From Tehran to Plains, Ga., to the hallowed halls of Harvard, a new cry is heard in the land: The Jews are suppressing free speech. In recent weeks, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, and Harvard University-associated academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt have all claimed to be victims of a conspiracy by Jews to keep them from speaking out. (See cover story, page ‘0.)
According to Ahmadeinejad, the Tehran conference of Holocaust-deniers that he organized was necessary because the Jewish-influenced governments of other countries prevent public discussion about the Holocaust.
The Iranian president apparently hasn’t done the math. Only 1′ countries have laws that in some way restrict public denial of the Holocaust or other genocides. That’s less than seven percent of the 19′ member-countries of the United Nations, leaving more than 90 percent of the globe free for Ahmadinejad and his acolytes to spread their hatred without legal encumbrance.
The United States has no laws prohibiting Holocaust denial, although if Tehran conference speaker David Duke decided to return to his old Ku Klux Klan ways, he would run into problems in some parts of the country: ‘0 states have legal restrictions on burning crosses or wearing Ku Klux Klan-style hoods, regarding those activities as terroristic intimidation. But 30 states do not, meaning that Duke and company can still operate with complete freedom in 60 percent of the country (with, of course, freedom of speech and assembly everywhere else).
Former President Carter, for his part, has written a provocative book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," which is, to put it mildly, harshly critical of Israel. That, of course, is his right. But Mr. Carter crossed a line when he charged recently that universities "with high Jewish enrollment" had refused to let him speak on their campuses. The implication is that the Jews are trying to silence him. Expanding on this allegation in an interview in the latest issue of Tikkun magazine, Carter added this howler: "One of the things that’s missing is any voice in the Jewish community who dares to be at all critical of anything that the right wing in Israel does."
Apparently Carter forgot to whom he was talking. Tikkun is one of the leading voices in the Jewish community critical of "the right wing in Israel." In fact, it has also been critical of the Israeli center, and sometimes even the Israeli left. Not only is Tikkun critical in its articles, it organizes meetings and rallies on the same themes, and has even lobbied Congress. And, of course, anyone even remotely familiar with the American Jewish community knows of the numerous organizations, leaders, writers, and other voices critical of the Israeli right. The notion that American Jewry, like Carter himself, has been cowed into silent acquiescence to "the right wing in Israel" would be laughable were it not so pernicious.
Mearsheimer and Walt are, respectively, professor at the University of Chicago and professor and former academic dean at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The Kennedy School’s Website recently published their controversial 8′-page paper "The Israel Lobby." They contend that American Jews, some American Christians, and pro-Israel elements of the media have colluded to bring about a pro-Israel U.S. foreign policy that was detrimental to America’s own interests. Moreover, they allege, "the Lobby" works assiduously to "prevent critical comments [about Israel] from getting a fair hearing" in the media and other public forums.
"The Lobby" also tries "to blacklist and intimidate scholars" who are critical of Israel, they report; although, in contrast to Jimmy Carter, Mearsheimer and Walt claim the pro-Israel forces have "had difficulty … in stifling debate on university campuses."
The irony is that Mearsheimer and Walt’s allegations have received extraordinarily wide attention in the supposedly Zionist-dominated media. Their paper appeared in full not only on Harvard’s Website but in the London Review of Books as well. It was reported extensively in the world’s press and discussed just as extensively on the op-ed pages of numerous prominent daily newspapers. And they have landed a book deal with a major publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. But facts do not seem to get in the way of Mearsheimer and Walt, or Carter or Ahmadinejad, for that matter.
It is, of course, important to be cautious about drawing comparisons between public figures. Overwrought analogies have soiled public discourse on more than one occasion in recent memory. Ahmadinejad is a genocidal maniac, and obviously Carter, Mearsheimer, and Walt are not. But that is what makes their allegations all the more disturbing: Their irresponsible utterances are dragging the good name of the office of the presidency and Harvard University through the mud of Tehran.
Edward I. Koch, a member of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, served as mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.