There are two bloggers I’ve been reading for years: Andrew Sullivan (at least since about 2002) and Jeffrey Goldberg (for the last couple of years). I respect them both, even if I don’t agree with them all the time. Their recent spat has been a source of consternation for me, especially since it concerns a matter that almost always provokes more conflict, even among people who essentially agree on motives and high-level strategies, than harmony.
First, about Andrew Sullivan. The fact that Andrew’s a self-styled conservative, or gay, or even Catholic has little to do with his views on Israel. The fact that he’s British does. The style of criticism that he levels towards Israel is rather classically British. Despite living here for decades, Andrew’s view of the world is still very much shaped by his country of origin. Like most Brits suffering from post-colonial guilt, he’s generally preoccupied with former British colonies, in particular Israel and Iran. Why? That Israel and Iran are problems created by the British and that evade resolution is a common refrain. Most Brits I know with a sensitivity towards their colonialist past wish the Israel/Palestine problem would go away, and that Iran would act like a normal country. It’s usually expressed with impatient exasperation.
So Andrew does not hate Jews, but if he’s anything like the many Brits I have talked to about this subject, he believes the (Israeli) Jews have had it too good for too long, and that they need to stop being coddled and “get on with it.” Unsurprisingly, it tends to sound like the way an indignant parent scolds an insolent child. It should also come as no surprise that several other things that Andrew gets exercised about – American hyperreligiosity, our different taste in music, our different definition of what it means to be a conservative – are exactly those things that the English tend to whin(g)e about generally when it comes to the U.S.
So now about Jeffrey. He’s Jewish; so am I. Jews are used to hearing and expressing different opinions, even about Israel, something that’s dear to the hearts of just about every one of us (Why wouldn’t it be? Half of our fellow Jews live there). We are used to listening to, processing, agreeing with or debating others’ opinions. What we always have trouble with are double standards. Personally, I don’t have a problem with Jews holding Jews to a higher standard; part of being Jewish is holding ourselves to a higher standard (it’s part of the Covenant; we have to fulfill 606 additional commandments to be considered as righteous as a Gentile). But it always, always triggers something in us when non-Jews expect Jews to fulfill a higher standard than they hold to others, in this case, the Palestinians or Iranians. Whether it’s the reality or not, it also smells a bit of anti-Semitism, even when we consciously tell ourselves the motivation is different. The story of Abbott Lawrence Lowell, Harvard President in the 1920s, trying to impose a quota on Jewish admissions, helps illustrate the mindset. Lowell said that a quota was important because Jews cheat. When someone pointed out that Christians cheat, too, Lowell retorted, don’t change the subject, we’re talking about Jews.
Compound this with the fact that Israel’s existence is constantly being questioned, not only by Islamic regimes committed to its destruction, but others in the West, and it puts Jews a bit on edge. The fact that there is no popular movement in Israel to eat up all of Palestinian territory, while a regime committed to Israel’s destruction was popularly voted in after Israel withdrew from Arab territory, suggests that Israel should not face more condemnation than the Palestinians for deep-sixing the peace process.
Jeffrey always has to straddle the tension between right-wing and left-wing Israelis in order to land the interviews with high-ranking officials that he always manages to get. If he’s solidly in one camp or the other, he’ll lose clout.
That said, I don’t think Sullivan’s double standards, and that’s exactly what they are, are motivated by anti-Semitism. It’s just the paternalistic, peevish British attitude towards their former colonies that they feel are out of line. Americans get it, too.
And, as much as Sullivan seems to think Goldberg is falling into the AIPAC/right-wing gambit of accusing all opponents of being self-hating Jews or anti-Semites, Jeffrey really hasn’t done that. Maybe calling Andrew a scapegoat of Jews wasn’t the best choice of words, although I understand that’s what holding Israel to a higher standard invokes. Even Goldberg’s disagreement with Peter Beinart’s call for “Zionist BDS” against West Bank settlement goods was reasoned and calm. He didn’t accuse Peter of being a self-hating Jew, he didn’t try to silence him, and, in fact, probably brought Zion Square a bit of publicity (which is a good thing; Beinart’s views deserve a fair hearing). Saying you disagree with someone and that an idea they’re proposing is a bad one is not akin to silencing them.
So I plan on continuing to read both Goldberg and Sullivan, and hope they can manage to kiss and make up.