Andrew Sullivan and the Jews

February 10th, 2010 at 2:21 pm David Frum | 32 Comments |

| Print

I’ve managed to disagree with everything Andrew Sullivan has written about John Yoo without ever thinking Sullivan guilty of anti-Korean animus, and it should be equally possible to disagree with Sullivan about Israel these days without accusing him of anti-semitism.

Sullivan, a career champion of Israel, turned harshly against the Gaza war. That war was right and necessary – and in retrospect, with Hamas quelled and Hezbollah deterred, it looks more justified and successful than ever. As happened in 2002 with the fighting in the West Bank, the Gaza critics repeated disinformation and wrongly disregarded the security concerns of a democratic country under terrorist attack. So if the magazine Sullivan used to edit wanted to challenge him on those grounds, they would have entered a target-rich environment. Why wasn’t that enough? instead, we got this.

Leon Wieseltier’s piece in the New Republic begins by citing a 60-year-old joke by W.H. Auden, reproduced in Andrew’s blog. Wieseltier stipulates that the joke itself is not anti-semitic, but that the decision to reproduce it was. He complains about things that Sullivan has written about Charles Krauthammer and Michael Goldfarb. (Rightly so, too.) You can prove a lot against Andrew Sullivan. But anti-semitism?

Like all Jews, I’m alert to anti-semitism, and well aware that it has spread into new and more respectable purlieus over the past generation. The New Republic has been a valiant voice against this  moral vice for as long as I’ve been reading it, and I am glad they are there to challenge it where it exists. But the challenge must begin with the proof. Cite the chapter and verse. Show the context.  Get the goods. The New Republic has not done that in its critique of Sullivan’s Israel writing, and as a regular reader of his blog, I know why: Those particular goods aren’t there to be got. Lots of other goods, yes. Not these.

It’s not as if the Jews have so few enemies that we need to pile them up where they don’t exist – or to confuse criticism of Israel that is unfair or wrong with criticism that is malicious and bigoted.

Recent Posts by David Frum

32 Comments so far ↓

  • blowtorch_bob

    So we’re back to square one. Any criticism of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians means you are anti-semetic.

    (BTW, you got to love the timing of Israel’s all-out assault on Gaza last year, at mid day when the streets were most crowded with school children, designed to inflict the highest number of civilian casualties. In that first hour, if I remember rightly, over a 1000 civilians died, and I’m willing to bet that number is higher than Israeli deaths from decades of suicide bombers and the like.)

  • Adam

    Hi David,

    There are two problems here. One is Leon Wieseltier does not directly accuse Andrew Sullivan of antisemitism. Andrew in fact identifies Leon as providing innuendo for that accusation. Wieseltier thinks that Andrew has found an anti-Israel bias and it finds him criticizing Jews qua Jews, if they are not Jews who agree with him about certain policies of Israel.

    Isn’t there room to criticize someone’s prejudices relating to Jews or Israel without thinking he is guilty of antisemitism?

    The second problem is that the posts of Andrew’s that Leon Wieseltier cites seem to look even worse in their full glory, as they’ve been documented here –> .

  • Mandos

    That’s a good point, blowtorch_bob. Palestinian (and Arab and Muslim) lives are generally accorded very little value in Western (particularly US) geopolitical calculations, and the Gaza bombings are a case in point.

  • anniemargret

    I’ve been reading Andrew Sullivan now for the past three years . I think he is one of the most honest, or self-brutally honest political commentators around. He certainly calls them as he seems, sometimes venting against the Democrats, sometimes the Republicans . He is still certainly a fiscal conservative, but in keeping with the year 2010, is able to address progressive ideas without dismissing them as not worthy of attention. In short, I’ve admired him for a long time now.

    In addition, I believe absolutely he is a true Christian at heart. He is an unapologetic Roman Catholic, but also has the ability to take on the Church when they are so blatantly and clearly in sin and human error . That makes him more believable, not less.

    And it is this last fact, of his being true as a human can be to the principles of Jesus Christ and his teachings, that I don’t believe for a nanosecond that this man has a prejudiced bone in his body…for the Jews, or any race or ethnic group. You see….his faith wouldn’t allow it . He would be deceiving his faith, and I don’t think from reading this man’s opinion that he would that to himself..or his readers.

  • Carney

    blowtorch_bob, regarding your first paragraph, if you had actually read Frum’s post rather than reacting in knee-jerk fashion to what you assumed it said, you would have realized that Frum is saying you can disagree with Israel, even unfairly, without being anti-Semitic. Instead, you embarrassed yourself.

