OP-EDS

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Nov. 11, 2011

Shunning an academic endorser of anti-Semitism

Imagine your son or daughter is admitted to the University of Chicago, one of the world’s most elite institutions of learning, and tells you that he has been lucky enough to have a course with one of the university’s most prominent professors, John Mearsheimer, the R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Then imagine your child tells you that his favorite professor has just recommended that everyone should read a “fascinating and provocative” book that makes the following assertions of fact:

While the Holocaust “was not at all an historical narrative,” the “accusations of Jews making matzo out of young Goyim’s blood,” may be true (page 175, 185).

Jews caused the recent credit crunch, which the author calls “the Zio-punch” (page 22).

The American media “failed to warn the American people of the enemy within” because of money (page 27).

“[M]ore and more Jews are being pulled into an obscure, dangerous and unethical fellowship” (page 21).

If Iran and Israel fight a nuclear war that kills millions of people, “some may be bold enough to argue that ‘Hitler might have been right after all’” (page 179).

The “new Jewish religion…could well be the most sinister religion known to man…” (page 149).

The author of the book containing these statements has told students that he cannot “say whether it’s right or not to burn down a synagogue. I can say that it is a rational act.” He has also apologized to the Nazis for having earlier compared them to Israel:

“Many of us including me tend to equate Israel to Nazi Germany. Rather often I myself join others and argue that Israelis are the Nazis of our time. I want to take this opportunity to amend my statement. Israelis are not the Nazis of our time and the Nazis were not the Israelis of their time. Israel is in fact far worse than Nazi Germany and the above equation is simply meaningless and misleading.”

He has written that we “must begin to take the accusation that the Jewish people are trying to control the world very seriously,” and that “with Fagin and Shylock in mind, Israeli barbarism and organ trafficking seem to be just other events in an endless hellish continuum.”

The scenario described above—a prominent professor endorsing the content of a blatantly anti-Semitic book—is not imaginary. John Mearsheimer has in fact written a glowing endorsement (this “fascinating and provocative” book “should be widely read.”) of a virulently anti-Semitic book by an infamously bigoted author.

The book is titled The Wandering Who? and has just been published by Gilad Atzmon, a British saxophonist and well-known bigot, who acknowledges that many of the “insights” in his book come from a man who “was an anti-Semite” and a hater of “almost everything that fails to be Aryan masculinity” (page 89-90). He declares himself a “proud self-hating Jew” and writes of his “contempt” of “the Jew in me” (page 94). Mearsheimer’s endorsement appears prominently on the first page of the book. He is not merely defending Atzmon’s right to publish this anti-Semitic book; he is endorsing the book’s content.

Mearsheimer was joined in his endorsement of this anti-Semitic book by Richard Falk, the Milibank Professor of International Law Emeritus at Princeton University. Falk’s endorsement, which appears on the cover of The Wandering Who?, calls the book “absorbing,” “moving,” and “transformative.” He says the book has “integrity” and should not only “be read but reflect[ed] upon and discuss[ed] widely.” One wonders precisely which part of the book Falk wants his students to discuss widely: that the Holocaust is “not an historical narrative”? That Jews may be guilty of “making matzo out of young Goyim’s blood”? or the possibility that “Hitler may have been right after all”?

I have certainly seen strong academic endorsements of books that are extreme in their hatred of Israel, but never in my long professional life have I encountered prominent American academics endorsing blatant anti-Semitism. A red line has been crossed for the first time, and this dangerous and unprecedented crossing must be noted and responded to.

Professor Mearsheimer should neither be fired nor censured for his endorsement of the world’s oldest bigotry, because his academic freedom gives him the right to endorse anti-Semitic views and to endorse any book he chooses.

But unless Mearsheimer publicly withdraws his endorsement, he should be shunned by his colleagues and his students for collaborating with evil. Mearsheimer may not be an anti-Semite himself, but he has given aid and comfort to anti-Semitism by urging his students to take seriously the content of The Wandering Who?

The sad reality is that Mearsheimer is not being shunned. He is being supported by his colleague, Brian Leiter, the Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Chicago Law School, who says that the criticism of Mearsheimer is “hysterical” because Atzmon’s “positions [do not mark him] as an anti-Semite [but rather as] cosmopolitan.” Mearsheimer is also being supported by my Harvard colleague, Professor Stephen Walt and several other American academics.

Therein lies the shame—and the danger.

Alan Dershowitz is the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School.