Silence From The Left

Where has the left been since violence erupted in the Middle East?

The editor of The Forward, the 109-year-old Jewish newspaper published in New York, has found bloggers on the right to be "going on about those horrible Muslims, the horrible Arabs," yet on the left "there's been an unwillingness to get into it."

J.J. Goldberg's paper reported on the silence from the left last week. Jennifer Siegel wrote:

...As the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah raged on and conventional media outlets covered the news from the ground, major players in the liberal blogosphere were keeping, by their own admission, decidedly quiet.

The most prominent liberal blogger, Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, briefly addressed the topic Monday on his eponymous Web site, in a post titled "Why I won't write about the Israel/ Lebanon/ Palestine fighting."

This is "a morass of a mess of a disaster of a quagmire of a sinkhole," Kos wrote. "It doesn't matter what the President of the United States says. Or the United Nations. Or the usual bloviating gasbag pundits."

A newspaper friend calls it "The Third Rail." Nothing I wrote in a quarter century generated the heated correspondence I attracted in two months of covering the Second Intifada from Jerusalem in 2002. All sides went after me with brickbats and honey, derision and praise - never losing focus of the need to draw my point of view closer to theirs.

No assignment I've encountered requires more strength and smarts - or tougher skin. All words go under a microscope and onto a scale. I invited everyone with such strong opinions to drop by the region for a fresh look -- about 200 people died during my tour, and I got tired of armchair surety. I tried to answer every email. Many wound up being posted in listserves. I grew more savvy about sharing my words.

The Forward reporter also contacted Josh Marshall of, Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly and Matt Stollar of, and each acknowledged a reluctance to write about the subject "for reasons that included both the vehemence of rhetoric from readers on both sides, and the difficulty of commenting on the rare issue that truly divides liberals."

The "venom... is just, from my personal experience, just a whole order of magnitude greater than with garden variety political topics," Marshall told the Forward.

The piece also quotes Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, who rejects the argument that the events are too complex to lend themselves to blog treatment.

He wrote the Forward by email: "Maybe the problem is not complexity but complication — the way in which sympathy with Israel's campaign against Hezbollah, and therefore with the use of force, might complicate their lives in progressiveland, where they live."

Atrios, too, has been quiet on the latest Middle East front. Today the popular Philly southpaw quotes from a post by The Poor Man Institute, introduced with "Finally somebody gets it right so I don't have to try:"

I’ve said nothing about war in Lebanon or Ethiopia because I have nothing to add, and also because - as you may or may not be aware - the United States is actually involved in a hugely bloody war right now, and this is more of a pressing concern to me personally. I don’t know the secret formula for unshitting any of these beds - I promise I wouldn’t be shy if I did - but I currently only have to sleep in one of them; and, as it turns out, that’s the one bed where I actually have some minuscule chance of influencing the situation. So that’s my concern.

I've found one prominent lefty voice to be crying loudly in the tall cedars -  Billmon, the progressive Philadelphia blogger and former business journalist, who writes at Whiskey Bar and who has long gone his own way.

Here, here, here, and here, for instance, he's delivered bruising looks at they way Israel is waging its Operation Midwife in retaliation against Hezbollah.

He thinks the Israelis are in danger of losing both the war and the war for public opinion.

Thursday morning update: Some bloggers have responded to this post. Here's what they're writing:

First reaction came from Conspiracy, What Conspiracy? a right-leaning blog from Philadelphia. The blogger, Logan, has a couple thoughts why liberals haven't been hammering conservatives for what they've been writing about the conflict:

1.) While , the Palestinians have been a left wing favorite and by extension Hezbollah they don’t want to alienate the Jewish base that is notoriously Democrat.
2.) To come out strongly either for or against War over there weakens them in Iraq. You’re like WTF right?
Here’s my reasoning on both points. Jewish Americans statistically vote and donate very heavily to the Democratic party (I don’t know why since the Repubs are much better friends, they just do), to look weak on Israel’s right to exist and defend itself would seriously hurt the Dem’s coffers AND weaken them in the blue northeast states. If they come out strongly for Israel fighting terrorist Hezbollah it weakens their arguement on pulling troops out of Iraq. If they come out strongly against Israel hammering Hezbollah then they look very weak on the war against Islamic Jihadists. Repubs will bash them with stones either way. The best democratic tact might be to try and remain as silent as possible on it....

