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Letters

Vol. 28 No. 8 · 20 April 2006

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The Israel Lobby

As an advocate of free speech and an opponent of censorship based on political correctness, I welcome a serious, balanced, objective study of the influences of lobbies – including Israeli lobbies – on American foreign policy. I also welcome reasoned, contextual and comparative criticism of Israeli policies and actions. But in light of the many errors in John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s article, and their admission that ‘none of the evidence’ they give ‘represents original documentation or is derived from independent interviews’, it is fair to ask why these distinguished academics chose to publish a paper that does not meet their usual scholarly standards, especially given the obvious risk that it would be featured, as it has been, on neo-Nazi and extremist websites, and even those of terrorist organisations, and that it would be used by overt anti-semites to ‘validate’ their claims of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy (LRB, 23 March).

The authors pre-emptively accuse the Lobby of indiscriminately crying anti-semitism: ‘Anyone who criticises Israeli actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over US Middle East policy … stands a good chance of being labelled an anti-semite’; ‘In other words, criticise Israeli policy and you are by definition an anti-semite.’ This is demonstrably false, though it is a charge made frequently in the hate literature. Several years ago, I challenged those who made similar accusations to identify a single Jewish leader who equated mere criticism of Israeli policy with anti-semitism. No one accepted my challenge, because no Jewish leader has made such a claim. Among the harshest critics of Israeli policy are Jews and Israelis: just read the mainstream Israeli and Jewish-American press.

Mearsheimer and Walt rely on discredited allegations and partial quotation. They twice quote David Ben-Gurion out of context so that he appears to be saying the exact opposite of what he actually did say. First, the authors have Ben-Gurion stating: ‘After the formation of a large army in the wake of the establishment of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.’ The clear implication is that this would be done by force. Yet, in a follow-up question, Ben-Gurion was asked whether he meant to achieve this ‘by force as well?’ He responded in the negative: ‘Through mutual understanding and Jewish-Arab agreement.’ Mearsheimer and Walt omit this important qualification. Ben-Gurion is then quoted as saying that ‘it is impossible to imagine general evacuation’ of the Arab population ‘without compulsion, and brutal compulsion’, which makes it seem as if Ben-Gurion was advocating ‘brutal compulsion’. They omit what he said next: ‘But we should in no way make it part of our programme.’ Either they were unaware of the context of the quotes because they read only misleading excerpts ripped out of context; or they decided to misuse the quotes so as to mislead the reader.

There are many other factual errors, but I will draw attention to just a few. ‘Israel,’ they state, ‘was explicitly founded as a Jewish state and citizenship is based on the principle of blood kinship.’ This mendacious emphasis on Jewish ‘blood’ is a favourite of neo-Nazi propaganda. It is totally false. A person of any ethnicity or religion can become an Israeli citizen. In fact, approximately a quarter of Israel’s citizens are not Jewish, a higher percentage of minority citizenry than nearly any other country. Indeed, Mearsheimer and Walt admit that Israel has 1.3 million Arab citizens – about 20 per cent of its population. The paper’s authors confuse Israel’s law of return – which was designed to grant asylum to victims of anti-semitism, including non-Jewish relatives of Jews – with its law of citizenship.

If Mearsheimer and Walt were truly concerned about racist citizenship statutes, they could have looked right next door to Jordan, which openly and explicitly refuses to grant citizenship to Jews. When asked by the New York Sun about Arab citizenship laws, Walt responded: ‘We were not writing on Saudi Arabia and Jordan.’ Mearsheimer and Walt in fact compare Israel to its Arab neighbours on several occasions, finding – incredibly – that ‘in terms of actual behaviour, Israel’s conduct is not morally distinguishable from the actions of its opponents.’ Walt’s evasive answer reminds me of a remark attributed to another Harvard administrator, A. Lawrence Lowell, who fought fiercely to keep Jews out of Harvard. His reasoning was that ‘Jews cheat.’ When it was pointed out to him that some non-Jews cheat, Lowell allegedly responded: ‘You’re changing the subject. I’m talking about Jews.’

