ISRAEL AND THE BLOGOSPHERE…..Via email, Matt Yglesias suggests that I address the topic of why the liberal blogosphere doesn’t write very much about Israel-related subjects. I can only speak for myself, of course, and my own reasons for light blogging on this subject are both predictable and banal. Still, here they are:

  1. It sparks unusually vicious comment threads, something this blog hardly needs since comments here spin out of control often enough anyway. Needless to say, this phenomenon is fairly universal. For examples, see here and here.

    (In case you’re curious, the other subjects that seem to spawn more venom than usual are posts related to religion or feminism.)

  2. The fight between Israel and the Palestinians is over half a century old and seems intractable. It follows the same rhythms decade after decade, full of hypocrisy and posturing from both camps, and there seems little to say about it that doesn’t eventually boil down to, “Both sides need to ratchet down the rhetoric and rein in their own extremists.” Aside from being pointless, there are only just so many ways you can say this.

    (NB: This may be a plausible excuse for inaction coming from a pundit or a blogger, but it’s worth pointing out that it’s not a plausible excuse for a president of the United States. Are you listening, George?)

  3. The conflict is fantastically complex, and the partisans on both sides are mostly people who have been following events with fanatical attention to detail for many decades. Ordinary observers can hardly compete in this atmosphere ? do you know the detailed history and long-accepted norms of behavior that have developed in the conflict over the Shebaa Farms since 1967? ? and this has produced an almost codelike language of its own over the years. One misuses this code at ones peril (see #5 below).

  4. As with the conflict itself, punditry is heavily dominated by extremists on both sides. I normally take my cues on subjects I’m inexpert in from people whose sensibilities are similar to mine, but it’s nearly impossible to figure out who those people might be in this case.

  5. Related to 1 and 3, posts that display any sense of sympathy for the Palestinians run the risk of provoking a shitstorm of accusations of anti-semitism. (I gather that the opposite is more frequently the case in Europe.) Language is actually as big a problem as substance here, since words and phrases that are used innocently often have specific meanings to longtime partisans that are unknown to the rest of us.

I guess that’s about it. As usual, however, I’d add that liberals have a bigger problem here than conservatives. As near as I can tell, most conservatives simply take the uncomplicated stance that Palestinians are terrorists and that Israel should always respond to provocation in the maximal possible way. The fact that this hasn’t worked very well in the past doesn’t deter them. Liberals don’t really have a similarly undemanding position that’s suitable for the quick-hit nature of blogging.

Of course, in the same email Matt pointed out that “you can’t hermetically seal Israel issues off from Iraq issues or Iran issues or even really big-picture questions about what our general attitude toward the war on terrorism or the United Nations ought to be.” True enough. Maybe we should all be trying harder and not letting feeble excuses like #1-5 get in our way. I’m not making any promises, though.