Kevin Drum on the Taboo for Liberals Speaking Up on Israel

Addressing the issue of why liberals don’t speak up about Israel, Kevin Drum, the Political Animal, justifies silence by saying the issues are “complex” and because “posts that display any sense of sympathy for the Palestinians run the risk of provoking a shitstorm of accusations of anti-semitism.”

Drum should be applauded for his candor; it’s important to understand why writers obey taboos. But his admission underlines the fact that the pro-Israel lobby is the loose coalition of journalists, thinktankers, outspoken professors, Hill staffers and lobbyists that Walt and Mearsheimer said it is. I don’t think the professors went far enough; I think the lobby functions in social ways. My reading of Drum is that he is saying that he may feel sympathy but he’s afraid to express it because he’ll catch a lot of flak from his friends, somebody who he doesn’t wish to offend. Living in Washington, Drum surely knows and hangs out with people who will take offense. The same reason Harvard professors who sympathized with Palestinians pulled their heads down after Larry Summers accused them of antisemitism: they were alienating colleagues down the hall. Those liberals justified their silence, Well I don’t really understand the mess over there… Years ago the great Mike Kinsley wrote that his real fear of sticking his neck out on Israel issues wasn’t the lobbyists, he was worried what his old friend Marty Peretz would say. Just as I worry what my mother will say, what my editor will say.

It’s as if America depended for information about Fidel Castro from media companies based in Miami.

These are all real forces, and not to be mocked or diminished. But because these issues are so important in the “war on terror”, and because the Palestinians are suffering such collective punishment, a handful of Americans have chosen to overcome these concerns, and even accept the antisemitic labelling, in order to express their true response. Scott McConnell, Norman Finkelstein, John Mearsheimer, Henry Siegman, Stephen Walt, the Presbyterian Church—have walked through the doorway marked “sympathy for the Palestinians” and, yes, suffered great abuse, but lived. Isn’t this what brave journalists (and even liberal ones) are also supposed to do?