Mearsheimer and Walt contend that the ‘United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around … There is no question, for example, that many al-Qaida leaders, including bin Laden, are motivated by Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians.’ In fact, bin Laden was primarily motivated by the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia, recall, had asked the United States to defend the Arabian Peninsula against Iraqi aggression prior to the first Gulf War. So it was America’s ties to and defence of an Arab state – from which 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers originated – and not the Jewish state, that most clearly precipitated the events of 11 September 2001. Nor does Israel’s supposed domination of American public life explain the terrorist massacres in Bali, Madrid, London and elsewhere. Europe, after all, is praised for being less susceptible to the Lobby’s manipulation.

Mearsheimer and Walt’s boldest mis-statement concerns the negotiations at Camp David in July 2000. ‘Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s purportedly generous offer,’ they write, ‘would have given the Palestinians only a disarmed and dismembered set of Bantustans under de facto Israeli control.’ Barak has said that the Bantustan accusation was ‘one of the most embarrassing lies’ Arafat told about Camp David. Mearsheimer and Walt do not cite the map Dennis Ross published in his book The Missing Peace, which contrasts the Palestinian characterisation of the final proposal at Camp David with the actual proposal. The second map – the real map offered to the Palestinians at Camp David – shows a contiguous Palestinian state in the West Bank. Prince Bandar, a member of the Saudi royal family, was so astounded by the generosity of Israel’s offer that he told Arafat: ‘If we lose this opportunity, it is not going to be a tragedy. This is going to be a crime.’

Even if the scholarship were sound and the facts accurate, the paper’s thesis would remain unsound. Their first argument is that the very existence of an Israeli lobby proves that support for Israel is essentially un-American. ‘The mere existence of the Lobby,’ they write, ‘suggests that unconditional support for Israel is not in the American national interest. If it was, one would not need an organised special interest group to bring it about.’ In other words, any group that needs a lobby must be working against the ‘American national interest’. The most powerful lobby in the US is, in fact, the American Association of Retired Persons. According to Mearsheimer and Walt’s logic, that would mean that the rights of retired people are inconsistent with American national interests, as is equality for African Americans (NAACP) and choice for women. The reality, of course, is that virtually all interest groups and many foreign countries undertake lobbying, but only the ‘Israel Lobby’ is accused of being contrary to American national interest.

Mearsheimer and Walt attribute anything that Israel and America do or aspire to achieve in common to Israeli manipulation. They confuse correlation with causation. The upshot of their argument concerning the invasion of Iraq is that Ariel Sharon duped President Bush into overthrowing Saddam Hussein. They do not consider the more likely explanation: that Bush and Sharon shared the same worldview and vision for the Middle East.

Walt’s Harvard colleague David Gergen – who has a great deal of experience of the decision-making process in the White House – finds the paper’s thesis ‘wildly at variance’ with what he witnessed. Had Mearsheimer and Walt interviewed Gergen they would have learned the following:

Over the course of four tours in the White House, I never once saw a decision in the Oval Office to tilt US foreign policy in favour of Israel at the expense of America’s interest. Other than Richard Nixon – who occasionally said terrible things about Jews, despite the number on his team – I can’t remember any president even talking about an Israeli lobby. Perhaps I have forgotten, but I can remember plenty of conversations about the power of the American gun lobby, environmentalists, evangelicals, small-business owners and teachers unions.

It is not only Mearsheimer and Walt’s words that invoke stereotypes and canards. It is the ‘music’ as well – the tone, pitch and feel of the article – that has caused such outrage. Imagine if two academics compiled an equivalent number of negative statements, based on shoddy research and questionable sources, to the effect that African Americans cause all the problems in America, and presented that compilation as evidence that African Americans behave in a manner contrary to the best interest of the United States. Who would fail to recognise such a project as destructive?

Walt and Mearsheimer repeatedly claim that they wrote their article, at least in part, in order to stimulate a discussion about the influence of the Lobby. They claim that it is the pro-Israel side that seeks to suppress this ‘because an open debate might lead Americans to question the level of support they provide’. My invitation to debate remains open. I challenge Mearsheimer and Walt to look me in the eye and tell me that because I am a proud Jew and a critical supporter of Israel, I am disloyal to my country.

