Sunday, February 21, 2010

To Refute, not to Silence

The Andrew Sullivan-Leon Wieseltier spat is not particularly important, for all its going on for an entire week. However, Wieseltier's second installment contains some valuable linguistic distinctions that need to be understood and employed when Israel's enemies do their "offended, threatened and martyred act":
To the best of my recollection, I have never characterized Mearsheimer and Walt, or anybody else, as “the modern equivalent of Der Sturmer.” And of course AIPAC “has massive influence in Congress”--but that is hardly all that Mearsheimer and Walt claim! Anyway, they, and Sullivan, have the right to say any damn thing they want about AIPAC, and Israel, and Jews. And I have the right to respond as strictly and as definitively as I can. I do not wish to silence them, I wish to refute them. I also do not wish to allow them to enjoy the sanctuary of the piously skinless. People who give offense will get offense. I appreciate the delicacy, or rather the indelicacy, of my allegation about Sullivan. I did not propose that he is an anti-Semite. I did propose that the scorn and the fury that characterizes his discussion of Israel and some of its Jewish supporters is wholly unwarranted by the requirements of a critical analysis of the settlements or the Gaza war, and that it may therefore be mistaken for bigotry. (There are conservative opponents of what they virulently call “the gay agenda” who should not be surprised if they have to defend themselves against the charge of homophobia, even if they are not homophobic.) If I should be more careful about the question of anti-Semitism, so should Sullivan. He complacently says that on this score “I did my best.” No, he did not. There is a lot of this prejudice in the world right now, and this is really no time to be sloppy, or South Parky, about it. Sullivan is correct that there is not much difference between our views about the settlements and Israeli brutality in Gaza and the ideological orientation of the Likud--but there is all the difference in the world, because I have labored to provide an example of what Michael Walzer has described as “connected criticism,” of criticism that cannot be mistaken for enmity. (This does not mean that enmity is not allowed. It does mean that enmity cannot pose as friendship.)

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