Weekend Reading: Ezra Klein (2009): The New Republic Has Made It Much Safer to Speak Critically About Israeli Government Policy
...published an acrobatic cover story by Jeffrey Goldberg that likened Walt and Mearsheimer to Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Father Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, Patrick Buchanan, Louis Farrakhan, and David Duke. It is true that Walt's career survived, and even prospered, in the aftermath of this broadside. But it wasn't for lack of trying on the part of Chait and his colleagues.
How were they to know that comparing Walt to Osama bin Laden, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, Father Coughlin, Charles Lindbergh, Patrick Buchanan, Louis Farrakhan wouldn't prove particularly injurious to his career?
Goldberg's article was a particularly weird piece of work, but it fit neatly into the 'anti-anti' Israel genre. The thing about criticizing Israel is that you get called an anti-Semite rather a lot. This doesn't happen when you criticize sugar subsidies or come out against the stimulus bill.
And make no mistake: Anti-Semitism is a serious charge. A genuine anti-Semite would be, should be, drummed out of political journalism, just as a legitimate racist should find no home at a serious opinion outlet. For that reason, being called an anti-Semite by hobbyist Zionists who happen to own and control prestigious domestic political magazines seems like it would be a bad thing. But the charge has been rendered tinny through overuse.
The first time I got called an anti-Semite by Marty Peretz and friends, I was pretty distressed. By last month, when Peretz was pitying 'pipsqueaks' like me for my 'hatred' of both my Jewish and American inheritances, I was just happy to indulge the daily routine of an aging eccentric (and hey, at least I didn't come in for the nasty treatment he gave his longtime writer John Judis). And then he started calling me and my friends 'the Juicebox Mafia,' which has, frankly, been a delightful turn of events. I want a logo, and shirts. (I'm serious about this. Any graphic designers with time on their hands?)
So Chait and I agree. Criticizing Israel is not an act of courage... it's not actually dangerous for your career... despite the best efforts of Chait and his magazine, and, I'd submit, arguably because of them. I was drawn into the Israel debate when Walt and Mearsheimer were being pilloried as anti-Semites. Accusations of 'anti-Semitism' are an attack made, effectively, in my name, and I wasn't comfortable having my heritage deployed in service of that defensive backlash.
And then, of course, I got called an anti-Semite (all that Hebrew school tuition for nothing!), as did plenty of the other folks, many of them proudly Jewish and profoundly concerned about Israel's future. And, at some point, people stopped noticing when you got called an anti-Semite for suggesting that Israel should not launch a strategically incoherent bombing campaign in a densely populated urban area, or that America should take seriously its stated policy on the conflict. The term was cheapened by overuse.
In this way, TNR has actually made it much safer to speak critically about Israel, and for that, I guess I applaud them, and look forward to our continuing and increasingly productive dialogue.