Commentary Magazine


Topic: Louis Farrakhan

Emanuel Has No Problem With Farrakhan

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel may, as Bethany wrote yesterday, have a problem with Chick-fil-A but apparently he has far more tolerance for anti-Semitic lunatics than for gay marriage opponents. Chick-fil-A might be getting blocked from the city, but Emanuel warmly applauded Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam for patrolling the city streets yesterday, with no mention of Farrakhan’s long-held anti-Semitism:

Ignoring Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s history of anti-Semitic remarks, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday welcomed the army of men dispatched to the streets by Farrakhan to stop the violence in Chicago neighborhoods. …

“The police have a role to play. Tearing down abandoned buildings has a role to play. Shutting liquor stores that are a cancer in the community have a role to play. Community leaders have a role to play. Pastors have a role to play. Principals have a role to play. And most importantly, parents have roles to play. They have decided, the Nation of Islam, to help protect the community. And that’s an important ingredient, like all the other aspects of protecting a neighborhood.”

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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel may, as Bethany wrote yesterday, have a problem with Chick-fil-A but apparently he has far more tolerance for anti-Semitic lunatics than for gay marriage opponents. Chick-fil-A might be getting blocked from the city, but Emanuel warmly applauded Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam for patrolling the city streets yesterday, with no mention of Farrakhan’s long-held anti-Semitism:

Ignoring Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan’s history of anti-Semitic remarks, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday welcomed the army of men dispatched to the streets by Farrakhan to stop the violence in Chicago neighborhoods. …

“The police have a role to play. Tearing down abandoned buildings has a role to play. Shutting liquor stores that are a cancer in the community have a role to play. Community leaders have a role to play. Pastors have a role to play. Principals have a role to play. And most importantly, parents have roles to play. They have decided, the Nation of Islam, to help protect the community. And that’s an important ingredient, like all the other aspects of protecting a neighborhood.”

Farrakhan has been deploying groups of his followers to crime-ridden city neighborhoods on Mondays, to act as a “human wall of protection” in case gunfire suddenly breaks out and stray bullets start flying. That seems like a flawless plan, so you can see why Emanuel would find Farrakhan incredibly important to the crime-fighting efforts.

Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt from a speech Farrakhan gave earlier this month, transcribed by the ADL:

Farrakhan: How many of you are lawyers? Only have one in the house? No wonder we go to jail so much, brother! But at the top of the law profession, who are the top in law?

Audience: Jews.

Farrakhan: Sorry I didn’t hear you.

Audience: Jews!

Farrakhan: Any doctors in the house? Ain’t got no doctors? Oh there’s one way in the back. At the top of the medical profession, the top in that are members of the Jewish community. Anybody in media? Who’s the top in that field?

Audience: Jews.

Farrakhan: Anybody a rapper in the house? There’s rappers. You can rap, ain’t nothing wrong with that, but at the top of that are those that control the industry. Any of you have Hollywood ambitions, Broadway ambitions? Who’s the top of that?

Audience: Jews.

Farrakhan: Same people! They’re masters in business. Well I’m not a businessman I’m a banker. Well who’s the master of the bankers?

Audience: Jews.

Farrakhan: TALK TO ME!

Audience: Jews!

Farrakhan: You don’t discredit them because they’re masters, you discredit them by the way they use their mastery.

Audience: [applause]

Farrakhan: Now, I close

Good thing Emanuel is taking a stand against those bigoted Chick-fil-A franchises, am I right?

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Obama, Jewish Voters, and the Lessons of 1984

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right. Read More

Turns out there are real questions about the accuracy of that recent Quinnipiac poll showing President Obama’s approval rating at just 52 percent among Jewish voters. As the JTA’s Eric Fingerhut pointed out, the Jewish sampling “was derived from a sample of just 71 respondents, for a margin of error of plus or minus 11.6 percent — a sample size that pollsters generally say makes such surveys unreliable.”

Actually, common sense and some knowledge of Jewish voting habits should be enough to render any such poll findings suspect at best. Obama enjoys two important advantages that make him almost a shoo-in to win another landslide among Jewish voters three years from now: he’s a well-spoken, nonthreatening black man (a factor not to be underestimated when considering the voting psychology of liberal and moderate Jews), and he’s adamantly opposed to and by the Christian Right.

To put those realities into historical context, it’s instructive to look back at the presidential election of 1984. For a Republican, Ronald Reagan had done exceedingly well among Jews in 1980, winning 39 percent of their votes and holding the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, to an unimpressive plurality of 45 percent. (Third-party candidate John Anderson got the rest.) And then came the 1984 National Survey of American Jews, conducted between April and August that year, which found that while 39 percent of respondents acknowledged voting for Reagan in 1980, some 53 percent said that, looking back, Reagan was the candidate they would have preferred.

Certainly Reagan seemed poised to at least hold on to his 1980 share of the Jewish vote — and quite possibly exceed it.

In addition to Reagan’s performance in office, there was, in 1984, the Jesse Jackson factor. The longtime civil-rights firebrand was running for the Democratic nomination that year, and during the course of the campaign many of his past derogatory comments about Jews and Israel resurfaced, fueled both by his reference, in what he thought was an off-the-record conversation, to New York City as “Hymietown” and his reluctance to separate himself from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The Jackson factor was widely thought to threaten the Democratic party’s decades-old hold on Jewish loyalties, particularly when a Los Angeles Times poll of African-American delegates at the 1984 Democratic National Convention revealed that 75 percent of the delegates pledged to Jackson and almost 50 percent of those backing eventual nominee Walter Mondale felt no need to distance themselves from Farrakhan or his statements.

