Wieseltier Rant: Sullivan's Anti-Semitic!

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"Trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to readers of The New Republic is not easy." This is the W.H. Auden quote Atlantic superblogger Andrew Sullivan used for his January 26 "quote for the day." This is also the quote The New Republic's literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, takes as a starting point for a 4,000-plus-word polemic accusing Andrew Sullivan of anti-Semitism. Many fellow pundits are dismissing the epic rant, with Gawker's Alex Pareene systematically decapitating the argument and The American Conservative's Daniel Larison calling it "trashy" and "baseless." Even Sullivan's die-hard critic Glenn Reynolds raises doubts about the piece: "On consideration, I don't think this gets it quite right"

Here's Wieseltier's argument, with Sullivan's initial replies. (Sullivan hints that he'll eventually follow up with a more thorough response, asking that readers "allow [him] a little time to respond to a 4,300 word ad hominem.")

  • How About 'Explaining' Anti-Semitism?  Wieseltier admits he doesn't get the Trinity--after all, he's Jewish; Sullivan isn't "liberal-baiting" by choosing to feature Auden's quote, but rather Jew-baiting. Wieseltier points to other comments about the "Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing" of American Jews that "celebrates and believes in government torture." According to Wieseltier, Sullivan's underlying assumption in talking about this "wing" is that "every thought that a Jew thinks is a Jewish thought." Such a stance, he argues, is classically anti-Semitic. Wieseltier is likewise displeased by Sullivan's comments about the "arrogance" of Israelis in dealing with Palestinians.
  • First Things First Quoting an e-mail from a scholar on the subject, Sullivan points out that the Auden quote in question, taken in context, is clearly not about Jews but rather about "how hard it is for truly highbrow theological and philosophical subjects to be taught to Swarthmore students--with an extra dig at TNR's very secular lefty readers of the day." That said, he allows, "it's perfectly true that the New Republic reference also made me chuckle because, as Leon Wieseltier once said, TNR is a kind of 'Jewish version of Commentary.'" These sorts of jokes were "ubiquitous" at The New Republic, argues Sullivan, when he himself worked there. Then what's the current spat about? "It's been fourteen years since I left TNR and Leon Wieseltier is still obsessed with his long-standing and at this point tedious personal vendetta against me."
  • Also, Refer to the Record A while later, Sullivan also pulls a quote from Wieseltier himself in April 2008, in which he defended Sullivan against the charge of anti-Semitism. It starts out with "About one thing I wish to be piercingly clear: I do not believe that Andrew Sullivan is an anti-Semite." Wieseltier, in the passage, calls this "incontrovertible fact."
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