Juan Cole apparently has designated himself the defender of Walt & Mearsheimer’s honor. He’s posted a petition, seeking 2000 signatures, that calls upon the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations “to forthrightly condemn the castigation of Professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt as anti-Semites for their academic paper, The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy.”
We note with dismay that when eminent political scientists John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard ….were subjected to a barrage of ad hominem attacks. In particular, they were smeared as “anti-Semites.” This epithet was hurled at them by the Anti-Defamation League, Eliot A. Cohen, Alan Dershowitz, Representative Eliot Engel, Richard L. Cravatts, and many others.
We protest the character assassination of eminent American academics, firm supporters of civil rights for all, as racist bigots for their academic analysis of the domestic dimension of US foreign policy. No paper about other ethnic lobbies’ impact on foreign policy (e.g. Cuban-Americans, Irish-Americans or Armenian-Americans) would have elicited such over-heated and patently unfair charges of racism…Such a misuse of the word “anti-Semitic” is profoundly anti-democratic. Democracy requires free public debate of all issues affecting the public weal.
We also fear that an impression is being created that elements in the American Jewish community are hostile to academic freedom of speech and inquiry, and are hostile even to the first amendment of the US constitution. As admirers of the historic role the American Jewish community has played in furthering civil liberties in the United States, we are concerned and saddened at this development.
I have to pause a moment to admire the sheer chutzpah of a guy who in one breath accuses Jewish critics of undermining democracy, and then worries that somehow “an impression is being created” that elements of the Jewish community want to torch the first amendement. (Random observation: Whenever academics lapse into using the passive voice, that’s a sure sign that what they’re about to say is completely full of you-know-what.)
As I’ve noted before, I have yet to see anyone present any tangible evidence that free speech is being supressed here. And I’ve also wondered (here and here) why academics and pundits felt it was perfectly acceptable to label as “racist” the shoddy scholarship of Charles Murray’s Bell Curve and Steven Emerson’s “Jihad in America”–and yet, they get faint-hearted when Jews get offended over a craptastic paper that accuses them of controlling U.S. foreign policy and pushing America into war against Iraq.
And, Juan Cole himself has a somewhat mixed record as a defender of free speech. As Michael Rubin noted in the Yale Daily News:
Universities thrive on scholarly discourse. Professors should be open to new ideas –not only those that challenge policymakers, but also those that test entrenched campus opinion. Unfortunately, Cole has displayed a cavalier attitude toward those who disagree with him. In a February interview with Detroit’s Metro Times, he argued that the U.S. government should shut down Fox News. “In the 1960s, the FCC would have closed it down,” he argued. “It’s an index of how corrupt our governmental institutions have become that the FCC lets this go on.” Many Yalies may not like Fox, but top-down censorship is no solution. Cole’s outburst was the rule, not an exception. On Sept. 4, 2004, he wrote that “The FBI should investigate how [Walid] Phares, an undistinguished academic with links to far right-wing Lebanese groups and the Likud clique, became the ‘terrorism analyst’ at MSNBC.”
While Cole has labeled his own critics “McCarthyites,” they have not called for his censorship or arrest. False accusations are telling. Phares is neither “far right-wing” nor tied to “the Likud clique.” Public figures label and dismiss when they do not want to debate the substance of ideas. Take Cole’s reaction to Phares, who is far from undistinguished. His most recent book, “Future Jihad,” won acclaim in both the scholarly and policy communities.