Andrew Sullivan is a decent guy. He is also, maybe, the world’s top blogger. I’ve read his blog a long time. That’s because, in part, he’s a decent guy. I’ve written critically of him before. That’s because, in part, he’s maybe the world’s top blogger. What do I mean by that? Sullivan’s The Daily Dish is one of the most widely read blogs in the English language. This year it won the 2008 weblog award as the web’s best blog. That’s a top blogger. That’s a lot of influence.

Sullivan was long sympathetic to Israel. It wasn’t a passion or a primary interest for him, as it is for me, anymore than gay rights are a primary interest or a passion for me, as the issue is for Sullivan, but I’m a very sympathetic supporter of gay rights, in every respect, including marriage, as it long seemed Sullivan was of Israel.

No more. The recent conflict in Gaza has soured him. Well, it has had many negative effects. Long-time critics, opponents, anti-Semites (notice that I’ve distinguished here, though there is overlap) have used it as the latest opportunity to distort history, circumstance, and the nature of the longer standing conflict. One needn’t belabor the obvious. Justified or not, Gaza was ugly and destructive, as war is, and it was lopsided, which makes condemnation easy. Except, of course, that missiles continue to be fired from Gaza into Israel, which can lead even the passionately sympathetic to consider the operation possibly ill-conceived, fruitless, and self-defeating. Even as, in consideration of the devastation in Gaza, one would liken the continuing missile fire to senseless bombing raids by the Japanese after Nagasaki or the remnants of the Luftwaffe by the post-Hitler Reich. Which didn’t happen, presumably because, finally, the remnant leadership of each of those two nations actually cared a little something for its people. (How’s that for turning the historical and symbolic regalia of World War II against one of the parties in this conflict?)

But this is a different kind of war, and that brings me back to Sullivan. By all evidence he is still generally sympathetic to Israel and its plight. It is just that post-Gaza he has, in his upset, picked up the bone of Likud (and worse) extremism partnered with NeoCon and Fifth Columned Israeli Lobbyism and begun to gnaw it like a new teether. He isn’t simply critical of Likud or settlement activity, as I have been for over thirty years, or of unsuitable military action in self-defense. He writes regularly now about the dangers of Israeli militancy, citing Mearsheimer and Walt, the “Israeli Lobby’s” influence over U.S. foreign policy, and the threat of conflict with Iran at the behest of Israel, as once more the Jews become the threat to everyone’s well-being.

Arguments against Israel are endlessly muddled. There are those who are specifically anti-Semitic. (Might we agree, for starters, that Hamas is?) There are those who will always argue the historical record of transgression and inciting offense, before the creation of Israel and since. Still others will criticize the “occupation,” even when there is none, and the settlements. Some claim to be anti-Zionist. Some claim to be anti-Zionist, but, through pretzel logic, not anti-Semitic. Others opposed the Israelis in Lebanon, or during the Intifadas, or in action against Hezbollah – Israel always, in its measures to cope with a now sixty-plus-year “long war” against nearly constantly implacable enemies, incapable, for some, of acting in defense of its citizens or existence in any kind of acceptable manner (remembering, too, that the combatant enemies have been not just the Palestinians, but once the Egyptians and Jordanians and Syrians, as well as Iraq and now – financier of terror and God’s sword declarant of destruction – Iran). Argue with an interlocutor over the beef and broccoli, in column A, of who instigated the second Intifada, or the egg foo young of what was proper avoidance of civilian casualties in Lebanon or Gaza, and you’re really, often, facing someone who fancies the chicken and cashews, from column B, of anti-Zionist opposition to the Israeli state to begin, or even – if you can wait that long – the Peking Duck of Jews having no historical claim to the land at all. There may be no issue over which people make their claims more disingenuously – for further example George Bisharat in an April 4 New York Times op-ed entitled “Israel on Trial.” (I’m just wondering, was Hamas ever in the dock? No need to answer.) Writes Bisharat, in his six point indictment, of the Israeli restrictions on trade and movement in Gaza – a territory governed by a party committed by its charter and devotions to the genocidal murder of Jews – that they are “an act of war in customary international law.” This is not to mention – I mean, really, Bisharat didn’t mention – the 7,500 rockets, fired from Gaza, that have hit the Israeli town of Siderot between 2001 and 2009.

This wouldn’t constitute, like, an act of war? I’m just sayin.

If you never have, try to catch one of the classic Abbott & Costello half-hours from the 1950s, one, for instance, where hapless schlamozzel Costello is brought to a rest home for his mental health and finds himself the only sane one in the vicinity. It nearly drives him crazy.

This is the atmosphere.

So, I argue, if you really are one of the good guys – not a hater, not an apologist, not a declaimer of colonial horrors somehow having found their most foul residence in – will the world never stop turning? – the Jews, or the propagator of belief in just one more civilization-threatening Jewish conspiratorial lobby – then you have to think about the hobbyhorses you ride, and how you saddle them. We have to be answerable for our passions and their consequences.

