Leon Wieseltier, Andrew Sullivan and Anti-Semitism

By Jeffrey Goldberg

Here are a couple of observations about Leon and Andrew, based on a more careful reading of Leon's piece, and a look back at some of Andrew's greatest hits.

1) I don't mean this as a cop-out, but Chait says much of what I would say, but better.

2) Like Chait, I don't believe that Andrew is an anti-Semite. I have no doubt that if Andrew happened to come upon a Jewish person being harassed or otherwise tormented, he would ride his ridiculous bicycle into the fray and beat back the anti-Semites with a stick. And he certainly passes the Anne Frank Attic Test.

3) But: His evolution from wild-eyed Zionist to vitriolic Israel-basher is one of the more painful things I've witnessed recently, and not only because we are friends, or were friends. In the old days -- meaning last year, and before -- Andrew was an intemperate defender of the Jews. I remember one exchange in the run-up to the Iraq War in which he told me that seeing the movie "The Pianist" made him even "more pro-war." Now he has flipped, to the other extreme.

4) The question of whether Andrew is or is not personally anti-Semitic isn't entirely relevant. What is relevant is that he sometimes uses his blog to disseminate calumnies that can cause hatred of Jews, and of Israel. I know this from personal experience, because the anti-Semites who e-mail him copy me. Andrew's posts on Israel and on Jewish political power in America have lately given comfort to some very repulsive people. This doesn't mean, of course, that the role of AIPAC shouldn't be debated openly, but it should be done without prejudice; without the axiomatic assumption that American Jews who love Israel are disloyal to America; and without the Judeocentrism of the neo-Lindbergh set.
 
5) Another reason I don't think Andrew is anti-Semitic is because his hatreds are prolific. Yes, it is true that, on the Daily Dish, Israel is the Sarah Palin of nations, but his hatreds extend beyond Israel and the former Alaska governor. I have found that when Andrew directs his righteous anger at a target, it's best to step out of the way, because there's no arguing nuance with him. Of course, Andrew lately doesn't seem to understand that history (see: The Pianist) has shown that hostile accusations about Jews, when made recklessly, have nasty consequences.

6) One other thing: Andrew Sullivan doesn't know that much about the Middle East. I know that sounds odd, given that he is a former editor of The New Republic, but there you have it. One of the many reasons I don't engage his blog more frequently on matters relating to the Middle East is that he's not very knowledgeable about the intricacies of the American-led peace process, or of internal Israeli politics, or internal Palestinian politics. This might be because these issues don't interest him. The politics, contradictions and motivations of Netanyahu's approach to Obama do not interest Andrew. Netanyahu's apparently self-evident evilness is what interests Andrew. Extremists on both sides of the issue want the Middle East to be simple, but it's not. The Middle East is a tragedy precisely because the Israelis have an excellent case, and the Arabs also have an excellent case. This essential fact has often escaped Andrew's attention.

7) All of this makes me very unhappy, because Andrew, I have always believed, has a good heart. But I wish that he would open up that heart to complexity.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2010/02/leon-wieseltier-andrew-sullivan-and-anti-semitism/35682/