Mercifully, time has passed since Leon Wieseltier's latest eruption against yours truly. But I promised a response to my friend Jeffrey Goldberg's response so here goes. I'll address his posts as he numbers them.
1. On his seconding of Chait, see here.
2. I guess I'm grateful he thinks I pass the Anne Frank attic test (no really, you shouldn't have). I'd also like to say in response that I do not regard Jeffrey as a homophobe, a racist, an Islamophobe, a bigot or a neocon. I regard him as a passionate, honest writer, whose passions sometimes get the better of him. Goys and lesbians have nothing to fear from this honorary bear.
3. I get so frustrated with his casual conflation of support or opposition to the policies of any Israeli government and being or not being a friend of "the Jews," whatever that phrase is supposed to mean. They are separate questions in so far as the second one is intelligible at all outside of some paranoid, identity-soaked mindset. They may not be separate questions for some Jewish-Americans of the old school and older generations, but they are for the younger generation and they sure are for non-Jews. And we all get to have an equal say here, right? We're all against disenfranchising anyone in this debate, right?
So it seems to me I can fervently oppose the continued and accelerating annexation of the West Bank while having nothing whatsoever against any Jewish-American or Jewish-anyone, let alone having some issue with something called "the Jews". (I can't win here, of course, because if I say I'm ridiculously into Jewish-American culture, humor, scholarship, etc, my philo-Semitism would be proof of my anti-Semitism. It's heads you win, tails I lose here. But look, you don't edit The New Republic for five years if you're an anti-Semite, ok? I may be a masochist but that's ridiculous.)
I regard the establishment of the Jewish state as one of the West's high-points in the 20th Century. Like America's founding, it was not immaculate, and its survival has been a brutal struggle in which Israel has not been as innocent as some want to believe, but whose enemies' anti-Semitism and hatred is tangible and omnipresent and despicable. But the Palestinians' legitimate grievances are very real and utterly human and perfectly understandable. Israel, for its part, remains, in its own proper borders, a model state for that part of the world; its openness and democracy vastly exceed any neighboring regime's; it has made more of a tiny strip of land than most of its neighbors have of their vastly greater territory and resources put together. If I were Jewish, I'd be proud. But I'm not, and I can still admire a great deal. There is a huge amount to admire.
But the turn in the last few years disturbs me; and the Gaza war horrified me, as Gitmo horrified me. It doesn't mean I regard Israel or America as the equivalent of Hamas or al Qaeda. It means I hold Western values with a white-knuckled grip - because I fear what happens when we abandon them, and lose our way in a guerrilla war with no end and no limits. I think Israel has lost its way in this moral maze at times and so has America. And I believe that in this necessary war on Jihadist terrorism, our core values matter. I want to win this war, for the sake of freedom, individual dignity, and peace. I do not want to win by becoming some ghastly echo of what we are fighting against, or in such a way that the difference between barbarism and civilization becomes the way in which we torture and abuse human beings, not that we are torturing or abusing them in the first place. Does that make me a vitriolic America-basher?
So my anger at the attitude of the Netanyahu government does not make me a vitriolic "Israel-basher" either. I've already tried to explain my evolution over the past decade in my response to Chait, but let me merely reiterate: I find the rightist radicalization of Israeli politics over the last few years, the ugly triumphalism and rhetoric in the Gaza war, the doubling of settlers on the West Bank, and the contempt for the current US president in Jerusalem to be acts of disrespect to the American people, and deeply unhelpful to the dangerous religious war we are still engulfed in. I understand they must be seen in the context of Hamas' ideological evil and Iran's threat. But they must also be seen in the context of a post-Arafat PA that deserves more respect than it's been getting. And this context as well: Israel has one of the strongest armies in the world, one of the most effective intelligence services and 150 nuclear weapons, while none of its neighbors has any at all. I mean, for Pete's sake, get a grip. If you remain utterly terrified with that kind of arsenal, you have a psychological, not a security, problem.
And no, I do not share Goldberg's deep identity with the Jewish state (although I certainly respect it) and have no difficulty in seeing a difference between Israel's interests and America's interests or the West's interests in general. That means I am perfectly open to the idea that the US should at times sanction Israel or use pressure against it in the advance of American interests in the wider war on terror. I don't think it's vitriolic Israel-bashing to put aid on the table, or loan guarantees, or a military intervention to create a Palestinian state.
4. Then there's the notion that
[Sullivan] 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.
This is guilt by association. I am not responsible for the emails I get or the ones copied to Goldberg. I am responsible for my own words and arguments and if Goldberg wants to take issue, he is welcome to and I will respond.
5. My "hatreds". I admit to some. I hate the oppression of the Iranian people and the brutal treatment of Gazans by the Egyptians and the Israelis. I hate anti-Semitism. But this leads to passionate support as well: of the Green Movement in Iran (do I really have to prove that?), of Obama's potential, of Israel's good faith efforts for peace in the past. And I think using the term hatred is a deliberate way to delegitimize my passions. Have I had a beef with Dick Cheney, Sarah Palin, John Yoo or Hillary Clinton? You betcha. Do I throw some strong language around on this blog in the heat of the moment? Absolutely. Do I back it all up with argument, facts, documents, analysis? Yes I do. Do I publish dissent and pushback? A lot more than Goldberg does. Now for some real hatred, read Goldblog on Stephen Walt or Matt Yglesias.
6. The argument from authority:
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.
I parodied this recently in a joke Jeffrey didn't get. All I can say is: this is not an argument, it's an insult. And Jeffrey's deeper knowledge always ends up in the same place. He is the classic anti-anti-Israel writer.
He admirably avoids the irresponsibility of simply waging rhetorical and logical warfare in defense of Israel at all times as some neoconservatives of the older generation do, but he cannot bring himself to offer stringent arguments against the current course of Israel's assisted suicide that might actually make a difference. He will only ever go so far, and no further. His knowledge may be much deeper than mine but that is partly because it is indeed rooted in such a strong identity that the argument is sometimes clouded and circumscribed by deep, deep feeling. I respect this feeling, but it is not the same as reason. And it can distort all the knowledge in the world.
So of course, the settlements are wrong, awful, counter-productive in Jeffrey's view... but if push ever comes to shove, no real pressure must ever be put on Israel to stop them growing, let alone remove them by force, which is the only way they'll be abolished. Even a request to freeze them is an "attack" by vitriolic Israel-bashers. In the end, Netanyahu will always get the benefit of the doubt and forceful critics of him and of his allies in Washington must always endure the smear of being self-hating Jews or closet anti-Semites.
But maybe it's time Netanyahu didn't get the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the world is too dangerous right now to stand by as a Fourth World War gets going in the Middle East between the tribalism of Avigdor Lieberman and the bigotry of Ahmadinejad. Maybe we have to take a stand as Western public thinkers and stop hiding behind world-weariness and authority and and anti-anti-positioning and tell the truth as we see it without this constant fraught question of bigotry being raised, let alone wielded as a rhetorical club.
Let us debate what America's interests are right now. And let us debate them robustly, passionately, sometimes intemperately and in good faith. You know: like Israelis do.
(Photos: a child killed in the Israeli assault on Gaza; a Jewish settler on the West Bank; Avigdor Lieberman, foreign minister of Israel; a child terrorized by Hamas rockets in Sderot; the legs of a young girl killed by Israeli weaponry in a morgue in Gaza. By Abid Kateb, David Silverman and Uriel Sinai/Getty Images.)
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