Michael Walzer is a desperate man. When people this smart start making arguments this bad, you know that their worldview is failing, but that they can’t bear to admit it.
Walzer has made it his mission to promote a vision of a kinder, gentler Israel—egalitarian, tolerant, and peaceful. Despite his best efforts, that Israel increasingly exists only in his imagination. Meanwhile, the real Israel grows more unequal, more authoritarian, more ethnocratic in its domestic life, and more chauvinistic and expansionist internationally.
So how does he respond to these disappointments? By recalibrating his full-throttle support for Israel? No. He joins forces with figures such as Martin Peretz (see, “9/11 Symposium: Response to Jim Rule,” September 9, 2011, online) to place responsibility for Israel’s rightward turn on dark forces external to Israel—above all Islam, and secondarily on certain retrograde “leftist circles,” of which I am deemed representative. Walzer claims a clairvoyant access to my inner motives and attitudes that would be the envy of any psychoanalyst or fortune teller. What he discerns there is so dark that I don’t even want to think about it.
And what grave flaw underlies my failure to meet his standards of support for Israel? It is my “radically particularist” attitude—meaning, I think, that I criticize Israel not because of its principles and policies, but because of some unstated animus felt only toward that country. The evidence for this, Walzer holds, is my failure adequately to criticize other countries with similar (or worse) shortcomings.
Well, OK, I do level such criticisms about quite a number of countries in the article above. But that doesn’t count, Walzer writes, because he knows—he just knows—that I don’t really mean what I say. Why not? Because I haven’t said it often enough—at least to his knowledge and satisfaction.
By this standard, no criticism of Israel is permissible except from those whose credentials have been vetted and approved, in light of the critics’ more vociferous complaints against other countries. This remarkable requirement recalls cold-war-era put-downs of civil rights agitation in America: people shouldn’t complain about Jim Crow unless they have established their bona fides by affirming, over and over, that the evils of Godless communism are far, far worse.
I reject this thinking with particular disdain. But here it is just a distraction. Let the reader assume that my character and attitudes are every bit as deplorable as Walzer suggests. The central question that I’ve so...
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