Alan Dershowitz
Harvard University

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt write that ‘not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them.’ They thus ignore those American Jews for whom Israel is important but who do not agree with the aims of the Lobby, or do not think that it acts to the benefit of Israel, America or anyone else in the Middle East.

Frank Solomon
MIT

If the inhumane behaviour of the Israeli government is allowed to continue, anti-semitism will certainly increase and unfortunately it will be real, and no longer merely Israeli apologists crying wolf.

Caroline and Nathan Finkelstein
Tannay, Switzerland

The current situation in the Middle East is very different from the one depicted by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Egypt and Jordan have peace treaties with Israel, and they, the Gulf States and some North African countries share a vital interest in repelling militant Islam and, in the case of the Gulf States, ensuring their security against Iran. The United States and Israel share this interest.

Yair Evron
Jerusalem

Having read John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s extensive writings in international relations theory, I assumed that, as realists or neo-realists, they attached primacy to the international setting in shaping foreign policy choices. According to such theory, states act in accordance with national interests which are shaped by the outside world and in response to threats within an anarchical international system and society. If this is the case, their thesis about the alleged influence of the Israeli Lobby on US foreign policy contradicts the essential tenet of the theory on which they have in large part constructed their academic reputations.

However, I have a more immediate concern. The authors allege that ‘over the past 25 years, pro-Israel forces have established a commanding presence’ at US think-tanks, and give a list that includes the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. The basis on which the authors make this assertion escapes me. We have undertaken studies of US policy towards the Gulf States as well as Israel and other countries in and around the Middle East. To the extent that such studies support Israel or any other states in the region, this is the result of an independent analysis of US needs and interests. If Mearsheimer and Walt had taken the time to interview me or any of my colleagues, they could easily have discovered this.

Robert Pfaltzgraff
Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, Cambridge, Massachusetts

More than thirty years ago, I was one of the first British Jewish writers to write about the harsh behaviour of the Israeli authorities towards the Palestinians living under a cruel and illegal occupation. Although I did not write about anything which I had not witnessed, I was accused of lying, of being ‘paid by the Arabs’ and even of ‘having sex intercourse with the Arab gangsters’. I was inundated with letters containing hysterical abuse and anonymous death threats, and attacked verbally and physically. One man wrote to say he considered it his duty ‘to prevent a Jewess from damaging the cause of Israel’. Publications for which I had worked were told that I was ‘a member of a terrorist gang’.

It is a pity that supporters of Israel still reach for the same obfuscations, denigrations and outright distortions of fact. As far back as 1980, the May/June issue of Yiton 77 (a Hebrew literary monthly) published an article by the Israeli writer Boaz Evron on the use of accusations of anti-semitism and reminders of the Holocaust to silence critics. There have been many similar articles in the Israeli media over the years.

Marion Woolfson
Edinburgh

Why do Jeffrey Herf and Andrei Markovits employ the Lobby’s rhetorical tactic of conflating Israel with Jews (Letters, 6 April)? John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are careful to distinguish the Israel Lobby from American Jewish citizens, and never refer to a ‘Jewish’ Lobby. And why do they accuse Mearsheimer and Walt of ‘naivety regarding the power and import of ideological fanaticism in international affairs’? Their article was precisely about the impact of ideological fanaticism not only on international affairs but on American democracy. Finally, does the fact that Likud came third in the recent Israeli elections mean that the majority of Israelis are not in sympathy with all of the policies promoted in their name by the Lobby?

Renee Slater
Bristol

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt claim that Golda Meir said that ‘there is no such thing as a Palestinian.’ This reference to Meir is obligatory in anti-Israel polemics. In fact, Meir said something quite different in the interview from which the professors’ quotation supposedly originates. In this interview, with the Sunday Times in 1969, when asked if she considered ‘the emergence of the Palestinian fighting forces, the Fedayeen, an important new factor in the Middle East’, Meir replied:

Important, no. A new factor, yes. There was no such thing as Palestinians. When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the First World War, and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.