    And your second paragraph is contemptible loony bin ravings at best. If Israel wanted to maximize civilian casualties, there quite simply would be no “Palestinian” people left, at all. And no power on Earth could have physically stopped it. There is only one side in this war interested in maximizing civilian casualties, and that is Israel’s enemies.

  • Carney

    Mandos, Western, Israeli, and American geopolitical calculations place a far higher value on Muslim lives than the leadership, “elected” or otherwise, of said Muslims does.

  • Danny_K

    Good for you, Mr Frum.

  • Mandos

    Carney: really? The death toll of the Iraq war and Iraq sanctions before the war are way larger than e.g. Saddam Hussein’s gassing of Kurds. I’m sorry but your math fails to add up.

  • brandon


    Andrew Sullivan’s obsession with Sarah Palin and his weird belief that Trig might be her grandson rather than son places Andrew in the kook category.

    He also believes Bush and Cheney should be tried for war crimes.

    No serious person would give Andrew Sullivan any credibility.

  • S.M.

    Everywhere this conversation comes up, I feel obliged to post this:

    “Jews of all people – the victims of war crimes of unimaginable evil – should know this. And exchange anger and paranoia for the integrity they once had.”

    That’s explicitly anti-Semitic. Worse than any of the quotes Wieseltier pulled.

  • Mandos

    Bush and Cheney should be tried for war crimes. Unprovoked aggression against Iraq is a war crime. And it was truly and completely unprovoked—Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Saddam Hussein, a evil little git to be sure, was smart enough not to get himself into that kind of thing.

    On the other hand, the rule of law won somewhere in the world today:


  • 2-10-2010 The Day in Review | F i a t Lux

    [...] Wieseltier decided that Andrew Sullivan is an anti-semite. It seems Sullivan has a few [...]

  • oldgal

    If someone or a group of someones is looking hard enough for something they will find it wherever they look and will believe absolutely and without question what they have found to be correct…and occasionally they will be right.

  • glenns


    “The death toll of the Iraq war and Iraq sanctions before the war are way larger than e.g. Saddam Hussein’s gassing of Kurds. I’m sorry but your math fails to add up”

    ORLY? So the million+ deaths that Saddam was directly responsible for, not to mention the fact that he was responsible for the sanctions that you speak of due to his hubris don’t count? Stop trying to blame Bush for all the world’s woes.

  • Mandos

    glenns: Are you counting the Iran-Iraq war? That was when Hussein was a satrap governor for the USA.–Iraq_war (does not include sanctions death toll).

  • glenns

    Tech transfer and weapons sales to counterbalance Iran does not imply a backing of how those weapons are used. Much like our support of Israel doesn’t have to mean we support all of their actions in Gaza and the West Bank. When there is evil (or simply bad actors) in the world, we can support a nation/regime because we think it is the lesser of two evils and not because we think that everything they do is legitimate. That nation/regime is still responsible for their own actions.

  • JonF

    Re: That was when Hussein was a satrap governor for the USA.

    Nonsense. The US courted Saddam in those days, as did the Soviets, the British and French. Saddam took the gifts but spurned the romance, from all suitors. He was nobody’s lackey. If you want to say that the US gave Saddam money and weapons, that much is true, but trying to portray the relationship as a patron-client one is utterly false. Note also that the US was (more secretly) courting Iran with gifts as well, hence the Iran-Contra scandal. Our policy appears to have been one of playing each side against the other and hoping that they destroyed each other.

  • Mandos

    That’s a distinction without a difference, and a morally bankrupt distinction too. If one is crucially involved in an geopolitical entanglement and stands to benefit from it, one bears responsibility for it. Doesn’t matter which side. Iran only became an enemy of the USA when it overthrew the Shah.

  • Conventional Folly » Liberal Condescension, cont.

    [...] kind of interesting, in an Inside Blogball kind of way. For the record, I side with Reihan, Chait, Frum and others in thinking that Sullivan isn’t an anti-Semite; this was all prompted by Leon [...]

  • sinz54

    Mandos: The death toll of the Iraq war and Iraq sanctions before the war are way larger than e.g. Saddam Hussein’s gassing of Kurds.
    You’re comparing a mistake to a deliberate mass murder. That’s shameful and wrong.

    Bush NEVER invaded Iraq in order to destroy the country or hurt its people. He genuinely thought that once Saddam was toppled, the Iraqi people would greet us as liberators–and with their newfound freedom, they would pitch in to work together to build a new country peacefully.