Come November, however, Reagan actually ended up losing significant ground among Jewish voters. “Exit polls taken the day of the election,” wrote Charles Silberman in his 1985 book A Certain People, “indicated that no more than 35 percent of American Jews, and perhaps as few as 31 percent, had voted for Reagan; the Jewish vote for Mondale was put at 65-69 percent … analysis of the polls indicated that between 25 and 35 percent of the Jews who had voted for Reagan in 1980 switched to Mondale in 1984.”

It seems that Reagan’s increasingly vocal embrace of the New — specifically, the Christian — Right scared Jews more than anything said by either Jackson or Farrakhan. Nearly 80 percent of Jews had an unfavorable opinion of the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the most visible face of the Christian Right (never mind that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had presented Falwell with the Jabotinsky Prize in recognition of his strong support of the Jewish state). In fact, Silberman noted, “more Jewish voters indicated an unfavorable opinion of Falwell than of Jesse Jackson.”

The historian Stephen Whitfield elaborated on that point in 1986, writing: “The rise of the New Right has been more disturbing to Jews than the circulation within the Democratic Party of Third World sympathies that collide with Israeli interests.”

How does all this relate to Obama and Jewish support? For one thing, the Republican party’s identification with the Christian Right is immeasurably stronger today than it was 25 years ago, making it unlikely that liberal or moderate Jews will find a comfort level with the GOP anytime soon. For another, the current generation of American Jews is not nearly as supportive of Israel and Israeli policies as were their parents and grandparents — and support for Israel was the one factor that in the past might have swayed some liberal Jews to vote for a Republican.

If Jimmy Carter, fresh off a disastrous four years in office and displaying an increasingly palpable animus toward Israel, could still outpoll his Republican opponent among Jews (and absent the Anderson candidacy, Carter probably would have won at least 55 percent of the Jewish vote), there’s no reason to believe that even a mediocre Democratic president — particularly if he’s a likable African American who talks a good liberal game — need worry about Jewish voters.

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The Friends of Jeremiah Wright

The Nation magazine claims 181,070 subscribers, a substantially high number for a political publication, a number that might actually make it the most popular publication of its kind in the United States. (National Review claims 166,000.) In comparison, the center-left New Republic (by which I am employed), has around 60,000 subscribers. Whatever its views, The Nation is not some obscure, fringe journal.

Why does this matter? Well, let’s take a look at the controversy surrounding Jeremiah Wright. By Monday afternoon, most liberal pundits and prominent Obama supporters who had yet to denounce Wright finally came out and did so, if not because they disagree vehemently with what he has to say, then at least because they understand the damage he could potentially inflict on their man’s chances of becoming president.

Most, but not all. John McCormack of The Weekly Standard was at the National Press Club Monday morning when Wright delivered the speech that history will judge to be the death knell of Barack Obama’s political fortunes. He reported the following tidbit, which I’m surprised hasn’t received more attention:

Again and again, Wright was not held to account for his own disputed claims, such as his contention that in his post 9/11 sermon he was merely quoting the ambassador from Iraq that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” To be fair, most of those in the press gallery didn’t openly applaud Wright during his speech–as did Christopher Hayes of the Nation and Nadia Charters of Al-Arabiya TV, who were both sitting (appropriately) to the left of me.

What did the Washington bureau chief of The Nation find in Wright’s tirade that merited applause? The spirited defense of Louis Farrakhan? The reiteration of the dangerous canard that the American government invented HIV to kill black people? Perhaps it was the selfish and historically illiterate conflation of the African-American religious tradition with paranoid and conspiratorial racism? Mr. Hayes is joined in his praise of Rev. Wright by his colleague John Nichols, who compares Wright to Thomas Jefferson.

With conventional wisdom now firmly in the anti-Wright camp, a charitable observer might acknowledge that The Nation’s enthusiasm for this paranoid hate-monger demonstrates a bit of political cojones. But that’s the most, I think, that can be said in its defense.

The Nation magazine claims 181,070 subscribers, a substantially high number for a political publication, a number that might actually make it the most popular publication of its kind in the United States. (National Review claims 166,000.) In comparison, the center-left New Republic (by which I am employed), has around 60,000 subscribers. Whatever its views, The Nation is not some obscure, fringe journal.

Why does this matter? Well, let’s take a look at the controversy surrounding Jeremiah Wright. By Monday afternoon, most liberal pundits and prominent Obama supporters who had yet to denounce Wright finally came out and did so, if not because they disagree vehemently with what he has to say, then at least because they understand the damage he could potentially inflict on their man’s chances of becoming president.

Most, but not all. John McCormack of The Weekly Standard was at the National Press Club Monday morning when Wright delivered the speech that history will judge to be the death knell of Barack Obama’s political fortunes. He reported the following tidbit, which I’m surprised hasn’t received more attention:

Again and again, Wright was not held to account for his own disputed claims, such as his contention that in his post 9/11 sermon he was merely quoting the ambassador from Iraq that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” To be fair, most of those in the press gallery didn’t openly applaud Wright during his speech–as did Christopher Hayes of the Nation and Nadia Charters of Al-Arabiya TV, who were both sitting (appropriately) to the left of me.