A few years later, in the New York Times of 14 January 1976, Meir stated:

To be misquoted is an occupational hazard of political leadership; for this reason I should like to clarify my position in regard to the Palestinian issue. I have been charged with being rigidly insensitive to the question of the Palestinian Arabs. In evidence of this I am supposed to have said, ‘There are no Palestinians.’ My actual words were: ‘There is no Palestine people. There are Palestinian refugees.’ The distinction is not semantic. My statement was based on a lifetime of debates with Arab nationalists who vehemently excluded a separatist Palestinian Arab nationalism from their formulations.

It is clear that even in the original interview Meir was referring to Palestinian nationhood and not Palestinians in general, whose existence she clearly acknowledged both in that comment and in everything else she ever said about them.

Mearsheimer and Walt also write that ‘in 2003, the head of the French Jewish community said that “France is not more anti-semitic than America."’ The quotation is from an interview with Roger Cukierman in the magazine Forward, in which Cukierman differentiated between French anti-semitism of the traditional French/European variety, and ‘new’ manifestations of anti-Jewish violence in France. As the Forward article explains, in Cukierman’s estimation the latter manifestations ‘were responsible for 95 per cent to 98 per cent of anti-semitic incidents’ in France: ‘This is why “France is not more anti-semitic than America," he explained, despite the fact that most Muslims in France are French citizens.’ Mearsheimer and Walt distort Cukierman’s assessment by portraying his comments as if he had been referring to all French anti-semitism.

Jeremy Schreiber
Columbus, Ohio

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt do not address the fundamental issue: Israel’s relationship to America is that of a client state. Difficulties arise because Israel, unlike many client states in the past, has a very strong agenda of its own: it wants to exist, preferably at peace with its neighbours, but within boundaries and with a population of its own choosing.

Israel’s way of achieving these goals and dealing with regional opposition to them is, in many people’s eyes – possibly including those of many Jewish Americans – morally repugnant. That America has tended to look the other way is hardly surprising: reining Israel in would be difficult and even more costly than accepting the status quo. These costs can be counted not just in dollars, which the Israeli government is adept at extorting in ever greater quantities, but in terms of Israel’s willingness to act as the agent of pax Americana in a region that is strategically important but potentially very hostile to the United States.

In other words, an Israel Lobby, whatever degree of influence one attributes to it, isn’t really vital to the client-state relationship. Still, it would be surprising if both partners, and Israel in particular, were not having doubts about the viability of the relationship in the longer term. On the one hand, along with anti-Americanism, anti-semitism is creeping back into Europe via the immigrant underclasses. And, on the other, Iraq has shown the world that America is not good at creating and nurturing client states. Would it be any better, if push came to shove, at protecting an already existing one? Should word get around that America will not or cannot defend its Middle Eastern client state, no amount of lobbying in Washington will protect Israel.

John Gretton
Birmingham

It’s interesting that Daniel Pipes does not think his ‘decision to establish Campus Watch’ – a nasty anti-dissent echo of McCarthyism – might be the action of a member of the Israel Lobby because no ‘outside source’ told him to set it up (Letters, 6 April). He doesn’t deny Mearsheimer and Walt’s description of what Campus Watch is trying to get people to do.

You could get the impression, reading Adam Glantz’s letter in the same issue, that Israel and Palestine are two evenly matched warring states. Given the failure of the US media to inform Americans of alternative viewpoints it is hardly surprising that those in the US who ‘follow international events’ give even more ‘support to Israel’ than those who don’t. Glantz is right that world hostility to American fundamentalism and domination can’t be reduced to the issue of Israel, but suggests that through its alliance with an armed and expansionist Israel the US ‘may be purchasing world stability at a bargain price’. As many empires have found, extremist satellite regimes are not always the best bargain in the long term.

Tom Wengraf
London N10

Harry Truman recognised the state of Israel fifteen minutes after it declared itself a nation. ‘In all of my political experience,’ he said, ‘I don’t ever recall the Arab vote swinging a close election.’ But it’s wrong to blame uncritical US support for Israel on the Lobby. British Jews are as well organised, well funded, almost as numerous relative to population and, understandably, just as pro-Israel as American Jews. Yet European and US public – and therefore government – attitudes to Israel are very different.