Measure Sullivan’s worry over Iran’s policies and influence these past three months against his worry over Israel and its policies and influence. Just yesterday he offered a seemingly innocuous post promoting liberal consideration of a dispute: whether Iran’s Ahmadinejad really threatened to “wipe” Israel “off the map.” One has to ask – and why is Sullivan opening up this question? Because Israel’s Netanyahu (by whom, these days, Sullivan is the wrong way rubbed, and not Ahmadinejad) referenced it. Sullivan, then, links his reader to a Wikipedia consideration of an accurate translation of the Farsi.

Sullivan is a Catholic, so he might appreciate the angels on the head of a pin caviling involved in the translation analysis. But at the very start of the Wikipedia account we get Juan Cole, Mideast scholar and no friend of Israel, offering the following translation of his own:

The Imam said that this regime occupying Jerusalem (een rezhim-e eshghalgar-e qods) must [vanish from] the page of time (bayad az safheh-ye ruzgar mahv shavad).

Lots of quibbling variants follow.

Imagine I declared, “I’ll see you dead.” Well, I didn’t say that I would do it myself. I didn’t say it would be this lifetime. You can’t attribute any kind of non-hypothetical agency to me. Here, let’s trace the etymology of “see”…

Why is Sullivan raising this matter? Now? These days? Amidst all of the calls for boycotts against Israel, the general tide of anti-Semitic vitriol on campuses and in teaching unions? What nation, faced all around with genocidal calls for its destruction, is going to take succor in the diminished threat that supposedly emerges from the imperative mood absent an active subject. Yes, I feel so much better.

Sullivan’s fellow Atlantic blogger Jeffrey Goldberg – whose interview with Netanyahu about the danger of Iran apparently rubbed against Sullivan’s sore and prompted the revisitation – offered in response a full nineteen quotations from Ahmadinejad between October 2005 and June 2008 making quite clear, for those whose ears are not fully attuned to the timber of genocidal threat, where exactly, as we say, Ahmad is coming from.

What was Sullivan’s reaction?

Reading them all, it becomes quite clear to me that Ahmadinejad does indeed want Israel to cease to exist, but equally clear that he is not speaking of dropping a nuke on it.

We must congratulate Sullivan’s late blooming perspicuity, and in view of its lateness wonder how he is so sanguine about nukes in light of “this regime is on its way to annihilation.” Would he be so confident were he the, let’s say, prime minister of Israel, with the weight of history and several million lives on him?

More, Sullivan feels compelled to this “yeah, but – so there”:

It is also worth noting that one foreign minister in the Middle East has actually explicitly and unequivocally proposed bombing another country – Israel’s.

Sullivan there refers to Avigdor Lieberman, whose present ascendance is indeed unfortunate. But strange things happen to a people at war for sixty years. Ask the Palestinians. If only Lieberman had merely predicted the annihilation of Egypt. Apparently that would have been far less threatening.

Sullivan’s blog has as its epigraph this quote from his hero George Orwell:

To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.

Maybe Sullivan should cast his eyes down a bit more. He has only been on this cracked course a few months. There is still time to see where he’s going.


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3 thoughts on “The Meaning of Insidious, or a Dog with a Bone

  1. I’m just sorry I’ve discovered it only now – have a lot of catching up to do! I read some of your other posts regarding Israel (which, incidentally, happens to be my main interest) and found your analysis of AI the best so far. I’ve scoured the net for thoughtful analysis of the modern left, but unfortunately, all too often all you get from the Zionist blogosphere is mostly verdicts of antisemitism instead of incisive examination. So many yell about the bias of HRW, and yet so few offer sound explanations why things are the way they are.

  2. I quite agree with you, about the atheism, too, so much of which is very slightly considered and reflexive.

    Regarding the Harris-Sullivan debate, Harris incisively exposed a very poor set of arguments. Sullivan was soundly defeated.

    Otherwise, glad to you have you aboard.

  3. A decent guy, but not immune from error. I think him being a proud Roman Catholic has much to do with this – a man who believes in the nonsensical dictums of the Vatican can’t be a serious thinker. He might get it right occasionally – as most of us do – but don’t expect intellectual consistency.

    I’ve just finished reading his exchange with Sam Harris and lost whatever little respect I had for the guy. Sam Harris is SO right in pointing out that when you are raised believing that blind faith is a virtue and your reasoning faculties are a test of that faith, then you are prone to believing anything, however proposterous.

    Unfortunately, many self-proclaimed atheists score even worse, but these are usually “bundle-atheists” whose atheism is not the result of a philosophical journey, but part of a political ideology that is just hostile to religion while having the same attributes, such as communism.

    BTW, just discovered this blog through Augean Stables (which is my favourite blog on the net), and I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of the analysis and intellectual rigour. Bravo
    Count me in!

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