Bari Weiss is articulate and passionate, and presumably good at her job, so there’s no reason the New York Times should have fired her — which they didn’t. She left on her own, the same day Andrew Sullivan left New York Magazine, apparently to launch a new venture together (Sullivan says to stay tuned for an announcement this Friday). That’s a bold thing to do, maybe even brave.
What’s not brave is framing this as your “j’accuse” moment, as a headline-grabbing stand on principle, when you’re really ginning up publicity for a new business opportunity and have a full dance card of speaking engagements lined up (Full disclosure: of course I’m jealous!). As though you’re martyring yourself on the altar of Jewish survival and intellectual freedom. Thanks, but PEN already has too many genuine heroes and martyrs, with Jamal Khashoggi the most prominent.
What’s not brave is calling out writers and politicians you disagree with, when it earns you acclaim and book sales and speaking engagements. That’s all fair and maybe admirable (maybe), but hardly brave.
Whether it’s pro-Israel zealots (think Zionist Organization of America rather than American Jewish Committee) on one side or BDS extremists on the other, there’s a pitched battle to cancel and fire and disinvite and defund academics and activists perceived as being the enemy.
Even trivializing and weaponizing the Holocaust knows no monopoly. Detractors have accused Israel of Nazi tactics, and some of its defenders have branded Jewish critics as Nazi collaborators.
Many of those most outraged by Weiss’ departure and public letter have already been boycotting the Times for years, which is itself a feature of the “cancel culture” they now deride. Nor are they lining up to defend independent media against President Trump’s incessant attacks (see under: New York Times, CNN, even FoxNews).
Weiss herself has campaigned for the dismissal of professors and she supported Israel’s barring a visit by Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan). Let’s say these are good and noble causes, it’s still hard to then turn around and complain about cancel culture. (“I’m shocked, shocked!”)
Those who really want to punish rather than engage and debate Israel’s critics are free to pursue that agenda, as are their counterparts. Celebrate the victories and bemoan the defeats. But for active participants in cancel culture to also complain about it is disingenuous and pulls us all down.
Will Bari Weiss now be consigned to a life of privations and anonymity as a result of her political stands? Hardly. She may legitimately be a hero to many on the pro-Israel side, but the truly brave are those who — whether we support or reject their cause — risk their careers and reputations for something greater than themselves.
Her public letter alleges an atmosphere of intolerance, bullying, intimidation, and anti-Semitism, which begs a full investigation with evidence, testimony, and potential consequences. Ironically, she lists nearly two dozen non-leftist writers among the many she brought in to the Times’ op-ed pages, then complains about the Times not allowing any heterodox opinions — so which is it? She labels herself a “centrist”…well, wouldn’t we each do likewise? And she complains about the fear of getting fired as she quits of her own accord.
Claiming victimhood and martyrdom on your way out the door may be snowflake or self-promoting, but it’s not brave. Though I don’t share her passion for punishing and boycotting critics of Israel, I honestly look forward to whatever new projects Ms. Weiss has planned. So celebrate her because you agree with her positions and appreciate her eloquence — or because you’re keeping score for “our side” — and by all means find out what stinks at the paper of record, but let’s stop pretending there’s some universal principle for which she’s sacrificed herself, or that she has credibility in the fight for intellectual freedom and against cancel culture.