Sunday, February 14th, 2010 http://adamkhan.net/parries/walter-russell-mead-steps-gingerly-into-the-wieseltiersullivan-imbroglio
ince discovering Walter Russell Mead’s blog at The American Interest, his “Antisemitism Saturday” post is the first I’ve found where he’s not crystal clear. It’s about Leon Wieseltier’s “Andrew Sullivan Has a Serious Problem”, Sullivan’s retort, “Something Much Sadder”, and Wieseltier’s consequent “The Trouble with South Park”. WRM hedges between the two ex-friends. On one hand, he writes that on accusing someone of anti-Semitism, “I think Mr. Wieseltier is now discovering, you will almost surely lose.” On the other, he concludes, “I’d rather live in a society in which antisemites are forced to be disingenuous hypocrites…” — presumably referring to Sullivan?
So who does WRM think is right, Leon or Andrew? Is WRM’s muddiness due (a) to his flagging under the amazing pace of his recent output on his blog? Or (b) to some circumspection among his peers? I think it’s the latter, because he flirts with defining anti-Semitism but then backs away, whereas if he took the step of defining it he may have concluded that Wieseltier is correct.
In the 3rd paragraph from the end, WRM asks: “What’s the dividing line between thinking that Jews are powerful in Hollywood (duh), and that the Jews of Hollywood exercise some kind of excessive control over world politics from their citadels in Brentwood?” The dividing line is anti-Semitism. Yes, there is a disproportionate number of Jews there, but they are not conspiring to mind-control of a hapless public. That thought is textbook anti-Semitism.
Then a parallel pair of questions: “Is it antisemitic to hold Israel to a higher moral standard than its neighbors and adversaries?” WRM asks. No, Israel is a democratic liberal state and its enemies are dictatorships and borderline failed states, so of course it should be held to a higher standard. Not to mention that the good guys need to be the good guys, else they stop being the good guys. “Is excessive and disproportionate indignation about Israeli actions evidence of antisemitic attitudes?” Yes, it is; fixation and obsession is not quite a belief in conspiracy, but close enough for me: the pair of questions are parallel, the dividing line is anti-Semitism, and it is in this excessive and disproportionate indignation that Sullivan traffics.
To be fair, Andrew Sullivan also exercises plenty of other popular obsessions and indignations, so rather than accusing him of being an anti-Semite, it seems more accurate, though perhaps less dignifying for his former mentor Wieseltier, to just call him a crank.
Perhaps more interestingly, WRM also asks the main Jewish question in Europe: “Are you an antisemite if you think that the Jews have no right to a ‘national home’ in the Middle East or anywhere else?” That is, have we Europeans, in our guilt, enabled Jews to become powerful new racists in the Middle East, spoiling our dream for a post-racial world? (Never mind fiercely ethnic-based states such as Japan.) And he asks the main Jewish question in America: “Is it antisemitic to wish that Jewish songwriters would ‘leave Christmas alone’ and stop writing secular lyrics for seasonal Christmas songs?” That is, have we, in our tolerance, enabled Jews to become powerful new bigots in the culture wars, spoiling our dream for a liberal cosmopolitan society anchored and spiritualized by Christianity? (Never mind that the secularization of Christmas is a far wider phenomenon.) I’ll revisit these in later Parries, suffice to say for now that I think even considering these as questions demonstrates an anti-Semitic bent. Not that there’s anything too much wrong with that, no more than any other cranky impotent political beliefs at any rate.
Also, I think I need to ponder more on whether obsessing about Israeli actions really is on a par with believing Jews form a conspiracy, that is, whether WRM’s two pairs of questions on Jews in Hollywood and Israel in the Middle East really are parallel. I suspect so, but can’t yet place my finger on why.