We have followed the meteoric career of Bari Weiss with keen interest, admittedly often for the shock and humor value, and two days ago the meteor left The New York Times with a resignation letter that says she was made to feel unwelcome in the “illiberal” new political environment at the paper.
I hesitated to write about Weiss’s news. First, Weiss is such a gifted careerist that even this moment feels like shtik: Bari Weiss playing her own persecution for the greater glory of Bari Weiss, and– and, why play any part in that? Though I also found her letter persuasive about ways she was made to feel uncomfortable re the intolerance of the left. As a writer with leftwing goals, I know that if you stray from certain views you will bring down cascades of scorn, and it’s not good for independent thought. (In fact, it’s why I no longer have much interest in being an intellectual; there’s a sense that all the hard work’s been done already if you’re on the left, read from the script, mic check.)
But here I go– because Weiss’s departure from the Times is real news, and important for what it says about the place of Zionism in the media. This young writer has made a career as a Zionist warrior, often smearing anti-Zionists in ways that she is quick to call McCarthyism when others employ the same methods.
Two points in her resignation letter leap out.
Weiss cites as a count against the Times the alacrity with which the newspaper amended a 2019 travel article about Jaffa for failing “to touch on important aspects of Jaffa’s makeup and its history”, compared to its failure to amend Cheryl Strayed’s interview with Alice Walker last May to say that Alice Walker has made antisemitic comments. The cases are not comparable; and Weiss’s comparison says way more about her than the Times. No doubt Alice Walker has made some foolish comments—in fact the Times covered them ad nauseum just two years ago, in two articles about her alleged antisemitism in an earlier interview. The question is whether Alice Walker, a person of great achievement, gets to live these comments down or are they an “important” aspect of her career that must be pinned to her name at all times? My view is, the Times’s two pieces on the matter are plenty; certainly no one can say the Times hasn’t publicized Walker’s comments. Now look at the Jaffa article. It was a piece of pure puffery for Israeli tourism that in characterizing Jaffa as an “ancient” Tel Aviv neighborhood left out truly the central aspect of its modern history: the fact that barely a generation ago this city was the pearl of Palestinian culture, and that beginning with the Zionist terrorist gangs (which later supplied Israeli prime ministers), rolling barrel bombs into Palestinian neighborhoods, Palestinians were forced into the sea during the ethnic cleansing of the Nakba period, when tens of thousands of residents were evicted, including such luminaries as Ibrahim abu-Lughod. We can only imagine the outcry if the Times had run any similar travel piece about a Lithuanian/Russian village where my ancestors were subject to pogroms in the late 19th century without mentioning the blood in the soil.
This distortion is typical of Bari Weiss’s thinking.
The former opinion editor also brags about bringing Matti Friedman into the paper. He is a propagandist for poor little Israel – a tiny village on the volcano of Islam, is his metaphor — who wrote one of four pieces that the NYT op-ed page ran justifying the slaughter by Israeli snipers of Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza over a few months in 2018.
So Bari Weiss is proud of her hand in those op-eds. This position is indefensible. It goes without saying, we have never seen a piece in the Times justifying Palestinian terror attacks; were such a piece to slip through, editors would lose their jobs in an instant. No one has lost their job for approving these vicious arguments.
The Times op-ed page is surely making moves to the left these days in the context of the George Floyd uprisings… But it has so far held the line on anti-Zionism and Palestinian solidarity. Yes it was big news last week that it ran Peter Beinart’s op-ed saying he no longer believes in a Jewish state. Though what does it tell you about the discourse that a critique Palestinians have been saying for a very long time without getting published in the Times has to be delivered by a man who still calls himself a Zionist?
As Krystal Ball said on Twitter, “There is no issue of legitimate inquiry which is more likely to get you ‘cancelled’ than support for Palestinian rights.” She describes Bari Weiss as “an intellectual architect of that regime of censorship”.
