Israel Spat Divides Former New Republic Colleagues

(AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
At first blush, the squabble pitting former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan against the magazine's literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, rates as yet another of those desultory cat fights which occasionally spice up the publishing scene. But something more than a snub at the water fountain set off Wieseltier, who wrote a damning 4,200 word essay in the latest issue of the publication which concludes that Sullivan's recent writings regarding Jews and Israel qualify him either as a bigot or at the very least, "moronically insensitive." (Here's Sullivan's response.)

You wonder whether there is a history between these two going back to the time when Sullivan edited the magazine - in fact, he was the youngest person ever to edit the New Republic. Whatever the circumstances, Wieseltier seized on Sullivan's Jan. 13 blog post - among others - as evidence to support his charges. Sullivan wrote: "Most American Jews, of course, retain a respect for learning, compassion for the other, and support for minorities (Jews, for example, are the ethnic group most sympathetic to gay rights)...but the Goldfarb-Krauthammer wing–that celebrates and believes in government torture, endorses the pulverization of Gazans with glee, and wants to attack Iran–is something else. Something much darker."

Wieseltier, who has little sympathy either for Goldfarb, the former online editor of The Weekly Standard, or Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist, was perplexed by Sullivan's decision to hold both writers up as representing anything other than themselves.

"I was not aware that they comprise a "wing" of American Jewry, or that American Jewry has "wings," he wrote. "What sets them apart from their more enlightened brethren is the unacceptability of their politics to Sullivan. That is his criterion for dividing the American Jewish community into good Jews and bad Jews–a practice with a sordid history."

No doubt a bad choice of words by Sullivan, though it's difficult to use that to extrapolate baser motives. Charging someone with being an anti-Semite is the equivalent of fire in the hole. There will be an explosion and Wieseltier knows that this particular topic rouses particular passions. Especially when the charge gets mixed up with larger geo-political questions about the Middle East and U.S. backing for Israel.

The liberal-left, desires a more neutral U.S. position when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians while the conservative-right fears such a shift would be the prelude to increased regional instability. Wieseltier didn't need to wait long for the reaction. Playing their parts with kabuki-like predictability, the critics poured scorn on his essay which they said falsely conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. In Gawker, Alex Pareene ripped Wieseltier as a "first class B.S. artist." Think Progress's Matthew Yglesias called the essay a hit piece that "suffers deeply from schizophrenia," and M.J. Rosenberg in the Huffington Post dismissed Wieseltier's prose as "impenetrable."

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    Charles Cooper is an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet. E-mail Charlie.

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