There used to be a time, in the 1940s and 1950s, when the term “New York intellectuals” was taken as a badge of honor, if one belonged to that small but influential group. The term referred to the small group of writers around journals like Partisan Review and later on the early Commentary, as well as Dwight Macdonald’s Politics. The group usually included the likes of Lionel Abel, Philip Rahv, Irving Howe, Irving Kristol, Daniel Bell, Mary McCarthy, William Phillips, Nathan Glazer and others. These were fiercely independent writers, many of them coming out of the Trotskyist movement. They had affection for “the old man,” as the exiled Bolshevik was called, but they soon left his orbit, viewing it as irrelevant to the American scene and highly sectarian to boot.
As time passed and the group grew old, its ranks thinned. Many influenced by them moved into the general orbit of anti-Communist liberalism, and over time, some of the group became the founding fathers of what came to be called neo-conservatism. Others remained anti-Communist liberals, while some still called themselves democratic socialists. Of the latter, the most fierce opponent of the Communists and fellow travelers, a thorough hawk on foreign policy and an ally of the new conservatives, was the philosopher and former Marxist, Sidney Hook. Hated by the entire left-wing, Hook generally regarded himself as one of the new conservatives. But to his dying day, he continued to call himself a socialist, although his allies — all of whom by now were thorough conservatives — ignored this and regarded it as a strange but unimportant eccentricity.
All of them were giants. Today, when one speaks of New York intellectuals, they are talking primarily about a group of high priced and fairly well to do writers, most of them associated not with a small struggling journal like the old Partisan Review, but rather, with two New York publications — The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. Both publications pay their writers well, and their editors and writers on the staff get high salaries, many perks, and have great influence on the culture at large. Both of them, although the NYRB is more similar in its leftism to The Nation, while The New Yorker makes a pretense of being more independent and gives off a pretentious air of would-be objectivity and nuance, runs pieces by people like the discredited Seymour Hersh with regularity, and is outspoken as the single most pro-Obama magazine in existence.
The New Yorker is in name only the descendant of the magazine once edited by Harold Ross and later William Shawn, a magazine noted for literary distinction, biting humor, and publishing fiction of the most important new writers — and of course, those wonderful cartoons, perhaps the only part of the tradition it successfully carries on today. The Wikipedia entry provides a comprehensive and accurate overview of its impact and history.
Its current editor is the prolific journalist and writer, David Remnick. For many years he was a top rated Moscow correspondent for The Washington Post, and author of an excellent book, Lenin’s Tomb:The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. A very skilled writer who now writes on any subject of interest to him, including a highly regarded profile of boxer Mike Tyson, and of course, his recent biography of Barack Obama, The Bridge. Now, at the helm of The New Yorker, he receives a salary of a reported $1 million a year, as well as a daily limo service to take him to his office from his home and back. That, of course, officially puts him in the state of being an actual “limousine liberal.”
In past blogs, I have written critically about what kind of material Remnick left out of his study of Obama’s life. I have criticized him for making spurious arguments by calling Obama’s critics racist, instead of dealing with what they have said. One of my most harsh columns on Remnick was this one, about a column in which he attempted to resurrect Bill Ayers’ reputation, and gave the former Weather Underground terrorist a credibility and attention he does not deserve. Remnick responded to me via e-mail at the time with a harsh and volatile blast, in which he ignored all the pertinent points I made about his pat on the back to Ayers and how I revealed what he left out and how he allowed Ayers to use Remnick for his own purposes. And finally, last March, I chastised Remnick for joining in the MSM’s new round of attacks on Israel.
Having taken a J-Street type position and backing Obama in past disputes with Israel, we already know something about Remnick’s views about Israel, and how he thinks American Jews who are liberal should now regard the Jewish State. But nothing prepared me for what is perhaps Remnick’s most hostile and vicious attack on Israel, published in our country yesterday, in which he shows nothing but contempt for Israel, of course — in the guise of supposed real friendship. His comments were made to the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot:
A new generation of Jews is growing up in the US. Their relationship with Israel is becoming less patient and more problematic. They see what has happened with the Rabbinical Letter [proscribing rental and sale of property to Arabs -- DR], for example. How long can you expect that they’ll love unconditionally the place called Israel [sic]? You’ve got a problem. You have the status of an occupier since 1967. It’s been happening for so long that even people like me, who understand that not only one side is responsible for the conflict and that the Palestinians missed an historic opportunity for peace in 2000, can’t take it anymore.
The US administration is trying out of good will to get a peace process moving and in return Israel lays out conditions like the release Jonathan Pollard. Sorry, it can’t go on this way. The Jewish community is not just a nice breakfast at the Regency. You think it’s bad that a US President is trying to make an effort to promote peace? That’s what’s hurting your feelings? Give me a break, you’ve got bigger problems. A shopping list in exchange for a two month moratorium on settlement.
