The New Republic’s “High Shul phase”

Andrew Sullivan is busy attempting to exonerate himself from charges of anti-Semitism — always a difficult chore, and likely to consume quite a bit of his time given Leon Wieseltier’s rather long accusatory piece. Sullivan’s offense is that he circulated a comment of poet W. H. Auden that it would be to explain the Christian doctrine of the Trinity to the secular leftist TNR writers of the 1940s. How anyone could think of that as “anti-Semitic” is beyond me.

Sullivan’s first line of defense is to link to his “passionate defense of the Jewish people from Catholic bigotry.” I’m sure Sullivan is thinking, “Hey, I earned my stripes as a goy in the media by defending Jews. How dare you question my motives!”

But then it gets interesting. We find that Jews think of TNR as a Jewish publication. Wieseltier himself is quoted as saying that TNR is a kind of “Jewish version of Commentary.” (Update: HelenChicago, a commenter on this blog writes, “”A Jewish version of Commentary“?!? Isn’t that a bit like “a kosher version of matzoh”? Wish I had thought of that. As we all know, Commentary is published by the American Jewish Committee.)

Sullivan notes that “my old friend, Frank Foer” (translation: “some of my best friends are Jews”) commented that Auden made his statement “before we entered our High Shul phase.” And he goes on to describe the “joke ubiquitous at TNR when I worked there . … We teased each other for years about my being one of the few goyim at the place, that I was a function of affirmative action, etc. Leon was particularly and often mordantly hilarious on this kind of theme.”

This reminds me of Michael Wreszin’s comment that Dwight Macdonald, a member of the New York Intellectuals and contributor to Partisan Review, was “a distinguished goy among the Partisanskies.” He stood out because he was a goy in a Jewish-dominated movement. Always good to have a few goyim for window dressing.

Pretty clearly, the Jews who run TNR think of it as a Jewish publication. But one dare not say that Jews influence the media or that Jews attempt to use their position in the media to advance their version of Jewish interests (or that the New York York Intellectuals were a Jewish intellectual movement). Auden’s quote happened before TNR became a High Shul — a presumably the consequence of Martin Peretz buying TNR and turning it into a fanatically pro-Israel publication. This is a passage in The Culture of Critique:

Jews have also been greatly overrepresented as editors, publishers and contributors to a variety of radical and liberal periodicals, including The Nation, The New Republic, and The Progressive (Rothman & Lichter 1982, 105). In 1974 The New Republic (TNR) was purchased by Martin Peretz, son of a “devoted Labor Zionist and right-wing Jabotinskyist” (Alterman 1992, 185) and himself a leftist student activist before moving in the direction of neoconservatism. The only consistent theme in Peretz’s career is a devotion to Jewish causes, particularly Israel. He reflects a major theme of Chapter 3 in that he abandoned the New Left when some in the movement condemned Israel as racist and imperialist. During the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, he told Henry Kissinger that his “dovishness stopped at the delicatessen door” (p. 185), and many among his staff feared that all issues would be decided on the basis of what was “good for the Jews” (p. 186). Indeed, one editor was instructed to obtain material from the Israeli embassy for use in TNR editorials. “It is not enough to say that TNR’s owner is merely obsessed with Israel; he says so himself. But more importantly, Peretz is obsessed with Israel’s critics, Israel’s would-be critics, and people who never heard of Israel, but might one day know someone who might someday become a critic” (p. 195).

Sullivan better watch it — he’s just getting himself in deeper. All those quotes from Jews who joke among themselves about Jewish control of particular media outlets like TNR are for internal consumption only. For someone like him — or me — to mention it will certainly draw the ire of people like Wieseltier and the ADL. Tune in for more on this as it unfolds.

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