What did the Washington bureau chief of The Nation find in Wright’s tirade that merited applause? The spirited defense of Louis Farrakhan? The reiteration of the dangerous canard that the American government invented HIV to kill black people? Perhaps it was the selfish and historically illiterate conflation of the African-American religious tradition with paranoid and conspiratorial racism? Mr. Hayes is joined in his praise of Rev. Wright by his colleague John Nichols, who compares Wright to Thomas Jefferson.

With conventional wisdom now firmly in the anti-Wright camp, a charitable observer might acknowledge that The Nation’s enthusiasm for this paranoid hate-monger demonstrates a bit of political cojones. But that’s the most, I think, that can be said in its defense.

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The Reverend Archie Bunker

We’ve all been overreacting to Jeremiah Wright. He’s not a dangerously influential peddler of paranoia and hate. He’s just a goofy TV character. At least that’s how Alessandra Stanley describes him in today’s New York Times:

. . . Mr. Wright’s monomania over the last three days has helped prove the point Mr. Obama made about his former pastor last month in his speech on race, in which he described Mr. Wright as “imperfect” but having also been “like family to me.” Mr. Wright revealed himself to be the compelling but slightly wacky uncle who unsettles strangers but really just craves attention.

Yeah! He’s just like that slightly wacky uncle of yours! You know:  the one who flew with Louis Farrakhan to meet Moammar Khaddafi? The one who thinks Zionism is a “gutter religion”? That’s the lovable old goof we’re talking about here. Not anyone of consequence. Stanley thinks it’s time to reassess the entertaining old fellow:

Now it turns out that Mr. Wright doesn’t hate America, he loves the sound of his own voice.

Yep, those two qualities sure are mutually exclusive. People who hate America never, ever speak out about it. There’s no tradition of anti-American celebrity culture whatsoever.

Stanley also manages to make the fast-talking Chicagoan sound like a character out of Saul Bellow. Wright is

a voluble, vain and erudite entertainer, a born televangelist who quotes Ralph Ellison as well as the Bible and mixes highfalutin academic trope with salty street talk.

And also a Warholian phenomenon:

He is not out of touch with the American culture, he is the avatar of the American celebrity principle: he grabbed his 30-second spots of infamy and turned them into 15 minutes of fame.

Never mind his decades of influence on his church and on a man who may well be the next President.

We’ve all been overreacting to Jeremiah Wright. He’s not a dangerously influential peddler of paranoia and hate. He’s just a goofy TV character. At least that’s how Alessandra Stanley describes him in today’s New York Times:

. . . Mr. Wright’s monomania over the last three days has helped prove the point Mr. Obama made about his former pastor last month in his speech on race, in which he described Mr. Wright as “imperfect” but having also been “like family to me.” Mr. Wright revealed himself to be the compelling but slightly wacky uncle who unsettles strangers but really just craves attention.

Yeah! He’s just like that slightly wacky uncle of yours! You know:  the one who flew with Louis Farrakhan to meet Moammar Khaddafi? The one who thinks Zionism is a “gutter religion”? That’s the lovable old goof we’re talking about here. Not anyone of consequence. Stanley thinks it’s time to reassess the entertaining old fellow:

Now it turns out that Mr. Wright doesn’t hate America, he loves the sound of his own voice.

Yep, those two qualities sure are mutually exclusive. People who hate America never, ever speak out about it. There’s no tradition of anti-American celebrity culture whatsoever.

Stanley also manages to make the fast-talking Chicagoan sound like a character out of Saul Bellow. Wright is

a voluble, vain and erudite entertainer, a born televangelist who quotes Ralph Ellison as well as the Bible and mixes highfalutin academic trope with salty street talk.

And also a Warholian phenomenon:

He is not out of touch with the American culture, he is the avatar of the American celebrity principle: he grabbed his 30-second spots of infamy and turned them into 15 minutes of fame.

Never mind his decades of influence on his church and on a man who may well be the next President.

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The Silence Is Deafening

We heard plenty today from the punditssome of whom think Reverend Wright’s display may be the beginning of the end for the post-racial, post-partisan Barack Obama. (Hillary Clinton is being tight-lipped. Rule #1 of politics: never cause a distraction while your opponent has a major controversy.) But we have heard nothing from Barack Obama on his mentor’s tirade, not even on gems like this:

MODERATOR: What is your relationship with Louis Farrakhan? Do you agree with and respect his views, including his most racially divisive views?

WRIGHT: As I said on the Bill Moyers’ show, one of our news channels keeps playing a news clip from 20 years ago when Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion.

And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for, and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I’m anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.

I believe that people of all faiths have to work together in this country if we’re going to build a future for our children, whether those people are — just as Michelle and Barack don’t agree on everything, Raymond and I don’t agree on everything, Louis and I don’t agree on everything, most of you all don’t agree — you get two people in the same room, you’ve got three opinions.

[…]

Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan anymore than Mandela would put down Fidel Castro. Do you remember that Ted Koppel show, where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro was our enemy? And he said, “You don’t tell me who my enemies are. You don’t tell me who my friends are.”

Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn’t make me this color.

If Obama was going to have his Uncle Souljah moment, it would have had to happen immediately after Wright’s remarks. Every passing hour makes any rebuttal that much more difficult. If he only manages some comment after a day or two, it will scream political calculation (or worse, paralysis). If he wanted to get away from Wright, the time to do it was today.

As we end the news day it appears he plans to hunker down and hope that voters will shrug. Electability? That’s the new buzzword. Wonder what those polls will look like in a few days. But by then the moment for action will have passed.

We heard plenty today from the punditssome of whom think Reverend Wright’s display may be the beginning of the end for the post-racial, post-partisan Barack Obama. (Hillary Clinton is being tight-lipped. Rule #1 of politics: never cause a distraction while your opponent has a major controversy.) But we have heard nothing from Barack Obama on his mentor’s tirade, not even on gems like this:

MODERATOR: What is your relationship with Louis Farrakhan? Do you agree with and respect his views, including his most racially divisive views?

WRIGHT: As I said on the Bill Moyers’ show, one of our news channels keeps playing a news clip from 20 years ago when Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion.

And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for, and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I’m anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.

I believe that people of all faiths have to work together in this country if we’re going to build a future for our children, whether those people are — just as Michelle and Barack don’t agree on everything, Raymond and I don’t agree on everything, Louis and I don’t agree on everything, most of you all don’t agree — you get two people in the same room, you’ve got three opinions.

[…]

Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan anymore than Mandela would put down Fidel Castro. Do you remember that Ted Koppel show, where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro was our enemy? And he said, “You don’t tell me who my enemies are. You don’t tell me who my friends are.”

Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn’t make me this color.

If Obama was going to have his Uncle Souljah moment, it would have had to happen immediately after Wright’s remarks. Every passing hour makes any rebuttal that much more difficult. If he only manages some comment after a day or two, it will scream political calculation (or worse, paralysis). If he wanted to get away from Wright, the time to do it was today.

As we end the news day it appears he plans to hunker down and hope that voters will shrug. Electability? That’s the new buzzword. Wonder what those polls will look like in a few days. But by then the moment for action will have passed.

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He Is No Prophet

In an effort to help Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., some people are not only defending Wright but portraying him as a “prophet.” The Reverend James Forbes, who recently retired as the longtime pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, said, “Some of us wish we had the nerve that Jeremiah had. We praise God that he’s saying it, so the rest of us don’t have to.” When asked if Wright ever crossed a line, Forbes answered this way: “I think if a person is a prophet and he’s not seen as ever crossing a line, then he has not told the truth as it ought to be told.”

The former minister and author Anthony B. Robinson said of Wright’s words:

Sounds like what the Bible calls a prophet. Biblical prophets weren’t crystal-ball gazers. They were … preachers who “regularly exposed the failures of a society in savage rhetoric.” Prophets afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. And they use language and images that pretty much guarantee that they won’t get invited to cocktail parties.

We can add to this list the distinguished religious historian Martin Marty, a former professor, congregant, and friend of Jeremiah Wright. In “Prophet and Pastor,” published last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marty recounts what he admires in Wright and the work of his church. He admits, though, that we ought not gloss over the “abrasive edges” of Wright. Marty finds some of his comments “distracting and harmful” and the honoring of Minister Louis Farrakhan “abhorrent and indefensible.” Marty also writes this:

Now, for the hard business: the sermons, which have been mercilessly chipped into for wearying television clips. While Wright’s sermons were pastoral – my wife and I have always been awed to hear the Christian Gospel parsed for our personal lives – they were also prophetic. At the university, we used to remark, half lightheartedly, that this Jeremiah was trying to live up to his namesake, the seventh-century B.C. prophet.

Though Jeremiah of old did not “curse” his people of Israel, Wright, as a biblical scholar, could point out that the prophets Hosea and Micah did. But the Book of Jeremiah, written by numbers of authors, is so full of blasts and quasi curses – what biblical scholars call “imprecatory topoi” – that New England preachers invented a sermonic form called “the jeremiad,” a style revived in some Wrightian shouts.

Jeremiah, however, was the prophet of hope, and that note of hope is what attracts the multiclass membership at Trinity and significant television audiences. Both Jeremiahs gave the people work to do: to advance the missions of social justice and mercy that improve the lot of the suffering. For a sample, read Jeremiah 29, where the prophet’s letter to the exiles in Babylon exhorts them to settle down and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Or listen to many a Jeremiah Wright sermon . . . Those who were part of [Wright’s] ministry for years . . . are not going to turn their backs on their pastor and prophet.

“Prophet.” That’s quite an appellation to bestow on Wright. It’s worth considering, then, precisely what a prophet is. Far more than just a provocative exhorter, a prophet, for those of the Christian and Jewish faiths, is a person who proclaims divine revelation. He is an oracle of Yahweh, one who speaks for the Holy Ruler of History. Prophecy involves a human messenger communicating a divine message. It is a rare and special calling, one that should not be recklessly bandied about.

