‘Christopher Hitchens’s loathing for Israel…’ –John Podhoretz

Israel/Palestine
on 51 Comments
John Podhoretz
John Podhoretz

Like me, John Podhoretz lacks the ability to respond to Christopher Hitchens’s  passing (Chris I got loaded with you, in 89!) in any other terms than Israel:

Christopher’s loathing for Israel originated in his days as part of Britain’s neo-Marxist left and its post-1967 decision to treat the Jewish state as an imperialist power (where once it had been considered a great success in the battle against British imperialism). But when he turned from those views, he continued to express an alienation toward Israel even when he came to hold views about the civilizational threat of Islamic radicalism that were remarkably consistent with, say, Natan Sharansky’s. In the end, his feelings toward Israel calmed down but never underwent an evolutionary change, because his problem was not with the notion of a homeland for the dispossessed Jewish tribe so much as it was with the continued existence of the tribe itself—a tribe of which he was astonished to discover in midlife he was a member, on his mother’s side. That tribe survived on this earth through the millennia because of its fidelity to the laws not of man but of God. That fidelity, as I am sure he was honest enough with himself to understand, made his own formidable life possible.

Earlier today commenter Woody Tanaka wrote that it was disrespectful of Hitchens’s views on God to invoke God in his passing. So I don’t share Podhoretz’s condescension that only the Jews’ fidelity to God made Hitchens’s life possible. Put it away, John. It’s not the right moment. And yes, I file this piety under the same heading as his brother-in-law Elliott Abrams’s belief that Jews are a covenantal community, with God, and that’s why we’re not to intermarry or he will shun you.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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51 Responses

  1. kalithea
    December 16, 2011, 2:03 pm

    Aye-aye-aye and the obsessing over Hitchen’s continues…

  2. W.Jones
    December 16, 2011, 2:09 pm

    J. Podhoretz writes: “his problem was not with the notion of a homeland for the dispossessed Jewish tribe so much as it was with the continued existence of the tribe itself”.
    So in other words Hitchens had a problem with the continued existence of Jewish identity?
    That doesn’t seem like a worthwhile “problem” for someone to have. If gypsies, Basque people, Mayans, and Carpatho-Russians all have ethnic identities, how is having a Jewish ethnic identity some kind of problem?

    It is one thing for people who change their religion to say their ethnic identity is no better spiritually or morally than anyone else’s, but I disagree that the existence of the ethnicity itself is some kind of problem.

    • PeaceThroughJustice
      December 16, 2011, 6:49 pm

      There is no issue of ethnic identity here. Hitchens grew up not even knowing he was “jewish.” There was no Judaism in his household. No yiddish. Not even chicken soup or jokes about pushy mothers. His mid-life discovery was solely about his late grandmother’s bloodlines. His brother Peter, who shared the same upbringing, thinks the idea that this would make someone jewish is laughable. This is “jewishness” stripped of all religious or ethnic content, leaving behind, I’m afraid, just racism.

      • dahoit
        December 18, 2011, 12:56 pm

        Oh yeah,he was totally in the dark as to his heritage.Sure.
        In 88?when the Commies went belly up,his days as a Trotsky lover were numbered and he made a career switch to hating a religion that was an affront to his nihilistic worldview,a religion the adherents actually believe in,unlike our facsimiles today.
        He should have given up the butts and liquor instead.
        He reminded me of an American WF Buckely? Jr.another sonorous arrogant moron twit.

    • RoHa
      December 16, 2011, 10:15 pm

      “If gypsies, Basque people, Mayans, and Carpatho-Russians all have ethnic identities, how is having a Jewish ethnic identity some kind of problem?”

      It is the same type of problem as having Gypsy, Basque, Mayan, or Carpatho-Russian ethnic identity.

      Ethnic identity becomes a problem as soon as people start thinking it is important. When people allow “I am a Welsh” to dictate their lives, so that they feel they should eat cheese, or speak Welsh, or enjoy eisteddfodau, they are giving up their freedom to the ethnic identity. The identity becomes a problem.

      As soon as they allow that ethnic identity to affect their morality, ethnic identity becomes problem.

      The best way to avoid ethnic identity becoming a problem is to forget about it.