Until 1967, Israel was admired equally on both sides of the Atlantic. Its subsequent colonisation of East Jerusalem and chunks of the West Bank – on top of the 78 per cent of Palestine it already had – gradually alienated most Europeans, whose overstretched governments had just given up their colonies. In a 2003 European Commission poll in 15 EU countries, 59 per cent of those who responded named Israel as a threat to world peace; significantly fewer named Iran, Iraq, North Korea or Afghanistan.

Americans, however, kept the faith. In the 1980s, Republican support for Israel hardened as a result of the growing Christian fundamentalist movement, which believes Jerusalem’s holy sites belong in Western hands. Then there’s the analogy between the Zionist ‘recovery’ of Palestine and the early North American settlers’ flight from religious persecution in Europe. Could America’s support of Israel be driven in part by identification with its own history?

Joseph Palley
Richmond, Surrey

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt claim that Israel has become a ‘strategic burden’ to the US and give as an example the use of Patriot missile batteries in the 1991 Gulf War ‘to prevent Tel Aviv doing anything that might harm the alliance against Saddam’. This is bizarre: the reason the US had to supply Patriots to Israel was to defend it against attacks by Saddam, who attacked Israel as a response to the US/ coalition action against Iraq, which was itself a defence of Kuwaiti independence and wider US strategic interests in the region. If this instance shows anything, it is that Israel’s security was jeopardised as a result of US action in support of US and Kuwaiti strategic interests that had nothing to do with Israel – virtually the opposite of the case the authors are trying to make.

Michael Grenfell
Edgware, Middlesex

John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt almost acquit the American war machine of what is happening here. ‘The bottom line,’ they write, ‘is that AIPAC, a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress, with the result that US policy towards Israel is not debated there.’ Suppose AIPAC weren’t there: would American policy in the Middle East be different? I doubt it.

Yitzhak Laor
Tel Aviv

The development of Jewish Studies and Israel Studies programmes in US universities is motivated in large part by a desire to promote Jewish identity (often utilising Israel as an anchor for that identity), but within America, as an antidote to assimilation. In some respects this is a very un-Zionist agenda, as it aims to create a space in which one can be Jewish and American at the same time. While I agree with Mearsheimer and Walt that often it is difficult to discuss Israel or the Israel Lobby without having one’s motives impugned, this situation tends to push commentary to the extremes, and their article is an unfortunate example of that.

Kenneth Cuno
University of Illinois, Champaign

Besides those published here and in the last issue, we have received a great many letters in response to John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt’s piece – not all of them edifying, though we haven’t received any death threats, as one correspondent from New Jersey feared we would. There have been a number of accusations of anti-semitism, as Mearsheimer and Walt predicted, and some very unpleasant remarks about Arabs, but also dozens of messages praising the article. Most readers understood that Mearsheimer and Walt were writing about US foreign policy and its effects on the Middle East, though there have also been a few congratulatory messages of an anti-semitic nature. The letters accusing Mearsheimer and Walt of having written an ‘anti-semitic rant’ and those congratulating them for having exposed a ‘secret Jewish’ – or, as one individual felt the need to spell it, ‘J E W I S H’ – ‘conspiracy’ have something in common: they come from people who appear not to have read the piece, and who seem incapable of distinguishing between criticism of Israeli or US government policy and anti-semitism.

We don’t usually publish letters of simple praise, which meant that only letters putting the case against Mearsheimer and Walt appeared in the last number of the LRB. This led one correspondent to write: ‘Your obvious slant in the letters you have chosen to publish regarding the Israel Lobby establishes, once again, that Israeli apologists are alive and well and living at the London Review of Books.’ It may be impossible to write or publish anything relating to Israel without provoking accusations of bias.

Mearsheimer and Walt will reply to the correspondence we’ve published and discuss the wider response to their article in the next issue.

Editors, ‘London Review’

Red Science

The contrast between the official attitude to J.D. Bernal in 1946 and George Orwell’s is not mine, as Christopher Hitchens suggests, but is made in Andrew Brown’s biography (Letters, 6 April). Nor was I challenging Orwell’s judgment about his views and style. There is not a word in my piece which justifies Hitchens’s accusations that it is Stalinist in style or content. I was merely observing the difference in attitude between the top British decision-makers – who, against the advice of the security services and political objections such as Orwell’s, had treated Bernal as a crucial and trusted contributor to the war effort ever since January 1939 – and Orwell’s ‘sharp denunciation’ (Brown) which anticipated the Cold War. But in 1946, Orwell’s attitude, whether right or not, was untypical. Most people would still have agreed with John Anderson’s 1939 minute (‘I don’t think in present circumstances we need object to Professor Bernal’). The Cold War had not yet been declared. Or, one hoped, concluded.

