19 Pundits on the Sullivan-Wieseltier Debate

Commentators pile on a massive discussion about anti-Semitism and journalistic responsibility

This article is from the archive of our partner .
UPDATED: Make that 20 pundits. A particularly strongly-worded take from The American Spectator deserves inclusion. See below.

UPDATE #2: Both Sullivan and Wieseltier have added new responses to the debate, Wieseltier here and Sullivan here. Meanwhile, Amy Davidson at the New Yorker has a particularly fresh take on Wieseltier's first volley.

Monday night, The New Republic published Leon Wieseltier's lengthy attack on The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan--a former New Republic editor. Sullivan replied to the suggestion that he harbored anti-Semitic views in two short first-reaction posts, and then a more  extensive reply. In the meantime, it seems as if nearly every Web commentator has weighed in. Here is, as best the Wire can collect and condense, a survey of the heated and rapidly expanding volume of opinion on this journalist war.

Wieseltier Has a Point

  • 'Andrew Has Been Careless,' acknowledges Wieseltier's New Republic colleague Jonathan Chait, "but carelessness isn't bigotry." At the crux of the matter is that Sullivan, he thinks, simply isn't a Middle East expert. Although he disputes the insinuation of anti-Semitism, he considers Wieseltier's piece "a trenchant and persuasive dissection of Andrew's (current) worldview on Israel and the Israel lobby."
  • Not Anti-Semitic, concludes The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg--but Sullivan, judging by his response, "doesn't recognize, at least from what I've read so far, that his analysis of the Middle East crisis is consistently and rather wildly one-sided."
  • Sullivan Guilty of 'Exceptionalism,' thinks Ron Kampeas writing for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. His problem isn't so much anti-Semitism but rather "how he conceptualizes 'Jews' ... mythologizing Jews."
  • Wieseltier's 'Subtle Analysis' of the "different sly prejudices which pop up in Sullivan's work" is worth reading, thinks Charles Crawford at Blogoir.
  • Both Parties Unimpressive "Wieseltier does catch Sullivan writing some weird and sloppy things about Jews, and Andrew should be much more careful in criticizing Israel. But Wieseltier is equally sloppy and careless with his language," decides Blake Hounshell at Foreign Policy. He doesn't think Sullivan has enough of a "set ideology" to be an anti-Semite.
  • 'Brilliant Takedown,' says The American Spectator's Joseph Lawler. Calling it "pretty damning," Lawler adds that, more generally and regardless of topic, "hardly a day goes by when I don't stop myself from posting a rebuttal of some Argument Sullivan's made or some falsehood that he's promoted."

Not So Much, Really

  • Sullivan Just Likes Saying Things 'People Won't Say,' argues his Atlantic colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates. That's where he gets in trouble with a lot of issues. But though Coates wasn't able to make it through the full Wieseltier takedown, he found the part he did read "overwrought and gleefully mean."
  • Criticism of Israel Does Not an Anti-Semite Make  "I’ve managed to disagree with everything Andrew Sullivan has written about John Yoo without ever thinking Sullivan guilty of anti-Korean animus," writes conservative David Frum, "and it should be equally possible to disagree with Sullivan about Israel these days without accusing him of anti-semitism." 
  • Overusing Labels  At Outside the Beltway, James Joyner talks about the larger phenomenon of overusing terms like "sexist, homophobe ... anti-Semite," as well as "racist" and "un-American"--they begin to lose their "sting."
  • Andrew Hates People Generally, muse Glenn Reynolds and Dan Riehl. He does so too indiscriminately to be a real anti-Semite.
  • Stand-ins for a Larger Fight  CBS's Charles Cooper thinks Sullivan chose his words poorly, "though it's difficult to use that to extrapolate baser motives." He, like Hounshell, thinks this is more about the changing landscape of Israel sympathy, and a number of Americans desiring "a more neutral U.S. position."
  • Or a Smaller One  At The Huffington Post, M.J. Rosenberg suggests this may have more to do with Leon Wieseltier's and editor Marty Peretz's general resentment of Sullivan.
  • Of All the Causes to Pick  "I can’t make much sense of it," acknowledges DougJ at Balloon Juice, "because I don’t understand the Trinity either and I don’t see what any of this has to do with Niebuhr." But he does think it pretty odd that The New Republic is concerned about this rather than Palin's adviser, "former Nixon Jew counter Fred Malek."

Wieseltier's Out of Line

  • 'He Owes Andrew an Apology,' says Time's Joe Klein, who says he is friends with both men. "I've never seen the slightest hint of venomous hostility toward Israel or Jews from Andrew Sullivan ... [Wieseltier] has joined a desperate-sounding minority of American Jews who have taken to using the 'anti-semitic' canard against those who reject Likudnik grandiosity."
  • 'Ugly, Reckless, and at-Times-Deranged Screed,' says Salon's Glenn Greenwald, who calls the essay "shabby and incoherent" and also mentions he thinks The New Republic's editor, Marty Peretz, is "one of the most bigoted hate-mongers in American political life."
  • Truly Careless  "As denunciations go, Wieseltier's is probably the most intellectually sloppy, shabby one I have seen since the days before the invasion of Iraq," says Daniel Larison at The American Conservative.
  • More New Republic Nonsense  "On the one hand, the charges are baseless so the writer hesitates to fling them around," says Matt Yglesias. "On the other hand, flinging baseless charges of anti-semitism is the essence of the magazine’s commentary on Israel."
  • Inexcusable: Fire Wieseltier Now  "Andrew Sullivan is not an anti-semitic bigot," says Brad DeLong--who says he's no fan of Sullivan's--succinctly. "The question is whether Frank Foer is a human being. If he is, Leon Wieseltier's connection with the New Republic will be severed before the snow starts falling in Washington Tuesday at lunchtime."
  • 'Hooray, The New Republic Has Decided Someone is an Antisemite,' proclaims Gawker's Alex Pareene, who dedicates a long post to the thesis that "Leon Wieseltier is a first-class bullshit artist."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.