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The cowardly Leon

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Leon Wieseltier

Yesterday we picked up news of a vicious intellectual spat. In a letter circulating on the web, Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, smeared the magazine’s senior editor John Judis as an ignorant man who has formed his Jewish identity on the basis of criticizing Jews, who have no place in his heart. Wieseltier was responding to Judis’s “nasty” book Genesis, which says that Truman caved to the Zionist lobby in supporting the establishment of a Jewish state.

Wieseltier’s letter is so unhinged that it has helped Judis. In fact, the friendly fire is doing for Judis’s book what Eric Alterman’s Nation attack did for Max Blumenthal’s book, gotten it a lot of attention. The Nation covers this new fight gleefully. Peter Beinart is forceful:

Other critics of Wieseltier (and reader, there are many) have hit the cowardly theme. A friend points to the fact that Wieseltier did not publish his attack on Judis in The New Republic, but sent it to rightwinger Ron Radosh and gave him permission to circulate. This is an excerpt of an email that Radosh sent out:


Below is the link to my review of the vile book by Judis:

And below is Leon W’s comment, which he gave me permission to send out to all.


In that “comment,” Wieseltier asserts that Judis is an ignoramus and that the New Republic actually has a rich history of criticizing Israel.

Another friend of mine who has studied the New Republic offered the following notes on Wieseltier’s comment:

Judis is accused of being “a tourist in the subject”–a metaphor whose sense isn’t clear. On Truman’s decision, by his own account, Wieseltier is himself a tourist and Judis is not. The only other available sense is that Judis has lived in and visited Israel a great deal less than Wieseltier. Perhaps that is what he meant to indicate.

“For three decades and more, we [The New Republic] have published criticisms of Israeli policies, even bitter ones, by myself, Michael Walzer, and many others.”

This is extraordinarily misleading. You need only compare the criticisms of Israel in the New Republic since 1980 with its criticisms of Palestinians–for the supposed exaggeration of their claims of suffering and the deviousness or untenability of their political hopes–and the latter weigh much more heavily.
But in any case, what criticisms of Israel? If Wieseltier ever wrote anything longer then a standard pessimistic column or a short explosive digression that qualifies as any sort of criticism of Israel (it has never approached bitter), he should cite it. And Walzer has published nothing ever that could qualify as strong criticism of Israel; though he has made clear that he doesn’t admire the Netanyahu government and wishes the occupation would end. His longest statement on any Israeli policy came, in fact, in a cover-article in The New Republic in 1982, where he defended the invasion of Lebanon and predicted a new birth of peace in the region thanks to Begin’s initiative in scouring the northern border lands of PLO influence.

Wieseltier’s response to the disastrous 1982 war may be judged by his review of Jacobo Timerman’s book The Longest War–a book written in protest against that war, and deploring the chauvinism and bellicosity of a new national mood, which Timerman thought a betrayal of the ideals of the country. The review by Wieseltier in Harper’s was entitled “Have Conscience, Will Travel”; it accused Timerman of a moralistic tourism and a failure of an adequate sympathy with Israel: this, at a time when Timerman was living in Israel. So it looks as if the charge of tourism is apt to be leveled against any critic of Israel, however rooted in Israel, who actually ventures a strong criticism of the military action of an Israeli government. (Just a year earlier, Wieseltier had praised Timerman’s memoir Prisoner without a Name as “a classic of Zionism.”)

Some significant tests of the New Republic regarding critical observations of Israel: the First Intifada, the Lebanon War of 2006, and Operation Cast Lead of 2008-2009 (the mass killings in Gaza). What did the magazine publish on those subjects? On the first, a full-length article attempting to expose as a forgery the incident that set off the Palestinian protests. On Lebanon 2006, a series of frightening portraits of Hezbollah and its leadership, combined with strong support of the war. On Gaza, strong support and extenuating apologies. Wieseltier did not depart from the editorial emphasis of the magazine in any of those crises.
His column on the Israeli airstrike on a building in Qana in July 2006, which killed more than 50 persons (including 37 children), may be taken as a sample:

“I am thinking of the children who were killed by an Israeli airstrike in Qana. Since I support the Israeli war against Hezbollah, I have a duty to admit that I support a war in which such catastrophes happen. This is difficult; but the brutal truth is that it is not impossible. This hurts my brain. For Qana is not all I need to know about the war. Conscience is not the enemy of intelligence, and there is more about this conflict, about any conflict, that is pertinent to moral analysis. The exterminationist objective of Israel’s adversary and of its adversary’s patron, the rain of rockets launched precisely to kill non-combatants, the deployment of its arsenal in the thick of its own population: these, too, are facts of moral significance. For Hezbollah, the murder of innocents, in Israel and in Lebanon, is its strategy. And so I am not embarrassed by Israeli power, or by its use against this particular enemy. I notice also that some people who denounce the loss of life on the Lebanese side of the border are reticent about the loss of life on the Israeli side of the border. Perhaps more Israeli deaths would restore a perverse kind of moral parity, and correct their asymmetrical hearts.”

