The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Back in 2008, I wrote the following:
I find anti-Israel blogger Philip Weiss morbidly interesting, and I occasionally happen upon his blog. Weiss finds his own Jewish background alternately suffocating and infuriating, and yet can't seem to stop talking about it, and about how he's trying to overcome it. [Recent example: "My experience of Jewish life is that it's elite-oriented. We cared deeply about prestige (yiches, in Yiddish) and excellence in my family, and I came to find those values suffocating…. The contempt for peasants is something I always found concerning in my own cultural background, that I seek to reform in my own Jewish experience."] If a Woody Allen character ever became an anti-Zionist polemicist, he would be a lot like Philip Weiss.
I've made an occasional reference to Weiss or the blog he founded, Mondoweiss, since then. Mondweiss is basically one-stop shopping for anti-Israel news. Anything bad that goes on in Israel will be publicized and exaggerated at Mondoweiss. If you want to know the far-left anti-Israel party line on any recent event, Mondoweiss is the place to go.
So in a sense it's understandable that people with an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict read Mondoweiss, especially if they share the blog's anti-Israel politics. I keep up sporadically with Mondoweiss largely because its posts sometimes find their way into my Facebook feed from some of my more left-wing friends.
Mondoweiss tries to preserve a fine line between hostility to Jews and hostility to Israel, but every once in a while, Weiss reminds us that the blog's entire existence owes to the fact that he can't maintain that separation.
The most dramatic example I've seen arrived in my Facebook feed last week via a Jewish journalist who passed it along with the comment, "Who thinks like this?"
In the course of a typical (for Weiss) rambling, somewhat incoherent post, titled, "Forgving the Anti-Semites," Weiss makes the following claims, all of which are either unrelated to Israel or are only tangentially related to Israel-unless you believe that whatever Israel's sins, they are not the "normal" sins of a nation-state, but somehow inextricably tied to the shortcomings of Jews.
(1) The fact that Philip Glass told Terry Gross an anecdote about how his small-businessman father ripped off some record companies decades ago, and Terry Gross laughed, reflects the fact that Jews believe "we are justified in taking advantage of The Man."
(2) Weiss and his then-girlfriend, who wasn't Jewish, exchanged letters via FedEx at Newsweek's expense twenty-five years ago. According to Weiss, his girlfriend realized she was stealing from Weiss's employer, while it never occurred to him. This says nothing about Gentiles' honesty in general, or about Weiss's perspicacity, but apparently again shows that Jews believe in taking advantage of The Man.
(3) Here's where it gets really bizarre. I can't do justice to this part of the post without quoting it:
I remembered a conversation I'd had recently about anti-semitism with a non Jewish friend in Jerusalem. An American Protestant of the I-hate-religion variety, he asked me to explain the Israel lobby. I said that it reflected a contract the American establishment had made with Jews to drive the economy in the 1970s. We were really good at the four horses of the global economy (finance, software, education, and media), and people thought we were smarter, and maybe we were smarter; Yuri Slezkine says we are the magicians and the priests of modernity; and in exchange for that leading role, the government would support Israel. Brian Roberts runs the world's largest media company, Chris Matthews works for him and supports Israel.
Weiss apparently thinks that there is some Elders of Zion type group, which decided whether Jews are going to be willing to use their talents to drive the global economy, or let the world economy collapse, and they agreed to do the former because the American government agreed to support Israel.
Or maybe he's saying there was no agreement, but that the American government just wanted to show its gratitude to the Jews for playing a leading role in the world economy, and did so by supporting Israel. Either way, this is completely detached from reality, and either way, it results in the Jewish Brian Roberts pulling the Gentile Chris Matthew's strings.
(4) But Weiss gives equal time to another explanation for the success of pro-Israel forces:
"My friend bridled at the explanation. He had worked on Wall Street; he spoke of all the insider traders who were Jewish. They weren't any smarter, they cheated, he said. I said, OK maybe we're not smarter, but that is how I think it worked." So either Jews cheat, or they use their economic prowess to control American politics with regard to the Middle East. Or maybe both.
(5) It actually gets worse, as Weiss comments on his friend's theory that the Jews in Israel are acting like Nazis because they haven't forgiven the Nazis and other Europeans for the Holocaust: "I don't think you can forgive Hitler. But forgive Europe? Maybe that is necessary. It should not be so fresh in our minds, here in the U.S. Maybe that means telling the story differently, understanding our own role. It was never a fair fight. But we always had a kind of power."
Allow me a digression. Here is where warmed-over Marxism meets anti-Semitism. The Jews never had much political power in Europe, but after emancipation they were often, on average, more economically successful than the local non-Jewish population. So Jews aren't proper Marxist victims, because Marxist dogma requires the victims to be of economically lower status than the oppressors. This is a major reason why European Jews faced with violent jihadist anti-Semitism get little sympathy on the far left-they are economically better-off than the local Muslim population, so only the latter can be proper victims. Thus criticizing Islamist jihadists is "punching down." (Of course, it doesn't help that the Jews are perceived as "white" and the Muslims not. That seems largely irrelevant in France, where 80% of Jews migrated to France from the same North African countries as most of the Muslims, but maybe I'm attributing some rationality where there is none to be found.)