  3. W.Jones
    December 16, 2011, 2:12 pm

    “a tribe of which he was astonished to discover in midlife he was a member, on his mother’s side.”

    Probably tons of Europeans have some Jewish ancestry. Palestinians even more. This shouldn’t be a reason to be astonished. People should be treated the same and treat others with the same kindness regardless of ethnicity. Finding out you have one ethnicity or another shouldn’t change your own morality.

  4. Kathleen
    December 16, 2011, 2:27 pm

    “And yes, I file this piety under the same heading as his brother-in-law Elliott Abrams’s belief that Jews are a covenantal community, with God, and that’s why we’re not to intermarry or he will shun you.”

    And Jews were the creator of the covenant and the creator of the god they make they covenant with. aye yi yi

  5. eGuard
    December 16, 2011, 2:30 pm

    Today I read a much better comment re god: Now he knows. On his inherited unchosen jewishness: reap, you bloggers! He wrote that Kissinger is a war criminal, and that Mother Theresa was a scam. Now what?

    • Woody Tanaka
      December 16, 2011, 3:18 pm

      “Today I read a much better comment re god: Now he knows.”

      Not a very good comment, because it assumes that he can “know” anything now. He has no consciousness or anything remotely like a personal identity, anymore, as such things are products of a functioning brain and his has ceased functioning forever. It is absurd, in fact, to speak of “him” in the present tense. He was. He no longer is.

      • W.Jones
        December 16, 2011, 3:59 pm

        However, the past still exists, so he is still existing in the past.

      • eGuard
        December 16, 2011, 4:53 pm

        Yes, we all know. The commenter, and I, saw the joke.

        • Woody Tanaka
          December 16, 2011, 5:06 pm

          “the joke.”

          Is that what it was supposed to be? I thought that jokes were, by definition, funny??

    • dahoit
      December 18, 2011, 1:02 pm

      Yeah,whats up with the Mother Teresa hit.I read where Glenn Greenwald said it was appropriate, his attack on her.What crime was she a part of,being Catholic?

      • Donald
        December 18, 2011, 1:11 pm

        The claim is that she opposed expensive medical treatment for the poor and used it for herself, consorted with dictators and other unsavory types, etc…. I was never interested enough to sort it all out, so don’t know if she was a saint or a Catholic female Elmer Gantry or something in-between.

  6. dumvitaestspesest
    December 16, 2011, 2:43 pm

    So many crimes were made “In The name of God”.
    So many times God was used as a cover up for hienous crimes over the decades of centuries. By the people, who supposedly love God or hate him.

    “God ,God, God. G-d loves me, not you.
    WE are the chosen ones ,and He loves us more. We have a very special “covenantal community” with G-d ,which gives us a very special right to abuse and kill others.
    G-d is on our side, not yours . G-d gives us immunity to do whatever we want.
    We are very special ones. ”
    Ay , can it get worse than that??

  7. Justice Please
    December 16, 2011, 2:44 pm

    “his problem was not with the notion of a homeland for the dispossessed Jewish tribe so much as it was with the continued existence of the tribe itself”

    wtf

  8. DICKERSON3870
    December 16, 2011, 2:52 pm

    RE: “That tribe survived on this earth through the millennia because of its fidelity to the laws not of man but of God.” ~ John Podhoretz

    MY COMMENT: Where’s the proof for this? I would love to hear a fairly rational/logical argument for this claim.
    One could just as easily spout nonsense like: “That tribe survived on this earth through the millennia DESPITE its fidelity to the laws not of man but of God.”

  9. Dan Crowther
    December 16, 2011, 3:03 pm

    Hitchens would definitely say, “my name is Christopher” to you, Phil

  10. Woody Tanaka
    December 16, 2011, 3:21 pm

    “Earlier today commenter Woody Tanaka wrote that it was disrespectful of Hitchens’s views on God to invoke God in his passing.”

    Thanks for noting it, Phil.

  11. Krauss
    December 16, 2011, 3:37 pm

    In my mind, he was a brilliant man who in the end was a nothing else than a glorified Court Contrarian.
    He was at timesbrave, but only within permissible limits.

