Intellectuals in American are bound by strict rules when it comes to public debate. Unless you want to be sidelined to discussions on KPFK and obscure liberal websites, there are two rules:
1. You must not challenge the notion that America is the greatest country on earth.
2. You must not criticize Israel in any shape or form.
The leftist pundits in the main stream media are well aware of these rules, and although they may ask challenging questions in relation to domestic policy, the assumption that American interests supersedes everyone else’s, and Israel is always right are never, ever challenged.
Andrew Sullivan has, in recent times, skated dangerously close to the edge of the self imposed restrictions, particularly when it comes to Israel. A former Bush supporter and neo con, Sullivan’s world view was forever altered as the tenants of his philosophy were exposed to be completely fraudulent when tested against reality. The disasters of the Iraq and Afghan wars, the failure of unfettered capitalism to create wealth and prosperity for all, the corruption of Wall St, and the sheer brutality of the Israeli aggression against the Palestinians were too much for Sullivan, and to his credit, he changed his mind. Sullivan blogged eloquently on the horrific assault on Gaza back in 2008, and the experience turned him against the notion that Israel can do no wrong.
And in response to his more mature view of America’s greatest ally, Sullivan is reaping the consequences of his challenge to the status quo. His former friend and editor Leon Wieseltier wrote perhaps one of the most disgusting, thinly veiled hit pieces in recent times, basically accusing Sullivan of anti-semitism. In a very long, pretentious piece of intellectual gymnastics, he concludes that because Sullivan has dared to criticize Israel and the Israel lobby, he must subscribe to the notion that ‘Jews control Washington’:
Sullivan is hunting for motives, not reasons; for conspiracies, which
is the surest sign of a mind’s bankruptcy. These days the
self-congratulatory motto above his blog is “Of No Party or Clique,”
but in fact Sullivan belongs to the party of Mearsheimer and the clique
of Walt (whom he cites frequently and deferentially), to the herd of
fearless dissidents who proclaim in all seriousness, without in any way
being haunted by the history of such an idea, that Jews control
Wieseltier goes on to accuse Sullivan of a series of high minded crimes against Jews that only intellectuals of his standing could possibly understand:
His assumption, in his outburst about “the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing,”
that every thought that a Jew thinks is a Jewish thought is an
anti-Semitic assumption, and a rather classical one. Bigotry has always
made representatives of individuals, and discerned the voice of the
group in the voice of every one of its members.
So you see, Sullivan is an anti-semite because he categorized extreme neo cons and Israel hawks Micahael Goldfarb (the editor of the Weekly Standard) and Fox News analyst Charles Krauthammer as a particular wing of Jewish political thought. Get it? Because I certainly don’t. Krauthammer and Goldfarb are Jews who actively participate in discussions pertaining to Jewish issues, as do I. I am at one end of the spectrum, and they the other, but we are still Jews discussing Jewish things. If Andrew wants to make that clear, I’m unsure how it makes him an anti-semite. Paradoxically, Wieseltier’s accusation is a classical anti debate tactic used by Jews to undermine rational debate on Israel by hurling the anti semitic card at anything remotely critical said about the state. It’s intellectually dishonest in the extreme, and he should be ashamed of himself.
Wieseltier then goes on to accuse Sullivan of a type of condescending racism towards Jews that many liberal whites are accused of towards blacks. Because Sullivan wrote that he would like to see Israeli society shun the values of anti Arabism, militancy and xenophobia and return to the more ‘historic mainstream of liberal Jewish society’, he “desperately wants the Jews to be good Jews, to be the best Jews they can be”. Wieseltier is of course referring to the notion of the ‘good negro’ – a cartoon like characterization of black people that makes white liberals feel good about themselves.
This is hogwash.
As a Brit, I lived through the Bush years in horror of what was happening to American society. I longed for the more tolerant, rational America that I had experienced in the 90’s, not the neo-fascist expansionism of the Bush-Cheney ones. Did this make me anti American? Was I attempting to belittle Americans, desperately wanting Americans to be good Americans, the best Americans they can be?
Of course not. I wanted America to stop engaging in ultimately self destructive behavior that any rational person could see a mile away. And of course, I like other sane people at the time, were ultimately proved right.
Wieseltier however, would probably think otherwise.
The rest of Wieseltier’s diatribe is too ridiculous to go in to, despite the veneer of respectability. He is a fine writer and a dispenser of complicated political notions, all of which disguise the fact that he is talking utter, utter nonsense. For a more thorough rebuttal to his truly despicable piece, Sullivan himself does a devastating job, as do Glenn Greenwald and Joe Klein.
Thankfully this charge won’t do much to damage Sullivan in the long run, because unfortunately for Wiesletier, the anti semitic card has been played one too many times, and people are getting fed up with hit. As Greenwald notes:
Neoconservatives have so abused and cynically exploited the
“anti-semitism”charge for rank political gain — to bully those who
would dare criticize Israeli actions or question U.S. policy
towardsIsrael — that it has lost its impact.Ironically, nobody has
done more to trivialize and cheapen anti-semitism accusations than
those who anointed themselves its guardians and arbiters.
So thanks for helping the cause Leon.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.