Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Wieseltier Cries Wolf on Sullivan

with 2 comments

Just finished reading Leon Wieseltier’s insane “J’accuse” article, which argues the Andrew Sullivan is an anti-Semite. This article is very sad for a number of reasons. First, I believe it is wrong. Andrew Sullivan is not an anti-Semite. He has become ever more critical of Israeli policy, which is fine. So have I. What Wieseltier is doing is making an inappropriate leap between Sullivan’s Catholicism, or more broadly, his goyishness, and his views on Israel. When Noam Chomsky, or Glenn Greenwald, or Matt Yglesias make similar comments, and they do, Wieseltier cannot present similar objections.

Andrew Sullivan is not left-wing. He’s not even really liberal. I think he also has some sympathy for ethnic or cultural particularism. He is a religious man, and he respects different religions and different cultures and identities. He has written eloquently about gay identity and culture, celebrating new tolerance while lamenting the decline of cultural cohesiveness. He is not an anti-Semite.

There is a left-wing antisemitism out there, which is much more complicated, and more interesting. It is not religious, or racial. It goes something like this: “why won’t Jews just assimilate already? why won’t they just fade into the secular masses?” It does not understand why atheist Jews insist on being Jewish. It does not understand Jewish sympathy for Israel, or Jewish culture, or rooting for Kevin Youkilis. It has no patience for particularism of any kind, and especially not the particularism of relatively well-off, educated, liberal elites.

There’s a lot more to say about this, and I’m certain it will come up again in this blog. But suffice to say that Andrew Sullivan is not like this. He has no real problem with Jewish particularism, as far as I can tell. And that makes Wieseltier’s screed completely off-base.

Wieseltier was once a decent writer. Ok, he’s still a fine writer, but his articles used to make defensible arguments. In 2002, during the heart of the second Palestinian intifadah, he wrote an excellent piece in The New Republic titled “Hitler is Dead.” In this piece, Wieseltier mocked “Jewish panic,” and argued that Jews should not understand enemies of Israel, like Hamas members, as Amalekites, the antisemitic tribe in the Hebrew Bible that fought an eternal war against the Israelites.

To believe otherwise is to revive the old typological thinking about Jewish history, according to which every enemy of the Jews is the same enemy, and there is only one war, and it is a war against extinction, and it is a timeless war…. the important point is that Amalek justifies nothing but the use of force. There is no other solution to the Amalek problem. And that is why all this pessimism is not only intellectually sloppy, it is also operationally superfluous. It is a view of history that provides no foundation for Israeli restraint, and sometimes restraint is the intelligent policy.

All right on the money. And yet, in his recent attack on Sullivan, without calling him Amalek, Wieseltier falls into a similar trap:

As a matter of numinous conviction, the jihadists are anti-Americans and anti-Semites and anti-Zionists, and their anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism. They do not want to take the Israel-Palestine question off the table, they want to take Israel off the map. Their goals are literal and maximal. Their worldview is unfalsifiable; their “paradigm” does not “shift.” They do not make Sullivan’s distinction between Israel’s existence and Israel’s actions. If the two-state solution were to come into being, the jihadists would consider their job half-done…. Jihadism is a violent political theology determined by ideas and fantasies that do not come from America or Israel, and its abhorrence of freedom, materialism, democracy, modernity, and the West exceeds even its abhorrence of Jews.

Wieseltier’s 2010 analysis is just as “intellectually sloppy” and “operationally superfluous” as was the “Amalekization” he deplored in 2002. And The New Republic is not helping to soften its reputation as a mouthpiece of the “Israel Lobby” by printing this drivel.


Written by David Weinfeld

February 9, 2010 at 10:05

2 Responses

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  1. […] a comment » Weiner had a great post on Leon Wieseltier’s latest accusation of anti-Semitism in the New Republic, this time […]

  2. “When Noam Chomsky, or Glenn Greenwald, or Matt Yglesias make similar comments, and they do, Wieseltier cannot present similar objections.”

    self hating jews, of course.

    “Amalekites, the antisemitic tribe”

    No. Look, would you call the romans anti-samnites? Of course not. The romans did fight the samnites because they were concurrents for territory. And amalek was just one of several tribes or ethnics or small kingdoms allying and trading and fighting with the tribes of Israel. One should not project modern antisemitism backwards in time. Prior to Apion or so there was nothing one can call antisemitism, and even that antisemitism is only partly overlapping with the modern kind.


    February 10, 2010 at 05:16

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