s there a character in 19th-century prose fiction who remains more familiar to the general public than Sherlock Holmes? While Captain Ahab, Lewis Carroll’s Alice, Count Dracula, Huckleberry Finn, Jekyll and Hyde, Ebenezer Scrooge, and Uncle Tom are still widely known by name, most of them are well on the way to becoming symbolic figures who are better known as concepts (and as TV and movie characters) than as creations of literary art. Yet the world’s first private consulting detective lives on, not only as embodied by Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller on television but on paper as well. When last I looked, the paperback edition of The Complete Sherlock Holmes ranked No. 5,650 in sales on Amazon, a more than respectable figure for two fat volumes of novels and short stories originally published between 1887 and 1921 by an author whose other books are forgotten.
The most important element of the appeal of the Holmes stories is the personality of their principal character, closely followed by his relationship with his amanuensis.One can scarcely conceive of a more fitting tribute to the enduring popularity of Holmes and Dr. Watson, his slightly dense but nonetheless lovable roommate-amanuensis, than The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories,1 a new collection of Holmes stories—homages, pastiches, parodies, spoofs—written by authors other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Painstakingly and imaginatively compiled by Otto Penzler, the proprietor of New York’s Mysterious Bookshop and a noted authority on mystery and crime fiction, this tombstone-sized volume contains 83 stories by writers who are by turns famous (Kingsley Amis, Stephen King) and known only to aficionados (Dorothy B. Hughes, Hugh Kingsmill). Some are maladroit imitations, but not a few are so well crafted as to be virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
A Holmes fan not comprehensively familiar with the canon would be hard-pressed, for instance, to spot this passage from Vincent Starrett’s “The Unique ‘Hamlet,'” written in 1920, as a fake:
“Affluent, yes,” said Holmes with a mischievous twinkle, “but not exactly a banker, Watson. Notice the sagging pockets, despite the excellence of his clothing, and the rather exaggerated madness of his eye. He is a collector, or I am very much mistaken.”
What may in the end be most interesting about The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes, though, is the mere fact of its existence. Other fictional characters, prominent among them Ian Fleming’s James Bond, have been recycled by later writers, but Holmes’s posthumous life (so to speak) outstrips that of any of his competitors. Indeed, there are by now far more ersatz Holmes stories than original ones. And while it is amusing to see how the likes of Ring Lardner and P.G. Wodehouse went about resuscitating him, anyone who picks up Penzler’s book, fascinating as it is, will more than likely be inspired to return to “The Red-Headed League” or The Sign of the Four instead of digging deeper among the lesser apocrypha.
What keeps Sherlock Holmes alive? As is customarily the case with serial literature, the most important element of the appeal of the Holmes stories is the personality of their principal character, closely followed by his relationship with his amanuensis. Saturnine, sardonic, and inexplicably indifferent to women, rational to a fault yet afflicted by an ennui so profound that he must resort to cocaine in order to dispel it, Holmes is the very model of an English eccentric, exotic everywhere but in his native land.
To have created him was a considerable feat of the romantic imagination. To have paired him with Dr. Watson, the retired army surgeon who narrates all but a handful of the stories, was a stroke of something not unlike genius. It is Watson’s phlegmatic good humor that roots the fantastic adventures of Holmes and his clients in the quotidian world of Victorian London, thereby making them as quintessentially British as H.M.S. Pinafore, Barchester Towers, or hot buttered crumpets and jam. What makes the stories rereadable long after we have their plots by heart is the byplay of the two men, as well as Doyle’s charming descriptions of life in the Baker Street flat that they share:
But with me there is a limit, and when I find a man who keeps his cigars in the coal-scuttle, his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper, and his unanswered correspondence transfixed by a jack-knife into the very centre of his wooden mantelpiece, then I begin to give myself virtuous airs.
Yet there is more to the Holmes stories than charm. I suspect that most modern-day readers first encounter them, as I did, in childhood. They were not written for children, however, and to read them today is to see at once that they are direct reflections of the contemporary response to such shocking crimes as the “Jack the Ripper” murders, which took place in 1888, two years after Conan Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet, the first Holmes story.
