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Gutless Leon Wieseltier

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Wieseltier
Wieseltier

Yesterday we linked a  Tablet piece about Peter Beinart’s new book (the importance to the author of a heartbreaking video of water confiscation outside Hebron). Well, Tablet’s Allison Hoffman had two “personal” quotes in the story that leapt out at me. The first one is getting passed around. It’s a bit of spitefulness from Marty Peretz, who continues to incinerate whatever reputation he once had for leadership. My god, you’d think that he would have a feeling of achievement in his 70s– not to be raking a young idealist with his claws.

“It’s a narcissistic book, and the narcissism of privileged and haughty people is never particularly attractive,” Martin Peretz, the former owner of the New Republic and Beinart’s earliest patron, told me. “I always knew he was a very vain man, but a lot of us are vain, and if you had his mother, or if I had his mother, I’d be even more vain than I am.” Peretz put on a mocking falsetto—“this is the most brilliant boy, he’s so smart, he’s so touching”—before going on: “It’s a Jewish mother situation. You can use that—even if it makes me sound a little bitchy.”

(I look forward to a real piece about Jewish princes. Yes it’s a real syndrome–like a lot of other cultures’ princes). 

Then there’s this personal quote from another former New Republic colleague:

“I have no problem with a boycott of the settlers—I’ve been conducting a personal boycott of their products for decades,” said [New Republic literary editor Leon] Wieseltier.

I don’t think I’ve seen a more disgraceful statement all week. Wieseltier is a leading outspoken Zionist. I caught him at AIPAC four years ago saying Zionism is a beautiful thing to him, and the Jewishness of Israel must be maintained, with this minor stipulation: Israel has a “historical and moral responsibility… not to do anything to foreclose the possibility” of a two-state solution.

Now we know what Wieseltier means by that necessity. He means that he was “personally” boycotting goods from the settlements. When you are an outspoken public figure, what does a “personal” position on a central issue mean? It means you won’t take a public stand, ala Beinart. So that historical and moral responsibility Wieseltier is putting on Israel is not one he’s taking himself, in his D.C. armchair. Why, here he is at UCLA last year saying intellectuals must do everything possible to preserve the future of the two state solution. Well not everything, actually– not the main thing they have in their power: opening their own mouths.

Why did Wieseltier censor himself? Out of Jewish solidarity–out of the larger responsibility he felt to preserve the unified stance of Jewish people when dealing with the goyim. It is this misguided, irresponsible, and xenophobic thinking that Beinart was motivated by as much as anything in writing the 2010 attack on the failure of the American Jewish leadership that led to his book. The Jewish leaders’ imperative to stick together as a monolith overcame all sense of moral responsibility.

How do I know this is what motivates Wieseltier? Back in 2008, Jeffrey Goldberg took a stand against settlements in the New York Times, a position he has backed away from ever since.

And the best way to bring about the birth of a Palestinian state is to reverse — not merely halt, but reverse — the West Bank settlement project.

But Goldberg’s thrust in that piece was very similar to Beinart’s in his piece two years later: he was criticizing the American Jewish leadership for its rigid stance in favor of the settlements.

The people of Aipac and the Conference of Presidents are well meaning, and their work in strengthening the overall relationship between America and Israel has ensured them a place in the world to come. But what’s needed now is a radical rethinking of what it means to be pro-Israel.

Chastising AIPAC? At the time, the big fight in the Jewish community was to defeat the awful Walt and Mearsheimer, who had published the truth about the lobby a few months before. Goldberg was out of line. Wieseltier wrote in the New Republic in an obvious reference to that piece:

“A few days ago a friend of mine published a miserable piece on a matter about which I care deeply, and I am of a mind to be withering about it.”

And now we learn that when it comes to Goldberg’s main policy point in that piece, Wieseltier agreed. He has been boycotting the settlements, personally, all that time. But maintaining a unified position about the Israel lobby and its workings came first for Wieseltier.

Beinart halfway explained this process two years ago: He said that he didn’t write critically about Israel for years because he deferred to friends. Now we know who those friends are. Or were.

