Wieseltier vs Sullivan

My understanding is that Leon Wieseltier and Andrew Sullivan have some kind of personal beef dating back to when Sullivan was editor of the New Republic. Wieseltier basically runs the back-of-the-book autonomously, which is a setup that often leads to friction with the nominal editor of the magazine, and in the case of the Wieseltier/Sullivan situation it was especially bad for some reason. That’s the backdrop for this bizarre Wieseltier hit-piece on Sullivan.

Like most of TNR’s very worst work, it suffers deeply from schizophrenia about the idea of flinging around baseless charges of anti-semitism. On the one hand, the charges are baseless so the writer hesitates to fling them around. On the other hand, flinging baseless charges of anti-semitism is the essence of the magazine’s commentary on Israel. For the purposes of intimidation, after all, baseless charges work better than well-grounded ones. Nikolai Krylenko, Bolshevik Minister of Justice, said “we must execute not only the guilty, execution of the innocent will impress the masses even more.” And it’s much the same here. If you call anti-semites anti-semites, then people who aren’t motivated by anti-Jewish racism will figure “hey, since my political opinions aren’t motivated by anti-Jewish racism, then I’m safe.” The idea is to put everyone on notice that mere innocence will be no defense. But relatively few people are actually goonish enough to execute the strategy properly, so instead Wieseltier’s piece beats around the bush and doesn’t really come out and say what it’s saying.

At any rate, when I raised this issue on a liberal listserve some people said they had no sympathy for Sullivan because of one or another of the things he’d done to piss them off over the years. I was taught something about two wrongs and a right when I was a kid. But it’s worth noting the bonus smear on Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer:

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 Washington.

This is just a lie. Niether Walt nor Mearsheimer nor Sullivan has said anything remotely resembling “Jews control Washington.” I know there seem to be special rules for Walt and Mearsheimer where it’s not required that characterization of their work bear any particular resemblance to what they’ve written, but this is really shameful stuff. Not only have they never made that claim, but the idea that they’re un-haunted or un-aware of the history of slanders along those lines is also a lie—you can read pages 12-14 of The Israel Lobby for the most explicit discussion of this point if you like.