Conan Doyle is not known ever to have commented on Jack the Ripper. Still, he would have read about the murderer’s widely reported activities, just as he was well aware of the sordid poverty of East London, which is portrayed in “The Man with the Twisted Lip,” whose title character operates out of an East End opium den located in “a vile alley…between a slop-shop and a gin-shop.” Indeed, some of the most modern-sounding passages in the Holmes stories are their grisly descriptions of crime scenes, which foreshadow the blood-soaked police-procedural TV series of today.
This points to another source of Holmes’s perennial appeal, which is that he is, in common with most other fictional detectives of the 19th and early-20th centuries, a fundamentally reassuring presence, one whose phenomenal crime-solving abilities remind us that the encroaching disorder of the world around us need not be irresistible. Small wonder, then, that the Holmes stories were so successfully filmed in Hollywood during World War II, with Basil Rathbone’s Holmes transformed into a hunter of Nazi spies.
Nor have the residents of 221B Baker Street come close to wearing out their welcome. In addition to an endless string of further film adaptations, two hit TV series—the BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’s Elementary—have transplanted Holmes and Watson to present-day London and New York, altering them as needed to accommodate the pop-culture obsessions of our own time (and, in the case of Elementary, turning Watson into a sexy Asian woman). The popularity of these adaptations demonstrates the archetypical aspect of Conan Doyle’s original characters, whose idiosyncrasies remain recognizable no matter how radical the change in setting. Whether Holmes stimulates his psyche with a 7-percent solution of injectable cocaine or the trendier nicotine patches favored in Sherlock, he remains the same chilly-souled master of ratiocination that he was in the days of Queen Victoria.
It is, however, one thing to create a permanently memorable character and another to write fiction of permanent interest about him. That the Holmes stories have remained readable is self-evident, but this is not proof of their literary merit, about which their author harbored no illusions:
The best literary work is that which leaves the reader better for having read it. Now, nobody can possibly be the better—in the high sense in which I mean it—for reading Sherlock Holmes, although he may have passed a pleasant hour in doing so.
Conan Doyle’s own objection to the stories, and to detective stories in general, was that “they only call for the use of a certain portion of one’s imaginative faculty, the invention of a plot, without giving any scope for character drawing.” In fact, though, this objection comes close to inverting the truth about Sherlock Holmes. To be sure, the puzzles that he solves are clever enough, but their cleverness exhausts itself on first reading. It is Holmes the character that fascinates us—and it is his failure to develop other than superficially that is the principal weakness of the stories, above all when they are read in bulk.
Anyone who returns to the Holmes stories in adulthood after having put them aside for half a lifetime, as I recently did in writing this essay, will be forcibly struck by this weakness. For the Holmes and Watson of A Study in Scarlet, it turns out, are already fully developed as personalities. While we learn a certain number of new things about them in the tales that follow, they do not grow, nor does their relationship alter in any significant way. Similarly, they remain fixed in time and thus never grapple with the complicating problems of modernity (except in “His Last Bow,” a 1917 story that shows us Holmes and Watson on the eve of World War I).
While this perpetual sameness is generally taken to be part of the charm of the Holmes stories, readers who expect more out of literature than mental comfort food are more likely to find that it palls quickly. Conan Doyle certainly did. One of the most noteworthy features of the stories is the sharp decline that sets in after the publication in 1892 of the first collection, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The excellence of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), the third and best of the four Holmes novels, suggests that he may have felt constricted by the short-story format, in which he was rarely able in later years to do more than reshuffle his own clichés (“It was pleasant to Dr. Watson to find himself once more in the untidy room of the first floor in Baker Street which had been the starting-point of so many remarkable adventures”). Whatever the reason, he was unable to maintain the quality of the series, and one suspects that the underlying problem was that he was not interested enough in Holmes and Watson themselves.
In addition, though, Conan Doyle had to contend with the larger limitation of melodrama, which is its narrowly restrictive subject matter. An intelligently written mystery story or crime novel may use the conventions of genre fiction to explore other aspects of modern life, but in the end, somebody always gets killed, just as a popular song, no matter how good it may be, is always three minutes long. In saying this, it is not my purpose to demean pop culture: I believe, for instance, that most of the best movies made in America in the 20th century were crime dramas, Westerns, and screwball comedies. But there is more to life than murder and wisecracks, just as there is more to love than what can be said within the compass of a 32-bar ballad.