With that in mind, let’s quickly rehearse some of the comments by the former senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. He refers to the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.” The attacks on September 11th is something America had coming; in Wright’s words (borrowed from Malcolm X) “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Rather than bless America, Wright–insisting it is in the Bible–wants God to damn her. The government, he says, lied about having advance knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and “lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Israel is a “dirty word.” Wright also took to reprinting op-eds by supporters of Hamas in his “Pastor’s Page.” He praised Louis Farrakhan as a man of “honesty and integrity” and favored bestowing a lifetime achievement award on the Nation of Islam leader. And the list goes on from there.

For liberals and those on the Left to lift up Jeremiah Wright–a man whose words can be fairly judged to be anti-Israel and anti-American–and attempt to turn him into a prophet is a grave error. I have spoken out before regarding my concern for what politics can do to people of faith on both the left and the right, and how easy it is to subordinate the latter to the former. I don’t pretend that the above remarks are the sum total of Wright’s decades-long preaching or actions, and Marty’s account is worth reading. But to insist that a man who utters hateful and bitter words against his country is a prophet is (to be charitable) intellectually sloppy. “Afflicting the comfortable” is not enough to qualify one as a prophet. Do we really want to propose the idea that Wright’s vitriolic proclamations proceed from direct divine inspiration, that Wright speaks for God? That would be completely irresponsible.

In an effort to help Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., some people are not only defending Wright but portraying him as a “prophet.” The Reverend James Forbes, who recently retired as the longtime pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, said, “Some of us wish we had the nerve that Jeremiah had. We praise God that he’s saying it, so the rest of us don’t have to.” When asked if Wright ever crossed a line, Forbes answered this way: “I think if a person is a prophet and he’s not seen as ever crossing a line, then he has not told the truth as it ought to be told.”

The former minister and author Anthony B. Robinson said of Wright’s words:

Sounds like what the Bible calls a prophet. Biblical prophets weren’t crystal-ball gazers. They were … preachers who “regularly exposed the failures of a society in savage rhetoric.” Prophets afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. And they use language and images that pretty much guarantee that they won’t get invited to cocktail parties.

We can add to this list the distinguished religious historian Martin Marty, a former professor, congregant, and friend of Jeremiah Wright. In “Prophet and Pastor,” published last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marty recounts what he admires in Wright and the work of his church. He admits, though, that we ought not gloss over the “abrasive edges” of Wright. Marty finds some of his comments “distracting and harmful” and the honoring of Minister Louis Farrakhan “abhorrent and indefensible.” Marty also writes this:

Now, for the hard business: the sermons, which have been mercilessly chipped into for wearying television clips. While Wright’s sermons were pastoral – my wife and I have always been awed to hear the Christian Gospel parsed for our personal lives – they were also prophetic. At the university, we used to remark, half lightheartedly, that this Jeremiah was trying to live up to his namesake, the seventh-century B.C. prophet.

Though Jeremiah of old did not “curse” his people of Israel, Wright, as a biblical scholar, could point out that the prophets Hosea and Micah did. But the Book of Jeremiah, written by numbers of authors, is so full of blasts and quasi curses – what biblical scholars call “imprecatory topoi” – that New England preachers invented a sermonic form called “the jeremiad,” a style revived in some Wrightian shouts.

Jeremiah, however, was the prophet of hope, and that note of hope is what attracts the multiclass membership at Trinity and significant television audiences. Both Jeremiahs gave the people work to do: to advance the missions of social justice and mercy that improve the lot of the suffering. For a sample, read Jeremiah 29, where the prophet’s letter to the exiles in Babylon exhorts them to settle down and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Or listen to many a Jeremiah Wright sermon . . . Those who were part of [Wright’s] ministry for years . . . are not going to turn their backs on their pastor and prophet.

“Prophet.” That’s quite an appellation to bestow on Wright. It’s worth considering, then, precisely what a prophet is. Far more than just a provocative exhorter, a prophet, for those of the Christian and Jewish faiths, is a person who proclaims divine revelation. He is an oracle of Yahweh, one who speaks for the Holy Ruler of History. Prophecy involves a human messenger communicating a divine message. It is a rare and special calling, one that should not be recklessly bandied about.

With that in mind, let’s quickly rehearse some of the comments by the former senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. He refers to the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.” The attacks on September 11th is something America had coming; in Wright’s words (borrowed from Malcolm X) “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Rather than bless America, Wright–insisting it is in the Bible–wants God to damn her. The government, he says, lied about having advance knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and “lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Israel is a “dirty word.” Wright also took to reprinting op-eds by supporters of Hamas in his “Pastor’s Page.” He praised Louis Farrakhan as a man of “honesty and integrity” and favored bestowing a lifetime achievement award on the Nation of Islam leader. And the list goes on from there.

For liberals and those on the Left to lift up Jeremiah Wright–a man whose words can be fairly judged to be anti-Israel and anti-American–and attempt to turn him into a prophet is a grave error. I have spoken out before regarding my concern for what politics can do to people of faith on both the left and the right, and how easy it is to subordinate the latter to the former. I don’t pretend that the above remarks are the sum total of Wright’s decades-long preaching or actions, and Marty’s account is worth reading. But to insist that a man who utters hateful and bitter words against his country is a prophet is (to be charitable) intellectually sloppy. “Afflicting the comfortable” is not enough to qualify one as a prophet. Do we really want to propose the idea that Wright’s vitriolic proclamations proceed from direct divine inspiration, that Wright speaks for God? That would be completely irresponsible.

