Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Free speech, even for those with whom we disagree

So, here's the small chain of events:

  1. Peter Beinart has a long history of speaking out against certain policies of Israel, and of those who support those policies. He recently published a book, The Crisis of Zionism, summarazing and expanding on those views.
  2. As a result of that book (and of his other writings), Beinart is often called anti-Zionist, an Israel hater, and more. Those who support him are treated similarly.
  3. Paul Krugman, an economist and writer for the New York Times recently mentioned in his blog that he doesn't want to talk about Israel right now, because his comments against the current government and its policies are sure to evoke a vitriolic overreaction. I can't find the original article to link to it, but it's referenced in...
  4. An open-letter by Jeremy Ben-Ami to Krugman, in which he begs Krugman to not stay silent:


Mr. Krugman, I understand this sentiment. As the President of J Street, the pro-Israel, pro-peace lobby, I am followed closely by my own personal buzzsaw. I know that the cost of speaking up about Israel can be so dear that many hundreds of thousands of Jews choose instead to stay silent or disengage from Israel entirely.

But as you rightly point out, Israel’s present path affects not only Israel, but all Americans and Jews everywhere.

Which is why I would like to invite you to reconsider your decision. I invite you to not let a vocal minority silence your voice. You are a Nobel prize-winning economist and leading American thinker whose contribution to the marketplace of ideas on so many issues is such an asset to this country’s democracy. I invite you not to let their smears cause you to sit this one out.


Because only when everyone – especially those who already have a megaphone – stands up, will the smears and attacks lose their power. Only then will brave men like Peter Beinart receive the fair treatment you so clearly think they deserve.

I've been critical of Beinart, J-Street and that entire school of thought (which, I believe, unfairly and destructively places too much blame on Israel in a misguided attempt to find balance in blame). But, let me say, just for the record, that on this issue I agree, 100%, with Ben-Ami. I agree that Beinart is brave, in that he is willing to say things which he believes to be true, and for which he knows he'll be excoriated. I don't agree with much of what he says, but he believes it, so he says it, and he faces the consequences.

I also hope that others, like Krugman, will speak. I hope he'll try to convince those of us who disagree with him, but are reasonable, and open to thoughtfulness about it. And, I hope that no one who claims to love Israel will think that the best way to show it is to drown out others who love it, too.

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