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An open letter to Professor Juan Cole

From Maurice Ostroff May 13, 2006

Dear Professor Cole,
 

Your petition "Freedom of Speech on the Israel Lobby" addressed to the
Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations


I am writing to ask you to please reconsider your petition because it constitutes an appeal to restrict that very freedom of speech that you advocate.
 
Your call on the Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to condemn the smearing of Professors Mearsheimer and Walt as "anti-Semites" is fallacious. There has been no such smearing and your allegation misleads those who are asked to sign the petition. 
 
I ask you as an academic of stature, to re-read your serious allegation that Mearsheimer and Walt were smeared as "anti-Semites" and judge whether the manner in which it has been presented meets the academic standards of the great university you represent. On reconsideration, I trust you will agree that serious judgmental statements of this nature should not stand alone without substantiation.  You do a disservice to the signatories by imposing your judgment in omitting to document examples of the statements to which you object, with actual quotations in context, allowing the signatories to judge whether or not they are "smears"

Even in his hard-hitting article in the Washington Post ,Eliot Cohen does not call the authors anti-Semitic. Taking your Webster definition of anti-Semitism a stage further; he writes "If by anti-Semitism one means obsessive and irrationally hostile beliefs about Jews; if one accuses them of disloyalty, subversion or treachery, of having occult powers and of participating in secret combinations that manipulate institutions and governments; if one systematically selects everything unfair, ugly or wrong about Jews as individuals or a group and equally systematically suppresses any exculpatory information -- why, yes, this paper is anti-Semitic". Note he refers to the paper not the authors. I do not believe you would deny the right to express opinions of this nature, even if you disagree with them, especially since you do not hesitate to use pejorative adjectives and cast abusive epithets like calling peaceful demonstrators in Israel fascists.(Informed Opinion, July 26,2004)

In the response by Alan Dershowitz, to which you refer I cannot find any statement accusing professors Mearsheimer and Walt of anti-Semitism, though he does legitimately discuss anti-Semitism at some length. The subject was unavoidable in view of the fact that, Mearsheimer and Walt accuse the lobby of indiscriminately crying anti-Semitism. In this it seems that they anticipated the substance of your petition.
 
The fact that Dershowitz draws attention to the similarity between Mearsheimer and Walt's allegations and those promulgated in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and in Nazi literature does not mean he is accusing Mearsheimer and Walt of anti-Semitism. He is merely making a perfectly valid, verifiable observation supported by copious footnotes.

Your appeal to suppress such observations by labeling them as accusations of anti-Semitism, contradicts your support of free-speech. As you so rightly stated in your petition, "Democracy requires free public debate of all issues affecting the public weal"
 
Please withdraw your petition or, in all fairness, make the contents of this letter available to the signatories.

I would appreciate your considered response which will be distributed on the internet, as will this letter.

Sincerely,
Maurice Ostroff

Herzliya, Israel

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