Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Antisemitism as a Matter of Time?

Leon Wieseltier is one of the finest wordsmiths in American public discourse. Yesterday he published a column about his former colleague at The New Republic, Andrew Sullivan. (h/t Silke). It's not his finest column, not even close, which is too bad. Perhaps the relationships between the two men interfered in one way or another; we can't know.

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.

Jonathan Chait, another TNR fellow, today responds to Wieseltier by stating emphatically that "Andrew is not an Anti-semite". Chait disagrees with him on Israel, but knows him not to be an antisemite.

Andrew himself relates to the matter from time to time, always to profess his innocence of antisemitism.

From what I can see, he really isn't one. Not yet. Which isn't to say he won't become one. That, after all, is what makes the history of antisemitism so lethal: that people can join (and also leave). If hatred of the Jews were stable, and individuals either were or were not for their entire lives, it would be easier to contain. It isn't. People can be free of the affliction and later die from it; they can be afflicted and cured; they can be latently antisemitic then actively so, then again latent. So long as they are free to think, people can change their minds in whatever direction they change them in.

Is Andrew on the way to becoming an antisemite? It's possible. He's already using antisemitic types of expression, as Wieseltier shows, and as any sustained reading of his popular blog will demonstrate.


Empress Trudy said...

I haven't read it completely yet but Glenn Greenwald has published what is even for him, a narcissistic rant against Wieseltier on today's Essentially what he says is that there's no such thing as antisemitism, Jews really do run America and criticism of that is of course neocon Zionist propaganda.

Unknown said...

Weiseltier would have been better off omitting the Auden quote and subsequent religious discussion as a hook.

However, the section on Sullivan himself, was bang on, albeit incomplete. Wieseltier lays bare Sullivan's hypocrisy and mendacity when it comes to Israel and by extension (as Jeffrey Goldberg says) Jews who don't agree with Sullivan.

What is missing is an explanation for this behavior. My working hypothesis is :

Sullivan feels betrayed by the so-called neo-cons for tricking him into supporting the Iraq war. That most of the neo-cons were not in positions in the government and were operating with no more information than was available to Sullivan seems not to have occurred to him.) And since neo-cons are pretty firmly pro-Israel, Sullivan believes that taking a stance diametrically opposed to any neo-con belief is the proper thing.

2. Unlike Sullivan, who has been enthralled with him from the beginning of his campaign, Israelis were skeptical of Obama. And because Obama can do no wrong in Sullivan’s eyes ( he sees Israel’s refusal to do Obama’s bidding as a form insolence and betrayal. Operation Cast lead was the tipping point, not because of it's alleged ferocity (as Sullivan loves to point out), but because in his twisted mind, it prevented his great messiah from bringing peace to the Middle East.

Lee Ratner said...

I think that we Jews are sometimes to quick to call anti-Semitism. I really don't think that anti-Semitism is a good way of describing most anti-Zionists anyway. I think that it is more accurate to describe anti-Zionists as being antipathetic towards the Jews rather than anti-Semitic. I don't think that most anti-Zionists particularly hate Jews and want us dead but they really don't care what happens to us and do not really think the implications of anti-Semitism through.

Dr. Evil said...

I must disagree Lee. Some anti-Zionists are not antisemites. Some are.

Anti-Zionism as a whole, is a movements opposing self governance of Jews. As it happens there is no comparable political movement opposing the self determination of any other people. It seems as if they think that Jews should know their place. This by itself is a prejudice with some history. Alternatively, some anti-Zionists claim that since Israel is not perfect, the Jews there somehow lose their right for self governance. The standard is never applied elsewhere.

Due to that, the fact that many anti-Zionists do not want to see Jews die is irrelevant. (Not to mention that the only way in their goal will be achieved will involve the death of many Jews.) Other types of prejudices are contained in their message.

Anonymous said...

I must have said it a million times, I can't take the exaggerations anymore!

I have only read about a quarter of the Wieseltier piece, if I were Sullivan I would be far more upset about this:

"he [Andrew] prefers not to dive deep into the substance of anything. It is less immediately satisfying than cursing and linking."