it’s important to remember that the left blogosphere is facing a huge conundrum here. Defend the civilians of Lebanon in Beruit, Tyre, etc and by this defense stand against the civilians of Israel in Haifa, Sderot, etc. Or do they do the opposite? See, the problem they face? The right has it much easier, see we don’t look at this as "civillians being hurt" we look at this as "War on Terror". Yeah we realize that civilians are getting hurt but we realize that to stand by and do/say nothing is to give the terrorists aid by our silence. Something the left still needs to learn.

Downstairs (literally) at the Daily News, Will Bunch reacts on Attytood:

Frankly, we're not so sure that liberals are so divided on this. Call us crazy, but some progressives have this thing about senseless warfare and killing, especially when it's been going on for ages. Bloggers tend to be at their passionate best when they choose a side, like the case of Lamont v. Lieberman.

In this showdown, do you back the folks who kidnapped a couple of soldiers in the hope, frankly, of triggering wider bloodshed, and who launch inaccurate rockets into civilian neighborhoods, or do you support the people who manage to kill a lot more civilians, with lethal accuracy, who seemingly target ambulances and neutral UN observers and drop phosphorous bombs?

Some bloggers don't have a dog in that hunt. Can you blame them?

From Common Sense Political Thought:

But while Mr Rubin might be concerned that the liberal bloggers are simply stepping very gingerly around the subject, I’d suggest that he got the reasons very wrong.

The liberal bloggers are shying away from the subject because they know that Israel is right about this one!

Oh, they’ll certainly abhor what they see as an excessive response from the Israelis, but they know, deep down, that Israel didn’t start this one.

Posted 07/26/2006 03:14:39 PM

Because in this country - either you support Israel or you shut up. If you don't support Israel it is political suicide to say so. A few courageous writers (basically because they've nothing left to lose) - Buchanan on the right and Cockburn on the left have spoken honestly - but mostly it's just Zionist rhetoric - Allan Dershowitz, Bill Kristol, George Bush, Jerry Fawell, George Will, Trudy Rubin, Dick Durbin, Dick Cheney, Dianne Feinstein - strange bedfellows. Show me an honest example of the other side from the Inquirer in the past 2 weeks.

Ben Burrows
Posted 07/26/2006 09:46:32 PM

Dan, The exchanges about Israeli and Palestinian violence at RapidResponse_PA : Rapid Response Network: PA discussion have been intense and vigorous. Although our purpose is to write LTE's to newspapers as a closed site for our membership, rather than to blog, we are progressive, critical, and are usually good listeners. If the Inqy would print our letters, of course, we might actually be heard. So, instead, we have to write to secondary outlets like Metro, Philadelphia Weekly, The Jewish Exponent, The Jewish Voice, and Forward.

Posted 07/27/2006 12:35:17 AM

Just a thought here: Many on the left, except for a few bright and shining examples, have bought into the Peace Plan and other feel-good nonsense about peace for years. The Israel situation shows all that thinking was a bunch of lies. Here is the truth: Conflict ends when someone wins or one side gives up. Peace plans, etc. in that part of the world is a sign of weakness and encourages further violence and agression. Pulling out of Beirut (Reagan) and Somalia (Clinton) helped make things the way they are because it was a sign of weakness. Making friends by being nice is even worse in the long run (I'm not saying be intentionally mean). Land for peace deals with people who want you dead is a stupid idea. Pacifists are dangerous (and I'm not pro-war, just not anti-war at all costs). The road to hell is paved with good intentions. So people on the left like Ed Koch, who get the terrorist mindset, are exempt.

Posted 07/27/2006 12:38:18 AM

I thought of another one. It shows a crucial part of the Bush doctrine is true. State sponsors of terror must be dealt with and terrorists need them.