Anti-Semitism, however, doesn't fit into Marxist dogma, and, in case one needed evidence that it has little to do with actual Jewish behavior, one need only consider how anti-Semites attack Jews for being both Communists and Capitalists, for being "rootless cosmopolitans" and ardent nationalists, for being secular atheists and religious fanatics, for being responsible for puritanical Western views of sex and for undermining traditional sexual morality, and so forth and so on.
For centuries in Europe, "Jew" simply represented whatever real or imagined foe needed to be combated. It's not entirely a coincidence that when the European far-left decided that nationalism, racism, and imperialism were the foci of evil in the world, that it was Israel that came to be the primary target for those sins, even if the Jewish connection was unconscious among many of the targeters.
Anyway, I suppose it's also possible that the "power" Weiss is referring to is not economic, but rather Gilad Atzmonish conspiracy theories about how the Jews set out to undermine Western civilization with Bolshevism, the Frankfurt School, and the Young Turk movement (!) But that seems a bit far out even for Weiss.
(6) Finally there is this: "I have lunch with a distant relative who tells me about spending Passover at a Ritz Carlton in Florida. $7000 per head for the week, and so much food- a breakfast of matzoh and smoked fish in the room before the hot breakfast downstairs, a lunch that never ends, a whole candy room with boxes of candy in drawers free for the taking- it was straight out of the Patimkin basement in Goodbye, Columbus, and a shonde far di goyim- nothing she would ever want the anti-Semites to see."
I have no access to Weiss' mind, so I can't speak to his inner psychological motivations, but only to what he writes. There is only one audience for this sort of tripe, and it is people who dislike Jews.
If similar nonsense came from the keyboard of a right-wing Christian like Pat Buchanan, no one would have any trouble identifying the relevant website as a hate site. The fact that this comes from a leftist "as a Jew" (or a "righteous Jew" according to John Mearsheimer's rather idiosyncratic standard) shouldn't alter one's conclusion.
UPDATE: Weiss replies here. This would have been a good opportunity for him to take back at least some of the more extreme idiocies in his original post, like the claim that "the American establishment" made a contract "with Jews to drive the economy in the 1970s … and in exchange for that leading role, the government would support Israel." Instead, he purports to be proud of it.
Weiss purports to believe that my post derives from the fact that I "cannot acknowledge" "the remarkable rise of Jews inside the U.S. establishment in the last generation." Oh yes, I can. I hereby acknowledge the remarkable rise of Jews inside the U.S. establishment in the last generation. Let's just look in my field of law. Three Jews sit on the Supreme Court. A Bush Administration attorney general was an Orthodox Jew, and another Jew ran the Bush OLC. Jews are around 25% of all law professors, and are among the most influential professors on the far left (e.g., Brian Leiter), liberal left (e.g., Cass Sunstein), and libertarian right (e.g., Richard Epstein). Some of the most influential lower court judges, including the liberal Stephen Reinhardt, the conservative libertarian Alex Kozinski, and the eclectic Richard Posner are Jews. And of course most of the contributors to the leading law professors' legal blog are Jews. Jews are doing very well in the United States. Yay! Good for American Jews, and good for America.
But my post wasn't about denying that Jews have joined and thrived in the American establishment (heck, even the founder of a leading American anti-Jewish hate site is a Jew).
Rather, I pointed out that, among other things, Weiss suggested (a) that Jews are more inclined to cheat than are non-Jews, and indeed Jews don't even recognize it as cheating; (b) that the American non-Jewish establishment made some sort of deal with the Jews back in the 70s, in which Jews provided their economic prowess to the U.S. in exchange for support for the Israel lobby (indeed, that one is so ridiculous that my fingers rebelled at typing it); (c) Jewish media company CEOs force their Gentile employees to express support for Israel and (d) that Jews need to "understand our role" in causing the Holocaust because of the "power" we had. Weiss now elaborates that he's talking about Jewish economic power, as if the German Jew who started as a peddler and built his business into a chain of department stores wasn't simply an individual Jewish businessman who found success, but instead part of a cabal of Jews using their "power" to undermine the Gentiles, who retaliated via the Holocaust.
These are all hateful things that we would all recognize as such if coming from the likes of David Duke. Weiss protests that he's not anti-Semitic, but that wasn't the point of the post. Rather, it was that he posted hateful things about Jews of the sort that one could find at the likes of the Vanguard News Network.
Is that because Weiss is anti-Semitic or is there some other motivation? Who cares. Just know that when you're reading Mondoweiss, you're reading a hate site.