Serwer to Foxman: Bad scholarship is bad scholarship


At The American Prospect, Adam Serwer issues a goose-gander challenge to the ADL’s Abe Foxman: Why did he endorse Mitchell Bard’s "The Arab Lobby" if it shares many of the fatal flaws Foxman ascribed to "The Israel Lobby," by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer?

Abe has blurbed Bard’s books as follows:

Mitchell Bard has presented a well-documented, concise, and insightful account of the scope and impact of Arab states’ influence on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Serwer says Abe

apparently thinks conspiracy theories about shadowy religious elites controlling everything from behind the scenes are fine as long as they aren’t directed at Jews. I can imagine developing such a siege mentality about anti-Semitism that one could lose sight of the universal principles of tolerance that were once at the heart of the ADL’s mission, but you’d think Foxman could look around at the company he’s keeping and realize what side of that argument he’s placed himself on.

At the very least you’d think that merely taking an argument Foxman himself sees as an anti-Semitic smear and changing the names around might ring a few alarm bells. Foxman wrote an entire book attacking The Israel Lobby as anti-Semitic "deadly lies," but he sees The Arab Lobby as "a well-documented, concise, and insightful account of the scope and impact of Arab states’ influence on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East." We’re on complete tribalist autopilot here.

I’ve read "The Israel Lobby" and have skimmed "The Arab Lobby," and my initial impression: Truly, they are of the same cloth. Here’s a random sample from the latter:

P. 306: Harvard … received its first donation from the Saudis in 1977, $300,000 to establish a chair in Islamic law. In 1982, the Saudi royal family gave $600,000 to preserve photographs of Middle Eastern life at the Semitic Museum. That same year, a Saudi businessman made a contribution that was believed to be conditional on the hiring of a faculty member with ties to the PLO, a charge that was never proven.

Bard goes on, but you get the picture. Photos? Really? Might this not be in the legitimate interests of both the Saudi royal family and, you know, students? And the chair in Islamic law, and other similar donations he mentions — should we scrutinize how pro-Israel donors spend their bucks in academia, and wonder whether this has an impact on studies? Is that the road we want to take? The third charge is most stunning, though — if it was never proven, what in goodness’ name is it doing in any scholarly work?

P. 233: On the positive side for the lobby, at least initially, Obama appointed a national coordinator for Muslim Amercian affairs. The person chosen, Chicago lawyer Mazen Asbahi, lasted less than a month, resigning after questions were raised about his participation on the board of a subsidiary of the Saudi-financed North American Islamic Trust, which promotes Wahhabism and owns title to many mosques. Asbahi was also described by the Wall Street Journal as frequently speaking before groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.  Before Asbahi joined the campaign in late July, Obama did not have a Muslim-outreach coordinator, which had provoked complaints by Muslims who felt this was unfair, since Obama did have outreach staff for Catholics, evangelical Christians, and Jews.

"Positive .. initially?" He lasted ten days. And why does an appointment that Bard implicitly acknowledge is normative have anything to do with lobbying? More saliently, Bard omits that Asbahi quit the NAIT fund within a month, as soon as he found out a fellow board member was a radical — making Asbahi the Shirley Sherrod of 2008. Moreover, the "groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood," is the Islamic Society of North America; Bard doesn’t mention the group has earned the hechsher of the Reform Movement and Foxman’s own ADL.

And these are literally two pages where I let the book fall open while writing this post.

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