Paul Krugman’s silence on Israel: the power of the lobby or the weakness of its critics?

Yesterday, Paul Krugman wrote a brief post on his New York Times blog, The Conscience of a Liberal:

Something I’ve been meaning to do — and still don’t have the time to do properly — is say something about Peter Beinart’s brave book The Crisis of Zionism.

The truth is that like many liberal American Jews — and most American Jews are still liberal — I basically avoid thinking about where Israel is going. It seems obvious from here that the narrow-minded policies of the current government are basically a gradual, long-run form of national suicide — and that’s bad for Jews everywhere, not to mention the world. But I have other battles to fight, and to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack from organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism.

But it’s only right to say something on behalf of Beinart, who has predictably run into that buzzsaw. As I said, a brave man, and he deserves better.

So if Krugman felt the need to say something about Beinart’s book, I guess this was it — he’s said something.

To borrow one of President Obama’s favorite words when it comes to Israel, Beinart has made a stalwart defense of the two-state solution. He did so at a time that there is a widening consensus that the expansion of Israeli settlements across the West Bank has made the creation of a Palestinian state virtually impossible.

While Beinart has been widely praised for his courage, it’s less obvious to me whether he is being bold or simply astute. He’s young enough to not want to find himself on the wrong side of a generational divide and to that extent he seems to be following rather than leading opinion among younger American Jews. Indeed, he still has plenty of catching up to do.

As for Krugman, his own focus is domestic and economic, so I understand that he has other battles to fight. But when he says, “I basically avoid thinking about where Israel is going,” he might as well have said he chooses to keep his head in the sand. He will only refer to the Israel lobby by the euphemism “organized groups” and knowing that he risks attack, raises his head above the parapet simply to declare that he is unarmed.

No doubt the lobby and its attack dogs like Alan Dershowitz can be viscous and unrelenting, but there are at least two ways of responding to intimidation: to be intimidated or to be defiant.

When the lobby attacks, too many people respond by bemoaning its might and its ruthlessness; too few offer the right wing Zionists the scorn they deserve.

Maybe if Israel’s most rabid defenders were more frequently mocked, their power would turn out not to be as great as it is feared.

From his secure positions as a tenured professor at Princeton and New York Times columnist even if Krugman wasn’t to make it a regular habit, he could stand up and take an occasional shot at the lobby without putting his life in danger.

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3 thoughts on “Paul Krugman’s silence on Israel: the power of the lobby or the weakness of its critics?

  1. delia ruhe

    As a lifelong feminist — someone who made a full-time career out of it — I know about choosing your battles. Over the years I’ve witnessed, for example, feminists get destroyed (by other feminists) because they were working on class issues instead of race issues. Or race issues instead of sexuality issues. Or sexuality issues instead of . . . Well, you get my meaning. That kind of internecine warfare brought down the First Wave of political feminism and so weakened the Second Wave that it has been all but crushed under the gender fallout of this post-9/11 era.

    I think Krugman took a risk by coming out on the question of Israel, for if you follow his blog you will see that he already has his hands full battling opposing economists — who, by the way, can be every bit as nasty with their ad hominem attacks as can any AIPAC true believer. He doesn’t need, in addition, an army of Dershowitz clones howling for the NYT to fire him.

    But breaking their silence is what Beinart’s book is demanding of the silent Jewish American majority; thus Krugman felt he at least had to go on record. What I am waiting for, and what Beinart is no doubt waiting for, are those silent Jews who are not fighting other battles — Jews who live with their heads in the sand with respect to all issues worth fighting for. Jews who won’t speak up for fear of airing dirty Jewish laundry in public. Well, the laundry is out there in all its filthy glory, so it’s high time the launderers showed up.

  2. DE Teodoru

    Krugman misread the bravado of old Zionists reacting rather than the inconsistency of a writer in need of income. Beinart is like a kid who ate the whole cake at a party and now wants to vomit on the laps of all the adults for sympathy. There’s a big difference between a brave moral Jew (MONDOWEISS) and a dandy raised in Apartheid and now trying to add to his readers the Jews who refuse to be silenced by the Zionist Bund. His criticism is cash and carry, not a cry to stand tall for the principles of the faith. “Crisis in Zionism” books sell to Zionists in crisis.

    You can’t have your cake and vomit it too, little guy!

  3. Norman

    I wonder if said speaking out toward Israeli policies of today, (the American Jews have their heads in the sand), has brought out the Dershowitz clones to blocking the view of 60 minutes here @ War in Context? I have tried 3 time to view the video, all 3 times my computer froze, requiring my having to reboot. Granted I have an old computer, but this is the first time such has happened.

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