Taken one by one, the best of the Holmes stories contrive up to a point to circumvent this limitation. Yet I find it impossible to imagine, as F.R. Leavis said of the novels of Thomas Peacock, that they will have “a permanent life as light reading—indefinitely rereadable—for minds with mature interests.” Christopher Morley came closer to the point when he described them as a “great encyclopedia of romance,” and to praise them in that way is to leave no doubt of where they fall short. When a great poet uses the conventions of romantic literature to plumb the infinite complexities of human nature, the result is The Tempest. When a talented commercial writer does so, the result is “The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb.”
Yes, Sherlock lives on—and on. Very likely he will continue to do so for decades more to come, if only in the form of the small-screen anti-heroes who have introduced him to a new generation of non-readers who prefer TV to books. But his survival proves only that Conan Doyle knew better than any other popular writer of his generation how to tell his customers what they wanted to hear. That doesn’t make the Holmes stories classic—merely memorable.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Sherlock Holmes, Pro and Con
Must-Reads from Magazine
With the demise of the filibuster for judicial nominations, the Senate has become a more partisan body. Members of the opposition party no longer have to take difficult votes to confirm presidential nominees, and so they no longer have to moderate their rhetoric to avoid the appearance of hypocrisy. Many expected, therefore, that Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings would tempt Democrats to engage in theatrics and hyperbole. Few, however, foresaw just how recklessly the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic members would behave.
The sordid performance to which Americans were privy was not the harmless kind that can be chalked up to presidential ambitions. Right from the start, Democratic committee members took a sledgehammer to the foundations of the institution in which they are privileged to serve.
Sen. Cory Booker made national headlines by declaring himself “Spartacus,” but the actions he undertook deserved closer attention than did the scenery he chewed. Booker insisted that it was his deliberate intention to violate longstanding Senate confidentiality rules supposedly in service to transparency. It turns out, however, that the documents Booker tried to release to the public had already been exempted from confidentiality. Booker was adamant, however, that he had undermined the Senate’s integrity. You see, that, not transparency, was his true objective. It was what he believed his constituents wanted from him.
Booker wasn’t alone. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse appeared to share his colleague’s political instincts. “I want to make it absolutely clear that I do not accept the process,” he said of the committee’s vetting of Kavanaugh’s documents. “Because I do not accept its legitimacy or validity,” Whitehouse added, he did not have to abide by the rules and conventions that governed Senate conduct.
When the committee’s Democratic members were not trying to subvert the Senate’s credibility, they were attempting to impugn Judge Kavanaugh’s character via innuendo or outright fabrications.
Sen. Kamala Harris managed to secure a rare rebuke from the fact-checking institution PolitiFact, which is charitably inclined toward Democratic claims. “Kavanaugh chooses his words very carefully, and this is a dog whistle for going after birth control,” read her comments on Twitter accompanying an 11-second clip in which Kavanaugh characterized certain forms of birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs.” “Make no mistake,” Harris wrote, “this is about punishing women.” But the senator had failed to include mitigating context in that clip, which would have made it clear that Kavanaugh was simply restating the arguments made by the plaintiffs in the case in question.
Later, Harris probed Kavanaugh as to whether he believed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which has never been explicitly ruled unconstitutional, was wrongly upheld by the Supreme Court. Despite calling the decisions of this period “discriminatory,” Kavanaugh declined to elaborate on a case that could theoretically come before the Supreme Court. This, the judge’s detractors insisted, was “alarming” and perhaps evidence of latent racial hostility. In fact, it was an unremarkable example of how Supreme Court nominees tend to avoid offering “forecasts” of how they will decide cases without having heard the arguments—a routine deemed “the Ginsburg Rule” after Ruth Bader, who perfected the practice.
Over a week later, Harris had still not explained what she was getting at. But she doesn’t have to. The vagueness of her claim was designed to allow Kavanaugh’s opponents’ imaginations to run wild, leading them to draw the worst possible conclusions about this likely Supreme Court justice and to conclude that the process by which he was confirmed was a sham.
