WASHINGTON - People sometimes ask me why I'm so critical of Israel, as if I should be devoting more of my attention to Sri Lanka, or perhaps Zaire. But the question is always a little nervous, as it wouldn't be if I were writing equally often about Sri Lanka or Zaire.
I could understand this curiosity if some other small, remote country were one of the world's four or five military powers; if it received a quarter of our foreign aid; if it were constantly on our front pages; and if its sympathizers regularly occupied much of the op-ed space of The New York Times and other major newspapers. But there is only one country of whom these things are true, and that is Israel.
Nobody thinks it's odd that there should be 20 columnists who are apologists' for Israel; but apparently it is unfathomable that there should be one or two who are critical of Israel.
But there's another reason that is both personal and professional. Israel has a very powerful lobby in this country, with a highly accomplished propaganda corps. And that lobby is not content with making the case for Israel and putting fear into nearly all the politicians in Washington, who are supposed to be representing the interests of the United States. It also tries to shut up opposition in the free press.
I have felt its pressure. So have Rowland Evans and Robert Novak. So has Patrick Buchanan. And a great many newspaper editors.
We still hear of the fear engendered by Joe McCarthy. But people talked freely about that fear even 'at the height of Sen. McCarthy's career. I believe that someday historians will look back with more wonder about the quieter and more paralyzing fear engendered in our own era by domestic Zionist power. The press was never afraid of Sen. McCarthy; it is very much afraid of Israel's U.S. sympathizers.
One result is that the news we get from Israel is heavily self censored and bowdlerized. The average American thinks of Israel as a "democratic" country whose domestic troubles are due to unruly Arabs. Not one American Christian in a hundred realizes that if he lived in Israel, he would be the victim of official discrimination forced, like the Soviet Jew, to carry an identification card effectively stigmatizing him.
If Israeli propaganda were true, there would be no need to Quash or intimidate critics. The very act of trying to silence opposition is a kind of confession in itself. Ring Lardner said it well: "'Shut up,' he explained."
Is there no case to be made for Israel? Of course there is. I have made it myself. I would make it again -- if Israel had not become a threat to freedom of speech and ethical debate in this country. But when you risk injury to your career in the U.S. by defending the interests of the U.S., something is seriously wrong. A proper parallel is not with Joe McCarthy, who at least was trying to uphold America's position, but with the publishing industry in New York during the 1930s, when a book critical of the Soviet Union stood scant chance of seeing print.
Suppression is a good tactic, but a bad strategy. In the long run, the truth has a way of seeping through. No matter how many clever excuses you make for a Yitzhak Shamir, it's not a terribly good idea to have Americans identifying Israel with Yitzhak Shamir. Israel was much better off when Americans identified Israel with Abba Eban -- now in political exile for his moderation.
And it isn't wise, in the long run, to make Americans afraid, in their own country, to speak their minds about a foreign country. They will eventually resent the colossal impudence of it. And the country on whose behalf the suppression was enacted will bear the consequences.