Leon Wieseltier Blasts Andrew Sullivan

It was a long time coming. If you’re in the mood for a nice long article (well, not so nice), put your boxing mittens on:

Criticism of Israeli policy, and sympathy for the Palestinians, and support for a two-state solution, do not require, as their condition or their corollary, this intellectual shabbiness, this venomous hostility toward Israel and Jews. I have striven for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation, and territorial compromise, and two states, for many decades now, but Sullivan’s variety of such right thinking is completely repugnant to me. There are decent and indecent ways to advocate change. About the Jews, is Sullivan a bigot, or is he just moronically insensitive? To me, he looks increasingly like the Buchanan of the left.

And don’t be put off by the initial discussion of Auden’s theology. My question for Wieseltier would be: if the Christian doctrine of the trinity is so ridiculous, “a retraction of the monotheistic revolution in thinking about God,” then isn’t “thinking about God” in itself equally a retraction of the more logical position of non-theism? After all, to hold up even an ethereal, invisible, incomprehensible God to the universe only complicates matters unnecessarily. It’s no wonder religious thinkers like Augustine, Auden and Sullivan make such a mess of things.

Or is Wieseltier just another de facto atheist begging to be let out of the closet?

6 thoughts on “Leon Wieseltier Blasts Andrew Sullivan

  1. Sullivan has been writing these things on his blog with impunity for a long time. He was just asking to get called on it. Wieseltier, for his part, was called (by Ruth Wisse) on an article some years ago in which he suggested all the vituperousness against Israel was really just the rantings of a few notable idiots and American Jews were being a wee bit silly and paranoid worrying over the newfangled forms of blood libel on the market. Just look at what AS posted a few days ago:

    “It would be more accurate to say that certain scales have fallen from my eyes with respect to Israel as they have with respect to the United States under the Cheney administration and its war crimes. And yes, I was moved by what I saw in Gaza, and appalled by the triumphalist neoconservative rhetoric over the dead bodies of innocent children and what I came to see as a grotesquely disproportionate response by a regional super-power, subsidized by a global super-power, armed with 150 nuclear weapons, to the war crimes of Hamas.”

    Nowhere does the uninformed reader get the merest glimpse into the reason Israel embroiled itself in a war such as Gaza ’09. You’d think those dumb Israelis had nothing else to do with themselves but bomb Palestinians. Is this even-handedness?

    In light of the civilian disasters in Afghanistan (33 killed by NATO just the other day), and the lack of public condemnation from those like AS, all this points to a hypoctitical stance. So I’d say Sullivan earned it.

    And coming from Wieseltier, not Wisse!

    1. So if we criticize Israel’s actions in Gaza without equivocating about civilian casualties in other conflicts, then we deserve accusations of anti-semitism? Seriously?

      Sullivan runs criticism from his readers every day on a variety of issues (“Dissent of the Day” is the name of the feature), so it’s hardly the case that he isn’t constantly challenged about his views on every issue. And it’s a given on Sullivan’s blog that the reader knows the background of Israel’s reasons for invading Gaza. It’s not a piece of journalism or a chapter in a text book. The quote you pulled is one of many where Sullivan has accused the Bush cabinet of war crimes, so I’d hardly say that he holds Israel to different standards than he does the US. “You never complain about this other thing that I’ve decided is equivalent” is hardly a valid criticism. It comes across more as a means to shut down honest discussion of the merits of the ideas being put forth. I might as well accuse you of bearing anti-Catholic prejudice for all the criticism you level at the Pope (and Sullivan!), since hey, I haven’t seen any take downs on the Dalai Lama, Hinduism, or the Protestants up here. But I give you the benefit of the doubt, and not just because I know you well.

      I feel like if you’re this deeply invested in the Israel/Palestine conflict, you should spend more time writing about your honest assessment of Israel and/or US policy with regards to the situation, and less time trying to police the manner in which others talk about it. (That’s one reason I can’t stand Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog.) If you feel like Sullivan is wrong about the justness of the Gaza invasion, just say so, rather than backing a fundamentally silly accusation. I doubt I can be persuaded that it was the right or just course of action, from either a moral or practical perspective, but I’m willing to listen.

      Not sure if you saw these, but some commentary on Wieseltier vs. Sullivan that I found informative, from Daniel Luban and Matthew Yglesias:



      1. Joe,

        Thanks for the links. My problem with guys like Sullivan (and I never intimated that he was an anti-Semite, though apparently Wieseltier did) is his general snobbishness toward Israel. In fact, I’m not even sure anti-Semitism is even a valid label for hardcore anti-Zionism, which appears to be taking on a life of its own. But what, in the eyes of Israel’s humane critics, is Israel to do? On this they are never quite clear. Further down the line we have our John Pilgers, John Bergers, Noam Chomskys and the whole anti-Zionist lot which claims Israel is a historical aberration. But the division of “Jews” into two distinct categories – “good” Jews who are rightfully ashamed at the conduct of the Zionist state, and “bad” Jews who are its apologists, is a disctinction I personally find wanting. That Sullivan’s recent posts “Israel’s Assisted Suicide” is a case in point: mockingly portraying Israel as a “dying” country – no, committing suicide out of hubris! Ah, if they would just listen to those who know better they’d be alright.

        I like Andrew Sullivan, on the whole. I like a lot of people whose view on this issue I don’t particularly like. And I am perhaps sensitive to the singling out of Israel for criticism when on the whole it acts no worse – and often better – than its own allies in war (not to mention its enemies). Which doesn’t mean I am silencing anyone (another canard – Sullivan’s blog has more readers than the New Republic ten times over).

