Thursday, February 11, 2010

Response: Andrew Sullivan, anti-Semitism and Israel

Leon Wieseltier, an influential thinker and writer at The New Republic, has penned an article - Something Much Darker (worth a read for the literary value alone!) - about his former friend and coworker, Andrew Sullivan. The background is too messy for me to summarize, so I'll have Yaacov do it:

Very briefly, Wieseltier says that tropes Andrew uses these days about Israel are antisemitic. He doesn't come out and say Andrew is, mind you, but he circles around the idea.

Well, it's a bit more complicated than that. Wieseltier, as I will state more formally a bit later, actually outlines a substantial case, not of anti-Semitism, per se, but of something, to be sure. I won't outline that case here, because it is worth reading through in its entirety, twice.

Andrew, as he can allow himself, retorts rather shallowly, but emotionally - the two are not mutually exclusive - here and here. Basically, he says he is not an anti-Semite, is a bit peeved at the indirect but obvious allegation, pokes some holes in Wieseltier's case, or so he hopes, and spends the next two days posting comments of support from readers and prominent writers. Brilliant. What he does not do, is really address the significant points Wieseltier makes. He's placated his audience, but with the case arrayed against him unchallenged, he's on a short leash. Emotional writers don't like leashes.

Goldberg and Chait soften the edges between the two by essentially stating that Andrew writes like a hothead - something Andrew himself attributes to a mix of Irish blood and Catholicism - on an issue he doesn't really understand. Between calling him an anti-Semite and uninformed, I choose uninformed. In which case, let's inform him, gently:


You're not an anti-Semite. Your writing of late, concerning Israel - since the Gaza war and the election of Obama, in particular - has been one emotionally charged, sharply penned oversimplification after another. I think you've done a fine job defending yourself from Wieseltier, in that those who support you will feel satisfied. I have tell you, though, as someone who has been reading you since 2003, Wieseltier gave eloquent expression to many of the thoughts and feelings that I have had about your Israel-related writing over the past year.

You were attacked. You defended your writing and examined the flaws in Wieseltier's argument. Fine. If you're striving for more, and you usually do, please think things through and consider publishing another piece about the things he wrote that do have merit. Unless, of course, you think that nothing he wrote has merit.

Is Goldberg is on to something when he opines that, while you are an expert in many areas, Israel is simply not one of them? In which case, what's stopping you from getting on a plane and talking to the Israeli pilots you've accused of pummeling Gaza, or the Israeli officials in charge of coordinating Gaza's extensive daily aid convoys?

One of my favorite blogs is that of Yaacov Lozowick, former director of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, in Israel. A lefty peacenik in the 90s, the brutality of the second intifada seems to have sobered him, as it did much of Israel's people. One of the themes he returns to, often, is that so many foreigners believe they have the answer to the conflict; that they know, definitively, what Israel needs to do to achieve peace. The arrogance of it, he would say, when all of Israel's social, political and cultural discourse has been consumed with nothing else but "making peace" - millions of people, thinking people, struggling every day in the face of violence and setbacks, grappling with this problem because their future, and the future of their children depends on it.

Let's not forget that the man who "pummeled" Gaza, Olmert, is the same man who executed the disengagement from Gaza, the same man elected as Israel's Prime Minister on a platform of negotiations and settlement demolition in the West Bank, the same man who desperately, foolishly, handed Abbas everything the Palestinians say they want in a two state solution, only for Abbas to walk away. This is the man who, after completely ignoring years of attacks against Israel's southern cities, after negotiating a truce with Hamas, after presenting a comprehensive peace plan with a political mandate to execute it, "pummeled" Gaza. The same Israeli people who elected Olmert on a platform of negotiations and peace, unable to withstand another day of bloody Hamas provocations and murder, unable to watch another TV interview of a bed-ridden grandmother with a new hole in her roof and shrapnel in her legs, or of school children running for shelters, demanded their government restore sanity.

The conflict is not simple. Some have recognized this, and have educated themselves accordingly. In the last year, your Israel-related writing has succumbed far too much to agenda-driven simplicity. As a wake up call, Wieseltier's piece - its lesser points notwithstanding - isn't half bad.

Your captivated reader,
Perhaps, once the issue dies down a bit, and Andrew feels he's posted sufficient statements of support to vindicate his good name, he can do the kind of introspection, and undertake the kind of curious evaluation of his basic premises and conditioned responses, of which intellectual change is made. Here's to hope and change, Andrew!

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