Internecine Jewish Dude Debating Points

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By Matt Zeitlin

Recently, a common move among the more dovish folks writing about Israel is to occasionally quote some of Leon Wieseltier’s fantastic essays that express a rather dovish view on Israel, or at least view that is starkly at odds with the “every nacht is Kristallnacht” crowd. Now, Jon Chait sees this as a way of implying that Wieseltier has changed his mind on the fundamentals of the conflict and as a slick debater’s point that’s part of an “ideologically-charged game of internet telephone.”

I obviously can’t speak for Peter Beinart or Andrew Sullivan, both of whom have done this recently and obviously have a slightly more charged and personal relationship to Wieseltier and his work, but the reason I posted a quote from Wieselteir’s 2002 essay was because I had only just read it recently (sorry, I was 12 when it came out) and thought it was quite good and that this blog’s readers would like it, not to show that Wieseltier or The New Republic has been inconsistent on Israel and win some silly point.

Another reason was that I think there’s a lot of talking past each other from the Chait/Wieseltier/Goldberg wing and the Yglesias/Beinart/Ackerman/Klein wing of the American Jewish punditocracy. Best I can tell, on matters of actual policy, they mostly agree with each other and stand opposed to the Israeli and American right on the issue. Much of the apparent disagreement seems to stem from different ways of viewing and describing the conflict (the threat from Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas; the legitimacy of Goldstone; varying accounts of moral goodness; how much we should “focus obsessively on the evils of the Israeli right” and so on). There’s also a perception among some people further to the left on matters related to Israel that the TNR/Goldberg are just Commentary style hawks on Israel, which isn’t true and I think Wieseltier’s pieces, especially the 2002 one, show that very well.