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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18 Responses

  1. pabelmont on February 27, 2014, 12:12 pm

    Gee, I dunno, I’m just a tourist here. In late June, 1967, I scarcely knew there even was a country called Israel — or Palestinians. Guess I’m just a moral tourist, and not a post-grad PhD historian, etc.

    And on that basis — most people are on that basis — let’s not hear any condemnation of the Holocaust. Why? We’re all tourists. Were you there? Or are you just believing stories told by interested parties? Is it the loudest voices that “win”?

    Can I watch a tennis match between pros when I cannot even hold a racket properly?

    And why is a Literary Editor (of any rag) in the pro-Israel business, anyhow?

  2. quercus on February 27, 2014, 12:45 pm

    I began reading “Genesis” approximately four days ago, and I am a third of the way through.

    The book is admirably even-handed and fair, perhaps even too fair to the Zionists, some may claim. It seems those who blindly support Israel and its policies cannot abide anything that even hints of calling into question the ‘nobility’ of the goal of forming a Jewish state. At the risk of hyperbole, it is damn near psychopathic, and frightening. I suspect, however, these psychopaths are relatively few in number, but a few people driven by madness can make life miserable for the many.

    • bilal a on February 27, 2014, 2:23 pm

      Like many progressive liberals,Jewish and non-Jewish, these are ‘Christopaths’; they harbor a pathological hatred of Christians and Muslims, we are the secular equivalent of Amalek:

      And now for the grossly undialectical bit. The ink on the Times was not yet dry when Andrew Sullivan rushed to the defense of his idol, I mean Obama. When one types all the time, sooner or later everything will be typed, and so Sullivan, in his fury against Kristol, typed this: “A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his faith.” Ponder that early adjective. It is Jew baiting. I was not aware that only Christians can judge Christians, or that there are things about which a Jew cannot call a Christian a liar. If Kristol is wrong about Obama, it is not because Kristol is a Jew. So this fills me with a certain paschal wrath. Nice little blog you have there, Obama boy. Pity if frogs or locusts should happen to it. Let my people be! [Leon Wieseltier ]-

      [in justifying biblical genocide ] Another approach is that this case may be considered not as a battle between two groups of individuals, but rather as one between two nations: Jews and Amalekites (using the term Amalekite not in the technical sense of someone genetically descended from the tribe of Amalek, but instead in the sense of someone fundamentally identifying with a certain worldview of Judeopathy (pathological hatred of Jews) which is Alan Dershowitz’s preferred term for antisemitism.[5]) It is safe to assume that the families of these men who would have killed the Jews were themselves quite supportive of this ideology. And even those children too young to form an opinion, are part of the same social group. It is thus no different from the Torah’s instruction to wipe out the nations of Amalek and the Seven Nations of Canaan. Maharal uses the notion of “war between nations” to justify Shimon and Levi’s slaughter of the community of Shechem.[6] That justification is disputed by many, since Shechem was a single individual. But in this case, where we are talking about the family members of a group united in a single cause, there is more justification for seeing it as a war between two peoples.

      Liberals discuss More on Peretz ‘Muslim Life is Cheap’

      It’s not like my.. friends are very Christian. If they were, we wouldn’t be friends. They ..mock Christian religious claims and stay away from church.

      Christopathy paraphrasing Peretz, gentile life is cheap.

  3. Donald on February 27, 2014, 1:24 pm

    How many rockets constitutes a “rain”? Is it determined by numbers of rockets, weight of explosives, frequency of delivery, or some combination? I ask not only because it’s the universally used cliche, but because I want to know what meteorological metaphor is appropriate to use for Israeli bombardments. Perhaps “deluge” would be more appropriate for what Israel does.

  4. Talkback on February 27, 2014, 3:07 pm

    Wieseltier is not even a tourist. He’s someone who has heard about a newspaper which happens to have adverts from a flight complany that offers flight routes which are only crossing the topos in question in high altitude.

  5. DICKERSON3870 on February 27, 2014, 8:05 pm

    RE: “The cowardly Leon”

    MY COMMENT: Very clever. Wieseltier even looks a bit like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of OZ (1939).
    Or, is it merely the power of suggestion? Enquiring minds mimes want to know!™

  6. gingershot on February 28, 2014, 12:38 pm

    This derelict old reprobate of a human being should be guilted and ‘shouted off the stage’ – ‘shouted off the stage’ only figuratively though, as this old Hasbara-Con Man needs to have the rest of his natural life PAYING for his crimes and impunity for his crimes, after I finish explaining them to him, since he apparently is ‘still pretending’ he doesn’t know…

    He is not a civilized man discussing an issue here or there – he is a War Crime Creating/Pro-Apartheid creator/supporter of the Apartheid State – it is the civilized man who takes this savage OFF THE STAGE

    In the War between the savage and the civilized man, always support the civilized man, Leon, as your buddy Pam Geller so succinctly stated.

