In the Arena

Anti-Semitism, Again

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It’s not much fun when your friends get into a deep, personal, cage-match sort of fight. In this case, the fight is between Andrew Sullivan and Leon Wieseltier–people I respect, love and admire. Leon has launched a nuclear attack on Sullivan’s writings about neoconservatives and Israel:

Criticism of Israeli policy, and sympathy for the Palestinians, and support for a two-state solution, do not require, as their condition or their corollary, this intellectual shabbiness, this venomous hostility toward Israel and Jews.

The trouble is, I’ve never seen the slightest hint of venomous hostility toward Israel or Jews from Andrew Sullivan; indeed, I agree with much, though not all, of what he writes on the subject. And it does seem that the examples of this hatred that Leon offers are not overpowering. To take one example:

Sullivan’s assumption, in his outburst about “the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing,” [that is, the neoconservatives Charles Krauthammer and Michael Goldfarb] that every thought that a Jew thinks is a Jewish thought is an anti-Semitic assumption, and a rather classical one.

Leon’s tendency to argue about how many talmudists can fit on the head of a pin is often entertaining and always brilliant, but a bit precious here: I’m sure that Andrew does not believe every thought I think is a “Jewish” thought (unless, of course, Andrew thinks that he thinks Jewish thoughts–because we often laugh about how, coming from distinctly different philosophical traditions, the two of us come to precisely the same place on more than a few issues).

Would Leon actually argue that neoconservatives who happen to be Jews thinking about a Jewish state are not thinking Jewish thoughts? Indeed, I cop to the following: my belief in a two-state solution and my antipathy toward Greater Israel fantasies are Jewish thoughts. Israel means something different to me than it does to a non-Jew. With the names of my ancestors written on the rolls of holocaust victims in the synogogues of Prague and elsewhere, I am vehement about Israel’s need to survive in a way that non-Jews–except for loony Christan Rapturists–are not. I just happen to believe that it doesn’t survive unless accomodation is made with the Palestinians.

I don’t often agree with Glenn Greenwald, but he’s right about neoconservatives constantly making political appeals that assume a discrete Jewish identity:

[N]eoconservatives constantly argue that American Jews should vote for Republicans rather than Democrats in American political elections because, as Jews, they should cast their votes based on what is best for Israel, and GOP policies, they claim, are better for Israel.  Joe Lieberman spent a substantial portion of 2008 running around to Jewish enclaves in key swing states telling Jewish voters to vote for McCain because he’d be better for Israel…

You can’t run around making direct appeals to the Jewishness and Israel-affection of American-Jewish voters when you want to induce them to vote Republican, but then turn around and scream “anti-semite!” at your political opponents when they discuss the same issues in the same context or talk about the political beliefs of various Jewish factions.  At least you can’t do that without being guilty of hideous double standards and, worse, cheapening and trivializing “anti-semitism” to the point of irrelevance.

And that is what is saddest here. My friend Leon Wieseltier is too quirky and complicated to be called a neoconservative–or any other label except, perhaps, Van Morrison cultist–but he has joined a desperate-sounding minority of American Jews who have taken to using the “anti-semitic” canard against those who reject Likudnik grandiosity. When used against someone named Klein–as the loathsome Abe Foxman did to me–the accusation is merely laughable. When used against someone named Sullivan, it is far more damaging. I think Leon overstepped here. I think he owes Andrew an apology.

Update: Andrew’s response to Leon’s accusations.