Eric Hobsbawm
London NW3

The Laxative Paradox

Slavoj Žižek’s claim that chocolate causes constipation and chocolate-flavoured laxatives are thus a ‘paradox’ of American capitalism is very odd (LRB, 6 April). I have never heard anyone else claim that chocolate constipates, nor has this been my own experience. If anything, the caffeine in chocolate should help, and not hinder, movement. Even if chocolate did constipate, there would be nothing ‘paradoxical’ about treating constipation with a substance that normally causes it. This is the principle of vaccination, and the treating of a symptom with the thing that causes it has been a basic principle of Western medicine since Galenic times.

When I was studying in Leningrad in 1990, some local urchins, having learned that Americans lived in their building, took to throwing pebbles at our windows in the hopes that we would throw down American candy. We happily obliged, until we ran out, at which point the pebbles grew into rocks. Soon enough, a window was broken. We reciprocated by throwing down a few squares of Ex-Lax, and this succeeded in dispatching the boys, at least for a few days. Within a few more years, the Soviet Union collapsed.

Justin Smith
Concordia University, Montreal

Behind the Sandwall

Zakaria Fatih believes that the conflict in Western Sahara was ‘fabricated by the Algerian military during the Cold War’ (Letters, 23 March). But there is more to it than that. In the early 1960s, Morocco took up a lowly Cold War role as an independent African state with respectable pro-‘liberation’ credentials, though firmly in the Western camp. Algeria pursued a different course when the French withdrew in 1962. Beneath the ideological differences lay the more dangerous matter of the common border. Toby Shelley hints that the argument, which hinged on a Moroccan claim to territory within Algeria’s colonial boundaries, might have been settled amicably had Ferhat Abbas, leader of the Algerian provisional government, not been replaced by Ben Bella at the point of independence. Ben Bella, it turned out, was not for giving anything away.

Would Fatih want to say that what happened next was simply evidence of Algerian Cold War provocation? In 1963, Morocco’s most distinguished anti and post-colonial party, Istiqlal, reissued its map of so-called Greater Morocco, a fantasy – shared by other political parties – of Moroccan hegemony over north-west Africa. In all its legal absurdity, it may as well have included southern Spain, northern Nigeria and Sicily. Much of Algeria, on this accounting, belonged to Morocco.

The tension grew until diplomatic relations snapped. A brief but not so small border war followed. A ceasefire was brokered by the OAU, which made a final determination on the dispute in 1972. It took another 17 years, as Shelley points out, for Morocco to concede that Tindouf, the old caravan town which has now turned into a Sahrawi refugee camp, was legally part of Algeria.

Did Algeria really create the Polisario as a thorn in Morocco’s side, as Fatih implies? Algeria may well be a difficult, scheming neighbour, but so is Morocco. It made sense for Algeria to support the move for an independent Sahrawi state, if only because it would serve as a buffer – and proof that there were limits to Moroccan pre-colonial claims. Impoverished Mauritania went halves with Morocco on the annexation of Western Sahara until it was hounded out by Polisario. But Mauritania’s original enthusiasm for partition had much to do with putting a bit of desert between itself and Morocco, whose taste for a border dispute was always a worry. (Moroccan political thinking is far too sophisticated for the Greater Morocco idea to have survived. At the time, however, it was to include the whole of Mauritania.)

I’m not sure what Fatih means, in relation to Western Sahara, when he says that ‘something similar occurred in the north of Morocco.’ Is he thinking of Spain’s handover of the so-called Tarfaya strip in 1958? Or of Ifni 11 years later? Both are in fact in the south, not the north, unless you extend the Moroccan border around Western Sahara, as Thomas Cook used to do a few years ago when advertising camel treks and other invigorating breaks in North Africa. Tarfaya and Ifni are distinct from Western Sahara inasmuch as there was no Tarfaya or Ifni national identity to warrant an argument about where the territories belonged. Everyone – and rather crucially, I imagine, the inhabitants – agreed that they were Moroccan. This is not the case in Western Sahara.

