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 Obsessions about Israel 

March 6, 2003

The other day a Zionist writer accused me of being “an obsessed critic of Israel.” And here I’d imagined I was an obsessed critic of the U.S. Government.

My point is not just that the accusation is silly, but that I don’t see why it’s even an accusation. A boy in love is obsessed with a girl. A mathematician may be obsessed with a theorem. Beethoven was obsessed with music.

I could understand someone saying I was obsessed with the U.S. Constitution, or Lincoln, or Shakespeare. These are subjects I’ve written books about; I’ve written columns about them even when they weren’t on the front pages.

But Israel is seldom off the front pages. It’s an obsession that’s forced on all of us, unless we make an effort to ignore it. Columnists like Charles Krauthammer, Cal Thomas, and William Safire write about it far more often than I do, and nobody calls them “obsessed,” because, like most pundits, they are always and absolutely on Israel’s side.

It’s only when you occasionally contradict the Niagara roar of Zionist propaganda in the media that you are charged with having an unhealthy preoccupation with Israel. Then you are told that if you can’t write something nice about Israel, you shouldn’t write about it at all. As I once wrote about another Zionist detractor who kept accusing me of being obsessed with Israel, “I guess he can’t stop thinking about my obsession.”

Israel isn’t a subject that really excites me; I don’t have the energy to write a book about it. But now and then the ironies are too rich to resist. Here is a “democracy” based on the denial of human equality. Here is an “ally” that steals military secrets from the United States, while making it enemies it didn’t use to have. Here is a “homeland” for Jews who have never lived there and can’t trace their ancestry to it, but who can claim rights that are denied to actual natives of the land. Here is a country that complains about “terrorism” and keeps electing rulers like Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, and Ariel Sharon.

[Breaker quote: On losing the sense of proportion]Lots of other writers are well aware of these incongruities, but they avoid talking about them for fear of professional reprisals. Editors and publishers fear the wrath of Jewish advertisers.

Talk about obsession! There is such a thing as an obsessive silence about the obvious. The Victorians thought about sex a lot, but they seldom talked about it, except in cautious circumlocutions. And that is a lot more understandable than discussing an urgent foreign-policy problem in delicate euphemisms. As Michael Kinsley recently wrote, Israel is the elephant in the living room — seen, but evaded in conversation.

After I began writing critically about Israel, after 15 years of being enthusiastically pro-Israel, I ran into a Jewish friend at National Airport. He greeted me with the words: “I hear you’ve gone off the reservation on Israel!” Until then, I hadn’t realized I’d been on a reservation.

Not long afterward, he made it clear that our friendship was over. I was welcome to disagree with him about Social Security or the minimum wage or the income tax, but not about Israel. It seemed to me that he was a little ... well, obsessed.

Many people get the impression that the media are totally pro-Israel. This is far from true. But most journalists are too prudent to say what they really think. A distinguished old reporter at CBS once told me about the ferocious abuse he and the network had received after he made a mildly critical remark about Israel on a Sunday morning chat show.

When you are obsessed with a subject, you lose all sense of proportion about it. I think this is exactly what has happened with Israel, and we need frank criticism to restore proportion. Jewish Zionists have now been joined in their obsession by simplistic Christians, who also demand all-out U.S. support for Israel — including endless wars against Israel’s enemies.

Zionism was one of the last century’s many utopian movements. You can hardly blame the desperate Jews who, after World War II, were attracted by the prospect of a Jewish utopia. But after a while, when the troublesome results became apparent, even many Zionists had second thoughts. So, by now, should the rest of us.

There are far worse governments than Israel’s. Its enemies have lost their sense of proportion too. But our “special relationship” poses special dangers. The first President Bush understood this; his son appears not to.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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