Many have pointed to Bari Weiss’s origins as an ideologue at Columbia U trying to get Palestinian professors dismissed. I try to give Weiss a break on that because of all the stupid things I said in my (protracted) youth, except that Bari Weiss has prolonged this role by making accusations against anti-Zionists that are nothing if not illiberal. We are anti-semites and as dangerous as white nationalists, she says. In her book on antisemitism, Weiss published the foolish claim that antizionist Jews are “as deeply opposed to Jewish interests as many of our community’s enemies.” In a talk at a Jewish organization with Jake Tapper, Weiss dismissed Jewish supporters of BDS as being like Jews who had their circumcisions surgically reversed so as to fit in to the larger culture.
Zionism is Judaism, in Weiss’s view of the world, so if you don’t like Zionism, prepare to be stamped as an antisemite and (justifiably) marginalized from all mainstream platforms. This is a toxic attitude and much as I am dismayed by the left’s censoriousness, I’d note that Weiss’s school of intolerance has affected me more directly (I have been fired twice by mainstream orgs for being anti-Zionist).
Bari Weiss has also argued for Jewish “power” in the U.S. establishment, indeed a special status in American public life, so long as Jews are Zionist. BDS is an “anti-semitic conspiracy theory” aimed at Jewish power, she said. “[I]f you want to be a part of the coalition of the oppressed, you need to publicly disavow any kind of Jewish power at all… Support for Israel, Jewish success, apologizing for Jewish success.”
Our Jewish specialness goes way back. We invented the idea that people shouldn’t be slaves, and that “human life is sacred,” Weiss says, and that specialness is “frankly why we drive people crazy still.” Such belief in Jewish exceptionalism was the norm in my father’s generation, and I have certainly dipped into it at times myself; but Bari Weiss makes cultural pride problematic by infusing it with celebrations of establishment power and Israeli might. For instance, she said that Jews are “insane” not to perceive that they are safe walking around New York City because of Israel’s military strength, and she said that Jews should stop giving money to prestige institutions like Harvard and Columbia because they have given harbor to anti-Zionism.
I think Weiss is a talented writer who will be with us for a long time; but when it comes to Zionism she is an ideological hack who might as well be cribbing her father’s handouts from AIPAC and the ZOA. After Pittsburgh she declared that criticizing rightwing Israeli government officials for visiting the grieving Jewish community there was an inappropriate “politicization” of their visit. Even young leftwing Jews welcomed the arrival of two Netanyahu loyalists, she said, because it showed “we are all one” people.
You better believe they [IfNotNow and Bend the Arc] liked the fact that Ron Dermer and Naftali Bennett showed up in the same way that Israeli officials show up after the shooting of a Hypercacher in France. It’s sending a message that we are all one, Am Yisrael [the people of Israel]. To politicize that I just think is wrong.
IfNotNow specifically rejected this projection, but the delusion shows, Weiss has always reduced Jewish life in our country to some branch office of the larger Zionist enterprise.
It seems obvious to say that Bari Weiss’s departure takes place amidst a Zionist discursive collapse– Beinart’s apostasy, the downfall of Eliot Engel, the mutiny of 500 left-Zionist recruits at one Israel lobby group, and 1000 at J Street, the defection of even centrist Jewish donors over Israel, and the willingness of a few American politicians anyway to suggest that military aid to Israel be cut due to its endless expansionism. This is real progress. And in that sense Bari Weiss’s exit is good news for Palestinian news and opinion. A reliable Israel lobbyist is going to find some other venue that is less prominent in the making of mainstream opinion. There are going to be more Palestinians in the Times. Maybe the paper won’t run so many justifications of Israeli massacres.
Weiss will surely say that her departure is evidence of anti-semitism on the left. It is more accurate to say that anti-Zionism is now the spirit of left politics, and it is staking a claim on liberal institutions.
Thx to notes from Adam Horowitz, Scott Roth, James North, Allison Deger, Dave Reed, Norman Finkelstein, Michael Arria and Donald Johnson.