I can’t bring myself to find endorsement blurbs newsworthy, however bizarre they might be.
Book endorsements are a form of logrolling, and the only thing that seems to be going through even the smartest of endorsers’ heads when they contribute a blurb is "Hey, if I get my moniker on the back of this guy’s book, folks may go out and buy mine."
That said, there’s a debate being waged way above my payscale about the wisdom of John Mearsheimer attaching his endorsement to a book by Gilad Atzmon, a former Israeli who says he rejects Jewish identity as, well, the majority of Jews see it, which is also how the majority of people see their own identity, which is "Every group deserves a break, but I’m sticking with my group because it’s cozier and snugglier." I’m not exactly sure why this is a problem for a guy who lives in London — has he ever watched an England match? Does he know what’s going on up in Scotland? Has he heard of the Olympics and how they operate? But hey.
So all this started when Adam Holland (whom I’ve found to be a fab and thorough researcher) picked out excerpts from Atzmon’s writings that sure make it sound like he’s flirted with Holocaust denial and endorsing anti-Semitic calumnies, and wonders what Mearsheimer, the co-author of "The Israel Lobby" is doing on the back of his book.
Atzmon insists that what others see as his flirtations with the dark side are instead the true markings of an open mind. (Speaking of, uh, open, does Mearsheimer endorse that illo of Goldberg next to his on Atzmon’s host site?)
Mearsheimer, borrowing space on co-author Stephen Walt’s blog, joins in, saying that yes, he finds this open-minded approach to Jewishness tres refreshing although that doesn’t mean he endorses it, and Goldberg and Mead are meanies who call him an anti-Semite without providing context. He also says that he endorsed a book, not Atzmon, and that none of his critics are quoting the actual book. (UPDATE: In fact they are, as Holland and Harry’s Place show.)
Pithiest put-down in the wake of Mearsheimer’s defense comes from Ben Suarato at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, who tweets:
By praising Atzmon seeing the Holocaust as case for Palestinians, Meirsheimer makes implicit claim that Israelis=Nazis
Okay, I’ll back slowly and carefully away now, except to say this: I’ve treated Walt and Mearsheimer quite a bit on this blog and on our news site, until I got tired of it and have disciplined myself into reacting to their meanderings with a shrug.
I don’t think they’re anti-Semites and have said so. I think their book is a pile of poorly-sourced hooey, and so are many of their theories, and I’ve gone to lengths (the kind of lengths that I am now trying to control on this blog) to show it.
Yet they never, ever have replied to me. They know my views. They solicited an interview with me when the book came out. I don’t take it personally — they hardly ever reply to anyone except when an opportunity is presented to claim how wounded they have been by accusations of bigotry.
But it says a lot about their confidence in their own work that they only care about the name-calling, and not, you know, the actual substance.