    When he was young, being a marxist was the norm, not the mark of an outsider. So he was a marxist. As he matured, and found his Jewishness, like so many Jewish marxists before him he started travelling into the neocon direction as that too began to become mainstream and acceptable.

    He was, in the end, against Zionism but as time went on it was more of a posture that he kept up for consitency than any real alarm. He rarely spoke about the Palestinians.

    He hailed ultra-islamophobic writers as Mark Steyn as ‘tough-minded’. A man who warns of the immediate return of the Caliphate.

    He was against the Walt/Mearsheimer book, which again undermines his credibility of a supposed ‘anti-Zionist’, he attacked Julian Assange on the simple basis that Assange isn’t liked by the Establishment elites. And Hitchens, if he truly had to make a choice on which side he was on, never doubted. That’s why he attacked people like Clinton when he was nearing his term. Or targets who could never defend themselves, like mother theresa(!).

    Can you imagine him attacking people like Sheldon Adelson?

    He was a mainstream guy who took on contrarian positions for effect. But in the end, he was just pleasing the Court.

    I will always view Norman Finkelstein as a much more forceful intellectual. It’s not enough to have the brainpower, as Hitchens without doubt had, you have to have the moral conviction to speak truth to power; you have to have courage and venture where few others dare to go.

    Hitchens was never interested in that and as he got older, he got grumpier and attacked just about anyone who was in the least bit challenging the status quo.
    His support for the Iraq War follows this same pattern.

    • MHughes976
      December 16, 2011, 5:31 pm

      That was a deeply perceptive comment both about Hitchens and about western society!

      • Citizen
        December 16, 2011, 9:56 pm

        Yes, it was. Krauss, yes, that is the Christopher I recognized too. He may have been channeling Atzmonesque thought re universalism versus tribalism, choseness. That seems to me to be what he expressed.

        • MHughes976
          December 19, 2011, 1:11 pm

          The weekend British obituaries have left me with the impression that ’9/11 changed him’. He must have been in a difficult position at that point. As someone who had been close to Edward Said and written strongly in the Palestinian cause he could have said ‘You should have listened to me years ago. Letting the Palestinians be persecuted was bound to bring bad things back to us’ – he would then have ceased instantly to be taken seriously. Instead he became one of the – or the? – most articulate and effective spokesman for the Iraq War, perhaps thinking that someone who still had some pro-Palestinians sympathies should remain within the system.

    • RoHa
      December 16, 2011, 10:18 pm

      “Or targets who could never defend themselves, like mother theresa(!).”

      That evil old fraud had plenty of people who would defend her. Many of them still do.

      • eljay
        December 16, 2011, 11:41 pm

        >> As he matured, and found his Jewishness, like so many Jewish marxists before him he started travelling into the neocon direction as that too began to become mainstream and acceptable.

        Hmmm…those do not sound like the actions of someone who matured. ;-)

    • irishmoses
      December 17, 2011, 7:16 pm

      +10. Spot on, at least as to middle east issues.

      He did have some causes that he supported bravely like the plight of the Kurds. He was also physically courageous. Hitch 22 is a great read except for the neocon bits.

      I think his big mistake was in moving to the states. It seemed to have made him complacent and more accepting of our politics and leaders. I suspect his failure to really jump into the I-P issue (which he certainly saw and would have been brilliant on) was due to fear of intellectual and publishing isolation.

      Too bad. Brilliant and fascinating guy. Despite his faults, I’ll miss him. I suspect God will find him troublesome, always quarreling with the angels, claiming Saint Peter is a fraud, wanting God to stand for elections, questioning the paternity of Jesus… typical Hitch stuff.

  12. stevieb
    December 16, 2011, 5:20 pm

    It’s not very often – well maybe it is – that I’ve seen so much rubbish packed into one paragraph. Well done, Podhoretz..

  13. MHughes976
    December 16, 2011, 5:37 pm

    I wonder how Podhoretz interprets the frequent insistence of Scripture that the Israelites were often unfaithful. God restores them only because of His greater purposes.