    That means you can get your savage-arse off the stage, Leon, because you’re out in the OPEN supporting APARTHEID, Leon, and which part of that sentence do you NOT understand? after having MADE A CAREER out of it. And you KNEW IT, ‘unlike most of the German citizenry of the 30s/40s’ – which means you are in ‘Double Trouble’ and get ‘Double Sentence’, which in your case means TWO natural lifetimes.

    Many of the German citizens during WWII DIDN”T KNOW of the persecution of the Jews. Here we have a war criminal using THAT as a cover for his own Precious Ethnic Cleansing. His ‘Secret Agent-Career’ – what a smartypants…

    This man should be shouted off the stage’, so to speak – namely – by demanding that this most popular of the supporters of the UN-violating, Geneva-violating, International Law-violating criminal Apartheid Israeli state, answer (or leave) something of this ilk:

    ‘Your support for the Apartheid Israeli state over the last 60 or so yrs of it’s war-crimes is well documented, Leon. You’ve made a career out of supporting this Apartheid State.You are part of it, so to speak. With bells on your toes.

    So WHEN did you finally give up your support and propaganda in support of this fascist Zionist-Israeli state, Leon, and what retribution and/or financial reparations can we expect from you. For the rest of your natural life?’

    Yes, Leon will have his ‘existential threat’: the last years of his miserable life known as the war-criminal propagandist he is – or – jump on the BDS bandwagon and destroy Apartheid.

    Choose Leon, because we are going to cut you off at the knees, simply because you won’t stop supporting Apartheid with every fiber of your lie-filled being

    • gingershot on February 28, 2014, 3:28 pm

      See ya’ in Geneva at the ICC in Sept 2014, Leon – about 6 months from now – but who’s counting?

      Well, looks like Obama and Abbas are…

      ‘Obama the inquisitor vs. Netanyahu, Abbas’ – todays Haaretz

      Obama will ask Netanyahu what HE PLANS TO DO (MY EMPHASIS) about the Palestinian population in the West Bank, how he’ll deal with the Palestinian plans to seek statehood through various UN agencies and how he intends to stop the increasing boycotts against Israel and the deterioration of its position in the European Union.

      Obama’s message to the two leaders: They can cooperate with the U.S. peace initiative and make progress, or go it alone after the talks fail, which will not be pleasant going.
      By Barak Ravid | 02:56 28.02.14 |
      One of the things U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to ask Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when they meet at the White House next Monday is, “What’s your plan if the attempt to formulate a framework for further negotiations fails and the peace process breaks down?” U.S. officials say Obama will ask Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas the same thing when he comes calling at the White House on March 17.

      Obama will ask Netanyahu what he plans to do about the Palestinian population in the West Bank, how he’ll deal with the Palestinian plans to seek statehood through various UN agencies and how he intends to stop the increasing boycotts against Israel and the deterioration of its position in the European Union.

      Abbas will be asked by the U.S. president how he thinks unilateral UN moves will bring him closer to an independent state and the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the West Bank, and how he intends to pay the salaries of tens of thousands of PA workers if the United States and the European Union cut off his funding.

      Obama’s message to the two leaders is that they have two options: They can cooperate with the U.S. initiative and make progress, or go it alone and be forced to deal with the ensuing reality. Because the reality the two leaders will face after the talks fail will not be a pleasant one.


      Netanyahu would like to focus his meeting with Obama on Iran, but the White House has other plans. Obama’s advisers gave a preemptive briefing to New York Times political reporter Mark Landler at which they clearly framed the Obama-Netanyahu meeting as dealing mainly with the Palestinian issue.

      Senior White House officials told the Times that after a year in which the Palestinian issue has been handled almost exclusively by Secretary of State John Kerry, Obama believes that now, prior to the decisions by Netanyahu and Abbas, is the right time for him to intervene personally.

      “The president wouldn’t want to run any risk that it was the lack of his involvement that would make the difference between success and failure,” a senior U.S. official told the Times.

      extensive excerpts – edit as you please or whatever


      ‘Abbas say No Extension of Talks’ = the dagger in the heart of Apartheid – todays Haaretz


      from Wikileaks –

      ===IDF legal teams say Israel team cannot be defended at the ICC, because, well, it’s Apartheid and Apartheid is indefensible

      ==I’ll have to dig for ref sometime way later if necc

      • just on March 1, 2014, 7:39 am

        many thanks for both of your valuable contributions, gingershot!

