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Is Today’s NYT Column Anti-Semitic?

A friend says yes; I merely marvel at Lieberman’s effect on Jews

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Sen. Joe Lieberman yesterday.(Christopher Capozziello/Getty Images)

New York Times Op-Ed columnist Gail Collins is, like most liberals, not a fan of retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman—she sees him, in her column today, as an egotistical flip-flopper. “Sometimes people with principles have to take an independent stand,” she acknowledges. “But Lieberman’s career has taught us how important it is to do that with a sense of humility. If you’re continually admiring yourself as you walk away from your group, eventually people are going to feel an irresistible desire to trip you.” For Collins, Lieberman is like every other politician, only more so.

Unless Collins is saying something different, and worse. A friend emails in, about Collins’s column, “How many buried anti-Semitic clichés can you find here? I found four.” Collins’ assertion that Lieberman is looking to cash out, her emphasis on his “exceptionalism” and lack of “humility,” and her capital-letter reference to the Old Testament are all bothersome, my friend argues, concluding, “I agree it is not a deliberately anti-Semitic piece—New York Times Op-Ed columnists are too enlightened for that—but it is a lazy piece of writing that ultimately falls back on a set of code words and unexamined beliefs that seem right to her because they are framed against a background of old-school prejudice.”

I find it fascinating how Lieberman—indisputably the highest-profile Jewish politician in American history—is looked on by his co-religionists. During the health care debate, for example, contributing editor Victor Navasky accused him of “the betrayal of his Jewish heritage.” Today, my friend sees unconscious anti-Semitism in Collins’s column, which strikes me merely as lazy, knee-jerk condemnation (whose substance I agree with—Lieberman is an unusually opportunistic hack, even by the standards of politicians). Lieberman is further proof that, if Jews love to argue about everything, we love to argue about nothing more than ourselves.

See after the jump for my friend’s full argument.

1. COLLINS: “He got two years of his term left, during which he will be looking for ‘new opportunities that will allow me to serve my country.’ Do you think that means something involving a large salary and a chance to make multitudinous TV appearances, or a Peace Corps stint in Burkina Faso? Let me see hands.”
—Joe Lieberman may be viscerally annoying and wrong about everything, but here’s one thing he is not and has never been: Interested in money. In fact, part of the reason he’s such a prick is that he is so utterly convinced of his own rectitude. So why is his goal suddenly financial here? Oh yeah. Because he’s Jewish. They LOVE money.

2. COLLINS: “When he won running as an independent, it cemented his sense of exceptionalism.”
—One of five times that Gail Collins keeps harping (she’s Irish, right?) on exceptionalism, not being part of the group, thinking he’s better than everyone else, etc.—traits which historically have tended to define every member of the U.S. Senate, yet which she wishes to pin exclusively on Lieberman, because, you know, it fits him better! Because he’s Jewish.

3. COLLINS (quoting another Irish person): “It wasn’t a personal rejection, but I never saw anybody take anything so personally.”
—My paraphrase: They always take it so personally! All I said is that they think they are so special and love money!

4. COLLINS (and this is the key to her subconscious right here): “Lieberman assured everyone that he was not stepping down because the odds of his losing the next race were astronomically high but rather because he had been reading the Old Testament.”
—Of course Lieberman didn’t say he was reading the “Old Testament” in his statement. That’s her language, not his. What he said, sounding, as usual, like Uriah Heep, was: “The reason I have decided not to run for re-election in 2012 is best expressed in the wise words from Ecclesiastes: ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under Heaven.’ So why change Lieberman’s wording from “Ecclesiastes”—which Christians also read—to “the Old Testament”? The answer is that the Old/New Testament distinction is exactly the one that Collins wants to make. Joe Lieberman is a jerk because he is an annoying, self-righteous, exceptionalist, money-grubbing Jew. If he only spent more time reading the New Testament, he might learn some precious Christian humility.

What gets me going here—besides #1 and #4, which are pretty blatant, as well as the fact that someone has apparently spiked my coffee—is that Joe Lieberman, while being a huge prick even for a U.S. senator, also did a lot of good in a very long career, most recently pushing through Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Plus, he broke the glass ceiling that prevented Jews from running for high office in America. And yet, Gail Collins sees fit to piss all over him in unusually loaded language without a single hat-tip or moment of recognition—even her mention of DADT comes in a compliment so backhanded it’s no compliment at all. She refuses to acknowledge that he might have done SOME good in addition to bugging the crap out of her and me both for the last eight years or longer. I can’t imagine her writing this piece about Gloria Steinem or even Jesse Jackson or any other group’s “trailblazer” or “pioneer,” as the Times usually likes to call them.

