Is Pat Robertson an Anti-Semite?
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz [“In the Matter of Pat Robertson,” August 1995] is to be commended for his honesty in belatedly conceding that I have been correct all along in alleging that Pat Robertson, if not an anti-Semite, is an energetic retailer of anti-Semitic libels: “The conclusion is thus inescapable that Robertson, whether knowingly or unknowingly, has subscribed to and purveyed ideas that have an old and well-established anti-Semitic pedigree.” He is also commendably honest in admitting that his sole criterion for deciding whether to support or oppose Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, or Louis Farrakhan is support for Israel. Here Mr. Podhoretz and I part ways. I am opposed to all Jew-baiting demagogues who lead mass movements in the United States, whether they are anti-Israel or pro-Israel. (As far as I can judge, Israel is not so devoid of American friends that its champions must cultivate American kooks.)
Having conceded that my message about Robertson was accurate, Mr. Podhoretz spends much of the article trying, rather ineptly it must be said, to smear the messenger. In constructing an elaborate and necessarily ill-informed theory about my strategy and motives in exposing Robertson, Mr. Podhoretz fails to follow the first rule of historical fiction—get the dates right. “Curiously,” he writes,
though Lind complained [in Dissent] about the defense of Pat Robertson by a number of conservative intellectuals, he said almost nothing there about anti-Semitism. It was only a little while later, when he repaired that omission in his article about The New World Order in the New York Review, that he hit pay dirt.
The implication is that I had resolved to go after Robertson for his views on social policy, and that I added my allegations of anti-Semitism only as a hasty afterthought in January 1995, in the several weeks between the appearance of the Dissent and New York Review articles.
I am flattered to be attributed the diabolical cunning of one of Robertson’s Schiffs or Warburgs (“Curiously . . .”). The truth, sadly, is less dramatic. When, in the fall of 1994, I wrote my Dissent essay, “Why Intellectual Conservatism Died” (which Mr. Podhoretz, in his usual slapdash fashion, calls “How Intellectual Conservatism Died”), I expected that it would appear after the essay on Robertson in the New York Review, which already had been not only written but tentatively accepted. I saw no point in repeating myself on the subject of Robertson’s anti-Semitic rhetoric in Dissent, for the simple reason that the forthcoming New York Review essay would be my third article on the subject.
If Mr. Podhoretz had bothered to do a simple check on Nexis, he would have discovered that my first exposé of Robertson’s anti-Semitic conspiracy theories was “The Exorcism,” an essay in the December 14, 1992 issue of the New Republic, published when I still worked for Irving Kristol (as executive editor of the National Interest) and hoped that mainstream conservatives might still repudiate the disastrous “no enemies-to-the-Right” strategy. I drew attention to The New World Order once again in an article in the “Outlook Section” of the Washington Post of October 16, 1994, entitled “Calling All Crackpots.” It is a pity that neither Mr. Podhoretz nor any of the other prominent conservatives paid any attention to the first two of my three attacks between 1992 and 1995, in three different national publications, on Robertson’s recycling of the Judeo-Masonic theory. If the debate about Robertson had occurred, as I hoped it would, back in 1992, then the conservative movement might have avoided disgrace.
Having misconstrued the public record of my statements on the subject, Mr. Podhoretz, presumably on the basis of mental telepathy, claims to understand my motives: “Michael Lind . . . is undoubtedly much more exercised by Robertson’s cultural agenda . . . than by his fantasies about Jewish bankers in the 18th century.” “Undoubtedly”? If my major concern had been the religious Right’s social agenda (which is exactly the same as it was when I joined the Right), then Robertson was a peculiar target, because that agenda plays a relatively minor role in his teachings, compared to economic quackery and foreign policy.
The New World Order is about foreign policy, and it was my background in foreign policy and European intellectual history that made me particularly sensitive to the dangers of the theory it purveys. I had never paid much attention either to Robertson or the religious Right when I picked up a copy of The New World Order in 1991 in a B. Dalton bookstore in Arlington, Virginia; I expected to be amused by the promised explanation of world events like the Gulf war (during which I held a minor position in the State Department). Instead, I was shocked to discover that Robertson, who I had assumed was a conventional evangelical like Jerry Falwell, had accused President George Bush (for whom I had voted, and for whose administration I had briefly worked) and the Council on Foreign Relations (which I had joined after being nominated by William F. Buckley, Jr.) of being part of a Judeo-Masonic-Satanic conspiracy.