  7. wondering jew on March 1, 2014, 5:48 am

    Certainly not off topic, but seemingly so, I have composed the following multiple choice question.

    Feeling Palestinian pain is
    a. good
    b. bad
    c. should be reality based
    d. should be balanced with feeling Israeli pain.

    I am not of the school that would answer (b). At times over the last 15 years it has been hard to not harden my heart to Palestinian pain and compared to those who answer (a) without equivocation, I am assumed to not feel any Palestinian pain, but in fact feeling Palestinian pain is not bad. They are human and have suffered and are oppressed by Jews and “can’t we all just get along” is a better guide to the future than citing the mufti or the failures of the Arab spring as guides to how to act.

    The time has come (probably) in the aftermath of the failure of the Kerry peace initiative when Israel should annex the West Bank and give the Palestinians living there full citizenship and voting rights and reaching such a conclusion (even with the “probably” proviso) would still not be enough for those who answer (a) without equivocation, because there would still be Palestinian pain unaccounted for in this plan: Gaza Palestinians’ and diaspora Palestinians’ pain mostly. And of course how do we get from this point in time when Israel led by Netanyahu seeks to maintain the status quo (combined with the complication that the US, EU, UN, Russia, China, PA and Hamas would not accept annexation and the offer of citizenship), so this proposal would still be an island without a bridge built to it and would require more than just a proposal, but some action and pressure for it to become more than just a proposal.

    • just on March 1, 2014, 7:37 am

      yonah– I appreciate your effort.

      Israel should ‘annex’ nothing. Israel should apologize, make reparations, give back the land they have allowed/encouraged/planned for settlers to squat upon, and END THE OCCUPATION. There should be 1 state, and Israelis are going to have to live with Palestinian “pain”– for a long time. The Nakba is ongoing. Israel and Jewish folk have made the horrible Holocaust a veritable industry, and it is venerated every. single. day.

      End the Nakba, become humans, deal with the pain. Build the ‘bridge’.

      • wondering jew on March 1, 2014, 8:40 am

        just- I accept your answer to my thoughts, but why did your statement need to include: “Israel and Jewish folk have made the horrible Holocaust a veritable industry, and it is venerated every. single. day.” It seems you have an ax to grind that goes beyond the nakba.

      • just on March 1, 2014, 8:59 am

        The only “ax” that I have “to grind” is the sheer and rank hypocrisy that I behold.

        Israel has done/is doing horrible things to the indigenous Palestinians. Some even deny them their history/identity, never mind their land, water and lives. It is unconscionable for people who descended from those who suffered the Holocaust be allowed to perpetrate such enormous crimes upon a population– a population that, in no way, was responsible for the crimes of Hitler & Co..

    • Sibiriak on March 1, 2014, 9:19 am

      yonah fredman:

      Feeling Palestinian pain…

      It’s not just about Palestinian suffering; it’s about justice, dignity, human rights, and national aspirations.

      Israel should annex the West Bank and give the Palestinians living there full citizenship and voting rights.

      That’s exactly the proposal of some folks on the extreme right in Israel:

      Yonah’s generous offer–what would it do? Permanently fragment the Palestinian people, destroying their national aspirations. A portion would be given voting rights in a Jewish-supremacist Israel but be subject to all the discrimination and subordination that comes from not being Jewish in Jewish-nation-state (which happens to be moving toward even more extreme Jewish nationalism.) Some 1.8 million Palestinians would remain encaged in a tiny Gaza statelet; and nothing for the millions of scattered Palestinian refugees.

      Then again, the idea can’t be all bad—Shingo supports it!

      The more realistic Israeli annexation proposal:

      [Jewish Home party] chairman Naftali Bennett has previously called for Israel to annex Area C, leaving the majority of the Palestinians in the West Bank without full rights.

      […]According to the Israeli Right’s idea, the state will absorb roughly 2 million Palestinians from the West BankAccording to the Israeli Right’s idea, the state will absorb roughly 2 million Palestinians from the West Bank but remain the same in every other aspect.

      • wondering jew on March 1, 2014, 12:57 pm

        By all means read the 972 article and its inclusion of this comment by Saeb Erekat: “I am not afraid from the talk about an Israeli ID,” he told me. “Give me one and we will see what happens.”

    • talknic on March 1, 2014, 2:17 pm

      “The time has come (probably) in the aftermath of the failure of the Kerry peace initiative when Israel should annex the West Bank and give the Palestinians living there full citizenship and voting rights”

      Why should it? Better to get out of all Palestinian territory for once, go live in Israel. It has never been tried!

  8. James Canning on March 1, 2014, 2:57 pm

    Should we remember that Israel’s disastrous invasion of Lebanon in 1982 helped to create Hezbollah? And that it was one of the primary motivators for Osama bin Laden, in his determination to punish the US for facilitating Israeli military rampages?

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