I can virtually assure you that you will never read another positive word in this blog about Leon Wieseltier than what you’re about to read. Don’t get me wrong: Wieseltier is a very smart, very engaging, very literate and charming fellow. He has an inimitable prose style which upholds the finest tradition of the great literary stylists such as Edmund Wilson and Jacques Barzun. He’s simply a brilliant fellow.
But I can’t stand his politics. It’s liberal in the style of Michael Walzer, and hearkens back to other great Jewish literary liberals like Irving Howe. But in this day and age liberalism, when it comes to the Israeli-Arab conflict, is hopelessly adrift. If Wieseltier lived in Israel he’d be a former Meretz voter or perhaps he’d support Labor or even Kadima. He probably also quite likes Peace Now or did at one time before he was mugged by the reality of the first intifada. The problem is that Israeli liberalism is dead as a viable political movement. Wieseltier, when it comes to Israeli politics, represents an empty shell.
Part of my issue with his politics is that he writes for The New Republic, and though his are more sophisticated than Marty Peretz’s, he must be under the great ego’s spell. No doubt Marty feels quite magnanimous allowing a raging lib like Wieseltier to remain on his staff. So they seem to have this strange dialogue–one being somewhat of a humanist when it comes to Israeli politics and the other being a Neanderthal.
All the more surprising then, to discover, thanks to a reader, this partially wonderful piece from Wieseltier in which he explores the “self-hating Jew” meme in the guise of Bibi Netanyahu’s gibes directed at David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel for their alleged betrayal of Israel during White House policy deliberations. Though the analysis in this passage isn’t necessarily completely right, it is very suggestive nonetheless:
The accusation of ethnic infidelity is an old feature of the political culture of the Likud. The defenders of Greater Israel have values, but the critics of Greater Israel have motives. Perhaps the nether regions of the Israeli right will soon follow the nether regions of the American right, and alongside the birthers we will have the brissers: I mean, any man who opposes Jewish settlement in the West Bank must have a foreskin. It is important to understand that for the paranoid mentality that regards disagreement as betrayal, all of Emanuel’s Israeliness–his name, his Irgun father, his Hebrew, his service in an Israeli army program for civilians during the Gulf War–makes him more, not less, untrustworthy.
…Jewish self-hatred is another term for Jewish anti-Semitism, for the internalization of the standpoint of the enemy; and this is a genuinely grave charge. Jews who fling it about for political ends are desperate and disgraceful.
I took pleasure too in reading this passage attacking David Mamet’s impoverished view of Jewish identity. Here the TNR editor defends Axelrod from the charge of being a race traitor:
I am aware of no grounds for the suspicion that he has committed “race treason.” (I take that charming phrase, which sounds like it was translated from Treitschke, from David Mamet’s thuggish book The Wicked Son: Anti-Semitism, Self-Hatred, and the Jews. Mamet is another one of the Most Jewish Jews of All.)
Wieseltier also propounds some sharp-eyed analysis of Bibi Netanyahu’s political motives:
There is no reason for Israel not to stop the settlements, unless it intends to keep the territories. My own opinion is that this is Netanyahu’s intention, his Bar- Ilan oration notwithstanding. No, he does not plan to annex them. That would throw Israel’s relations with America into serious crisis. Netanyahu makes peace with Americans, not with Palestinians. His sudden conversion to the idea of a two-state solution is a peace process with the Americans, and nothing more…I see no evidence in Netanyahu of Begin-like or Rabin-like greatness. Politics will always keep him from history. His diplomatic strategy is to postpone diplomacy or to bog it down. He will prevaricate–proposing freezes, denying freezes–on behalf of the status quo, in which the time is never right for the recognition that the Jewish state may be destroyed not by a Palestinian state but by the failure to allow one to come into being. There is nothing visionary about this. A look at the fertility rates on the west side of the Jordan River tells the tale. The continued appeasement of the settlers, and the continued alienation of the Palestinians, and the continued cartographic distortion of the West Bank, are in no way good for Israel.
Interestingly, when it comes to discussing the situation among the Palestinians, all of Wieseltier’s wisdom and eloquence deserts him. He instead lapses into Goldbergian shallow thinking and despair. I’d hoped for more and better from Wieseltier. Instead his thinking is clear only as far as his analysis of Israeli politics. When it comes to understanding Palestinian politics or even what the Obama administration’s policies should be, the TNR writer fails utterly and completely.
Leaving aside the fact that Hillary Clinton, Aaron David Miller and others who were there deny an agreement existed, who’d have thought that a liberal such as Wieseltier would defend the notion that Barack Obama must honor alleged oral deals made between George Bush and Ariel Sharon? I’ve never understood why the pro-Israel crowd raises this as a supposedly legitimate claim. Even if it is true (which it isn’t), it’s utterly lame to expect that one administration must honor an improvised, unwritten agreement by a previous one.
Here is one especially lame passage in which Wieseltier somehow convinces himself that Obama’s Cairo speech convinced the Arabs that all they had to do was sit back and wait for the U.S. to force Israel to give them everything they want (seriously!):
Obama’s great opening to the Muslim world, a strange blend of realism and multiculturalism, seems so far only to have imbued the Muslim world with the sense that in the cause of reconciliation with Israel it need exert itself no more, because it has at last been understood. I am not one of those Jews who are maddened by American “pressure” on Israel, but I do not take kindly to it when it is accompanied by a bow to the Saudi king.
The notion that Barack Obama is paying obeisance to Saudi royalty comes right out of Mort Klein and Baruch Marzel’s playbook. It is shameful that an otherwise intelligent individual would stoop to such pandering. Not to mention the fact that Wieseltier conveniently neglects to acknowledge that the very same Saudi king he so despises is the one who put forward the most promising peace offer from the Arab states in decades, one which Israel itself, under the leadership of Ariel Sharon and then Ehud Olmert, dissed and dismissed. So much for not exerting oneself for peace. When Israel exerts itself half as much, then Wieseltier can talk. Till then, his analysis is simply shallow and Israel-serving.