  14. Brewer
    December 16, 2011, 7:17 pm

    I found Hitch to be inconsistent and rather muddled in his commentary on Israel but gave him full marks for his essay “Wiesel words” which begins:

    “Is there a more contemptible poseur and windbag than Elie Wiesel?”
    link to thenation.com

    I thought it rather brave at the time. In it he references Israel Shamir’s “The Rape of Dulcinea” which is both funny and a superb example of subtle, gentle parody that nevertheless leaves its target skewered with his own petard. Those who haven’t read it have missed a treat:

    link to mafhoum.com

    • Citizen
      December 16, 2011, 9:57 pm

      Thanks, Brewer, for sharing. I will read it.

    • kapok
      December 17, 2011, 6:45 pm

      I love I Shamir’s stuff. He looks deep and writes well with verve and compassion. If his star stops rising I will be very disappointed.

  15. RoHa
    December 16, 2011, 9:54 pm

    “I don’t share Podhoretz’s condescension that only the Jews’ fidelity to God made Hitchens’s life possible.”

    I don’t even understand how that is supposed to work.

    • Citizen
      December 16, 2011, 10:02 pm

      RoHa: Translation of Podhoretz: “Only because of Hitchen’s Jewish blood line, especially since it was his mother who was Jewish, did he literally exist and with such formidable talent. And so too the Jewish nation, the blood tribe extraordinary.”

      • RoHa
        December 16, 2011, 10:38 pm

        Ah, yes. I forgot that only Jews have talent, as a result of their fidelity to God. Thanks.

        • piotr
          December 17, 2011, 10:10 pm

          Authorities differ here. I read that Jews SHOULD be faithful to commandments associated with the Covenant, but it is not strictly necessary, while G.d has to uphold His side of the Covenant. So even though Hitchen’s mother obviously married outside the tribe, and that sin quite possibly was committed even earlier (what about the grandmother?), the Covenant’s blessing still extended to Hitch (“and your children shall outshine all other at scholarly endeavors”).

          OTOH, with full fidelity of his forebears, the actual DNA mix of Christopher Hitchens would never exist, so more correct remark would be “Christopher Hitchens, who owed his existence to the fidelity of some and infidelity of others”. In other words, a mortal.

  16. Richard Witty
    December 16, 2011, 10:02 pm

    Phil,
    When you say that you got loaded with Hitchens, was that drinking or something else?

    Or, was that Podhoretz who got loaded with Hitchens?

    • libra
      December 17, 2011, 9:00 am

      Richard, are you implying that Hitchens was little more than an English drunkard washed up on American shores who shouldn’t be taken too seriously?

      Or are you suggesting that Hitchen’s (though surely not Phil’s?) undoubted writing talent was directly proportional to his prodigious intake of alcohol?

      As for Podhoretz, the only thing he’s loaded on is Zionism and that, as we both know, leads to very poor writing indeed.

      • Richard Witty
        December 17, 2011, 11:19 pm

        I’m asking if Phil and Hitchens drank or smoked.

        Hitchens to his death appreciated the “lubricating” influence of alchohol. I’m sure it hurt him physically and probably contributed to periodic sloppy but enthused expression, rather than clear, calm, concise and enthused.

  17. Duscany
    December 16, 2011, 11:43 pm

    When Podhoretz gets up in the morning the first thing he does is put on his Israel-tinted glasses. For the rest of the day then, he only sees things that are good (or bad) for Israel. Nothing else really much matters.

  18. NorthOfFortyNine
    December 17, 2011, 2:51 am

    I am surprised no one has quoted Alexander Cockburn’s take on Hitchen’s passing. It is devastating. And, I presume, few would have known Hitchen’s like Cockburn. Phil would know more. Why no inside baseball here?

    Anyway, money quote:

    He courted the label “contrarian”, but if the word is to have any muscle, it surely must imply the expression of dangerous opinions. Hitchens never wrote anything truly discommoding to respectable opinion and if he had he would never have enjoyed so long a billet at Vanity Fair. Attacking God? The big battles on that issue were fought one, two, even five hundred years ago when they burned Giordano Bruno at the stake in the Campo de’ Fiore. A contrarian these days would be someone who staunchly argued for the existence of a Supreme Being. He was for America’s wars. I thought he was relatively solid on Israel/Palestine, but there too he trimmed. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency put out a friendly obit, noting that “despite his rejection of religious precepts, Hitchens would make a point of telling interviewers that according to halacha, he was Jewish” and noting his suggestion that Walt and Mearsheimer might be anti-Semitic, also his sliming of a boatload of pro-Palestinian activists aiming to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip. (His brother Peter and other researchers used to say that in terms of blood lineage, the Hitchens boys’ Jewishness was pretty slim and fell far outside the definitions of the Nuremberg laws. I always liked Noam Chomsky’s crack to me when Christopher announced in Grand Street that he was a Jew: “From anti-Semite to self-hating Jew, all in one day.”)

