The lowest common denominator

In a long essay in Tablet magazine, Adam Kirsch argues that “Israel Lobby”-authors John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt may have “failed in their stated goal of disrupting America’s close alliance with Israel,” but that it seems “they are winning the war, on the most important battleground of all: that of ideas and language.”

Kirsch highlights many of the developments that I’ve addressed in several posts about the mainstreaming of antisemitism, most recently in “When the mainstream left embraces the rhetoric of the far right.” But I think Kirsch makes a very noteworthy point when he reminds his readers that the “Israel Lobby” – which was after all authored by two professors from highly regarded US universities – was widely and harshly criticized by reviewers:

To look back on The Israel Lobby’s reception today is to see a remarkable unanimity of rejection, from the New York Times (“mostly wrong … dangerously misleading”) and Foreign Affairs (“written in haste, the book will be repented at leisure”) to The Nation (“serious methodological deficiencies … a mess”). There was also a general recognition that in their insinuations about secret Jewish power, Mearsheimer and Walt—professors at the University of Chicago and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, respectively—had given a respectable imprimatur to old and sinister anti-Semitic tropes.

That is worth emphasizing: a book that was widely seen as a professional failure and embarrassment succeeded in shaping the political discourse. As Kirsch puts it:

So the floodgates were opened: What we have witnessed in the five years since [the publication of the “Israel Lobby’] is a blithe recuperation of dangerous, vicious imagery and ideas, with no apparent compunction about their origins or consequences. In 2010, Tablet’s Lee Smith investigated the way certain bloggers—including Walt himself—amassed large anti-Semitic readerships through their conspiratorial denunciations of Israel and the Israel Lobby. Quoting the comments sections of such blogs, Smith found them rife with unbridled anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

The piece by Lee Smith that Kirsch links to is also worth (re-)reading. Under the title “Mainstreaming Hate”, Smith explores how the Internet can be used to facilitate the spread of antisemitism, arguing:

If not quite as popular as adult-content sites, the anti-Israel blogosphere is a dirty little thrill that major U.S. media outfits have mainstreamed for the masses, the intellectual equivalent of the topless “Page Three” girls that British tabloids use to boost circulation.

This comparison is arguably vindicated by the comment threads that usually follow posts channeling the “Israel Lobby”-spirit.

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