American Professors Who Wrote 'The Israel Lobby' Face Cool Reception From Israelis

June 09, 2008

Jerusalem — Some Israeli academics are not too happy that Stephen M. Walt and John J. Mearsheimer, authors of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, are scheduled to speak on Thursday at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The title of their talk: “Is the ‘Israel lobby’ good for Israel?”

Both men have also courted controversy in the United States with their argument that Israel wields disproportionate influence on the United States’ foreign policy.

Mr. Walt is a professor of international relations at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and Mr. Mearsheimer is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago.

“Their decision to come here means they are looking for a good fight,” said Akiva Eldar, a columnist for the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, told The Guardian, a British newspaper.

Gerald Steinberg, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, won support from some colleagues when he suggested in an e-mail message that the American authors should address “an empty room.”

“Their articles and books are not academic,” Mr. Steinberg told The Chronicle. “It’s not research, it’s a polemic. It doesn’t belong in a university.”

But Menachem Klein, a colleague of Mr. Steinberg’s at Bar-Ilan, said it was inappropriate for Israelis to call for shunning visitors when Israeli academics are themselves the targets of attempted boycotts by British lecturers and others.

“I am against boycotting anyone,” Mr. Klein said in an interview. “Academia is about arguing, free debate, and free speech. If you have good arguments, go there and debate.” —Matthew Kalman