That is a far more damning accusation, especially for a jouranlist, than being called an anti-Semite. I do agree with Wieseltier that Sullivan's writing Krauthammer "endorses the pulverization of Gazans with glee" is nasty language.

OTOH, I thought the quote about TNR readers not being able to understand the Trinity is kind of funny.

I am glad I took the time to find out who Reinhold Niebuhr was and take a look at the piece he wrote 54 years ago for TNR about US "Stake in the State of Israel"


Anonymous said...

when reading the first part of this piece by Sullivan in the London Times last Sunday
I thought this man is either desperate for a scoop/a hit or it is the same reason that is maybe partly fuelling his approving Stephen Walt (if Wieseltier is correct) which is getting talked about trumps all and everything for him. Anyway even if he were right in the above piece (which I don't believe because the man profiled in this piece reads plausible to me why does somebody who poses as an American journalist does this kind of extreme America "outing" in a British newspaper. It seems inappropriate to me - attention seeking is part of a journalists job but at all costs? at the cost of denouncing his home country to foreigners?


PS: actually the Walt&Mearsheimer piece in the London Review of Books way back then was what go me started on my own quest into the different anti-Israel streaks. Right now I am worried foremost of the sly ones, the ones posing as benevolent who demand with the straightest face from Israel to do the impossible i.e. spin straw into gold (just like the king in Rumpelstilzken)

Anonymous said...

thanks for the "prod" to Niebuhr - what a "plus ca change ..."
in "retaliation" I recommend 2 pieces in The Atlantic from shortly after the Balfour Declaration, one "proving" that Jews in Israel would "uplift" the whole world, one "proving" that Jews were incapable of managing a state. And at Commentary there was in 2007 a whole packet of articles written around and during the war of 1967 which are worth spending a long evening with.
and last but not least here is Martha Gellhorn travelling through Palestine in 1961

Yaacov said...


I'm mostly with Evil on this one, in spite of his (her?) name. The Nazis created a great alibi for all subsequent antisemites: since we're not as bad as the Nazis,we can't be antisemites. Well, this isn't so. You're right that the accusation can be bandied around too lightly, of course, but even using careful measures, there's still quite a bit of it around.

And why not? Having lots of people who dislike Jews has been one of the central constants of Western society these past 2,000 years or so. Why would it now suddenty disappear?

Bryan said...

The problem, Yaacov, is that even the anti-Semites won't claim that anti-Semitism is gone--merely that it is limited to neo-Nazis and other fringe elements. They will not accept that anything less than overtly calling for the destruction of the Jewish people, in those words, is anti-Semitism. (And if that overt call comes from the mouths of Arabs, it's because the Jews deserved it anyway, and we're probably mistranslating it, but they don't mean it, and in any case they can't be anti-Semitic because they are Semites too.)

It must be brought to attention that anti-Semitism is not an extreme, fringe belief, but one that is accepted by otherwise perfectly reasonable people with only a few small steps.

4infidels said...

Antisemites have always claimed to have a rational excuse for their hatred of Jews. Jews are anti-religion or Jews are too religious; Jews are capitalists or Jews are communists; Jews are stateless people among the nations or Jews are a religion with no right to their own state; Jews are warmongers or Jews don't like to fight; Jews blend in among the people or Jews set themselves apart; Jews are a non-Western people who have no business in Europe or Jews are a European people with no business having a state in the Middle East; Jews only care for their own or Jews help others to control and influence them.

The argument changes as fashions change, but the essence of the antisemite position remains the same: we are good and decent people who would stop hating the Jews if only they would be different.

4infidels said...

Can you be anti-Italian without being anti-Italian? Can you be anti-French without being anti-French?

Here is a thought experiment:

Let's say that the words Zionism and anti-semitism didn't exist.

And let's pretend that Israel is called Judea and Israelis are just called Jewish.

Would it be possible to be anti-Jewish without being anti-Jewish?

It seems to be that by having terms like Zionism and anti-semitism, it enables someone to claim that they are anti-zionist without being anti-semitic.

Avigdor said...

