Don’t worry, Paul, I won’t call you an anti-Semite in this post. I’ll just explain something important about your short blog today about Beinart’s Crisis of Zionism. Namely, there isn’t much “bravery” required to criticize Israel, especially if you’re already a well-known academic, pundit, journalist or writer. In fact, it is a great career move. Also, Beinart is not being referred to as an anti-Semite by Jewish groups.
To begin, let me say that I admire and deeply respect Paul Krugman.
I admire Ha’aretz quite a bit less, considering its average daily 4-5 highly critical op-eds of Israel, not to mention its comments section which resembles an Al Jazeera fan-club love-in. Still, I read it because it is an important news source for Israel.
Today Krugman may have overtaken Tom Friedman as Ha’aretz’s favorite American columnist.
What did Krugman do? He wrote that he believes Israel’s current government is leading Israel to national suicide and that Peter Beinart is a brave man. He brought up the touchy subject of anti-Semitism, saying that he avoids entering the Israel-Arab fray (he didn’t word it this way, he was referring only to criticism of Israel) because
“organized groups…try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism.”
Krugman concludes by saying that Peter Beinart is brave for writing the book he recently published, presumably because he has to face the “buzzsaw” of being called an anti-Semite by Jewish groups.
So Ha’aretz obviously is thrilled to have someone influential in the US repeat their own line that the current right wing Israeli government’s policies are destroying Israel. And then to have the prominent writer add how critics of Israel face withering criticism that includes accusation of anti-Semitism? Wow. Why you could practically hear Akiva Eldar and Amira Hass dancing for joy.
Unfortunately, while Krugman’s position on Israeli policies is one worthy of some debate, I believe he is quite wrong about Beinart and his circumstances. There is nothing brave in Beinart’s actions or writings. He is not facing the specter of being called an anti-Semite. Search on any internet search engine for “Peter Beinart antisemite” or “Peter Beinart antisemitic” or “peter beinart antisemitism” as I just have and at least in the first pages of the search (I didn’t have the patience to go deeper, sorry) there were no articles or blogs, certainly not from any reputable sources, where Beinart is called anti-Semitic. In fact, you find supporters of his position and reasoned articles, pro and con, about his book.
So what is Krugman alluding to when he writes of
“intense attack(s) from organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism?”
Perhaps Krugman is referring to his colleague, Tom Friedman? Friedman’s recent comment in an editorial that Congress is “bought and paid for by the ‘Israel lobby’” received condemnation as an anti-Semitic remark. Then again, it was. Even Friedman modified his statement to say that the “Israel lobby” “engineered” the ovation Congress gave Netanyahu rather than bought it. There’s no difference, really, but these supposed nasty Jewish organizations stopped attacking him because they appear to have recognized that he was trying to make amends.
And I know what else Krugman is talking about: people like Walt & Mearsheimer who have been criticized for the manner in which they group all affiliated Jews in North America (except the anti-Israel ones) into a “lobby” and take on a highly dubious narrative of Israel to stake this claim. Then they go around the US pushing this claim over and over (in presumably well paying talks), while denying their anti-Semitic creation, even as they are giving public talks where they discriminate among “righteous Jews” and “Likudnik” Jews. Now why exactly shouldn’t their book be called anti-Semitic?
And who should call it anti-Semitic if not organized Jewish groups? Hispanic groups? It’s not just an attack on Israel, Mr. Krugman, it’s an attack on American Jews.
So is the use of the term “Israel Firster” by MJ Rosenberg. Nobody is attacking him as an anti-Semite for taking a position against Israel, but rather because of his vile and bigoted approach to condemning American Jews whose views differ from his because they support Israel. Those who use anti-Semitic terms have their feet held to the fire, as they should. It’s a slippery slope when you don’t keep a careful eye on these things, as history informs us.
So I recommend backing off from the frivolous anti-Semitic charges claim. Sure, sometimes the ADL flies off the handle when they see a T-Shirt with a star that looks like a WWII Jewish star on its pocket, but generally, except for maybe ZOA and a couple of other hard-right groups, Jewish organization have tended to be fairly responsible about admonishing only attacks that DO attack Jews and not only Israel by using the anti-Semitism label.
When these groups attack attackers of Israel as anti-Semitic, it tends to be restricted to occasions when the comment or the person has acted, well, in an anti-Semitic fashion. At other times, when organizations are criticized, what seems to be conflation of their anti-Israel position with anti-Semitism is typically a situation where their behavior toward the sole Jewish state reflects significant hypocrisy regarding their own country’s/group’s or other countries’/groups’ behavior in similar or far less challenging circumstances.
Back to Beinart. Paul Krugman, sadly, chose the wrong supposed victim for this claim of frivolous anti-Semitism charges and supposed bravery in the face of Jewish organizations’ supposed buzzsaw. Beinart has made a career move that has now been accompanying us for over two years, despite the many flaws in his argument. Yet, nobody stops or even tries to stop him. He gets reviewed seriously, he is discussed seriously, he gets to write for a living, he can give public talks at not unreasonable rates due to his greatly increased visibility, he is given opportunities to be a key player in the discussion about North American Jewry and, although he doesn’t live there and is not an expert on Israel, also a place at the pundits’ table regarding Israel.
Beinart knows what many have already figured out: attacking Israel is a GREAT career move. Jewish organizations and many Jewish blogs and publications refrain from anything but solid, respectable criticism for many of the folks who now make a very fine living attacking Israel and its supporters.
If only those of us who are reasonable in our criticisms of Israel and also in our support for Israel could have the kind of unmolested support and platform that critics of Israel possess. Of course, nobody cares if you don’t shout. Beinart is shouting (currently in the form of an extremely one-sided blog that doesn’t permit comments at Daily Beast) and it’s only enriching him. He has nothing to fear. Perhaps those of us who care about Israel’s survival have much more to fear.