Paul Krugman believes that Peter Beinart is “a brave man” who wrote “a brave book” (“The Crisis of Zionism”). And why should Beinart be considered “brave?” Krugman only gives one reason: The possibility of “intense attack from organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism.”
But even though the post is very short and the point is supposedly very clear, I still had some questions to which I did not get answers:
1. If Beinart was brave to write this book, is Krugman brave for calling Beinart brave (while those who do not think Beinart is brave are not brave)?
2. If Krugman is right and “most American Jews are still liberal” like Beinart and himself, does it not make his point about bravery a little bit less convincing? By Krugman’s own account, all Beinart is doing is catering to the views of the majority of his potential readers.
3. Krugman is right: some organizations might attack Beinart. Is that such a heavy price for the author to pay? Consider this price compared to the benefits: Beinart is now far better known than he was, gets invitations to numerous forums, made a lot of money, got a new and hyped journalistic gig, and is called “brave” by the likes of Krugman. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.
4. Consider this sentence: “It seems obvious from here that the narrow-minded policies of the current government are basically a gradual, long-run form of national suicide”. Now ask: What does Krugman mean by “from here”? Does he refer to the city of New York, to the offices of The New York Times (yes, reading the Times might give one such impression of Israel), to the United States? And if it is so “obvious”, does it not make Beinart’s book - yet again - not as brave as Krugman argues?
5. Krugman also testifies, in this very short column, that he “basically avoid[s] thinking about where Israel is going”. This means that Krugman is able to identify the many follies and vices of a place about which he does not think.
6. Did Krugman even read Beinart’s book? I don’t know. Has he read any book on Israel in recent years? Does he know anything about Israel? He says nothing about the content of Beinart’s book, shows no inclination to explain why Israel’s policies are “long-run form of national suicide”, gives no hint as to the reasons why Israel deserves to be criticized. If anyone wrote with such a commanding tone about the issues on which Krugman does know something, he’d probably be the first to jump on him and demand facts, details, logical analysis (he says he “doesn’t have the time” – but he does give the impression that he had the time to read the whole book – and we all know that reading takes more time than writing).
7. Piled on praise of someone as respectable and as smart and as celebrated as Paul Krugman – does that make one brave?