Controversies, Lobbies, Freedom

Earlier this month, historian Tony Judt was due to speak on “The Israel lobby and U.S. foreign policy” to a group called Network 20/20, which is comprised of young business leaders and academics from various countries. These meetings are usually held at the Polish consulate, which serves merely as host and not as organizer. The talk was cancelled at the last minute, and a controversy has erupted over the reasons why. Judt maintains that the consulate was threatened by Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman, while Foxman and the ADL claim they simply “inquired” into who was organizing the event.

Judt’s lecture was supposed to also include a discussion of Mearsheimer and Walt’s paper “The Israel Lobby,” which inflamed passions when it appeared in the London Review of Books last March. (The authors were accused of anti-semitism, among other things.) Recently, a panel of experts that included Martin Indyk, John Mearsheimer, Shlomo Ben-Ami, Tony Judt, Rashid Khalidi, and Dennis Ross discussed the paper at length in New York, without incident. You can view a video of the event here.

Now the New York Review of Books has published a letter, signed by more than a hundred writers, editors, critics, and academics protesting the ADL’s involvement into Tony Judt’s scheduled lecture at the Polish Consulate. The signatories state: “Though we, the undersigned, have many disagreements about political matters, foreign and domestic, we are united in believing that a climate of intimidation is inconsistent with fundamental principles of debate in a democracy. The Polish Consulate is not obliged to promote free speech. But the rules of the game in America oblige citizens to encourage rather than stifle public debate. We who have signed this letter are dismayed that the ADL did not choose to play a more constructive role in promoting liberty.”

For a radically different take you can read Christopher Hitchens’ takedown at Slate.