Blog By Barry

January 23, 2009

Is Criticizing Israel Dangerous For Your Career?

Filed under: Palestine & Israel — Ampersand @ 1:51 pm

Ezra Klein, using himself as an example, says that “Criticizing Israel is not an act of courage because it’s not actually dangerous for your career.”

Well, it’s certainly true that it hasn’t been a problem for some people’s careers. Ezra is fine. Stephen Walt’s career seems okay, although I doubt he’ll be getting a White House nod.

But there are two important areas where people’s careers are threatened. First, and most importantly, you’d have a hard time finding a single Senator or Representative willing to criticize Israel’s policies — a unity that puts the US Congress radically out of line with the country’s split beliefs. Jon Stewart aptly described how Israel is treated by national politicians: “It’s the mobius strip of issues — there’s only one side.”

We also saw this during the presidential campaign, when Obama dumped Robert Malley as an adviser, after Malley was criticized for being pro-negotiations and anti-Israel. I’d say that Malley’s criticism of Israel has damaged his career prospects. I doubt Obama will be calling on Professor Khalidi’s advice anytime soon, either.

Secondly, there are persistant attempts to squash the careers of academics who criticize Israel. Because tenure and hiring processes tend to be secret, it’s impossible to know which complaints are legitimate — but the widespread (and correct) perception that if you criticize Israel, powerful academics like Alan Dershowitz may not just disagree with you but attempt to destroy your career, has surely had some sort of silencing effect.

This doesn’t mean that criticism of Israel has been wiped out; many academics criticize Israel quite loudly, despite the opposition. But I don’t think “speech hasn’t been entirely wiped out, so there’s no problem!” is a persuasive argument.

UPDATE: Ezra clarifies that he only meant to refer to journalists:

Barry Deutsch is right that congressmen and potential political appointees have more problems. Just ask Rob Malley and Zbigniew Brzezinski what happens to your access in Obamaland after the Israel Lobby decides you’re on the wrong side.

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