Serious question: are there good reasons why an individual’s background or cultural positioning should provide that person more authority in a political argument?

I ask, because as I read the incredibly predictable debates about the nightmare unfolding in Gaza, I keep seeing people say things like, “Well, I’m a Jew, and I think what Israel is doing is wrong/immoral.” The implicit points apparently are: 1) “My Jewishness should insulate me from charges of anti-Semitism. So don’t go there.” And 2) “My Jewishness provides me with a window, through which the goyim can’t possibly see, into this intractable problem.” I’m slightly sympathetic to the former point. Maybe. (Really, though, I’m more sympathetic to the argument that so long as someone isn’t an anti-Semite, they probably shouldn’t be labeled as such by people who are looking to score easy points in a fight.) The latter argument, though, leaves me shaking my head. I’m not entirely sure it’s wrong. But I don’t like its implications at all. And if it’s valid, I’d like someone to explain why.

It gets more complicated. I’m also reading people saying some version of, “I used to live in Israel. And violence, even insofar as it leads to massive civilian casualties, against Hamas is necessary.” The implicit argument here, if I’m getting this right, seems to be, “You can’t understand Israel’s security needs until you’ve lived in the region.” Again, there may be a kernel of truth here. But the logical extension of this kind of argument, as with the one above, seems dangerous to me. It suggests that outsiders, no matter how thoughtful, can never be on equal footing with insiders.

In the end, I’m increasingly tired of people claiming they have a secret decoder ring that allows them to make sense of an impossibly complicated situation. But I still wonder about the validity of cultural authority in policy disputes. I should note: I know this post runs the gamut from inchoate to incoherent. It’s also intentionally vague. The thing is, I don’t feel like linking to Marty Peretz, professional asshat, or the incensed commenters weighing in on the Gaza incursion in various corners of the blogosphere. Sorry. I’m both a bit flummoxed by the whole thing and also, as this post notes, more focused here on the broader question of argumentation.