Harris may not have been alone in appealing to this shameful tactic. On Thursday, Sen. Dianne Feinstein shocked observers when she released a cryptic statement revealing that she had “referred” to “federal investigative authorities” a letter involving Kavanaugh’s conduct. It’s human nature to arrive at the worst imaginable conclusion as to what these unstated claims might be, and that’s precisely what Kavanaugh’s opponents did. It turned out that the 35-year-old accusations involve an anonymous woman who was allegedly cornered in a bedroom by Kavanaugh and a friend during a high-school party. Kavanaugh, the letter alleged, put a hand over her mouth, but the woman removed herself from the situation before anything else occurred. All were minors at the time of this alleged episode, and Kavanaugh denies the allegations.
Some thought it was odd for Feinstein to refer these potentially serious allegations to the FBI this week and in such a public fashion when the allegations contained in a letter were known to Democrats for months. The letter was, after all, obtained by Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo in July. But it doesn’t seem confusing when considering the facts that the FBI all but dismissed the referral off-hand and reporting on the episode lacks any corroboration to substantiate the claims made by the alleged victim here. It is hard not to conclude that this is an attempt to affix an asterisk to Brett Kavanaugh’s name. Democrats will not only claim that this confirmation process was tainted but may now contend that Kavanaugh cannot be an impartial arbitrator—not with unresolved clouds of suspicion involving sexual assault hanging over his head.
Ultimately, as public polling suggests, the Democratic Party’s effort to tarnish Kavanaugh’s reputation through insinuation and theatrics has had the intended effect. Support for this nominee now falls squarely along party lines. But the collateral damage Senate Democrats have done to America’s governing institutions amid this scorched-earth campaign could have lasting and terrible consequences for the country.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
While the nation’s attention is focused on the Carolina coast, something very odd is happening across the country in Sunspot, New Mexico.
Sunspot is hardly a town at all–the nearest stores are 18 miles away. It’s actually a solar observatory 9,200 feet up in the Sacramento Mountains. It is open to the public and has a visitor’s center, but don’t visit it right now. On September 6th, the FBI moved in and evacuated all personnel using Black Hawk helicopters. Local police were told to stay away. The only explanation being given by the FBI is that an unresolved “security issue” is the cause of the evacuation.
The sun is the only astronomical body capable of doing major damage to planet earth without actually hitting us. A coronal mass ejection aimed at the earth could have a devastating impact on satellites, radio transmission, and the electrical grid, possibly causing massive power outages that could last for weeks, even months. (It would also produce spectacular auroras. During the Carrington Event of 1859, the northern lights were seen as far south as the Caribbean and people in New England could read newspapers by the light.)
So, there are very practical, not just intellectual reasons, to know what the sun is up to. But the National Solar Observatory right now is a ghost town, and no one will say why. Such a story should be catnip for journalists.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you.
Americans awoke Thursday morning to a familiar noise: The president of the United States waxing conspiratorial and declaring himself the victim of a nefarious plot.
“3,000 people did not die in the two hurricanes that hit Puerto Rico,” Donald Trump declared on Twitter. He insisted that the loss of life in the immediate aftermath of 2017’s Hurricane Maria topped out in the low double-digits and ballooned into the thousands well after the fact because of faulty accounting. The president did not claim that this misleading figure was attributable to flaws in the studies conducted in the aftermath of last year’s disaster by institutions like George Washington University or the New England Journal of Medicine but to a deliberate misinformation campaign orchestrated by his political opponents. “This was done by the Democrats in order to make me look as bad as possible,” Trump insisted.
If, for some mysterious reason, Trump wanted to attack the validity of these studies, he might have questioned the assumptions and biases that even their authors admit had an unavoidable effect on their confidence intervals. But Trump’s interest is not in accuracy. His desire is to shield himself from blame and to project his administration’s failings—even those as debatable as the disaster that afflicted Puerto Rico for the better part of a year—onto others. The president’s self-consciousness is so transparent at this point that even his defenders in Congress have begun directly confronting the insecurities that fuel these tweets.
