Mondo Weiss

1295450984goldberg_011811_380pxB Over at Tablet, Michelle Goldberg profiles Philip Weiss:

When Philip Weiss, the Jewish anti-Zionist writer and blogger, compares himself to Theodor Herzl, he’s not being ironic. “I actually am like him in certain ways,” he says. “Herzl said, ‘Anti-Semites made me Jewish again.’ I would say that neo-conservatives made me Jewish again.”

To the legion of Jews that Weiss has enraged, this will sound perverse. It’s certainly self-aggrandizing. But it also gets at the way that Weiss has abandoned a deeply assimilated life for a profound—if idiosyncratic and tortured—engagement with Jewish questions. As the founder of Mondoweiss, a blog that has become a nucleus of anti-Zionist writing, and a co-editor of a new book about Richard Goldstone’s report on Israel’s 2008 invasion of Gaza, Weiss says that he now thinks about Jewishness all the time. In his fierce critique of tribal identity, he’s found his tribe—one he believes is growing.

“I think I was alienated from a lot of Jewish communal life in my 20s, 30s, 40s,” Weiss says. “One symptom of that is the fact that I’d never been to Israel until 2006. I was 50 before I got to Israel.” Now that he is 55, Israel has become the center of his life. He goes to rabbinical conventions and corresponds with left-wing Israelis. “I love what I’ve undergone in the last few years,” he says. “And I love my engagement with Jewish communal life now.”

Of course, much of that engagement comes in the form of relentless criticism. Weiss’ blog is fulsomely, intensely anti-Israel—it’s a universe in which even Noam Chomsky, hero of anti-imperialists worldwide, is criticized for his residual attachment to the Jewish state. His obsessive focus on Israel has come at the expense of a successful career as a magazine journalist. Harvard-educated, he got his start writing for the New Republic and later contributed features to New York, and the New York Times Magazine and wrote a column for the New York Observer. Initially he launched Mondoweiss as a general-interest blog on the New York Observer website. When he started to focus on Israel, his editor warned him that he was becoming a crank.

He didn’t listen, and in 2007 he left the Observer, taking the blog with him. Today it operates under the umbrella of the nonprofit Nation Institute, which allows Weiss to solicit tax-deductable contributions. But its budget comes entirely from donations, and Weiss has to rely on his wife, the writer and editor Cynthia Kling, to help support him.

It’s a little hard to figure out why Weiss threw so much away for a cause that was so new to him. Naturally, he sees a linear moral logic to his journey. He looks at contemporary Israel and is appalled.