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Obama’s Church and Israel’s “Ethnic Bomb”

It is becoming clear that the Trinity United Church of Christ’s anti-Israel stance represents a significant aspect of its political agenda. The blog Sweetness & Light dug up a June 2007 missive published in the church’s newsletter accusing Israel of developing an “ethnic bomb” that kills only blacks and Arabs.

The piece was written by Ali Baghdadi, who was, among other things, “Middle East advisor” to Louis Farrakhan. The rant takes the form of a sappy and delusional open letter to Oprah Winfrey, in response to her accepting Elie Wiesel’s invitation to visit Israel. Baghdadi describes Israel’s “apartheid” regime and writes, “I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the white supremacists of South Africa.”

The real danger in Obama’s relationship to this church has barely been touched upon despite all the press the situation has received. There is a verifiable convergence of the ideas promoted in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s brand of black liberation theology and the anti-American, anti-Semitic doctrine of radical Islam. America’s current enemies are crazed clerics who wail about Israeli oppression and who damn America before cheering crowds. This description also fits Barack Obama’s pastor of twenty years. That the two types of hate-filled holy men have connected, at least in print, is hardly a surprise. And the slack that liberals want to extend to Jeremiah Wright is merely the “root-cause” terrorist argument re-purposed: We have to understand their reasons, etc. This is what Obama brings with him, and it’s an implausibly generous gift to those who want to destroy us.

It is becoming clear that the Trinity United Church of Christ’s anti-Israel stance represents a significant aspect of its political agenda. The blog Sweetness & Light dug up a June 2007 missive published in the church’s newsletter accusing Israel of developing an “ethnic bomb” that kills only blacks and Arabs.

The piece was written by Ali Baghdadi, who was, among other things, “Middle East advisor” to Louis Farrakhan. The rant takes the form of a sappy and delusional open letter to Oprah Winfrey, in response to her accepting Elie Wiesel’s invitation to visit Israel. Baghdadi describes Israel’s “apartheid” regime and writes, “I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the white supremacists of South Africa.”

The real danger in Obama’s relationship to this church has barely been touched upon despite all the press the situation has received. There is a verifiable convergence of the ideas promoted in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s brand of black liberation theology and the anti-American, anti-Semitic doctrine of radical Islam. America’s current enemies are crazed clerics who wail about Israeli oppression and who damn America before cheering crowds. This description also fits Barack Obama’s pastor of twenty years. That the two types of hate-filled holy men have connected, at least in print, is hardly a surprise. And the slack that liberals want to extend to Jeremiah Wright is merely the “root-cause” terrorist argument re-purposed: We have to understand their reasons, etc. This is what Obama brings with him, and it’s an implausibly generous gift to those who want to destroy us.

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The Halo Has Slipped

If you’re looking for some comfort that Barack Obama wasn’t trying to play it both ways–endearing himself to extreme and paranoid fringe members of Chicago’s African-American community while preaching racial unity–his speech today won’t help. He asked the right questions, but dodged the crucial concern:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

Labeling the remarks he heard as “controversial” is, of course, old-style political hide-the-ball. This attempt to minimize and wrap in euphemism what he probably heard–anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-white venom–is not going to satisfy those who say “My rabbi/priest/minister never said that stuff.” (By the way, if he’s so concerned about raising children properly, why was he subjecting his kids to this?)

And if you were expecting him to disassociate himself from someone whose words are indistinguishable in key respects from Louis Farrakhan’s, forget it. He dug in with this:

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way. . .

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

Notice how he now limits to “conversations” those instances in which Wright did not deride other racial and ethnic groups? I think the truth, buried in all this rhetoric and gloss, is clear: Obama sat there in church for twenty years, listening with his kids to a preacher vilifying his country, white people in general, and the state of Israel, and lacked the moral gumption to leave. I think the halo has slipped.

If you’re looking for some comfort that Barack Obama wasn’t trying to play it both ways–endearing himself to extreme and paranoid fringe members of Chicago’s African-American community while preaching racial unity–his speech today won’t help. He asked the right questions, but dodged the crucial concern:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

Labeling the remarks he heard as “controversial” is, of course, old-style political hide-the-ball. This attempt to minimize and wrap in euphemism what he probably heard–anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-white venom–is not going to satisfy those who say “My rabbi/priest/minister never said that stuff.” (By the way, if he’s so concerned about raising children properly, why was he subjecting his kids to this?)

And if you were expecting him to disassociate himself from someone whose words are indistinguishable in key respects from Louis Farrakhan’s, forget it. He dug in with this:

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way. . .

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

Notice how he now limits to “conversations” those instances in which Wright did not deride other racial and ethnic groups? I think the truth, buried in all this rhetoric and gloss, is clear: Obama sat there in church for twenty years, listening with his kids to a preacher vilifying his country, white people in general, and the state of Israel, and lacked the moral gumption to leave. I think the halo has slipped.

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“Unacceptable and Reprehensible”

Obama says flatly that Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism is disgusting. He then says he wants to restore the frayed relationship between blacks and Jews. He says he spoke out on anti-Semitism in the black community. As his Jewish support in the Democratic party instantly began to approach 100 percent, Hillary jumped in to say she rejected the support of New York’s Independence Party in 2000, which was run by an anti-Semite named Lenora Fulani — and she wants to know why he won’t say he “rejects” Farrakhan’s support. He says he doesn’t see the difference between “denouncing” and “rejecting,” but then he says, okay, “I concede the point, and I reject and denounce.” In New York, Hillary outpaced him 72-17 in the Jewish vote. In Ohio, it’ll be 72-17 the other way.

