As the Israel-Lebanon war has unfolded, there's been an ancillary debate in the blogosphere about why liberal or progressive blogs have been comparatively silent on the subject. I've written more and more on the topic as the weeks have worn on. But, still, I've probably written less about it than other topics. Especially for a topic that has so riveted my attention and engaged my passions.
So here are some thoughts about why that might be.
First, though it likely goes without saying, I can only speak for myself. And that isn't just a throwaway line. Each blog has a different politics and viewpoint. And what might be less obvious, each has a different way in which the author or authors interact with readers.
Having written this blog for almost six years, I've long made it a rule not to cover or comment on every story that's in the news. Sometimes a story has my attention and my interest but I simply don't have anything to add. So I don't write anything, even though that often prompts emails from readers who say I'm giving the topic short shrift.
But as this war has progressed I've realized there's something more at work in my writing process. At first I wasn't quite sure what it was. And then it became clear to me a little more than a week ago.
I'm hearing two streams of conversation about the war -- two whole worlds of conversation and debate, you might say, often as distinct from each other as night and day.
One is the one we all see every day in the mainstream news -- the major papers and news networks and so on. And then there's another -- one I'm exposed to largely, but not exclusively, through email we get at TPM.
And it's this latter conversation that's engaged my attention, rattled me and intensified and deepened my belief in Zionism.
There's a whole detailed and after a while sterile debate about what sort of criticism of Israel amonts to 'anti-Semitism' and what doesn't. Suffice it to say that many of these emails have breathed a tone of hostility and double-standard toward Israel specifically and sometimes Jews generally that have left my head spinning. They range from wild conspiracy theories about the origins of this war to the blanket assumption that every civilian death in Lebanon was an intentional killing of civilians and a war crime. From there -- where to begin? -- we have debates over just when it was that Israel forfeited its right to exist -- the murder of Rabin, through a rather inverted logic, seems to be a favorite -- to where the Israelis should be deported to when the state is liquidated, and so on.
I'd like to say I'm not surprised that these views are out there. But I'm not sure I can quite say that honestly. It is more than I expected. And the intensity and sometimes the violence of it has surprised me.
Now, over the transom email on as emotional and controversial a topic as this is no way to get a guage on public opinion generally. And these are among the more extreme examples. Or relatively so. In any case, my point is not to get into just how widespread this view of the situation is. But it's the one that's caught hold of me, the one I find myself responding to. And in a few posts I've done just that, vented my thoughts on this topic -- here at TPM and also at TPMCafe where these debates have become more public and even led to the banning of a small number of registered users of the site.
But when I have written in response to this vitriol, I realize my response seems out of context and in a sense out of left field. Because what is it exactly I'm responding to? When I attack this or that double standard Israel is held to or the subterranean animus against the Jewish state am I really talking about anything you see in the Post or on ABC News? Hardly. It's almost like responding to an offensive radio broadcast that few of the people around you can here. And it is this disjuncture that I think has held me back from writing about the topic more than I have. Because in the mainstream debate I find myself very critical of Israeli policy on many issues -- particularly on the territories and particularly since 1996 -- and trying to wrestle with and figure out some way to pull the region back from the brink to which this administration has brought it. And then in this other debate I find myself driven back upon my core belief in the Zionist project and Jews' right to fight for their existence. And these are two points of departure for conversation that are, to put it mildly, difficult to speak from at the same time. It's a dissonance that's clogged my writing. But I'm going to work harder to overcome it.