Even Nobel laureates can exhibit intra-tribal bias | Subconscious Bias on Blog#42

Paul Krugman addressed the bigotry of Ben Carson and, presumably Donald Trump, in a short blog post. Krugman, in 2012, had these two things to say about opining on Israel:

“The truth is that like many liberal American Jews — and most American Jews are still liberal — I basically avoid thinking about where Israel is going.”


“But I have other battles to fight, and to say anything to that effect is to bring yourself under intense attack from organized groups that try to make any criticism of Israeli policies tantamount to anti-Semitism.”

OK. So, three years later, strangely, he manages to break that promise in the closing paragraph of a short book review on Arabic culture and Islam, and his criticism of anti-Muslim sentiments that were recently expressed by GOP presidential candidates. Now, I must point out that, at least this time – such insults didn’t come from Jews. For whatever reason, Krugman felt compelled to insert this joke about Israel and Judaism at the very end of an unrelated argument, in order to illustrate a totally unrelated point:

“People are people. They can achieve great things, or do terrible things, under lots of religious umbrellas. (An Israeli once joked to me, “Judaism has rarely been a religion of oppression. Why? Lack of opportunity.”) It’s ignorant and ahistorical to claim unique virtue or unique sin for any one set of beliefs.”

As someone who is both Arab and Jew, I am doubly offended.

My Arabic side is offended by the praise of George W. Bush’ reaction to the bigotry post-9/11. I addressed my reasons in a comment I posted on Krugman’s blog post. I am also offended that the splendor of my culture and the people who made it what it is was described in comparisons to Euro-centric culture. The works of Omar Khayam, Al-Kindi, Ibn Rushd and al-Khwarizmi all stand on their own. They shouldn’t necessitate European counterparts to be justified by.  This is the kind of absent-minded reductionism that looms large in the resentment of Western culture by Arabs as a group the world over. That same resentment is harbored by minorities here at home; the failure to properly and equally teach and learn about cultures within our nation and recognize them all equal, as a matter of course, even in praise.

My Jewish side is offended at Krugman’s out of place broadside attack of Judaism and, to some extent, Zionism, in order to condemn what all countries have done throughout the ages, and still do today. Pushing aside the bias that is inherent in the view that Israel is expected to meet a much higher standard than the US, on any given sets of issues, the placement of such a broad swipe at Judaism itself, rather than the behavior of some Jews, makes one wonder about the breadth and depth of Krugman’s knowledge about the circumstances of the birth of that nation and the identities of its founders.

The worst of it, however, is the casual  implication, via some joke, that all Israelis condone Bibi’s policies or that Judaism is the catalyst for the Arab-Israeli conflict as it is being waged today. Such carelessness is both tragic and spurious. Moreover, since we don’t really know, beyond the fact that Krugman has opinions he won’t express, one wonders how he feels about Democratic Socialist Jews who are Zionists? Are they any different than Jewish Zionist Liberals? We know that he’s fine with Liberal Zionist Jewish economists who spend a few years in Israel acting as Central Bank governors, and then come back home to the US to resume their former careers.

It is my hope that Paul Krugman can find the same magnanimity of spirit and even-handedness he’s shown toward American economist Stan Fischer who recently served as governor of Israel’s Central Bank, as he will to fellow American and Jew, Bernie Sanders. So far, Krugman is treating Sanders the same way he said he’d treat Israel: silently. While giving Israel the silent treatment has no net effect, the same can’t be said of Sanders. Krugman’s continued lack of a comparison between the two Democratic contenders, when he’s given the full treatment to several Republicans, is being seen by many on the left as a sign of bias, when the paper he writes for is also being accused of unfair reporting.

Sadly, some of the darker aspects of American Judaism don’t seem to have changed much since the middle part of last century, when it comes to certain issues. Some divisions and antipathies remain as deep as they ever were. None among us are free of the bigotry that suffuses our culture. It is perpetuated by a particular kind of ignorance that is fostered in our collective education and is so deeply ingrained in us that it is reflexive. We must make a conscious effort to educate ourselves better.

I guess Nobel Laureates are still human and they can, at times, show intra-tribal bias.


About that moratorium…