Wieseltier vs. Sullivan vs. Kristol: Jew-Baiting, Gay-Baiting, Red-Baiting… Yada, Yada, Yada

Readers of The New Republic know that Leon Wieseltier has an acid pen. But does he also have an itchy trigger finger?

Former TNR editor turned top-tier blogger Andrew Sullivan is fuming after Wieseltier, the magazine’s fiercely brilliant and eloquently mean literary editor, accused him of “Jew-baiting.”

“To be called a ‘Jew-baiter’ in the pages of a magazine I was once proud and honored to edit, and which I love and support, is an extremely wounding blow. It is also untrue and unfair,” Sullivan wrote on his blog.

Wieseltier fired off his charge over a critique Sullivan had penned of a recent New York Times column by neocon scion Bill Kristol. Kristol had attacked Barack Obama’s recent remarks suggesting that Americans in small towns “cling” to religion because they are “bitter” about their economic circumstances, suggesting that the Illinois senator’s remarks echoed Marxist dogma and were “disdainful of small-town America.”

Kristol’s critique prompted Sullivan to go ballistic: “Kristol is deliberately distorting to paint Obama as a cynical manipulator of religious faith for political ends, rather than as a genuine Christian. He’s calling him a lying, Godless communist.” Referring to Kristol’s characterization of Obama, Sullivan continued: “A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his own faith.”

Before proceeding to the main event — “Wieseltier vs. Sullivan,” keep it clean fellas, no hitting below the Beltway — it’s worth noting that Sullivan’s post wildly misread Kristol’s column. Kristol, though hardly nonpartisan in his analysis, never actually accuses Obama of being insincere in his own faith, noting that the candidate has “written eloquently” about the “complexity of his religious commitment.” Instead, Kristol criticizes the Illinois senator for not extending to “other believers the courtesy of assuming they’ve also thought about their religious beliefs.”

But Wieseltier’s issue is not that Sullivan bashed Kristol. Indeed, he doesn’t seem to have particularly cared for Kristol’s column either. Apparently, however, he cared even less for Sullivan’s commentary, reading into it something sinister — on the basis of a single sentence: “A non-Christian manipulator of Christianity is calling a Christian a liar about his faith.”

“Ponder that early adjective,” Wieseltier writes. “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!”

Sullivan, for his part, called Wieseltier’s attack “painful in the extreme.” Sullivan — who has a record of standing up for Israel and issues of Jewish concern (with the exception of his views on circumcision, which, granted, he likely sees as a defense of Jewish penises) — explains himself as follows:

He continued:

Rather than turn the other cheek, however, Sullivan proceeded to fire back in kind, hinting that Wieseltier’s charge of “Jew-baiting” was accompanied by a tinge of gay-baiting:


If nothing else, this edifying exchange provides a convenient opportunity to take note of a certain irony in this dueling duo’s election-year writings: Sullivan’s quixotic conservatism may have made him a poor fit for the ostensibly liberal New Republic, but this election cycle he has become an enthusiastic Obama booster. Meanwhile, the liberal Wieseltier’s seeming skepticism about Obama’s candidacy contrasts with some of his friendlier words for a certain senator from Arizona.

UPDATE: Jewcy’s Daniel Koffler has a withering take on Wieseltier’s low blow here. He also adds some context that makes me reconsider my dismissal of Sullivan’s complaint about Wieseltier’s disparaging use of the word “boy.”

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