When Robertson, instead of fading away like the other TV evangelists, became a power-broker in the 1992 election, I remembered his crazy book and immediately tried to sound the alarm, not because of the conventional Calvinist theology that Robertson shares with Jerry Falwell and Jim Bakker, but because of what Robertson shares with Eustace Mullins and Nesta Webster.
Mr. Podhoretz professes to find it incredible that a prominent younger neo-conservative foreign-policy intellectual would have had any reason to be appalled that the President of the United States, for whom he had voted and worked, and the conservative figures he had once admired, should pay court to an anti-Semitic demagogue who claimed the Gulf war was a “set-up” and the cold war a windfall for moneylenders. After all, Mr. Podhoretz says, I am not a Jew! (In fact, I am partly of Jewish descent—a fact that Mr. Podhoretz’s telepathic powers somehow failed to uncover.) Perhaps I am too optimistic about human nature, but I would like to think that any principled young partisan Democrat, even a Gentile, would have reacted similarly in 1992, if candidate Clinton and the entire liberal intelligentsia had begun kowtowing before Louis Farrakhan and had united to smear Farrakhan’s critics.
All of Mr. Podhoretz’s ad-hominem attacks against me cannot alter the fact that, far from being an isolated malcontent, I am simply the best known of a substantial number of younger conservatives and ex-conservatives who have been repelled by the kind of unprincipled opportunism exemplified by Mr. Podhoretz’s cynical argument that Robertson must be forgiven his anti-Semitic rantings because he supports Israel. After the publication of my article in Dissent, I received around two-dozen letters or phone calls of support from young policy analysts and staffers at conservative institutions including the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington Times, National Review, and COMMENTARY. Though they could not express their dissent in public for fear of being purged, they agreed with me that the cynical no-enemies-to-the-Right policy of the conservative leadership has left a taint that no number of Republican electoral victories can redeem.
Indeed, a case can be made that those of us who have rejected the strategy of no enemies to the Right are, or were, the only genuine neoconservative intellectuals of our generation—a title that must be denied to the twentysomething apparatchiks who, from week to week, revise their opinions to match the GOP party line promoted by William Kristol and Roger Ailes.
Neoconservatives—or so I understood when I became one in 1984-85—shared support for a resolute anti-Soviet foreign policy with the members of the old Right. At the same time, neoconservatives differed from paleo-conservatives in supporting the pro-labor, social-market capitalism of the New Deal, Fair Deal, and Great Society (as distinguished from the War on Poverty), a tradition that included support for universal health care; in defending the race-neutral civil-rights tradition of Martin Luther King, Jr., Bayard Rustin, Lyndon Johnson, and Hubert Humphrey against both the multicultural Left and the racist Right; and in upholding the values of liberal Enlightenment humanism and modernity not only against totalitarianism on the Left but against religious and racist obscurantism on the Right.
In the intervening decade, while my allies and I have not retreated from our commitment to these neoconservative principles, the most prominent neoconservatives, with the honorable exceptions of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Daniel Bell, and Nathan Glazer, have dropped the “neo” from “conservatism” and adopted the most discredited and repugnant dogmas of the Republican far Right. They have cast aside any reservations about the social costs of laissez-faire capitalism; become champions of states’ rights; lionized Charles Murray, who claims that racial integration is doomed by the supposed “dysgenic” qualities of black and Hispanic Americans; and made common cause with creationists who want American schoolchildren, in this age of biotechnology, to be taught the allegories of Adam and Eve and Noah’s ark as “creation science.” (It seems like an eternity ago that I wrote an article in COMMENTARY defending evolutionary biology against radical feminism and the anti-Darwinist Left.) Any one of these capitulations to far-Right ideology would have been sufficient to doom mainstream conservatism as a serious intellectual and cultural force—whatever the ephemeral electoral successes of today’s political conservatism, which derives by way of Richard Nixon from George Wallace.
The neoconservatives like to talk about “the treason of the intellectuals.” But the trahison des clercs that Julien Benda criticized in the 192 O’s was the abandonment of Enlightenment humanism by converts to the Right among the French intelligentsia who were eager to participate wholeheartedly in political movements of national regeneration based on racism, integral nationalism, and religious revivalism.