    link to counterpunch.org

    • Brewer
      December 17, 2011, 4:17 pm

      In my humble opinion, Alexander Cockburn gets it just about right.
      Hitchens’ muse – who probably appeared to him through a glass (of Chivas) darkly – was not a Goddess but a lady of easy virtue.

      I find it intriguing that I had never heard of Hitchens, despite being an avid reader of geopolitical commentary, until the Internet came along and, with it, on-line American newspapers and magazines. He was not well known down here in the Antipodes and not taken seriously in Britain so far as I can tell.
      I suspect much of his allure was the effect of his “Britishness” on the American reader rather than the substance of his commentary which I found lacking in consistency and logic. His concept of Islam (Jihad) for example, was (like that of ignorant polemicists such as David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes) based on distorted images and interpretations of events published in the popular press, not scholarly analysis of the background to and drivers of those events.

    • dumvitaestspesest
      December 17, 2011, 6:00 pm

      “A contrarian these days would be someone who staunchly argued for the existence of a Supreme Being”
      What a great and true sentence.:))

      • piotr
        December 19, 2011, 2:16 pm

        Except it is wrong.

        It starts from mis-characterization of the heresy of Giordano Bruno. Bruno believed that physical and divine power are residing in the same spot: the Sun. So we revolve around the Sun. That was not the end of it, however. He postulated that stars are nothing else but very distant Suns, each with its own God. So WE have only one God, but the Universe has many.

        So the true import of Giordano Bruno is that if we accept that a Supreme Being exists, we still have more possibilities that we can count, as there can be as many Gods and corrrect theologies as there are stars. All too often deists propose a dichotomy: no God or a God whose divine plan is explained best by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, or by the current Pope, or … (deists typically offer but one authority to accept).

  19. eGuard
    December 17, 2011, 7:30 am

    Toronto, November 26, 2010. Tony Blair allows Hitchins to “debate” on religion. Blair laughes his way through, because he knows: this is just a reward for Hitchins’ supporting the Iraq war. link to youtube.com

  20. seafoid
    December 17, 2011, 7:45 am

    How can anyone love this Israel ?

    /www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/dec/16/palestinian-wife-forced-jerusalem-cancer-envoy-claims

    Israeli authorities made the wife of the Palestinian ambassador in London interrupt a course of chemotherapy in order to return to Jerusalem or risk losing her residency rights, a trip that hastened her death from cancer, her family claim.

    Samira Hassassian was infected by a virus on her plane journey back to London in May and died three months later, aged 57. Her husband, Manuel Hassassian, the Palestinian envoy to the UK since 2005, said the Israeli government had extended her Jerusalem identity papers in 2010 for a year after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2009, but refused to grant a second extension this year, although the disease had by then metastasised to her bones and she was several weeks into intensive chemotherapy.

  21. traintosiberia
    December 17, 2011, 3:05 pm

    because his problem was not with the notion of a homeland for the dispossessed Jewish tribe so much as it was with the continued existence of the tribe itself—Podhoretz

    Any link to any of Hitchen’s article /speech to back it up?
    He was a cheap war-monger , a typical Greek Sophist ( whom Socrates tried in his days)who took cheap shot at religious communities in general and made whatever arguments he had to , to be accepted by the elite .

  22. traintosiberia
    December 17, 2011, 3:07 pm

    whom Socrates tried in his days
    to debunk and destroy without much succeess.

  23. American
    December 17, 2011, 5:44 pm

    “That tribe survived on this earth through the millennia because of its fidelity to the laws not of man but of God”

    What a nutcase.

  24. MRW
    December 18, 2011, 9:51 am

    Hitchens was George W. Bush’s cheerleader. Make no mistake about that.
    link to gawker.com
    link to citypages.com

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