The Corner

The Sullivan-Wieseltier Case

I have learned a lot, over the years, from both Andrew Sullivan and Leon Wieseltier, so I am dismayed by Wieseltier’s long essay insinuating that Sullivan is anti-Semitic. Sullivan is in many ways a complicated case: On some issues, he is basically right; on others, he is a complete crank; on many, of both kinds, he has an emotional tendency to lose perspective. But in the case of the anti-Semitism charge, I don’t think it’s complicated at all. Sullivan disagrees with me and Leon on certain aspects of Israeli policy, and becomes very angry about the issue. If I didn’t know the man’s writing generally, I might harbor a certain suspicion: “Okay, he disagrees with Netanyahu, but why does have to get so angry about it? Is there something else at the heart of this?” That suspicion would, of course, be very far from proof of anti-Semitism, but it would be a not-unreasonable object for curiosity. The fact is, though, that in Sullivan’s case we see the same level of rage on everything from the national debt to the precise parentage of Alaskan toddlers — so the likelihood that his anger about Israeli policies is rooted in some sort of dark animus against a particular ethnic group is very low.

David Frum is one of the most valuable intellectuals we have on the specific issues I’m discussing: the security of the state of Israel, and the dangers of a rise in anti-Semitism globally and in the U.S. So I’m heartened that Frum basically agrees with my view. He writes: “The challenge [in accusations of anti-Semitism] must begin with the proof. Cite the chapter and verse. Show the context. Get the goods. The New Republic has not done that in its critique of Sullivan’s Israel writing, and as a regular reader of his blog, I know why: Those particular goods aren’t there to be got. Lots of other goods, yes. Not these. It’s not as if the Jews have so few enemies that we need to pile them up where they don’t exist — or to confuse criticism of Israel that is unfair or wrong with criticism that is malicious and bigoted.” Spot on.

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