Commentators have interpreted my brief blog post complimenting Leon Wieseltier’s New Republic takedown of Andrew Sullivan as supporting the implied accusation that Sullivan is an anti-Semite. I would like to clarify what I wrote to communicate that I absolutely do not think that Sullivan is an anti-Semite nor that anyone is justified in writing or implying that he is anti-Semitic.
I post the comment immediately after reading the Weiseltier piece, before I’d read any other reactions. I had read through it once quickly, and did not interpret it as an accusation of anti-Semitism, which is how many other writers understood it. If indeed Wieseltier intended to make that implication, then I apologize for my cluelessness. Upon rereading it, I realize that sentences like this…
About the Jews, is Sullivan a bigot, or is he just moronically insensitive? […] Of course, it is impossible to know what is in a man’s heart; but on the basis of what Sullivan has written, I would urge him to search his heart.
…should have at least given me pause before voicing approval of the piece.
What I did like about the article was the way that Wieseltier drew attention to several instances in which Sullivan elided key distinctions in criticizing Israel, and in which Sullivan conflated the arguments of different intellectual opponents to discredit them.
I don’t know nearly as much about the relevant topic, Israel and Palestine, as both Sullivan as Wieseltier do, and I can’t say whose opinions are more reasonable. But the flaws in Sullivan’s rhetoric that Wieseltier highlights are definitely characteristic of all his writings, including on the topics that I do know something about.
For instance, Wieseltier explains how Sullivan has on a few occasions denounced the Israeli government in towering terms without providing any of the necessary context and while ignoring key facets of the debate. This criticism could just as easily apply to Sullivan’s rantings on the pope and the Catholic hierarchy, which are almost always distorted and misinformed to the extent that they are almost indistinguishable from conspiracy theories.
When someone who should know better falsely accuses or denounces a public figure, they are committing a smear. It seemed to me, on the basis of Wieseltier’s arguments, that Sullivan is guilty of doing just that to a number of people who happen to be Jews. But I wouldn’t consider Sullivan an anti-Catholic bigot for his misguided writings on the Church, and I don’t think that he’s an anti-Semite even if he’s abused Israel or certain Jews on his blog.
And since I linked to Wieseltier’s hit piece, here’s Sullivan’s self-defense.