Commentary Magazine


Walt’s Delusions

I will try not to turn this into a weekly habit – giving Stephen Walt even more attention than he already gets is bad strategy. But I can’t resist doing it just one more time.

Walt, the co-author of the notoriously biased The Israel Lobby, now blogs for Foreign Policy. As I expected, his main topic – at least in his first week of blogging – has been Israel. And he hasn’t gotten away with it easily. I wrote unfavorably about him here, and so have many others such as Ross Douthat, David Rothkopf and Jeffrey Goldberg. In his attempt to respond, Walt asks that we “Judge my book on its merits.” (We have already done so.)

Walt writes, “Douthat is correct that the mainstream reviews of the book were mostly negative, which is hardly surprising if one looks at who was chosen (or agreed) to review it.” Does he mean to say reviewers were mostly Jewish? He goes on to ask: “how does one explain the four positive reviews (one of them positively glowing) that we received in Israel itself, including a lengthy, thoughtful, and generally favorable review in Ha’aretz?”

This question is easily answered. The first review Walt relies on is by Uri Avnery, the most eccentric and radical icon of Israel’s extreme left. Avnery is a fascinating character, with a biography that merits a book, a documentary film and a small museum. Nevertheless, relying on him as someone representing “positive reviews” in “Israel itself” is like relying on, say, a good review from Noam Chosky as evidence of “generally favorable” reviews in the U.S.

The second review Walt mentions did indeed appearin my former paper, Haaretz. First, the writer: nominally “Israeli,” Daniel Levy does not live in Israel and hardly represents the “positive reaction” of Israelis in general to Walt’s book. Levy wrote this positive review of The Israel Lobby while he was already working to establish a Washington shop of his own, the dovish J Street. The Israel Lobby wasn’t commissioned or written by J Street founders, but it served their cause well. So yes, Levy gave the book a favorable review–as a Washingtonian, not as an Israeli.

Add to that the fact that Levy himself has quite radical tendencies (you do not meet many Israelis who support his views, not even on the left. Many of Levy’s former colleagues think he has gone too far – to put it mildly). And Haaretz has always been a hub for sanctimonious Israel-bashing (as well as great reporting and writing).

While it’s convenient for Walt to quote the one positive review written for Haaretz by an outsider, the coverage in Haaretz by staff members was mostly negative. I wrote about the book here, here and here. And columnist Reuven Pdhatzur wrote this:

Two reputable professors, one from Harvard, Stephen Walt, and the other from University of Chicago, John Mearsheimer, wrote a shameful document as far as its arguments go, and an embarrassing one as far as its academic level is concerned.

Walt says he got generally positive coverage in Israel? This claim is as credible as his book.