Posted 07/27/2006 05:38:17 AM

"Conflict ends when someone wins or one side gives up." - what exactly does that mean? Winning is a pretty subjective term, isn't it?

Posted 07/27/2006 07:39:46 AM

Geoff> It shows a crucial part of the Bush doctrine is true. In other words - the "liberals" you refer to agree with Bush. That is a liberal problem because as much as they hate Bush - even when he is a liberal (as anyone fighting a foreign war is) they either love Israel or fear the deleterious impact criticizing Israel would have on their hit count.

Paul Burke
Posted 07/27/2006 09:47:14 AM

As for the left being quiet - this is an issue that unites us all. Any group of people that vow to wipe another group of people off the map then hide behind their own citizens to wage war deserve what they get. The right hollering that the left isn't saying anything is just kind of sick. We have enough to argue about with why we are really in Iraq, stem cell research, the environment, social security, health care, tax breaks for the uber wealthy and the uber profitable oil companies being subsidized with middle america's tax dollars. The right wants to lure the left into supporting terrorist organizations only can mean one thing they are really scared of the midterm elections. My solution to Israel Palestine is two nations 1967 borders - give back the Golan Heights. But before that I would give Syria, Hezbollah and Hammas and the Palestinian people 30 days (and 30 days only this has gone on way too long) to recognize, formally and in writing Israel’s right to exist written in Arabic, Hebrew and English published and broadcasted on AlJazer daily. If that didn't happen Israel has the right to push the violent organizations right into the sea and hang onto the Golan Heights for security. I think everybody world wide is sick of this whole thing and is letting Israel clean up the mess made by Churchill after WWII. Nobody, nobody has any sympathies for terrorist organizations - left, right, middle, American, European, Indian, Asian or Russian. They blow up mass transit, shops and cafes and expect sympathy from the world population. In an odd way they are uniting the world faster than the global markets. Now isn't that interesting?

James Barends
Posted 07/27/2006 09:48:24 AM

The truth is simple. This war is about Isreal's survival and the rising evil that is Iran. As much as Liberals have sided against Bush on foreign issues, this war has huge domestic political impact. American Jews would have to choose between supporting the Republicans or a Democratic party that has yet to issue a broad statement of support for Isreal. In a nut shell, attacking this war would lay bare a deep seated wedge in the American body politic. The deep silence on the left does in fact reflect a fear of saying the wrong thing. After all, none of the so outspoken leftist blog critics that I know of have issued a statement supporting Isreal. If they "are true to thyne self" they would pay the price at the ballot box. Who is the hypocrite?

Paul Burke
Posted 07/27/2006 09:54:00 AM

As for the left being quiet - this is an issue that unites us all. Any group of people that vow to wipe another group of people off the map then hide behind their fellow citizens to wage war deserve what they get. The right hollering that the left isn't saying anything is just kind of sick. We have enough to argue about with why we are really in Iraq, stem cell research, the environment, social security, health care, tax breaks for the uber wealthy and the uber profitable oil companies being subsidized with middle america's tax dollars and then sticking it to us at the pumps. The right wanting to lure the left into supporting terrorist organizations can only mean one thing. They are really scared of the midterm elections. Nobody, I mean nobody has any sympathies for terrorist organizations - left, right, middle, American, European, Indian, Asian or Russian. They blow up mass transit, shops and cafes and expect sympathy from the world population. In an odd way the terrorist are uniting the world faster than the global markets.

slick willy
Posted 07/27/2006 12:21:23 PM

How about this question.... Who cares about "Liberal" Bloggers? How about conservative bloggers? Oh that's right this is a far left newspaper not interested in anything but the "whacky left". Please Mr. Tierney- get rid of the Liberal, bias!!!!! Diversity is the key. (Right libbys?)