If Norman Podhoretz and his dwindling band of allies want to use talmudic reasoning to justify applying the name of “neoconservatism” to a synthesis of laissez-faire, states’ rights, eugenics, and creationism, and to find vindication for this farrago in the fact that 17 percent of the eligible electorate voted for Republicans in November’s congressional elections, that is their prerogative. My political principles, and those of a number of other young intellectuals who once wrote for journals like COMMENTARY but would no longer dream of doing so, remain those of a Teddy Roosevelt Progressive of 1915, a New Deal liberal of 1935, a cold-war liberal of 1955—or a neoconservative of 1975.
To the Editor:
I was gratified to see that my article in the New York Review helped prompt Norman Podhoretz to conclude that Pat Robertson has indeed peddled anti-Semitic canards in his best-selling book. I am, however, puzzled by his depiction of Michael Lind’s initial exposure of Robertson’s ugly beliefs as a purely personal crusade fueled by an obsession with social issues. Not only does Mr. Podhoretz’s attempt to divine the hidden wellsprings of Lind’s antipathy toward Robertson contradict his own observation a few paragraphs earlier that “surely in politics it is actions and not motives that count,” but it also reduces the Robertson affair to a mere grudge match. I think that there is more to it than that.
What the case of Robertson has notably revealed is that neoconservatives have adopted a noenemies-to-the-Right policy. The first reaction of neoconservatives, after all, was to pooh-pooh the notion that Robertson’s book was replete with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Mr. Podhoretz concedes this point, but goes on to defend Robertson partly in the form of denouncing Lind’s denunciation of neoconservatism in the socialist journal Dissent.
Having worked at the National Interest (before Lind’s tenure at the magazine) and occasionally contributed to COMMENTARY, it is my impression that, if anything, Lind soft-pedaled the decrepitude of neoconservatism in the Dissent piece that Mr. Podhoretz declares goes “nowhere” but devotes several paragraphs to assailing. No one with a modicum of intellectual curiosity could fail to realize after a few years that to join neoconservatism was to join a junior-league Comintern whose members were pledged to follow slavishly its every twist and turn. The result was a steady psychological ratcheting up of the stakes in which initiates were expected to prove their fealty to the cause by embracing ever more outlandish propositions—helping the poor always hurts the poor, global warming benefits the environment, blacks are genetically inferior to whites—or face expulsion.
Now Mr. Podhoretz would have us believe that Robertson’s noisy support for Israel demonstrates that he is anything but an anti-Semite. In arriving at this judgment, he invokes the rabbinic rule of batel b’shishim, that “if the contaminant has slipped in [to a permitted food] accidentally or unintentionally, and is no more than one-sixtieth of the whole, it is neutralized and the food can be lawfully eaten.” There has been nothing accidental about the contamination of neoconservatism by the radical Right. Norman Podhoretz and the remnants of the movement he once commanded are beyond redemption.
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz misrepresents the Anti-Defamation League’s position when he claims that our 1994 report on the religious Right offered “the most broadly based statement of the case for regarding [Pat] Robertson as an anti-Semite.”
The ADL made no such case. We do not believe Robertson to be anti-Semitic and did not argue that he is. In fact, the concerns we raised are similar to those noted by Mr. Podhoretz himself. We cited statements by Robertson that we deemed “antagonistic toward Jews.” Mr. Podhoretz also cites a number of these remarks, arguing that Robertson has resorted to a “threatening tone” and “intimidation” in his pronouncements about Jews. We expressed alarm about the conspiratorial outlook and certain anti-Semitic sources of Robertson’s book, The New World Order; so does Mr. Podhoretz.
One can air concerns about troubling statements and views without accusing their source of being an anti-Semite. With regard to Pat Robertson, that is precisely what the ADL’s religious Right report did—no more, no less.
Abraham H. Foxman
New York City
To the Editor
. . . Norman Podhoretz suggests that Pat Robertson must be a “new breed of anti-Semite,” implying that you cannot be an anti-Semite and also a supporter of Israel. Indeed, Robertson is a new breed. It has taken only 48 years, the length of time Israel has been in existence, for the world to have developed this new breed. The birth of Israel for Robertson is one step closer to the fulfillment of apocalyptic theology . . . , in which the return of the Jews to the Promised Land is a necessary prelude to the “second coming” of Jesus and the ultimate conversion of the Jews to Christianity. If that is Robertson’s motivation, Mr. Podhoretz says, it is all right with him. . . .