Donald Trump has rarely encountered a conspiracy theory he declined to legitimize, and this tendency did not abate when he won the presidency. From his repeated assertions that Moscow’s intervention in the 2016 election was a “hoax,” to the idea that the FBI shielded Hillary Clinton from due scrutiny, to the baseless notion that “millions and millions” of illegal-immigrant voters deprived him of a popular vote victory, all of this alleged sedition has a common theme: Trump is the injured party.
The oddest thing about all this is that these are the golden days. Trump-era Republicans will look back on this as the halcyon period in which all of Washington’s doors were open to them. The president’s ostensible allies control every chamber of government. The power his adversaries command is of the soft sort—cultural and moral authority—but not the kind of legal power that could prevent Trump and Republicans from realizing their agenda. That could be about to change.
The signs that a backlash to unified Republican rule in Washington was brewing have been obvious almost since the moment Trump took the oath of office. Democrats have consistently overperformed in special and off-year elections, their candidates have outraised the GOP, and a near-record number of Republicans opted to retire rather than face reelection in 2018. The Democratic Party’s performance in the generic ballot test has outpaced the GOP for well over a year, sometimes by double-digits, leading many to speculate that Democrats are well positioned to retake control of the House of Representatives. Now, despite the opposition party’s structural disadvantages, some are even beginning to entertain the prospect of a Democratic takeover in the Senate.
Until this point, the Trump administration has faced no real adversity. Sure, the administration’s executive overreach has been rejected in the courts and occasionally public outcry has forced the White House to abandon ill-considered initiatives, but it’s always been able to rely on the GOP majorities in Congress to shield it from the worst consequences of its actions. That phase of the Trump presidency could be over by January. For the first time, this president could have to contend with at least one truly adversarial chamber of the legislature, and opposition will manifest first in the form of investigations.
How will the White House respond when House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings is tasked with investigating the president’s response to a natural disaster or when he subpoenas the president’s personal records? How will Trump respond when Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler is overseeing the investigation into the FBI’s response to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, not Bob Goodlatte? Will the Department of Homeland Security’s border policies withstand public scrutiny when it’s Mississippi’s Bennie Thompson, not Texas’s Michael McCaul, doing the scrutinizing? How will Wall Street react to a Washington where financial-services oversight is no longer led by Jeb Hensarling but Maxine Waters? If the Democrats take the House, the legislative phase of the Trump era be over, but the investigative phase will have only just begun.
In many ways, this presidency behaved as though it were operating in a bunker from day one, and not without reason. Trump had every reason to fear that the culture of Washington and even many of the members of his own party were secretly aligned against him, but the key word there is “secret.” The secret is about to be out. The Trump White House hasn’t yet faced a truly adversarial Washington institution with teeth, but it is about to. If you think you’ve seen a bunker mentality in this White House, you haven’t seen anything yet.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Podcast: Google and Kavanaugh.
Will Google survive the revelations of its political bias, or are those revelations nothing new? We delve into the complexities of the world in which important tech companies think they are above politics until they decide they’re not. Also some stuff on the Supreme Court and on polls. Give a listen.
Choose your plan and pay nothing for six Weeks!
Smeared for doing the job.
When then-presidential candidate Donald Trump famously declared his intention to be a “neutral” arbiter of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian territories and put the onus for resolving the conflict on Jerusalem, few observers could have predicted that Trump would run one of the most pro-Israel administrations in American history.
This year, the Trump administration began relocating the U.S. embassy in Israel to the nation’s capital city, fulfilling a promise that began in 1995 with the passage of a law mandating this precise course of action. The administration also declined to blame Israel for defending its Gaza border against a Hamas-led attack. Last week, the administration shuttered the PLO’s offices in Washington.
The Trump administration’s commitment to shedding the contradictions and moral equivalencies that have plagued past administrations has exposed anti-Zionism for what its critics so often alleged it to be.
This week, Department of Education Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights Kenneth Marcus announced his intention to vacate an Obama-era decision that dismissed an alleged act of anti-Semitism at Rutgers University. Marcus’s decision to reopen that particularly deserving case has led the New York Times to publish an article by Erica L. Green full of misconceptions, myths, and dissimulations about the nature of the anti-Israel groups in question and the essential characteristics of anti-Semitism itself.