Fatih is right to speak about Polisario’s poor treatment of POWs (though he carefully avoids using the category prisoner of war, which might compromise his liberal use of the term ‘terrorism’). In Tindouf, Moroccan POWs were regularly spruced up and wheeled out for the foreign press – and it was obvious, if you made more than one visit, as I did, how quickly they were deteriorating. That Morocco was treating Sahrawi POWs as badly and very likely worse was no excuse. Fatih is correct, too, to speak about human rights abuses by Polisario in the camps in Tindouf. This reached its height during the late 1980s. Refugees had to toe the leadership’s line or take the frightening consequences. Subsequently there was a brisk, unilateral ‘truth and reconciliation’ phase in which Polisario gave notice of its crimes, just as the ANC (and even Swapo) managed, in their hour of victory, to acknowledge their own atrocities.

The trouble is that some of the worst abusers have ‘defected’ from Polisario to Morocco, where they’ve been lavishly rewarded as net contributors to the Moroccan war effort – the conflict is technically over, but the propaganda war goes on. Every so often, Amnesty reminds Morocco of its responsibilities under the Convention against Torture. To understand why investigation and prosecution of these thugs are unlikely, go to www.amnesty.org/library for Amnesty’s 2003 briefing on Morocco and Western Sahara to the UN Committee against Torture.

Finally, Fatih’s suggestion, at first sight rather footling, that Polisario’s sorties into Morocco proper 25 years ago were ‘acts of terrorism’ seems to imply that military clashes in Western Sahara itself were not. A very convoluted way of agreeing that Western Sahara is a legal entity independent of its neighbours – but at least it’s a start.

Jeremy Harding
St Michel de Rivière, France

Martha Did It

Jenny Diski writes that local anaesthesia was a use for cocaine which ‘Freud inexplicably hadn’t thought of’ (LRB, 23 March). In 1884, when he interrupted his work in order to visit his fiancée, Martha Bernays, he had already demonstrated cocaine’s local anaesthetic properties to his colleagues Konigstein and Koller and encouraged them to investigate its suitability for use in eye surgery. After his visit to Martha, Freud and Konigstein performed an experiment in which cocaine was applied to the eye of a dog. However, they were scooped by Carl Koller, who communicated his results to an ophthalmological congress and attained the early fame coveted by Freud. Imagine if Freud had not visited Martha and he and Konigstein had instead scooped Koller. Freud would have carried out a significant piece of research and ensured his success as a neurologist. As a prosperous neurologist living in domestic bliss with Martha, would he have felt the need to study with Charcot and to embark on the investigations which led to the development of psychoanalysis?

Elliott Mills
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Some readers might like to be reminded of an earlier contribution to Mrs Freud studies. In 1960, Charlie Mingus, with Eric Dolphy on alto sax and others, recorded ‘All the Things You Could Be by Now if Sigmund Freud’s Wife Was Your Mother’.

Madeleine St John
London W11

How do we do it?

The example provided by Dai Vaughn

war-
mth

is indeed tasty (Letters, 23 February). But as evidence that we in the States are far ahead of you in the development of this particular art-form, I would submit the following, from the Bergen Record (my local newspaper in New Jersey):

Ther-
e’ll

The Record’s sports section also published the following:

‘Maybe some other players see and say, “Holy mackerel, this happened to one of the best guys on the team, so maybe I better get my butt going.
"’

Well, them’s the breaks, as we say in Bergen County.

Daniel Schiller
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey

Gordon Poole’s letter makes one wish for technology to automatically detect split infinitives (Letters, 9 March).

Amy Beckett
Silver Spring, Maryland

Shroud

An editing error at the end of my review of Dressed in Fiction by Clair Hughes has me say that Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa makes a shroud out of her wedding dress (LRB, 6 April). Clarissa’s own reference to her shroud as ‘wedding garments’ is metaphorical; she could never have any real ones.

Anne Hollander
New York City

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