Mr. Podhoretz advises us that “in politics it is actions and not motives that count.” I think we should be spared this kind of blind faith in someone who “knowingly or unknowingly” spouts anti-Semitism.
Daniel M. Groden
Water Mill, New York
To the Editor:
While I agree that Pat Robertson is not the demonic figure some left-wing interest groups and pundits portray him as, I think there are some questions which need to be answered before any final judgment can be made. . . .
In the Wall Street Journal (April 12) Robertson took strong exception to critics who accused him of endorsing or promoting anti-Semitic themes and sources. He stated categorically that The New World Order “embraced no conspiracy theories” and employed “no anti-Semitic code words.” One wonders if Robertson has read his own book! For example, in the chapter “The Power Behind the Bolsheviks,” he asserts a “commonality of interest between left-wing Bolsheviks and right-wing monopolistic capitalists,” and he insists that understanding this link is crucial “fully [to] comprehend the last 70 years of world history [and] the ongoing movement toward world government.” At this point, he introduces readers to Nesta Webster, whom he lamely describes as a “British author,” and he recommends her research on “subversive movements” and “secret societies.”
In truth, Nesta Webster was the doyenne of right-wing conspiracy theorists and her writings have been preeminent in shaping conspiratorial thinking in the English-speaking world. Chapter titles in her 1924 book, Secret Societies and Subversive Movements, include “The Jewish Cabalists” and “The Real Jewish Peril.” . . . In 1926 she wrote a pamphlet entitled “The Need for Fascism in Great Britain.” Later . . . she derided British press reports concerning the persecution of German Jews and observed: “That Hitler is doing the best thing for Germany seems at present undeniable.”
In the United States the most prominent devotees and promoters of Webster’s books and ideas have been the John Birch Society, William Dudley Pelley (Silver Shirts), the Liberty Lobby, the Omni/Christian Book Club. . . .
Robertson also cites a 1983 book by Eustace Mullins as a resource for understanding the history and significance of the Federal Reserve. This book merely updates Mullins’s 1954 exposition entitled The Federal Reserve Conspiracy, published by the Christian Educational Association (CEA). In 1954, the House Un-American Affairs Committee (HUAC) described the CEA as a “clearinghouse for hate propaganda throughout the country.” Mullins’s sentiments may be limned from his March 1955 article in Women’s Voice entitled “Why Do the Jews Hate America?” and from his October 1952 contribution to the National Renaissance party bulletin entitled “Adolf Hitler: An Appreciation.” . . .
So we are left with an enigma: how did Robertson come across the writings of Webster and Mullins, and why does he cite them in his bibliography as authoritative sources? Mr. Podhoretz suggests that he might not be familiar with their ideas, but possibly relied on a research assistant who provided him with the material without its anti-Semitic context. Why, then, do their themes pervade his own scheme of things, and why does he heartily defend writers “who expose subversive secret organizations” while dismissing critics as ignorant simpletons oblivious to the centuries-old nefarious plans of Freemasonry and the Illuminati?
Unless and until Robertson provides answers to these questions, I do not think we can blithely accept the proposition that his pro-Israel position is indicative of his underlying beliefs.
San Francisco, California
To the Editor:
In his apologia for Pat Robertson, Norman Podhoretz quotes Robertson on church-state relations: “I agree that church and state should be separated. . . . [These are] my most personal beliefs and my most fundamental convictions.”
This is hardly congruent with another statement of Robertson’s:
The Constitution of the United States . . . is a marvelous document for self-government by Christian people. But the minute you turn the document into the hands of non-Christian people and atheistic people, they can use it to destroy the very foundation of our society. And that’s what’s been happening. [Washington Post, March 21, 1981, cited in the ADL report, The Religious Right]
Nor is the sentence quoted by Mr. Podhoretz in line with Robertson’s triumphant cry after the 1980 elections: “Christians have enough votes to run the country!”
That Robertson is anti-Semitic may still be open to question; that he is prevaricating cannot possibly be. In his article, Mr. Podhoretz implies that in evaluating Robertson’s deeply held beliefs American Jews should find comfort in the fact that his pro-Israel stance outweighs his Christian agenda for this nation. In this, as the years ahead will show, I fear that Mr. Podhoretz is very much mistaken.
