July 20, 2020


Why is everyone so mean to Bari Weiss? (Robert Wright, Jul 19 2020, NonZero)

I just want to note something others have noted about Weiss: she punctuates fierce defenses of free and untrammeled speech with attempts to expel people from the community of discourse because of things they've said. Obviously, if you can get enough elites to share your view that a person is anti-Semitic, that person won't be welcome on mainstream platforms. To call someone an anti-Semite is to argue for their cancellation.

Which in some cases would be OK with me. But Weiss's definition of anti-Semitism is pretty broad. For example: she says that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. So by her lights it must be time to cancel Peter Beinart, the former editor of the New Republic and current contributor to The Atlantic and Jewish Currents. Beinart (an Orthodox Jew) this month wrote a New York Times op-ed arguing that a two-state solution will never happen, so it's time to give up on maintaining a Jewish state and to work instead on creating a single political entity encompassing Israel and Palestine and granting equal rights to all. Beinart contends that this needn't mean the end of Zionism, since there would still be a "Jewish home" in the Middle East, but Weiss's version of Zionism entails a Jewish state, so...it's been nice knowing you, Peter.

In her resignation letter, Weiss complained about being "the subject of constant bullying" by colleagues at the New York Times who "disagree with my views." She has also attracted a fair amount of wrath in the wider world. Last week Katie Herzog, a fellow signer of the Harper's letter and a friend of Weiss's, expressed puzzlement over this. "It's strange that she has become the sort of villain on Twitter," Herzog said to Aryeh Cohen-Wade, host of the bloggingheads.tv show Culturally Determined. "I'm curious about if somebody could point out, like, all of Bari's sins... I'm guessing that they're going to seem a little bit smaller than the hype around her would suggest."

I'll accept that challenge! I mean, I can't speak for all of Twitter, but I'm happy to note some things about Weiss's writing that trigger me, some of which I've seen trigger others. 

I've already alluded to one common complaint: Weiss has long cast herself as an opponent of cancel culture, yet she repeatedly, if implicitly, encourages canceling people. But I wouldn't want my indictment of her to rest heavily on that. Pretty much all of us champion free speech yet have people we'd like to cancel. Or, to put it more high-mindedly, we all can name views we consider so pernicious that their advocates shouldn't be featured on respectable platforms or at respectable gatherings. Who among us would go to a soiree attended by David Duke? Or object if we heard that software at the Times op-ed page sent his submissions straight to the spam folder? 

Nor do I think we can indict Weiss for spending so much of her time on a particular cancellation criterion--for the fact that, as Herzog put it, "she has a hyper-focus on anti-Semitism." We all have our pet issues. 

It's when you look closely at how Weiss deploys that focus, and the consequences of the deployment, that the indictment starts gathering force. I think her approach to the anti-Semitism problem seriously damages American political discourse. And her approach is shared by lots of influential people and institutions--which makes her that much more important as a case study. So here are the bullet points from my case study--five things about Bari Weiss's writing that trigger me:

1. Her criteria for cancellation lack moral coherence. 

Posted by at July 20, 2020 12:00 AM