    Bush Administration documents, declassified under the Freedom of Information Act, show that Bush Administration originally planned to have all but 5,000 U.S. troops withdrawn from Iraq by December 2006. That was predicated on a peaceful outcome to the toppling of Saddam.

    It was the collapse of Iraq into terrorist and ethnic violence that made that impossible. Do you think if we had left in 2006 on schedule, that the Sunnis and Shia would have shaken hands and become peaceful again? I don’t. They hate each others guts–due to those nerve-gas attacks on the Shia that you alluded to.

    We didn’t murder those Iraqis. They murdered themselves–with Shia suicide-bombers, Sunni suicide-bombers, revenge killings, and violent crime. If anything, U.S. troops tried to maintain order.

  • sinz54

    Mandos: That’s a distinction without a difference, and a morally bankrupt distinction too. If one is crucially involved in an geopolitical entanglement and stands to benefit from it, one bears responsibility for it.
    I agree with you.

    And studies done prior to the Iraq War, by both the RAND Corporation and the Army War College, proved that in order to keep a country pacified, you need a minimum force ratio of one U.S. soldier for every 50 enemy civilians. (Incidentally, that’s the force ratio of the NATO peace-keeping force in Kosovo, one reason why Kosovo has remained relatively peaceful.)

    For Iraq, with its 26 million population, that meant we needed a force of 520,000 troops. General Shinsaki had been right about that. But Rumsfeld, as you know, sent only one-third as many.

    The Bushies had this silly idea that “democracy” would be a force multiplier–the Iraqis, liberated from Saddam, would be so happy that they wouldn’t need a “large footprint” U.S. force to maintain order. (They should have asked ex-Mayor Guiliani. Most New Yorkers love living in New York–but that doesn’t mean that the City can lay off 2/3 of its cops and expect New Yorkers to just live in peace.)

    General Petraeus, with his brilliant use of the troops he had, finally restored order in Iraq.

    Bottom line: The Bush Administration totally botched the occupation of Iraq and the handling of the Iraqi people. But there was no animus involved. Just stupidity.

    “It was worse than a crime–it was a blunder”
    — Talleyrand

  • CentristNYer


    Agree with you entirely about Sullivan. He’s easily the fairest, smartest and most on-the-ball blogger out there. And although I was originally put off by his Trig “obsession,” everything Palin has said or done (or, more pointedly, NOT said or done) since the campaign has confirmed that his suspicions are not nearly as misplaced as they once seemed.

  • blowtorch_bob

    “If Israel wanted to maximize civilian casualties, there quite simply would be no “Palestinian” people left, at all.”

    By that I assume you mean Israel would simply use their nukes to make this “problem” go away. So I suppose the Palestinians should be grateful for the privledge of existing though Israel should be aware of nuclear fallout in nearby regions

  • LFC

    S.M., that was a really awful isolation of a part of a quote. You wrote:

    “Jews of all people – the victims of war crimes of unimaginable evil – should know this. And exchange anger and paranoia for the integrity they once had.”

    Add in the prior sentence and you get:

    As Matt points out, even if you believe the Israeli attack on Gaza was justified, that doesn’t exclude the possibility of war crimes in its execution. Is this so hard to understand? Jews of all people – the victims of war crimes of unimaginable evil – should know this. And exchange anger and paranoia for the integrity they once had.

    So now saying that it is possible that Israel was guilty of war crimes is anti-Semitic? Sounds like a knee-jerk defense on your part.

  • LFC

    I agree with Sinz 100% that the deaths that occurred in Iraq were not performed by the Bush administration, but rather enabled by their shear incompetence and inability to grasp history.

    As to war crimes, there were few in the actual theater of war. The war crimes of the Bush administration were setting up a large scale torture program, snatching up innocents and having them tortured, allowing the murder of prisoners in our care, and using rendition specifically to outsource torture. All of these is well and fully documented, and we put Germans and Japanese to death after World War II for many of the same disgusting actions.

  • Goggins

    LFC: can you read? The deleted portion of the quotation from Sullivan’s post does not in the slightest way change the meaning of the final two sentences, which say that “Jews” (not Israelis) “once” had integrity; that is, they no longer do. In other words, “Jews lack integrity.” If that’s not anti-Semitic, nothing is.

  • anniemargret

    The road to evil is oftentimes paved with good intentions.