You can say that Joe Lieberman is a pompous jerk who looks in the mirror and sees a combination of Winston Churchill and the Prophet Elijah and likes to listen to the sound of his voice all day long and really, who would object? It’s true. But Lieberman—who was Connecticut’s most tight-ass attorney general ever—is the opposite of the person who is out to make a lot of money from politics. He’s something worse—a self-infatuated, self-righteous prick. And so, to apply that specific cliché of being greedy for money to him by referencing the Old Testament goes beyond mere laziness. It’s laziness so extreme as to suggest that there is another reason why Collins thinks that the shoe fits so well.

Goodbye to a Guy Named Joe [NYT]
Related: Lieberman’s Betrayal [Tablet Magazine]
Earlier: Lieberman Will Retire

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I see antisemtism in writings by Roger Cohen, Nicholas Kristof and Robert Wright, to name a few columnists who’ve jumped on that bandwagon recently. I don’t see it in what Gail Collins has written.

Daniel says:

Quibble #1: You call Navasky a “co-religionist” of Lieberman. But do you have reason to think rhat Navasky in any way considers himself religiously Jewish in any way? Perhaps “co-ethnicist” would be more accurate.

Quibble #2: If you are going to call Lieberman an “unusually opportunistic hack – even by the standards of politicians” in this forum, you should not just state it, you should offer some comparative evidence for it. Otherwise, someone might suggest you are just an opportunistic hack of a writer.

shavit says:

This is the single best article on antisemitism I’ve ever read (and i’ve read quite a few).

This is the stuff actual discussions on the nature of antisemitism are made of … so much so that i feel i should go and think about it before posting an attempt at actual discussion …

good on you tablet.

I think the in-it-for-money trope is the lazy way to attack politicians–period. That the target happens to be Jewish would make it seem tone deaf if it weren’t that virtually every politician gets attacked in the same terms. In this case, as in many others, it’s inaccurate. Joe’s in it for the ego-gratification. Once upon a time, he might even have been there to do some good, but he gave that up a long time ago.

godel a. says:

I’m surprised this many people even bother reading gail collins, possibly the dullest opinionator for the nytimes.

You lost me after first comment. Never interested in money? Are you kidding? Lieberman is one of the biggest corporate whores (excuse the French) in the Senate. Who do you think paid for his re-election campaign as an independent? All the rich corporations he sold his votes to, that’s who. Maybe he doesn’t lead a lavish lifestyle but selling your soul for money exactly describes Lieberman.

As for the exceptionalism trope, Lieberman is the biggest holier-than-thou jerk in the Senate and that is saying quite a bit. he thinks because he supports DADT he deserves a pass on his unmitigated support for destroying the last shreds of US democracy. Whatever “good” he did was washed away by all lthe votes he sold to the military industrial complex, the financial sector, big pharma and the entertainment business. Have any of you actually been following his voting record over past decade?

In my view Collins is soft on this good for nothing bum, and using anti-semitism to defend him is an insult to all Jews who truly suffered at the hands of anti-semites.

This is pretty funny. I don’t see any anti-antisemitism here but no one cares about, yes let’s call it what it is, a blood libel such as the Palestinian woman who was, as the NYT trumpeted on the front page, killed by Israeli tear gas. And now wonder of wonder it turns out that she was killed by medical malpractice in a Palestinian hospital. A tiny bit of checking would have revealed that she wasn’t at the protest, she was being treated for a medical condition, the family refused an autopsy, no one has ever been killed by tear gas and that the Palestinians in the past have routinely lied about similar incidents. The NYT is full of these types of articles.

The argument for antisemitism reads like an Onion piece. I.e. it’s so baseless it makes sense only as satire. I find not a scintilla of Jewish quotient in the column.

Ruth Gutmann says:

Lieberman is not my favorite politician. And it is quite true that Gail Collins is the dullest columnist of the NYT. A feature of that writing is her temptation to use every cliche about Jews in people’s psyche. Who, on leaving the Senate, gets blamed for finding a well-paying job? Tom Daschle, Trent Lott, etc.? Lieberman’s motives are questioned before he has even landed a job — as far as we know.

As for people refusing to recognize anti-Semitic slurs when they are staring them in the face…that does not mean her slurs aren’t there.

Shmuel says:

Oh, please. Tablet of all publications should know that criticizing Jews for their actions doesn’t make one antisemitic. This appears to be a case of somebody looking for reasons to be offended.

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Is Today’s NYT Column Anti-Semitic?

A friend says yes; I merely marvel at Lieberman’s effect on Jews

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