        Re: Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog: Perhaps, like almost everyone in this war of ideas, we’ve taken sides long ago, allied to those voices who know far more about these things than we do.

        As far as my criticism of the Pope goes, I think it was Pat who pointed out that I only notice the guy because I live in Italy. He’s right. And I don’t think it makes me an anti-Catholic to say that the Pope, and the Church in general, need to be hedged out of Italian political life just like any other religion. Imagine crucifixes and Catholic (or Jewish or Protestant) education in American public schools – unimaginable. And I resent that you didn’t notice my two (!) posts on Harun Yahya, the Muslim creationist bozo! Bozo, of course, for his ideas, not for his being Turkish or Muslim.

        Every Andrew Sullivan gets the Leon Wieseltier he deserves (and vice-versa). Criticism for everyone!

  2. Marc,

    Just to be clear, I wasn’t actually alleging that you were discriminatory against Catholics in your critiques of religion. Rather, I was saying that it would be a faulty assumption if that was what I took from your writing. And I said that as a critique of your interpretations of people and organizations who write critically of Israel. Analogies – can’t believe they cut them from the SATs.

    As far as alternatives to Israel’s current hawkish direction, I would recommend more recognition of the basic human rights of the Palestinians, a cessation of settlements in the West Bank, and a greater reluctance to engage in counter-productive wars. These are pretty common positions in the American left, and no one is suggesting that they would result in an immediate end to the conflict. A basic tenant of liberal thought is that extremism is abated by the growth of a robust middle class and the resulting social liberalization, and that the more direct approaches favored by a neo-con viewpoint only serve to aid the demagogues who run totalitarian states (i.e., Hamas airing anti-Semitic kids programs on TV). Hence the lefty hesitance to back pre-emptive military strikes against Iran. And that’s just arguing for these actions on their practical merits for the sake of the people of Israel proper, not taking on the moral dimension of why Palestinians should have the right to vote, basic water rights, etc.

    And I still think you’ve got Sullivan very wrong, but I’m not sure how often you read him. I’m a fan, so I probably do cut him slack when he says something off the mark or overly exaggerated in an off-the-cuff way. His comment about Israel ‘committing assisted suicide’ is clearly a lament from him, and he’s not assuming any sort of mocking tone as you seem to be taking it. He is writing as a longtime admirer of various aspects of Israel (particularly their gay rights record), and he is saying that he thinks that these actions are hastening their demise. He could be more specific about whether that demise entails catastrophic violence, or, and this is how I interpret it, the end of the values system he has admired. Similarly, about the US media’s failure to call torture what it is, he recently said “this is how democracies perish.” There’s a good deal of hyperbole in his style, but these are subjects worth getting passionate about.

    As for the ‘good Jews’/’bad Jews’ construction, I could see how Wieseltier’s was taking that “Most American Jews . . . ” quote. Out of context, it’s at best clumsy, like saying something critical of Al Sharpton, and prefacing it with a statement like “most African-Americans [something positive], but .. . “ But then I found the original context. Wieseltier’’s either not following the relationship of Sullivan’s statement to what preceded it, or is dishonestly representing it to fit his argument. It’s from Sullivan’s criticisms of an article by Jennifer Rubin in Commentary, “Why Jews Hate Palin,” wherein Rubin basically asserts that American Jews are snobs for not liking Sarah Palin. It’s a pretty weird article, based on a false assertion that Jews, relative to other groups, disproportionately dislike Palin. Because it’s the center of her argument, the issue of what most American Jews actually value is germane to any discussion of that piece. Sullivan’s mention of the neo-cons is relevant because Commentary is generally regarded as a Jewish and neo-con publication. I think that’s a pretty small niche, so he might have done better to call the overlap of those two groups a ‘clique’ than a ‘wing.’

    Regarding Goldberg, I’ll say that I’ve read some thoughtful pieces by him, and he’s probably not all that far off from me on a lot of policy issues regarding the Middle East. But he really embarrassed himself over the past few months with his smear of Trita Parsi, an Iranian-American who runs a non-profit representing the political interests of Iranian-Americans, and his backing the fundamentally silly criticism of Human Rights Watch and how they raise funds in the Middle-East.

    I don’t at all agree with your thesis that the Western media and Western liberals unfairly single out Israel. But suppose I accepted your premise and evidence. With that taken as a given, what do you think motivates them (the BBC, Sullivan, Human Rights Watch, etc.) to do it? What is animating their supposed bias? I know I can explain at length why I think about Israel’s human rights violations and military actions far more than say, the conflicts in Sri Lanka or the the human rights violations in North Korea, but that’s a bit off topic.

    That Jennifer Rubin piece from Commentary is classic DiMartino-bait, if you haven’t seen it already. Here it is, along with some relevant links (yeah, I don’t know how to hyperlink):

    Rubin: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/viewarticle.cfm/why-jews-hate-palin-15323
    Sullivan: http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2010/01/blaming-the-jews-for-not-loving-palin.html
    Jonathan Chait: http://www.tnr.com/blog/jonathan-chait/jews-who-hate-the-jews-who-hate-palin
    David Corn: http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/01/13/jews-and-sarah-palin-whos-got-the-problem/
    Matthew Yglesias: http://yglesias.thinkprogress.org/archives/2010/01/palin-and-the-jews.php
    David Frum: http://www.frumforum.com/do-jews-hate-palin

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