...hunting for motives, not reasons; for conspiracies, which is the surest sign of a mind’s bankruptcy.

present feelings as ideas

cursing and linking

His answers may be inferred from his various ejaculations

they are not so much answers as bar-room retorts; moody explosions of verbal violence

an anthology of banalities

The neocons have deranged Sullivan. Brilliant!

This is quality word-smithing.
I'm still tingling...

Yaacov, I appreciate your insight into the transient and opportunistic nature of anti-Semitism. On a personal note, I dated a young woman for several years - an educated, intelligent person. I actually became more observant while being with her - starting keeping Shabbos, wrapping tefilling, tzitzis, etc. - of which she was very supportive. For a time, she even considered conversion. Three years into our relationship, she was laid off from work, by a Jewish employer. The things that came out of her mouth...

We tend to have a very rigid understanding of jew-hatred - once an anti-semite, always an anti-semite, or the inverse. The reality is much more fluid.

Anonymous said...

"The Daily Dish Water" blog has been following these posts here

and hasn't concluded that Andrew Sullivan is an antisemite, but that he has developed some complex related to Israel and Jews who don't agree with him about it.

Lee Ratner said...

Sometimes I wonder if having a specific word to mean Jewish nationalism hurts Jewish nationalism. The fact that Jewish Nationalism is called Zionism gives anti-Zionists good framing opportunities. "Zionism is racism" is catchy phrase. "Jewish nationalism is racism" is much more awkward and requires explanation. Why is Jewish nationalism more racist than Arab or Italian nationalism or any other form of nationalism?

Avigdor said...

Has anyone else noticed the proliferation of "watch-dog" blogs? This "Daily Dish-Water" is yet another example.

Yaacov, with your blog's popularity soaring, it may not be long before a Ruminations-Watch is begun by one of your readers ;)

Anonymous said...

Silke -

I have been slowly making my way through the Gellhorn piece for a while. The Atlantic has amazing things in its archive. You can really blow a lot of time there.

This article, "Gaza and After: An Interview with Paul Berman" at the, has a great explanation of anti-Semitism, kind of expounding upon what 4infidels wrote. It begins in the middle of page 3, in answer to the question:
"Why do you think so many activists, especially on the left, demonize Israel? Is it a sign of antisemitism?"

The whole article is worth reading.

Anonymous said...

Silke -

I have been slowly making my way through the Gellhorn piece for a while. The Atlantic has amazing things in its archive. You can really blow a lot of time there.

This article, "Gaza and After: An Interview with Paul Berman" at the, has a great explanation of anti-Semitism, kind of expounding upon what 4infidels wrote. It begins in the middle of page 3, in answer to the question:
"Why do you think so many activists, especially on the left, demonize Israel? Is it a sign of antisemitism?"

The whole article is worth reading.


Anonymous said...

I just read Jeffrey Goldberg's comments on this. Jeffrey is great. Here are the best bits (to me):

"[Andrew]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."


"[Andrew's] hatreds are prolific...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."

and finally:
"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."

That's 2 votes for shallow!

Read the whole thing, I find Jeffrey funny:


Anonymous said...

I just finished reading the Jon Chait piece. That's 3 votes for shallow!


Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

@Dr. Evil

Anti-Zionism as a whole, is a movements opposing self governance of Jews. As it happens there is no comparable political movement opposing the self determination of any other people.

Wrong for two reasons.

1) There is a Canadian movement that opposes the self determination of Quebecquers. There is a Spanish movement that opposes the self-determination of Basques and Catalans. There is a Turkish-Syirian-Iranian-Iraqi movement that opposes the self-determination of Kurds. There is a Belgian movement that opposes the self-determination of Flemings. There is a British movement that opposes the self-determination of Scots... I'm sorry to shatter Jewish self-pity, but lots of political movements around the world try to deny statehood to certain groups, and it's not because they hate them.

2) More to the point, anti-Zionists don't oppose the self-determination of Jews because the Jews are Jewish. We oppose it for the same reason that we opposed the self-determination of Afrikaners, i.e., we believe equality trumps self-determination. Insofar as Israeli Arabs are ordered to get off buses for speaking Arabic, or as Israel takes measures to "thin out" the Arab population in the Negev and in the Galilee, there is no equality in Israel. We favor a binational state because that's the demographic reality on the ground, not because we are wicked and want to deny the Jews what we wouldn't deny to anyone else.

