The Ongoing Andrew Sullivan Saga

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on February 12, 2010

It occurs to me that given his reply to Leon Wieseltier, in which Andrew Sullivan accused Wieseltier of not coming out and saying definitively whether he believes that Sullivan is an anti-Semite, a similar critique may be made of me, given that I passed over the question myself, and instead posed questions to Sullivan that weren’t quite answered (whether that is because Sullivan did not see my post, or did see the post and decided not to answer the questions, I cannot say).

Whatever the case, after having thought about the issue somewhat, I believe that it is most fair to say that Sullivan is not an anti-Semite. But I reach this conclusion because I believe that Sullivan’s particular approach to the issues that prompted this entire discussion is best described not by Leon Wieseltier–though Wieseltier does far better than his detractors like to claim in outlining Sullivan’s approach to matters–but by Jeffrey Goldberg, who excerpts a particular missive to Sullivan that seems quite on point.

Goldberg weighs in with his own comments as well, which are very much worth noting:

. . . I agree with Andrew that he’s not anti-Semitic, as I’ve written. I also think that, for whatever reason, he doesn’t recognize the severity of his language on Israel and Jewish matters over the past year. For instance, he doesn’t seem to recognize the implications of his call for the U.S. to impose a military solution on Israel and have the American army forcibly dismantle settlements. In other words, he’s opposed to military action against Iran, but he’s for military action against Israel. Let me put it this way: This is not how a friend constructively criticizes Israel.

And again. The whole thing is worth reading, but I really want to highlight this part:

. . . One other thing: Andrew Sullivan doesn’t know that much about the Middle East. I know that sounds odd, given that he is a former editor of The New Republic, but there you have it. One of the many reasons I don’t engage his blog more frequently on matters relating to the Middle East is that he’s not very knowledgeable about the intricacies of the American-led peace process, or of internal Israeli politics, or internal Palestinian politics. This might be because these issues don’t interest him. The politics, contradictions and motivations of Netanyahu’s approach to Obama do not interest Andrew. Netanyahu’s apparently self-evident evilness is what interests Andrew. Extremists on both sides of the issue want the Middle East to be simple, but it’s not. The Middle East is a tragedy precisely because the Israelis have an excellent case, and the Arabs also have an excellent case. This essential fact has often escaped Andrew’s attention.

In short–and perhaps, amazingly enough–Andrew Sullivan lacks the necessary expertise and familiarity with pertinent issues to be genuinely, competently anti-Semitic. I don’t know when I’ve ever been grateful for another person’s lack of knowledge on a particular topic. I also don’t know what it says about Andrew Sullivan that such commentary could even be entertained by others.

That having been written, now that this contretemps has been made public, perhaps Sullivan ought to use words with more care and discretion. I am well aware of his tendency to shift with the political winds–the better to remain popular with as many readers as possible–but it doesn’t justify his unwillingness to use his inside voice to gauge how a particular piece of writing might go down with the public. I know that Sullivan attributes the nature of his prose to his possession of “Irish blood and a Catholic conscience,” but that’s really not much of an excuse, now is it? I mean, Sullivan has–however inadvertently–engaged in enough stereotypes. He really doesn’t need to add to the list.

(My thanks to the brilliant and lovely Academic Elephant for referring me to Goldberg via e-mail.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Richard-Braud/1411668359 Richard Braud

    There is nothing even remotely Catholic in Mr. Sullivans Rantings.

  • Fat_Man

    Those people who want to let Sullivan off on the charge of anti-Semitism, need to go read his entries about circumcision. I think his anti-Israel screeds derive from his fellings about his favorite body part.

    Sorry, no links, and I won't expose myself to his rants to find one.

    Sullivan is a loathsome creature. I stopped reading his output years ago, and I feel better about doing so everyday.

  • David Gillies

    Orwell said that to be a pacifist during WW2 was to be objectively pro-Nazi. To hold Israel to a standard that no other nation is held to is to be objectively anti-Semitic. We're always told that anti-Zionism is not the same thing as anti-Semitism. But unless you're up really close, they look extremely similar.

    It's moot, anyway. Sullivan has wandered so far off the trail that essentially none of his writing can be taken seriously. Even if he makes an apparently sensible comment, the degree of anti-Palin derangement he exhibits utterly vitiates it (and I don't mean to suggest that criticising Sarah Palin makes you a kook, merely that Sullivan's conspiracy-theory rantings make him a risible and foolish figure unworthy of serious consideration. It's like how the John Birch/Lew Rockwell camps make Ron Paul a fundamentally unserious character.)

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/UAEWO62HWI6YNOO4KZVJ6UMOCA Stephen

    I'm sorry, but I concluded long ago that the only reason Sullivan has a job with the Atlantic is that AIDS-related dementia is covered by ADA. Allowing his rants about Sarah Palin falls under “reasonable accommodation” with his disability.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    You know, one can criticize Andrew Sullivan without resorting to medical history cheap shots. Just saying. At the very least, consider that your comments may be insulting to people with AIDS who agree with your sociopolitical world views.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Seeing as how I am Jewish, I am alas, all to familiar with anti-Semites. Thanks.

  • dsanto

    Mr. Yousefzadeh -

    I am sorry for saying that you don't know enough to comment on anti-semites. That was not necessary. You did not respond to my comment though. Basically, I questioned your conclusion that Sullivan is not an anti-semite because he does not know enough to be an anti-semite. An incompetent anti-semite is still an anti-semite, even if his anti-semitic commentary is weak from ignorance. Also, correction to my first comment, second sentence, inset “not” after does.

    I am Jewish too, so what.

    Doug Santo
    Pasadena, CA

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    I found Sullivan's comments so weak from ignorance, that my most honest opinion was that his incompetence at commentary on Jews/Middle East issues/Israel outweighed anything that could be considered anti-Semitic. Others differ, I am sure, but Jeffrey Goldberg's analysis seemed right to me.

    I pointed out that I am Jewish to indicate that perhaps my life experiences give me some level of familiarity with anti-Semites, and anti-Semitic behavior.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    You know, one can criticize Andrew Sullivan without resorting to medical history cheap shots. Just saying. At the very least, consider that your comments may be insulting to people with AIDS who agree with your sociopolitical world views.

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    Seeing as how I am Jewish, I am alas, all to familiar with anti-Semites. Thanks.

  • dsanto

    Mr. Yousefzadeh -

    I am sorry for saying that you don't know enough to comment on anti-semites. That was not necessary. You did not respond to my comment though. Basically, I questioned your conclusion that Sullivan is not an anti-semite because he does not know enough to be an anti-semite. An incompetent anti-semite is still an anti-semite, even if his anti-semitic commentary is weak from ignorance. Also, correction to my first comment, second sentence, inset “not” after does.

    I am Jewish too, so what.

    Doug Santo
    Pasadena, CA

  • Pejman_Yousefzadeh

    I found Sullivan's comments so weak from ignorance, that my most honest opinion was that his incompetence at commentary on Jews/Middle East issues/Israel outweighed anything that could be considered anti-Semitic. Others differ, I am sure, but Jeffrey Goldberg's analysis seemed right to me.

    I pointed out that I am Jewish to indicate that perhaps my life experiences give me some level of familiarity with anti-Semites, and anti-Semitic behavior.

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