Peter John Kirsch
To the Editor:
For the last twenty years I have subscribed to COMMENTARY, agreeing for the most part with its overall stand on issues and paying particular attention to the incisive analyses of Norman Podhoretz. But I am flabbergasted by his exculpatory article on Pat Robertson. By any litmus test, the references to Jewish cabals in Robertson’s book, however thinly disguised, qualify him as the most pernicious sort of anti-Semite, more so than the openly hostile Joseph Sobran or Pat Buchanan. . . . Robertson has a large audience, not in the least given to hair-splitting, which will accept his message at face value. . . .
I have met, and would be surprised if Mr. Podhoretz has not also met, people favorably disposed to Israel who at the same time believe in the most outlandish Jewish conspiracies and strivings for world domination. I consider such people to be dangerously anti-Semitic. Conversely, if a person opposes Israel and opposes me politically but is free of beliefs in perfidious Jewish cabals, in my book he is not an anti-Semite. . . .
Bloomfield Village, Michigan
To the Editor:
As regular subscriber and reader since Elliot E. Cohen began COMMENTARY 50 years ago, I feel entitled to express my dismay at Norman Podhoretz’s article. . . . There is something disgustingly obsequious about Mr. Podhoretz’s attempt to laugh off Pat Robertson’s anti-Semitic mouthings, and to do so in the name of an alleged friendship toward Israel is simply absurd! As the saying goes, “With friends like these. . . .”
To the Editor:
. . . It is true that if one were to define an anti-Semite only as someone who hates Jews, Pat Robertson would not be classified as anti-Semitic. However, I believe that the correct definition is far broader: the term should be extended to include those who place all Jews in one basket and then proceed to make generalizations about them that are unsupported by fact. . . . For example: Jews control international finance; Jews control the media; Jews control Hollywood; Jews act in unison because they belong to an unnamed secret international organization; etc.
Applying this criterion to Pat Robertson, I conclude that he is quite clearly anti-Semitic. Nevertheless, I would still commend his support for Israel and would work to cement closer links and lines of communication with him and his organization.
Woodmere, New York
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz begins his article by asking if Pat Robertson “is guilty of the charge of anti-Semitism that has lately been hurled at him,” and then supplies enough evidence in his article for me to answer “yes.” . . . Before reading the article, I had viewed Robertson as a friend of Israel who might also help end welfare statism in the United States. Without the benefit of Mr. Podhoretz’s close analysis, I had rated Robertson as a man of slight intellect but strong principles. . . . His problems appeared to me to be the result of nothing more than the now-standard dishonest treatment from the majority of journalists whose political beliefs are at odds with his. Therefore, I felt that he had been ill-used and was not an embarrassment to a Jewish political conservative like me.
Now, at best, Robertson appears to me to be schizophrenic in his convictions. On the one hand, he blames Jews disproportionately for the world’s ills, but he also gives money and lends his influence to Jewish causes. At worst, he appears to have in mind something like the PLO’s “phased plan” for the destruction of Israel. Although Jews might not worry about a “second coming,” I wonder what might happen if Robertson were to become impatient for the apocalypse or disturbed by the welfare-state politics of the state of Israel and used his influence and money accordingly. . . .
Though my new view of Pat Robertson would not make me vote for a liberal Democrat, or cause me to vote against a sound Republican candidate, . . . it makes me more pessimistic about the future of Jews in America. . . .
Barry A. Solomon
New York City
To the Editor:
Like Norman Podhoretz I, too, come down on the side of Pat Robertson, albeit for a different reason. Certainly Robertson’s actions on behalf of Israel and Jews generally far outweigh his grotesque beliefs in Jewish participation in anti-American and anti-Christian conspiracies. But I cannot help remembering the contrast between Martin Luther’s early writings about Jews, both supportive and complimentary, and his later writings which are among the most vicious anti-Semitic expressions in history. It is impossible to believe that Luther changed so radically; rather, he changed when he realized he was going to be no more successful in converting the Jews than his Catholic predecessors had been.
Robertson’s expressions of support for Jews may well be sincere (I certainly hope so), but while Mr. Podhoretz notes that the late Nathan Perlmutter, when he was national director of the ADL, said he was content to wait until the Messiah comes to see how it all turns out, I am not certain the Christian Right will also be so content.
The Christian theology Robertson embraces regarding Jews, as Mr. Podhoretz points out, is largely without precedent in the last 2,000 years. It must surely be at least possible that it will be jettisoned as quickly as it was adopted when it appears, to the Robertsons and to others, that Jews want no more part of his new Christian theology than they did of the old.