Freedom isn't free
Posted 07/27/2006 04:33:22 PM

"Conflict ends when someone wins or one side gives up." - what exactly does that mean? Winning is a pretty subjective term, isn't it? Posted by: howard | Jul 27, 2006 5:38:17 AM

Muddled thinking like that is why libs can't be trusted with our national security. What's so hard to understand about that?!? There is absolutely NOTHING subjective about it. We didn't win WWII by negotiating or hand-wringing about inflicting disproportional casualities on the enemy. We fire-bombed and eventually nuked the enemy into ashes until they were unable/unwilling to continue fighting and agreed to unconditional surrender. I seriously question if any democracy in the world has the stomach to actually win a real war anymore.

Posted 07/27/2006 07:31:39 PM

Mr Rubin, thanks for following my trackback and (obviously) reading what I wrote! I'd note on the comment by Freedom isn't free above that there was a discussion on my site here and here), a discussion which included a Moroccan Arab, on whether liberal Western democracies can win wars these days. The basic point was that, in World War II, we killed millions of German and Japanese, and almost totally destroyed their infrastructure; we defeated those countries, and killed a huge portion of their fighting age men. In Iraq, we defeated the Ba'ath Party government, but we never defeated the country of Iraq; most of their fighting age men survived, and many are proving willing to fight again. Israel, through several wars, won a lot of battles, but never drove teh Arabs into surrender, and left most of their fighting age men alive. Cease-fires are not victory. Given the hugely different reactions of the liberal Westerners and the Arab populations concerning willingness to kill their enemies in order to win wars, I think it is a legitimate question whether liberal Western democracies can ever win a war again.

Paul Burke
Posted 07/28/2006 03:17:46 PM

I think people who want to dump everybody into a category one or the other should check in with the definitions before aligning themselves or accusing others one way or another. Here's how Webster defines the irrelevant name calling - Liberal - Not limited to or by established, traditional, orthodox, or authoritarian attitudes, views, or dogmas; free from bigotry. Favoring proposals for reform, open to new ideas for progress, and tolerant of the ideas and behavior of others; broad-minded. Conservative - Favoring traditional views and values; tending to oppose change. Traditional or restrained in style, archaic. Proud to be a liberal! So since I've said I'm a liberal - in accordance with Webster's definition how does that hold to my desire to reduce the payroll tax, fiscal responsibility, not having subsidies to uber profitable businesses (oil companies) believe in welfare reform - these are just a few - whenever you hear or see someone screaming whacky left - remind them Jesus was a liberal - he advocated helping the poor. When someone calls themselves conservative ask them do they support this President and all his policies (one veto in 6 years) when they say "Yes" ask them to explain the tax dollar give aways - that's not conservative, wanting to amass control in just the executive branch (that's not conservative - that's a radical departure from the Constitution which the executive is sworn to uphold) ask them about the exploding deficit (conservative is fiscal responsibility) ask them about the exploding size of the federal government, creating new bureaucracies (none of that is conservative) ask them about promoting activist judges with political agendas supported by fringe groups to water down civil liberties protected by our founding documents (that's not conservative) So now since I oppose all of those Bush policies am I not a conservative. It's a joke and those of you who fall for it and align yourself to a politician or group because of the (r) or (d) after their name are easily manipulated and led astray. Let the Constitution and the Bill of Rights be your guiding principles in your political decisions and passions and this Country will always flourish. Anything less than a deep knowledge of those documents and what they say by the overall population puts us all in jeapordy.

ping: Silence from the Left? -->
Posted 07/27/2006 09:14:35 AM

The liberal bloggers are reluctant to touch this issue — because they know that the side they wish to support is in the wrong on this. Oh, they might feel that the Israeli response has been disproportionate, but they also understand, f...

ping: Explaining the silence of the left -->
Posted 07/26/2006 08:21:33 PM

Dan Rubin writes on why many liberal bloggers have been quiet about the ongoing warlike situation between Israel and Hezbollah (which, by default, implicates the Lebanese, though its nothing personal from what I hear). What I like most about his...

ping: Is the left silent on the Israeli-Hezbollah war? -->
Posted 07/26/2006 03:55:39 PM

I read this post over at Blinq and it left me pondering Is the left really silent on this war?. It was perplexing me for a bit, because I dont read blogs from the left too often. On a slower news day I might, but its not an...