Who's more antisemitic: the one who wants to uproot Jews from Ariel so that a largely Arabrein Jewish state will be viable, or the one who wants the Jews from Ariel to stay there in a binational state from the Jordan to the sea?

Barry Meislin said...

That's an easy one:

The ones who want to see the State of Israel erased.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the Berman-link - I have printed it at once - he is one of the men I like to be taught by - some years ago there were 3 huge excerpts of his book about Kouchner, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Joschka Fischer in the TNR (no longer online) - quite a tickling for the gray cells. - Berman will have a book out in March I hope he'll do a book-tour and I'll pod-catch him somewhere.

Mr. Fake
you forgot to mention the Bavarians of Germany who are hankering after becoming again a kingdom with a real monarch. I believe there are - until recently -communists in Saxonia who'd like a king of their own. I read about their woes but I always find the little bit here and there that they want to eat the cake and keep it, being part of a bigger entity has its advantages. Whether you like it or not, in my book the Israelis are different because they managed to garner enough support around the world to get their state approved and since have issued passports to their citizens.

On the other hand as far as I know Bavarians have not been very successful with making their dream come true internationally except maybe within aristocratic circles.
As to your knowing so much about the intricacies of so many other self-determination-movements around the world - let me lay my sincere admiration for the extent of your knowledge and intellectual powers at your feet.

But in this context what about the Bretons of Brittany? I remember that 1962 in Paris their splitting plans were hotly discussed and something imminent, have the evil French clubbed them into submission since or why else don't I hear from them any more? They still travel on French passports, don't they?


Anonymous said...

I just read the beginning of Sullivan's answer to Wieseltier and the end (now it's going to be a religion denied due respect?) - more was beyond me - too much pressuring of the tear glands (drücken auf die Tränendrüsen) - lots of Mills&Boon-ish language

Shallow is the right word but there is more to it - this "I did it, but I couldn't help myself, my oh so benevolent emotions took over - and rightfully so" - there must be a pithy word to describe this kind of argument but it eludes me
- parents use the same argumentation when their child has "driven" them to beating it and then feeling sorry for themselves that they had been forced to resort to these extreme measures

Gavin said...

This Ibrahim character is getting irritating. I don't mind a good debate but this person has the reasoning of a 10yr old.

The Kurds, Catalans, Basques, Scots, Flemings... don't have self determination. The Quebecans have some autonomy but they're not a people or race anyway. The Jews of Israel do have self determination. Using the former to argue the latter is like saying the sun shouldn't rise in the morning.

Is there anyone among the anti-Israeli crowd who can put up a good argument? Logic & reason seem to be an alien concept to these people, they're boring.

zionist juice said...

mr ibrahim

whats the point?
you talk about movements that want a state and not about people that have a state?
so show me those who fexp deny the right to exist as a nation state concerning iran or france or whatever.....

Yaacov said...

Fake Ibrahim -
are there British newspapers dedicated to telling lies about the Quebeqios? Are there International Freedom Movements demonstrating in Paris about how evil the Spaniards are? I seem to remember a million demonstrators (so they claimed) in London, decrying the possibility of changing things in Iraq so the killings of Kurds might be stopped, but I'm not certain they fit your paradigm. The UNHRC routinely condemns the Sri Lankens, I admit I had forgotten, and there are are hundreds of blogs dedicated to liberating the poor Balucians from their Pakistani overlords, you're right. Students at American universities routinely shout down British lecturers for the way their country treats Scots (and Irish, you forgot them); British teacher unions have learned how to boycott Israels from all their experience with boycotting Russians and Chinese (who are mean to Tibetans and various Caucasian folks).

Lots of thinning out of Arabs around here. That's why there's so little diabetes among them: they're all so thin. Also, since they can't take buses, they've got to walk everywhere, and that's also good for keeping down the diabetes.

Still, thanks for the light entertainment at this blog. It would be too easy to slip into mordant self pity.

