Sullivan’s reply and magic I do not have


Andrew Sullivan replies, lengthily, to Leon Wieseltier’s lengthy critique of Sullivan’s Jewish thang. (Not anti-Semitism, as I’ve noted before, but a problem with how he conceptualizes "Jews," as opposed, to, you know, treating them as you would the tall, the skinny, the short, the francophone, the street cleaner…)

Sullivan’s reply is substantive (contra his potty-mouthed defenders) and heartfelt. It is almost persuasive.


What jarred me is a passage that I agree with, that I would under other circumstances embroider on a pillow and prop up under the peeling wallpaper as a credo:

I might as well state clearly what I do believe – and know almost no-one in Washington who isn’t a fanatic who doesn’t – that AIPAC’s perfectly legal, perfectly open, brilliantly conducted lobbying operation has massive influence in the Congress. Really, any dissenters?

I have also noted that many, many other powerful lobbies exist. At TNR, I ran a major story on the malign influence of the Cuban lobby, for example, which exerted disproportionate power and distorted US foreign policy in ways that I came to believe hurt Cubans and Americans. I don’t remember being accused of being bigoted about Cubans for it.

So he gets it! He understands what keeps the substantive argument from even starting, the "exceptionalism" that drives thinking Jews from the room! Treat us like Cubans, gun-owners, gun controllers, seniors, fishermen, and yes, fine, then we’re happy to argue Israel, and you can say what you like about it!

Make us seem like sinister magicians capable of controls no one else enjoys, and we walk out, slamming the door behind us, because that weird, exasperating, terrifying reputation as malign wizards  — and its consequences that make the Salem witch trials seem like an unpleasant aftertaste — has no other sensible reply. I will not answer for magic I do not have.

So, he gets it! He thinks AIPAC is malign, he thinks the Cuban lobby is malign — I may not agree, but these are terms any Jew can accept for an argument.

Except, um, he doesn’t. Get it.

Sullivan has developed an ugly habit of alluding to the mythic Jew as a tantalizing question. "The Palestinians  in this photo of the day appear splattered with guano. Gaza’s skies were heavy with doves on Wednesday, it is true — but there are those photos of winged Jews dumping on their neighbors’ backyards. Photoshopped? Almost certainly. But I’d like to know more and not be reviled as an anti-Semite for asking."

Okay, I’m exaggerating. A little. But, just to consider the most recent instance, look at his treatment of whether Ethan Bronner’s status as New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem is compromised by his son’s IDF service:

The test of a journalist is his work. I haven’t detected a shred of bias in Bronner’s pieces from the NYT on Israel and the Middle East, even though his son is now in the IDF. I agree with Goldblog on this for the most part. I do believe, however, that it should have been clearly disclosed without pressure from the outside forcing the NYT into a disclosure that clearly would not have happened without a public editor. Keeping such a potential conflict of interest under wraps – even as questions of war crimes are being debated in a military in which Bronner’s son is now fighting – was a clear lapse of ethical judgment on Bill Keller’s part, not Bronner’s, who rightly informed his editors. 

Hoyt also makes a fair point:

"Stepping back, this is what I see: The Times sent a reporter overseas to provide disinterested coverage of one of the world’s most intense and potentially explosive conflicts, and now his son has taken up arms for one side. Even the most sympathetic reader could reasonably wonder how that would affect the father, especially if shooting broke out."

Of course it would – but with this disclosure, it seems to me that Bronner will be even more careful to be as even-handed as he can be.

But I confess some ignorance here as well. Or is Israel once again an exception?

What? Israel? "Once again"? What s*** is he talking? He has, to his credit, maintained a running account of the troubles in Iran where most of the reporters are actual Iranian citizens and not just their parents. And WTF? He likes Bronner’s reporting, and yet he takes this gratuitous shot?

And this "once agian," this wondering whether Israel is treated exceptionally, keeps cropping up. Here’s one from the start of the Gaza war, entitled "Greenwald’s point" and quoting Glenn Greenwald:

Leave aside the usual huffing and puffing. Can you answer this question for me:

"Is there any other significant issue in American political life, besides Israel, where (a) citizens split almost evenly in their views, yet (b) the leaders of both parties adopt identical lockstep positions which leave half of the citizenry with no real voice?  More notably still, is there any other position, besides Israel, where (a) a party’s voters overwhelmingly embrace one position (Israel should not have attacked Gaza) but (b) that party’s leadership unanimously embraces the exact opposite position (Israel was absolutely right to attack Gaza and the U.S. must support Israel unequivocally)? Does that happen with any other issue?"

Not that I can think of, off the top of my head.

Top of your head? Top of your f—ing head? What happened to the Cubans at the top of your head? Where did they disappear to on Jan. 2 2009, only to reappear tonight?

These feints are beneath Sullivan. If he wants folks to stop accusing him of mythologizing Jews, he needs to stop mythologizing Jews, and a good place to start is not to pretend that he doesn’t know what his critics are talking about.

That vented….

The collapse of the friendship between Sullivan and Wieseltier, poignantly recalled by Sullivan, is depressing. So is the apparent end of the friendship between Sullivan and his fellow Atlantic blogger, Jeffrey Goldberg.

Let me be clear, I don’t know any of these folks; Jeffrey, on some other planet in some other dimension, edited my copy for about two weeks, an experience from which he has admirably recovered, and I congratulate him for it. Sullivan and Wieseltier I’ve never even met.

But Dina has always been a reference for me: She goes out to "to see the daughters of the land" in Genesis 34, starting a chapter that ends so badly, even its writers weren’t sure what to make of it (forced marriage, forced circumcision, lots of bloodletting. And it ends with an unsettled, rancorous argument between Jacob and two of his sons.)

All we known of Dina is that she wanted "to see" some women who were not Jewish; but that may be enough. It speaks of a Jewish evangelism, not of faith, but of knowledge and intellect

Sullivan is a passionate blogger, however flawed, who has done much to make us see the disenfranchised, the threatened, the beleaguered.

That’s not a bad thing, and neither is the attempt to make him see himself.

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