Obama says flatly that Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism is disgusting. He then says he wants to restore the frayed relationship between blacks and Jews. He says he spoke out on anti-Semitism in the black community. As his Jewish support in the Democratic party instantly began to approach 100 percent, Hillary jumped in to say she rejected the support of New York’s Independence Party in 2000, which was run by an anti-Semite named Lenora Fulani — and she wants to know why he won’t say he “rejects” Farrakhan’s support. He says he doesn’t see the difference between “denouncing” and “rejecting,” but then he says, okay, “I concede the point, and I reject and denounce.” In New York, Hillary outpaced him 72-17 in the Jewish vote. In Ohio, it’ll be 72-17 the other way.

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Obama and American Jews

Throughout his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has faced a series of disturbingly slanderous e-mails. Obama has been falsely accused of being secretly Muslim; studying in an Indonesian madrassa; and refusing to say the pledge of allegiance, among other charges. Sensing that these e-mails were particularly prevalent within Jewish circles, Obama held a conference call with Jewish journalists yesterday afternoon.

During the call, Obama sought to reassure the Jewish community by addressing Jewish identity issues. He thus declared his support for Israel “as a Jewish state”; expressed concern for continued rocket attacks from Gaza; stated that the Palestinian right of return could not be interpreted “in any literal way”; and opposed negotiations with Hamas so long as it denies Israel’s right to exist. He further denied that he had ever practiced Islam, and said that his church leader had made a “mistake of judgment” in honoring Louis Farrakhan. “My church has never issued anti-Semitic statements, nor have I heard my pastor utter anything anti-Semitic,” he said. “If I have, I would have left the church.”

The implication that Obama—by virtue of his church leader’s connections with Farrakhan—is anti-Semitic is hard to swallow. After all, Obama remains one solid degree removed from Farrakhan—highly significant in a political environment in which Joseph Lieberman declared his “respect” for Farrakhan during his 2000 vice-presidential candidacy. Moreover, it is saddening that Obama continually feels the need to address his non-Islamic faith, particularly when doing so insultingly implies that Islam is undesirable.

Yet one question remains legitimate: how can voters who care about the U.S.-Israel relationship be reassured that Obama’s staunchly pro-Israel declarations are not mere pandering? After all, Obama is on record as having called for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2000, just as the Palestinians commenced the Second Intifada following Camp David. According to Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah, Obama’s pro-Israel epiphany occurred shortly before his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign—an about-face for which Obama apologized to Abunimah. “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front,” Obama said at the time.

Obama’s apology to Abunimah—a major proponent of the one-state “solution”— indicates an unsophisticated view of American politics, in which success requires whispering sweet Zionist nothings to satisfy the almighty, one-issue Jewish electorate. Obama’s foreign policy advisers have similarly promoted this inflated vision of Jewish power. As my contentions colleague Noah Pollak has assiduously noted, Obama adviser Samantha Power has declared that sound Middle East policy might require “alienating a domestic constituency”—guess which one. His staff further features Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has defended the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that the U.S.-Israel relationship is the product of Jewish power politics, rather than strategic interest.

This mixture of prior statements and advisory influences suggests little regarding how Obama might act towards Israel if elected. Obama has repudiated Brzezinski’s call for dialogue with Hamas, while Power’s support for ending U.S. foreign military aid to Israel probably represents too radical a departure from historic U.S. policy to be taken seriously.

Rather, Jewish concerns regarding Obama’s candidacy should focus on whether Obama and his posse view American Jewry as a stumbling block in the way of promoting U.S. interests in the Middle East. This is the insidious crux of the “Israel Lobby” thesis, and Obama’s prior statements to Abunimah—as well as the writings of Power and Brzezinski—are hardly reassuring.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Barack Obama has faced a series of disturbingly slanderous e-mails. Obama has been falsely accused of being secretly Muslim; studying in an Indonesian madrassa; and refusing to say the pledge of allegiance, among other charges. Sensing that these e-mails were particularly prevalent within Jewish circles, Obama held a conference call with Jewish journalists yesterday afternoon.

During the call, Obama sought to reassure the Jewish community by addressing Jewish identity issues. He thus declared his support for Israel “as a Jewish state”; expressed concern for continued rocket attacks from Gaza; stated that the Palestinian right of return could not be interpreted “in any literal way”; and opposed negotiations with Hamas so long as it denies Israel’s right to exist. He further denied that he had ever practiced Islam, and said that his church leader had made a “mistake of judgment” in honoring Louis Farrakhan. “My church has never issued anti-Semitic statements, nor have I heard my pastor utter anything anti-Semitic,” he said. “If I have, I would have left the church.”

The implication that Obama—by virtue of his church leader’s connections with Farrakhan—is anti-Semitic is hard to swallow. After all, Obama remains one solid degree removed from Farrakhan—highly significant in a political environment in which Joseph Lieberman declared his “respect” for Farrakhan during his 2000 vice-presidential candidacy. Moreover, it is saddening that Obama continually feels the need to address his non-Islamic faith, particularly when doing so insultingly implies that Islam is undesirable.

