Bari Weiss, the Zionist journalist who said she felt bullied before she quit the New York Times, spoke at a Milwaukee Jewish Federation philanthropic event to honor major donors in October. She warned of anti-Jewish trends in America.
During the session, chaired by Linda and Greg Marcus and Judy and David Coran, Weiss warned that illiberal trends have spread from college campuses to major institutions like the New York Times. Weiss wrote an Oct. 14 article for Tablet.com, “Stop Being Shocked,” that makes an argument along the same lines.
Make no mistake, Weiss is controversial, and she has her detractors. But when she issued her scathing public resignation letter to the New York Times in July, it was a rear-guard action that further solidified her place in the national conversation.
“My work and my character are openly demeaned on company-wide Slack channels where masthead editors regularly weigh in. There, some coworkers insist I need to be rooted out if this company is to be a truly ‘inclusive’ one, while others post ax emojis next to my name,” wrote Weiss, who describes herself as roughly center-left, yet to the right of the culture of the Times, and a Zionist. “I’m no legal expert. But I know that this is wrong.”
In her meeting with Federation donors, Weiss was relaxed, tackling heart-wrenching issues with an among-friends demeanor. Milwaukee reminds her of Pittsburgh hamishness, she said, referring to the city where she grew up.
“Really what you are seeing is the transformation of the New York Times from within,” she told her Milwaukee Zoom audience. “And it’s really just one of many, many institutions that’s going through that fundamental kind of transformation.”
She indicated the “post-modern, post–colonialist, critical race theory ideas” of the college campus have been brought by former students to museums, publishing houses, corporate America, the New York Times, and other institutions. This, she said, has led to environments of “intellectual orthodoxy,” to the point where she was viewed as a “heretic” at the New York Times.
Weiss said that when she was an undergraduate at Columbia University, she was treated like she was a racist, because she’s a Zionist and some there believed that Zionism is racism.
She said classical liberalism is under attack – a threat to values like reason, colorblind justice, neutrality, free thought and free speech. “We don’t even think of those (as values) that we think we need to defend, because they’re so obvious,” she said. “But they’re not obvious anymore.”
She said this intellectual trend on the left is giving people who identify as victims a greater claim on truth and morality. “It basically says we need to suspend the rules of the Enlightenment themselves because those rules were created to protect dead white men,” she said.
“This is an extremely, extremely dangerous ideology for Jews,” she said. “What this ideology says is, we claim to be on the side of the oppressed but in fact we’re just white people …. It flattens us. It flattens our history. It erases us.”
Weiss covered other topics. She talked about her Pittsburgh origins and that she knew people who were killed in the October 2018 Tree of Life massacre there.
She advised listeners to tell the truth even when it’s inconvenient and to call out antisemitism “on your own side.” If you’re on the left, call it out on the left; if you’re on the right, call it out on the right. It’s more credible when you call out your own side, she said.
She also said the Jewish people need to think about what is essential at this time.
“We don’t just build for the living,” she said. “We build for the future.”
To make the point that Jews are resilient and can overcome uncertainty together, Weiss quoted the 1900s novelist Walker Percy:
“Where are the Hittites? Why does no one find it remarkable that in most world cities today there are Jews but not one single Hittite, even though the Hittites had a great flourishing civilization while the Jews nearby were a weak and obscure people? When one meets a Jew in New York or New Orleans or Paris or Melbourne, it is remarkable that no one considers the event remarkable. What are they doing here? But it is even more remarkable to wonder, if there are Jews here, why are there not Hittites here? Where are the Hittites? Show me one Hittite in New York City.”
She said she has the quote on a Post-It note by her computer.