As an Orthodox Jew I look at things just a little differently. Until the coming of the Messiah, we Jews will be in exile and will be, in large measure, at the mercy of the nations of the world. For us, there are no permanently safe ports, and all we can do is our best at the moment, which for now means accepting gratefully the support of Pat Robertson. But I suggest we sleep with one eye open.
Far Rockaway, New York
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz should be congratulated for his willingness to break with political correctness and his refusal to demonize Pat Robertson. Christians are no longer the enemies of the Jews; it is Louis Farrakhan, who represents both Muslim hatred of Israel and virulent anti-Semitism, who is the real problem. . . .
Mr. Podhoretz’s article is a first step in opening up a dialogue with the Christian Coalition that has been sorely lacking. . . . Both religious Jews and religious Christians emphasize family values, education, morality, the work ethic, and prayer. . . . Jews have nothing to fear from an open discussion or display of religion in the public arena. . . .
There has always been a fear that association with the majority religion would corrupt, discourage, and undermine the faith of young Jews. But experience has shown that secular liberalism has done more in the last 50 years to undermine Judaism among the young than centuries of oppression by forces far worse than the majority Christian religion in the United States. . . .
To the Editor:
I have been watching Pat Robertson’s 700 Club on TV for several years since my retirement and, although not influenced by his religious message, I admire the sincerity of his faith. I was disappointed when, after his spell in the political arena, Robertson displayed impatience with people who did not accept some of his positions, yet I have never heard him make anti-Semitic remarks. If some appear in his writings, then I agree with Norman Podhoretz that they touch on Jewish sensitivity. There is in our memory a recollection of centuries of persecution ranging from the polemics of the Church fathers through Martin Luther to events in the present century. . . .
It is regrettable that a trace of the old, outdated rhetoric has drifted into Pat Robertson’s writings. I agree with Mr. Podhoretz that the offending remarks . . . may have been brought to Robertson by eager assistants, and that his failure to recognize the blunder may have been due to his lack of familiarity with some historical facts which, for Christians, are painful to remember. The inevitable backlash by writers, Jewish and non-Jewish, may have been an overreaction. We owe thanks to Norman Podhoretz for his balanced analysis and his fairness to Pat Robertson, whom we may still consider a friend of the Jews.
To the Editor:
As a Roman Catholic, I have long felt a familial tie to Judaism, as a younger brother might feel toward his elder brother. My experience has been that this sentiment among Christians is becoming more common, though it would be stretching matters to say that Pat Buchanan is an exceptional case. I can attest, however, to the accuracy of the statement by Father Richard John Neuhaus, quoted by Mr. Podhoretz in his article, that an understanding has grown of “Christianity’s dependence [upon] . . . the living Judaism that continues in mysterious relation to God’s election and unbreakable promise.” Pat Robertson, and others of the Christian Coalition, may very well share that understanding.
Jeffrey C. Scharfen
Santa Rosa, California
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz really took me back when he spoke about the public school he attended in the 30’s . . . where he sang Christian hymns not knowing what the words meant. . . .
I attended Washington Irving high school in New York City in the 40’s. . . . Each Christmas, I remember singing (and quite enjoying . . .) “Oh! Come All Ye Faithful.” Anyone familiar with this hymn knows it ends with the words—“Oh! Come let us adore him/Oh! Come let us adore him/Oh! Come let us adore him”—that was when I stopped singing and the Christians in the auditorium went on to sing “Christ the lord.” Nobody ever noticed I had stopped singing, nor did I ever feel peculiar for doing so. It was not expected that children of other faiths should mouth words that were inimical to what they believed in.
There is a lot of talk now that if prayer were introduced into schools today, children who did not participate would be afraid of being thought “different” or of being resented. But being “different” and respecting others’ differences are what it means to be citizens of a democracy. If we can no longer accept this, then we are on the slippery slope to tyranny. . . .
Rego Park, New York
To the Editor:
Congratulations to Norman Podhoretz on his excellent piece on Pat Robertson, which is written with his customary grace and clarity.
Mount Wilson Institute
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz delivers a sensible and cogent defense against the charges of anti-Semitism which continue to haunt Pat Robertson and cloud relations between Jews and Christian conservatives. Neither Robertson’s crackpot historical theories nor his evocations of a “Christian America” are the real source of so much Jewish-liberal animosity. Most liberal Jews have not read Robertson’s books, they do not listen to his broadcasts, they do not attend his sermons, they do not read Michael Lind, Michael Kinsley, or ADL reports. They only know that Robertson is opposed to abortion, gay rights, and most of the liberal agenda, and accusations of anti-Semitism simply feed their existing hatred. Robertson’s long history of staunch support for Israel will not dissuade them.