Yet one question remains legitimate: how can voters who care about the U.S.-Israel relationship be reassured that Obama’s staunchly pro-Israel declarations are not mere pandering? After all, Obama is on record as having called for an “even-handed approach” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2000, just as the Palestinians commenced the Second Intifada following Camp David. According to Electronic Intifada founder Ali Abunimah, Obama’s pro-Israel epiphany occurred shortly before his 2004 U.S. Senate campaign—an about-face for which Obama apologized to Abunimah. “Hey, I’m sorry I haven’t said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I’m hoping when things calm down I can be more up front,” Obama said at the time.

Obama’s apology to Abunimah—a major proponent of the one-state “solution”— indicates an unsophisticated view of American politics, in which success requires whispering sweet Zionist nothings to satisfy the almighty, one-issue Jewish electorate. Obama’s foreign policy advisers have similarly promoted this inflated vision of Jewish power. As my contentions colleague Noah Pollak has assiduously noted, Obama adviser Samantha Power has declared that sound Middle East policy might require “alienating a domestic constituency”—guess which one. His staff further features Zbigniew Brzezinski, who has defended the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” thesis that the U.S.-Israel relationship is the product of Jewish power politics, rather than strategic interest.

This mixture of prior statements and advisory influences suggests little regarding how Obama might act towards Israel if elected. Obama has repudiated Brzezinski’s call for dialogue with Hamas, while Power’s support for ending U.S. foreign military aid to Israel probably represents too radical a departure from historic U.S. policy to be taken seriously.

Rather, Jewish concerns regarding Obama’s candidacy should focus on whether Obama and his posse view American Jewry as a stumbling block in the way of promoting U.S. interests in the Middle East. This is the insidious crux of the “Israel Lobby” thesis, and Obama’s prior statements to Abunimah—as well as the writings of Power and Brzezinski—are hardly reassuring.

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Keith Ellison’s Night Table

In my “Jews, Muslims, and the Democrats,” I discussed the significance of the election of Keith Ellison of Minneapolis, the first-ever Muslim member of the House of Representatives. I noted that in his campaign, Ellison had positioned himself as a moderate, and was at pains to distance himself from his extremist past, including his ties to Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. I also noted the possibility that he would continue to tack toward the political center. That possibility has not materialized. After a mere six months in office, he has been reverting to form.

Scott Johnson, who has been on this story from the beginning, both on powerline and in the Weekly Standard, has just put up two fascinating posts, The Ellison Hustle and The Truth About Keith Ellison, noting the trajectory of his views. Among other things, he calls attention to the Congressman’s recent remarks to a group called Atheists for Human Rights.

Ellison said a number of striking things at this gathering. But what stands out most is his likening of the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11 to a pivotal event in the history of the Third Reich:

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In my “Jews, Muslims, and the Democrats,” I discussed the significance of the election of Keith Ellison of Minneapolis, the first-ever Muslim member of the House of Representatives. I noted that in his campaign, Ellison had positioned himself as a moderate, and was at pains to distance himself from his extremist past, including his ties to Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. I also noted the possibility that he would continue to tack toward the political center. That possibility has not materialized. After a mere six months in office, he has been reverting to form.

Scott Johnson, who has been on this story from the beginning, both on powerline and in the Weekly Standard, has just put up two fascinating posts, The Ellison Hustle and The Truth About Keith Ellison, noting the trajectory of his views. Among other things, he calls attention to the Congressman’s recent remarks to a group called Atheists for Human Rights.

Ellison said a number of striking things at this gathering. But what stands out most is his likening of the destruction of the World Trade Center on September 11 to a pivotal event in the history of the Third Reich:

It’s almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they [the Nazis] blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country [Hitler] in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wanted. The fact is that I’m not saying [Sept. 11] was a [U.S.] plan, or anything like that because, you know, that’s how they put you in the nut-ball box–dismiss you.

Quoting this outrageous passage, Scott Johnson points out that Ellison has here descended into “promoting the disgusting conspiracy myths of radical ‘truthers’ and extremist Muslims.”

That is exactly right. Put aside Ellison’s disingenuous denial of what he is saying even as he is saying it. The comparison of 9/11 to the Reichstag fire, with the implication that the Bush administration was behind the attack, is not something Ellison has pulled out of thin air.

Not far from Minneapolis one finds Kevin Barrett, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the organizer of a body called the Muslim, Jewish, Christian Alliance for 9/11 Truth. Barrett is also the author of an essay entitled “Interpreting the Unspeakable: The Myth of 9/11,” which appeared in a book last November.

The fate of the Reichstag building is one of the essay’s major themes. “Like Bush and the neocons,” Barrett writes explicitly, “Hitler and the Nazis inaugurated their new era by destroying an architectural monument and blaming its destruction on their designated enemies.”

Nor is this the limit of Barrett’s conspiracy mongering. Click here, for instance, to find out who he thinks was really behind the “brutal slaughter of 34 Americans and the wounding of 171 others in the unprovoked Israeli attack on the unarmed USS Liberty” in June 1967.

Professor Barrett is evidently on Ellison’s reading list. What other volumes can be found on his night table?

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