March 6, 2003
The other day a Zionist writer accused me of being
an obsessed critic of Israel. And here Id imagined I
was an obsessed critic of the U.S. Government.
My point is not just that the
accusation is silly, but that I dont see why its 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 Ive written books about;
Ive written columns about them even when they werent on
the front pages.
But Israel is seldom
off the front pages. Its an obsession thats
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
Its 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 cant write something nice
about Israel, you shouldnt 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 cant stop thinking about my
Israel isnt a subject that
really excites me; I dont 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 didnt use to have. Here is a
homeland for Jews who have never lived there and
cant 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.
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 youve gone off the reservation on Israel! Until
then, I hadnt realized Id 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 Israels enemies.
Zionism was one of the last
centurys 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 Israels. 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.