s too pessimistic. “I hope his speech turns out to be a ‘self-denying prophecy,’” Walt says. “In other words, if enough people are convinced by it, maybe they will act to head off the gloomy future that he foresees.” You mean the key to peace in the Mideast is for people to be convinced by this speech? Boy are we screwed.
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.