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American Intellectuals Don't Need To Be Brave

Whenever somebody gets attention for an opinion that has a heterodox quality to it, inevitably admirers will describe it as "brave." The perception of ideological "bravery" has a relentlessly partisan cast. Conservatives never consider it brave when one of their own attacks a conservative, and liberals never think it's brave for a liberal to do the reverse. Everybody thinks the other side has all the blandishments, and their side has only the power of reason.

It's nice to see Peter Beinart, who has been widely described as brave" for his essay about Israel and the American Jewish establishment, knock down the idea:

We live in the U.S., not Iran or Zimbabwe. There's very little threat of physical--let alone state-sponsored--violence for anything you say politically. So in a global context, it's hard to say anyone in the U.S. is really brave no matter how unpopular their views. With that caveat, I think there is something a little brave for a member of Congress or an administration official to criticize AIPAC or criticize Israel harshly because it could end their political career. Let's just imagine that a Senator or Cabinet Member said what Barak and Olmert have said about Israel being on its way to being an apartheid state if it doesn't give back the West Bank. That would be a serious career-threatener. For a journalist/pundit, however, it's completely different. In the press, criticism--even harsh criticism--of Israel is common, and in fact, I think in the blogosphere it is almost becoming the norm. In all honesty, the thing I worried about most was the reaction of some of our friends, because a lot of the people whose friendship I really value are significantly to my right, which isn't surprising at an Orthodox synagogue. But I mostly worried for nothing. There's been a lot of disagreement, but nothing the least bit malicious. It's made me realize how remarkable and unusual a community we live in, in fact.

We sometimes disagree but I can always count on Peter's honesty.