P.S. Three years ago at a J Street conference, I said to a liberal Zionist, I was just at a bar mitzvah at which they served wines from the West Bank. What would you do? I wouldn’t drink that wine, the liberal Zionist said. Yet he would never say so publicly. So Wieseltier’s hypocrisy is widely-shared.

About Philip Weiss

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

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10 Responses

  1. seanmcbride
    March 23, 2012, 10:53 am

    Isn’t this a classical antisemitic trope?

    “It’s a narcissistic book, and the narcissism of privileged and haughty people is never particularly attractive,” Martin Peretz, the former owner of the New Republic and Beinart’s earliest patron, told me. “I always knew he was a very vain man, but a lot of us are vain, and if you had his mother, or if I had his mother, I’d be even more vain than I am.” Peretz put on a mocking falsetto—“this is the most brilliant boy, he’s so smart, he’s so touching”—before going on: “It’s a Jewish mother situation. You can use that—even if it makes me sound a little bitchy.”

    And doesn’t it sound like Martin Peretz is succumbing to psychological projection to a degree that is embarrassing?

    Two interesting facts about Leon Wieseltier: 1. He was once a Kahanist (a member of the JDL, as I recall). 2. He was a supporter of the Libby Legal Defense Trust — a neocon outfit to be sure (and yet another front group for the Israel lobby). Wieseltier’s fellow members of that group included Martin Peretz, Dennis Ross, James Woolsey, Mel Sembler, Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami.

    Sometimes Wieseltier says some of the right things about Mideast politics from a progressive standpoint, but the bottom line is that his personality is as much ruled by obsessive and xenophobic ethnocentrism and ethnic nationalism as that of Martin Peretz, Jeffrey Goldberg or Richard Perle.

    Wieseltier, Jeffrey Goldberg and Lee Smith have all gone ballistic over Andrew Sullivan daring to challenge some policies of the Israeli government and the Israel lobby. Many people have been taken aback by the ferocity of the malice they have directed at Sullivan, who has been a long-time warm supporter of Israel.

    • LeaNder
      March 23, 2012, 7:34 pm

      The narcism hype is much too late to make it a classic, privileged or haughty I’m afraid doesn’t make it either, if I may croak or ribbit in here. (Now I am envious again, we would only have one word for that.) Also this may allude to a specific Jewish mother, but mothers don’t need to be Jewish to show this kind of creation pride. Which leaves us with the question, is it simply slightly misogynic, and if it happened at all, did Peretz do his very best to lure the statement out of her?

  2. DICKERSON3870
    March 23, 2012, 10:56 am

    RE: “You can use that—even if it makes me sound a little bitchy.” ~ Peretz

    MY SNARK: Trust me Marty, sounding “a little bitchy” is the least of your problems! Sounding like the hypocritical demagogue you are is an entirely different matter.

    P.S. How’s your IDF beau, Marty?

  3. Pamela Olson
    March 23, 2012, 10:56 am

    The old guard American Zionists are getting sloppy in their defensive anger mixed with out-of-touch arrogance that comes from decades of privilege and deference. The world they created is crumbling, (too) slowly but surely.

  4. Steve Macklevore
    March 23, 2012, 11:38 am

    Phil, you’re much too kind to Wieseltier in this piece. Personally I believe he made up the personal settlement boycott on the spot. The truth of the matter is that he hasn’t boycotted anyone or anything.

    Proof? Simply the man’s over-weaning arrogance and self absorption. There is no way he could have carried out any political act in secret for years and not told everyone about it.

  5. Mooser
    March 23, 2012, 2:09 pm

    “I look forward to a real piece about Jewish princes.”

    Darn, not for me. Wish I could help you out, Phil. But anytime you want something on Jewish frogs, given me a croak. I’ll ribbet something together.

  6. G. Seauton
    March 24, 2012, 3:48 am

    Phil, could you stop using “goyim,” or at least put it in quotes? It sounds to me as “kike” would to you. Seriously. You can justify it all you want, but it is pejorative.

    • Scott
      March 24, 2012, 9:35 am

      you’ve got to learn to embrace it the way other out groups have learned to use the language in an ironic way, i.e “queer”

  7. Theo
    March 24, 2012, 9:30 am

    Does he know what his name means in english?
    Weaselanimal!!

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