Remnick’s arrogance and hostility to Israel has never been made more apparent. Jonathan Tobin accurately comments that since Remnick has acknowledged that the Palestinians have much of the blame for the failure to achieve peace and a two-state solution:
[If] Israel already knows that sacrifices of territory won’t bring peace, why should it make unilateral concessions simply to appease an American president who acts as if history began on the day he took office? Shouldn’t the fact that Israel is still faced with a Palestinian foe that is so committed to its destruction that it won’t make peace on even favorable terms influence the discussion?
Of course Remnick has no answer to Tobin’s question, because despite what an obvious answer is, Remnick’s purpose in making this comment for an Israeli audience is to let them know how he, David Remnick, and the New York intelligentsia for whom he thinks he speaks, is totally fed up with Israel, and particularly its current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. That is why although he condemns the ultra-Orthodox rabbis who called for Israelis to never rent property to Arabs, he neglects to say that they do not speak for modern Israel, and that the current Israeli P.M. publicly condemned them as did many other mainstream Israeli rabbis. By picking such an example, Remnick reveals that he is consciously singling out an unrepresentative statement made by extremists as typical of Israelis as a whole, and as reason for him to be angry with the Israel that has disappointed him.
The problem is not only, as Tobin writes, that “liberals like Remnick are simply tired of standing up for a cause that has become unpopular on the left.” In making his comment, Remnick announces that he is officially adopting the position taken a few years back by the London leftist intellectuals, writers like the late Tony Judt and the other Brits who write for NYRB’s sister publication, The London Review of Books, as detailed in this report from Just Journalism, a pro-Israeli British watchdog group. Its editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, noted her position up front:
I’m unambiguously hostile to Israel because it’s a mendacious state. They do things that are just so immoral and counterproductive and, as a Jew, especially as a Jew, you can’t justify that.
Remnick’s new statement is a faint echo of the Wilmers quote. He too condemns Israel’s “status as an occupier,” a status which he neglects to point out first took place as a result of Israel’s victory in war against its aggressive enemies. And note his gratuitious phrase “and people like me,” which is supposed to let readers know he once supported Israel, but now — like all those supposed Peter Beinart wanna-bes — are just fed up and tired of being a friend of Israel. So he gives Israel warning: “It can’t go on this way.” (my emphasis)
I can just see Benjamin Netanyahu quaking in his boots, joined by the opposition leaders from Kadima. “David Remnick is leaving our ranks; what will we do?” What chutzpah! Does Remnick really think they care one bit? Does he really think its leaders will start putting defense of their nation against Arab aggression on the back-burner, just to placate Remnick by coming up with another meaningless start-up of the so-called Oslo “peace process”? Oh, he warns them that they cannot defy the supposed bold efforts of Barack Obama “to promote peace.” Does he mean Obama’s consistent outreach to the Muslim world, his many insults to the intelligence of Israeli citizens and political leaders alike, and his tin ear to the cause of the real conflict that threatens to engulf the Middle East?
Like the other self-proclaimed peaceniks — a group with an ever diminishing presence in Israel itself — Remnick seems to believe Israel and its settlements in areas that will be Israeli after a two-state solution would be instituted, are the only obstacles to peace. Is he really that simplistic that he thinks another two month moratorium would bring the Palestinians to the table — when the previous one that lasted longer produced nothing on their part?
Actually, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren answered this in his interview last Thursday with Jennifer Rubin. As Oren pointed out:
The so-called peace process ended recently, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton essentially conceded that what the administration has been doing didn’t work. What happened, and what’s the lesson to be learned? Oren said carefully: “The administration came into office with a great emphasis on mediation and a focus on settlements. Mr. Netanyahu made an unprecedented gesture in freezing settlements for ten months.” But as soon as the settlement freeze ended, the Palestinians “left,” he said bluntly. “They are reluctant to negotiate if they can get what they want outside of the negotiations, if Latin American countries, for example, will recognize them.”
Perhaps David Remnick did not catch his comments, or preferred to ignore their truth.
So I end on the point on which I began this blog. Today’s New York intellectuals are a pale imitation of their ancestors. The original group had a fidelity to the truth, and to bold assertions they believed to be true, regardless of whom they offended. Today’s group, of which Remnick is most typical, runs to join their fellow leftist herd of no longer independent minds in Britain, assuring them of their loyalty to the influential in group of journalists and opinion makers, and if they are Jewish, making their assurance known by joining in the stampede to dissociate themselves from defense of Israel.
Is it no wonder that so many of us no longer can take David Remnick seriously?