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Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 1999 /14 Tishrei, 5760

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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The Silence of the Pundits -- NEARLY 10 YEARS AGO, a nationally syndicated political columnist wrote a memorable article. The piece clearly laid out the reasons for his hostility to American Jews and Israel, and why he didn't care about the criticism his words would generate.

The author was Patrick J. Buchanan, the man who may well be the Reform Party's nominee for president of the United States next year. Whether he pulls that coup off or not, Buchanan is still the most prominent anti-Semite in American politics of the last 60 years.

Published in the New York Post on Sept. 19, 1990, the article was only the most blatant instance of Buchanan's contempt for Israel and Jews in general. It's worth recalling that specific piece, because it is not merely part of the paper trail of a pugnacious wordsmith. The column is prima facie evidence of open hostility to Jews.

A few examples from that column will suffice to explain the point. While decrying anti-Semitism, Buchanan accused Israel and its "amen corner" of fomenting war in the Persian Gulf, in which non-Jewish American boys would die to serve the Jewish state's purposes. He cited a cabal of the Anti-Defamation League and New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal as having contracted "a hit" on him for exposing the plot. Then, he went on to accuse Israel of plotting to steal the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

What else was on his mind? He was angry about Jewish accusations about Pope Pius XI's indifference to the Holocaust (charges recently substantiated by a new book which documents Pius' anti-Jewish sentiments).

Then, in a flight of fantasy, Buchanan cited an anonymous report that Israel's Mossad had conspired to allow Islamic fundamentalist terrorists to murder 242 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1982. This astounding, monstrous lie is the epitome of the blood libel - a fitting successor to the medieval charges that Jews sacrificed Christian children on Passover.

In another column, published on March 17, 1990, Buchanan, who has been a prominent defender of a number of Nazi war criminals, referred to a "so-called Holocaust survivor syndrome," which he described as involving "group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics."

And, just last November, Buchanan wrote a piece claiming that too many Jews and Asians were gaining admittance to Ivy League universities. Thus, he called for an affirmative-action program that would favor white non-Jewish males!

Does it matter if the Reform party candidate is hostile to Jews? Reform is the creature of Ross Perot's independent candidacy for president in 1992 and 1996. Whoever becomes its standard-bearer will likely be on the ballot in all 50 states next November and have millions of federal campaign-finance dollars to spend.

The Reform nomination may earn its candidate a place in the presidential debates, as well as a serious hearing throughout the campaign. All of which means that the possibility of Buchanan gaining that honor is no small matter for American Jews.

Though some in the Reform party are not happy about Buchanan, he fits right in with many of the political misfits, malcontents and screwballs who marched under Ross Perot's banner. A prime example is Lenora Fulani, who is a leader of the Reform party in New York state and a crackpot left-wing anti-Semite.

The fact is, the Reform party is a much better fit for Buchanan than the Republican party. Buchanan is not even really a conservative, unless you think the only way to define that term is a candidate's stand on abortion or a know-nothing attitudes toward immigrants.

Buchanan is, instead, a throwback to the agrarian Populist movement of the 1890s: isolationist, anti-immigrant and hostile to Jews. And his class-warfare attacks on free trade put him outside the free market and libertarian ideals that have defined most modern American conservative thinking. He is much more in the tradition of those hayseed socialists than that of his one-time boss, Ronald Reagan.

As for Buchanan's most recent book, A Republic, Not an Empire: Reclaiming America's Destiny, give him credit. Rather than publishing a puff piece designed to help his campaign, he has actually given us nearly 400 pages of what he really thinks.

Leiters Sukkah

Readers should be prepared for the fact that most of the book is a half-baked, poorly researched history of American foreign policy. The goal is to justify isolationism. He devotes considerable space to decrying American participation in World War II (he thinks we would have been better off letting the Nazis and the Soviets slug it out on their own) and defending the "America First" movement, which opposed Franklin Roosevelt's tilt toward the Allies before Pearl Harbor. The book is filled with distortions and revisionist nonsense.

He opposes almost all humanitarian interventions abroad by the United States and decries Jewish influence on American foreign policy (he blames us for the Persian Gulf War, which he continues to oppose). Buchanan's idea of a settlement of the conflict in the Middle East includes a "Vatican enclave-capital in Arab East Jerusalem."

Much of the commentary about Buchanan this past week has centered on whether the Republican party's efforts to keep Buchanan in the fold (and thereby lessen the chances that a third-party candidacy will hurt the GOP standard-bearer) are to be condemned. I think they should be. The Republicans will be better off without Buchanan, even if he does cost them votes next year.

But I have another, and, I think, more pertinent question.

Why, in spite of this paper trail of bizarre beliefs, has Buchanan maintained his standing as a mainstream commentator and welcome guest - and host - on television news talk shows all these years?

After all, how can you blame the Republicans for not rejecting him when the networks (the arbiters of American taste and culture in our day)have treated him like a star and a legitimate voice?

One would have thought that anyone perverse enough to flirt with Holocaust denial and proudly label his philosophy "America First" - not in spite of, but because of its association with pro-Nazi isolationists - would not be able to make a prosperous living blabbing on television. While he has the right to believe as he likes, you would think such views should have rendered Buchanan unwelcome in decent society.

Instead, his calumnies have been indulged and excused by his fellow talk-show stars of both the left and the right.

One expected Buchanan's fellow Israel-basher Robert Novak to feed him softballs during an interview on a Sunday-morning show on CNN last weekend, but why did Albert Hunt, the liberal voice on the opinion page of The Wall Street Journal, follow suit on the same show?

And why does a prominent liberal foreign-policy writer like Georgie-Anne Geyer consider articles about Buchanan's anti-Semitism to be "nasty personal attacks," as she did on C-SPAN last week?

In politics and journalism, as in much of life, personal ties often count for more than content. Unlike, say, David Duke or Louis Farrakhan, Buchanan is an old friend and colleague of most of the opinion-makers in this country. But, unlike most politicians in this country, pundits and journalists rarely eat their own young.

When A.M. Rosenthal denounced Buchanan as an anti-Semite in 1990, he was virtually alone among commentators. Most preferred to put the dispute down to just an "honest disagreement."

Buchanan's then-partner on his CNN show "Crossfire," liberal - and Jewish - writer Michael Kinsley, prominently and speciously defended Buchanan against charges of anti-Semitism, something that went a long way toward silencing outrage.

The Times' William Safire, who blasted Buchanan as a purveyor of anti-Semitism in his Sept. 16 column, was again virtually alone in taking such a stand. The reaction from other pundits - liberals and conservatives - was that Safire was escalating a policy dispute into a personal attack.

Safire recalled that when he agreed with a 1990 essay by conservative legend William F. Buckley that said that "Buchanan's barbs could well be taken as anti-Semitic," Buchanan - who had served with Safire in the Nixon White House - ended their friendship.

That's the problem. All too many pundits would rather be Pat's pal than stand up against his anti-Semitism.

As we monitor Buchanan's candidacy in the coming year, it will be incumbent on Jews and non-Jews who oppose his bigotry not to let the media get away with excusing or ignoring Buchanan's loony beliefs. It is long past time for journalists - especially the punditocracy that reigns on the networks - to stop giving their friend Pat the kid-glove treatment.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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©1999, Jonathan Tobin