In reporting on Marcus’s move, Green declared the education activist and opponent of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement a “longtime opponent of Palestinian rights causes,” a designation the paper’s editor felt fine printing without any substantiating evidence. You could be forgiven for thinking that BDS itself constituted a cause of “Palestinian rights” and not an international effort to stigmatize and harm both Israel and its supporters. If you kept reading beyond that second paragraph, your suspicions were confirmed.
Green contended that Marcus’s decision has paved the way for the Education Department to adopt a “hotly contested definition of anti-Semitism” that includes: denying Jews “the right to self-determination,” claiming that the state of Israel is a “racist endeavor,” and applying a double standard to Israel not “expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” As Jerusalem Post reporter and COMMENTARY contributor Lahav Harkov observed, this allegedly “hotly contested definition” is precisely the same definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. In 2010, the IHRA’s working definition was adopted almost in total by Barack Obama’s State Department.
Green went so far as to say that this not-so-new definition for anti-Semitism has, according to Arab-American activists, declared “the Palestinian cause anti-Semitic.” So that is the Palestinian cause? Denying Jews the right to self-determination, calling the state of Israel itself a racist enterprise, and holding it to nakedly biased double standards? So much for the two-state solution.
Perhaps the biggest tell in the Times piece was its reporters’ inability to distinguish between pro-Palestinian activism and anti-Israeli agitation. The complaint the Education Department is preparing to reinvestigate involves a 2011 incident in which an event hosted by the group Belief Awareness Knowledge and Action (BAKA) allegedly imposed an admissions fee on Jewish and pro-Israel activists after unexpected numbers arrived to protest the event. An internal email confirmed that the group only charged this fee because “150 Zionists” “just showed up,” but the Obama administration dismissed the claim, saying that the organization’s excuse—that it expected heftier university fees following greater-than-expected attendance—was innocuous enough.
Green did not dwell on the group, which allegedly discriminated against Jews and pro-Israeli activists. If she had, she’d have reported that, just a few weeks before this incident, BAKA staged another event on Rutgers’s campus—a fundraiser for the organization USTOGAZA, which provided aid to the campaign of “flotillas” challenging an Israeli blockade of Gaza. USTOGAZA’s links to the Turkey-based organization Insani Yardim Vakfi (IHH), which has long been associated with support for Hamas-led terrorist activities, rendered the money raised in this event legally suspect. Eventually, as Brooke Goldstein wrote for COMMENTARY, even BAKA conceded the point:
After community members demanded that Rutgers, a state-funded university, hold an investigation before handing over any money to USTOGAZA, the school responded by offering to keep the money raised in an escrow account until a suitable recipient could be found. In June 2011, BAKA sent out an e-mail admitting the University had, after “much deliberation” and despite their initial approval, “decided that they are not willing to release the funds to the US to Gaza effort” due to concerns of being found liable for violating the material-support statutes.
Rutgers prudently limited BAKA’s ability to participate in on-campus events after these incidents, but the organization that took their place—Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP)—is no better. The Times quoted officials with the Center for Law and Justice who praised Marcus’s move and cited SJP as a source of particular consternation, but the reporters did not delve into the group’s activities. If they had, they’d find that the organization’s activities—among them declaring that “Zionists are racists,” supporting anti-Zionist individuals despite credible accusations of child abuse, and endorsing Hamas’s governing platform, which labels the entire state of Israel “occupied territory”—fits any cogent definition of anti-Semitism. This is to say nothing of the abuse and harassment that American Jews experience on college campuses that play host to SJP’s regular “Israel apartheid weeks.”
Some might attribute the Times’ neutral portrayal of groups that tacitly support violence and people like Omar Barghouti—an activist who “will never accept a Jewish state in Palestine” and has explicitly endorsed “armed resistance” against Jews, who he insists are “not a people”—to ignorance, as though that would neutralize the harm this dispatch might cause. But the Times piece has emboldened those who see Israel’s Jewish character as a threat both to its political culture and our own. That worrying sentiment was succinctly expressed by New York Magazine’s Eric Levitz: “You don’t have to be a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause to question Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”
The benefit of the doubt only extends so far. Even the charitably inclined should have discovered its limits by now.