To the Editor:

Like Edward Alexander [“The Nerve of Ruth Wisse,” May], I too was surprised by Robert Alter’s attack on Ruth R. Wisse in the New Republic, since I would have expected him to be in accord with her views. But having corresponded for many years with two friends—one to the Left of me and one to the Right—I have some understanding of the problem.

When you are trying to present an argument, one phrase perceived as hostile is enough to put the recipient in a defensive mode. Mr. Alter apparently identifies himself as a “liberal,” and once he saw the liberals were to be attacked, any serious consideration of Mrs. Wisse’s ideas was over.

Had Mrs. Wisse attacked “leftists” instead of “liberals,” she would have done a better job of coalition-building, but written a less honest book. I am not sure an attack restricted to leftists would have been worth writing. It is liberals who are the problem here. Even though they so identify themselves, neither Robert Alter nor the New Republic is liberal on foreign policy.

Let me say a word on behalf of the liberals, though. Without any liberals, you have Yugoslavia.

William A. Baker
Bloomfield, New Jersey



To the Editor:

In Edward Alexander’s discussion of the controversy between Robert Alter and Ruth R. Wisse, I did not detect the quality of rahmanut (mercy), or as it is called in Yiddish, rahmoness. It should be possible, in my opinion, for a committed Jew and Zionist, one whose essential being is defined largely by those terms, to see the Palestinians as a suffering people, a people who need help, even with the knowledge that it is the Palestinian people themselves, and especially their leaders (including religious leaders), who have brought them to their present situation, and not the Jews (Zionists) whom they blame and regard as their enemy. . . .

David L. Klepper
New York City



Edward Alexander writes:

Although I agree with much of what William A. Baker says, I am not sure that the absence of liberals explains the catastrophe in the former Yugoslavia. In fact, one might plausibly argue that the beginning of that country’s slide toward disaster was the international community’s application of the liberal principle of national self-determination, giving us the state of Croatia and its very popular anti-Semitic (and anti-Serbian) president, Franjo Tudjman.

Since the Palestinians have for many years been the world’s chief recipients of pity, I am not sure how adding my mite would help them. Or does David L. Klepper think that pity is supposed to be good for the person who feels it rather than its intended recipient? This is, of course, the attitude of the proverbial do-gooders, whose ranks I do not wish to join because they tend to confuse doing good with feeling good about what they are doing. In fact, Mr. Klepper might wish to consider the possibility that there is an inverse relationship between feeling pity for the Palestinian Arabs and giving them the kind of help they need. As William Blake once wrote, “Pity would be no more,/ If we could not make somebody poor.”

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