    No matter what the core reason was that the Bush administration invaded Iraq, it was commandeered under an umbrella of lies and deceit. Condi Rice talked about Saddam and ‘mushroom clouds’ over Cleveland in the same sentence. Americans honestly thought that Saddam was going to nuke our cities.

    Sending young men and women into battle under false pretenses is wrong. The American people believed our invasion of Iraq was due to 9/11. Despite the facts related to 9/11, the majority of soldiers thought Saddam was somehow responsible for it. This is shameful. This is immoral.

    It is not enough to frame this debate into some convoluted logistical beneficent hegemony of foreign policy that the Middle East was best served by regime change and forced conversion to democracy. Yet it was the actual deceit with which it was conducted in our own country by our own leaders that makes the their case moot. There was a reason why they didn’t want to just announce their true intentions, because they knew the American people would not buy it. Instead they used the horrific events of 9/11 and the fear that emanated from it to make their case.

    It is sheer Machiavellian tactics.. It is never wise nor moral when they try to convince that the ends justify the means.

  • glaforte

    Googins: Actually, what LFC posted does “change the meaning of the final two sentences”. By providing a little more context, LFC made it reasonably clear that Sullivan was speaking loosely and intended to be talking about only Jews that didn’t appear to have sympathy for more or less innocent people who were harmed as part of the collateral damage. And any reader of the whole post and reader of Sullivan’s blog would have understood it this way.

    The insistence on insisting on taking the precise literal meaning of a couple of sentences out of a long discourse to give evidence for a point like this is exactly what is generally meant by the phrase “taking things out of context”.

    I do find it hard to believe that anybody who has looked into this matter seriously believes that Sullivan is an anti-Semite in any sense. He may be wrong about the issue of Gaza and many other things, but these kinds of accusations don’t do much to convince anybody of that, and mostly just reflect poorly on the person making them.

  • Goggins

    I disagree. People should say what they mean, and mean what they say (I guess I’ve felt this way ever since I read “Horton Hatches the Egg”). Sullivan didn’t refer to “some Jews,” or to Jews who feel a certain way or endorse a certain view, who had lost their integrity, he just referred to “Jews,” and the context doesn’t change that.

    Besides, is there anybody at all, who does NOT feel sympathy for, as you put it, the “more or less innocent” civilians who are killed or injured in any war? I can even feel sympathy for the “more or less innocent” Germans who were killed when the Allies firebombed Hamburg. Of the 50,000 civilians killed in one week, I’m sure there were plenty who hated the Nazis. There really aren’t a lot of blood-thirsty, war-loving Jews or Israelis out there, who just want to kill as many Palestinian children as possible, so it’s utterly a straw-man type of statement. On the other hand, Samir Kuntar, who killed a 4-year-old Israeli girl by smashing her head against a rock, was celebrated as a hero in Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories when he was released from prison about a year ago. He was given Syria’s highest medal, and even met with Mahmoud Abbas. So, Sullivan’s ire is a little misplaced.

  • glaforte

    The suggestion Sullivan was worked up about was that Israel’s government should decide that the appropriate response to terrorism was to engage in more terrorism itself on a larger scale, and he was talking generally about those who were inclined to think this was a good idea. I didn’t want to go into the tedious details of quoting from Oren and Goldfarb as Sullivan does to establish exactly just what sort of people he was criticizing. Also, I was really just trying to avoid saying something inflammatory about “war-crimes”. That’s why I said “didn’t _appear_ to have sympathy”, since maybe everybody does have some sympathy for the innocent victims.

    If you honestly think that Sullivan believes and wants to convince people that _all_ Jews have “exchanged anger and paranoia for the integrity they once had”, then I doubt any evidence is going to change your mind. And if he doesn’t believe this, then it’s somewhat unnatural to describe his words as really meaning that. Ordinarily, understanding a persons meaning means knowing what they actually think. You should probably consider what an example of the context changing the meaning of something could ever possibly mean — that would probably help you understand the point being made here.

    And, by the way, Sullivan has complained much more about Muslim atrocities like your story of the 4-year-old girl than he ever has about any Israeli misdeeds, so describing his ire as “misplaced” is also a little weird. He seems to have some ire about some things done by the Israeli government and much more about many things done by Muslims.

  • Sullivan had it coming | The Daily Caller - Breaking News, Opinion, Research, and Entertainment

    [...] Of course, the insular journalistic community has rallied to Sullivan’s side, and insisted that its old friend and colleague, good-old irascible Andrew, is no anti-Semite. [...]