Anonymous said...

back to Sullivan being hurt by Wieseltier on polytheism

- just remembered, that accusing one another of polytheism was a favourite and often leading to bloodshed Christian pastime at least as long as Constantinople hadn't been conquered. How Moscow, Kiev and Rome and maybe others view the matter today I don't know but I very much doubt that it has been settled, but of course if it is looked at from a Jewish perspective it is intolerably hurtful.

Ibrahim Ibn Yusuf said...

you talk about movements that want a state and not about people that have a state?

I did talk about a people who already had a state -- the Afrikaner people.

They enjoyed self-determination in a state of their own. The blacks? They weren't South Africans. They were citizens of Venda, Ciskei, Transkei, Bhoputatswana (sp?). Until in 1992 the world, using sanctions, forced the Afrikaners to share the country with the black people among whom they lived.

What happened to the Afrikaners is the same that we want to happen to Israeli Jews. How antisemitic we are!

Barry Meislin said...

Wrong question. The question should be:

"How antisemitic am I?"

Israel would, actually, like a Palestinian state to exist and not threaten Israel's existence.

(I understand that's incredibly difficult for some people to wrap their heads around....)

But that's not going to happen.

And the reason why it's not going to happen is because what's good for Israel is---automatically---not good for Palestinians. Or, if you prefer, what is in Israel's interest (remember, the Zionist Entity's interest) must, uncategorically and absolutely, be against the Palestinian interest.

That's how the game is defined. It's how it was defined in 1920, 1929, 1936, 1948, 1967, and even on the White House Lawn in 1994---no matter what Shimon Peres (and many of us others) would have liked to dream (and some still do).

But the Palestinians have had no intention of living side by side with a Zionist Entity; and now that they smell blood, now that the sharks are circling, now that the noose is ever tightening, now that they can see their way to their mountaintop (as it were), now, especially now, they are not going to let up. (Not that they ever were going to let up....)

You want to use the apartheid argument to dismember the Zionist Entity (but at least, we'll be morally in the right, eh?)? Go right ahead and join the myriads of morally righteous (count them if you can), for whom Israel's existence is the world's most horrendous injustice, mistake, design flaw, tragedy, depravity what have you. Yes, all those wonderful people, led by all those humane leaders of all those lovely states.

Realize, though, that there are consequences; and wonder (if you will, if you dare, if you can) just what those consequences might be. And for whom.

(On the other hand, one understands that the urge to nihilism just too, too overpowering.... No, there is nothing new under the sun.)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Fake
your never sticking with one point but forever slithering through all kinds of half-baked arguments is called porniros in Greek and considered a virtue if practiced with the right people i.e. those who are deemed to have lost their claim of being dealt with honestly

- I hope this which we used to sing in praise of the porniros of this world doesn't hurt your refined tastes and you can accept it as an hommage

Sergio said...

I find it very curious this accusation of "self-pitying" coming from palestinianists, when one just tries to bring some facts to the table: such a typical example of projection.

Besides, there is probably no other "movement" in world's history which is more based on victimism (plus no responsability) than the palestinian. Except of course, for the nazis, who thrived on resentment and victimization in a most deadly projection ever.



Anonymous said...

After reading Sullivan's response, and spending more time than I should have on this spat,(and I hope this is the last thing I will read or write about it) I have the following to say:

Geoff seems to have been spot on with his comment earlier in this thread.

I think it would have been a better use of their energies and time to go out and shovel snow instead of writing this stuff. Seems to be some cabin fever going on.

A part of me thinks this was a concerted plot on the parts of TNR and the Atlantic to increase their web traffic. (sort of like when US public television shows all this interest programming during pledge week.) Sort of gives a new meaning to phrase "Jew Baiting."

I don't recall Andrew using such harsh language against Bush,
Cheney and others in the Atlantic piece he did about torture. Surely, he must find that as horrifying as the Gaza invasion.


Anonymous said...

Silke -

I didn't understand the Greek reference or the link to the song. I did enjoy the music -- but it was Greek to me.


Gavin said...

porniros.... that's very astute Silke. It is exactly how the anti-Israel trolls behave. You can't have a good heads down knuckle-dragging argument with these people because they constantly slither away & return with new claims when you point out the flaws in their argument. Slippery is one word for them, bit polite perhaps.

Cheers, Gavin.