In fact, liberal Jews have been very measured in their criticism of anti-Semites on the political Left. And they have been sickeningly tolerant and trusting of Israel’s enemies. . . .
Ruth S. King
New York City
To the Editor:
Norman Podhoretz is right on every count, and since he has had no problem calling other conservatives like Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran anti-Semites, he has earned credibility on this issue.
Let us be honest. The reason many Jews want to label Pat Robertson an anti-Semite is that he is the leader of a movement that is gradually eroding post-1965 liberalism, the religion of most American Jews. Mr. Podhoretz’s application of the talmudic rule of batel b’shishim is valid and productive. The problem, however, is that most Jews do not consider anything Robertson does kosher; if they did, they would largely ignore his foolish remarks about European bankers and the like. Moreover, we Jews should forgive people—whether on the Left or Right—when they sincerely apologize. . . .
The attitude of most American Jews toward Christians is a mirror-image of most American blacks’ attitude toward whites: a paralysis of memory. It is important to remember history, but remembering is one thing and allowing memory to blind one to reality is another. Most blacks do not want to acknowledge that most whites have changed; for example, in her inaugural address, the new head of the NAACP said that there is no difference between American racism today and when the NAACP was founded in the first decade of the 20th century. Similarly, most Jews do not want to acknowledge the profound change among most Christians, especially in America.
I have lectured in Jewish communities where rabbis have told me that the local Jewish groups ignored salute-to-Israel rallies because they were held under the auspices of Christian fundamentalists. Jews will mortgage their homes to send their children to study under anti-Israel professors at elite universities; and they will continue to support institutions like Columbia University (where I attended graduate school) despite the virtual absence of administration and faculty condemnation of a Der Stuermer-like article by a black student in the campus newspaper. Yet Jews will boycott loving endeavors by conservative Christians who have never voiced a single anti-Jewish or anti-Israel sentiment.
It is true that many Jews feel great kinship with the views of the New York Times, but some feel more kinship with the values of the Christian Coalition. I am among the latter and believe that either the movement spawned by such Christians will save America or the country will drown. A Jewry not paralyzed by visions of the Inquisition, the Crusades, and Christian-inspired pogroms would in fact embrace many of the Christian Coalition’s values, or, at the very least, accord these people respectful attention. . . .
Los Angeles, California
Norman Podhoretz writes:
At a time when the air is filled with denunciations of the Jewish religious Right for the extremist rhetoric of its attacks on political opponents, it is useful to be reminded that such rhetoric is at least equally characteristic of the secular Left, especially when the target is the religious Right or anyone friendly to it.
Thus, in my article on Pat Robertson I said that the former neoconservative Michael Lind, in signing on with the Left, had
revived one of its most ignoble traditions in charging that it was out of the lust for foundation gold and political power, and not out of principle or moral concern, that conservative intellectuals had become friendly toward the Christian Right.
Yet not even Mr. Lind’s scurrilities (many of them recycled in his letter above, with a few new ones thrown in for good measure) went far enough for his fellow refugee from neoconservatism, Jacob Heilbrunn. “If anything,” Mr. Heilbrunn writes, “Lind soft-pedaled the decrepitude of neoconservatism.” Determined to avoid such pussyfooting (no more nice guy he), Mr. Heilbrunn goes on to offer what he considers a more accurate description of neoconservatism as “a junior-league Comintern” whose “contamination . . . by the radical Right” has placed it “beyond redemption.”
To detect the motive behind language like this (not to mention the fact that Messrs. Lind and Heilbrunn devote so much more space to vilifying the neoconservatives for having become anti-liberal all across the board and so little to challenging my defense of Robertson), there is no need to rely on “mental telepathy.” Anyone with a reasonably well-trained critical eye and a bit of common sense will immediately see that both Michael Lind and Jacob Heilbrunn are using the charge of anti-Semitism mainly to discredit the social and political agenda of the Right while smearing their former mentors and patrons with guilt by association.
Nor is the precise chronological order in which The Collected Works of Michael Lind were composed of such earthshaking importance as he imagines. The only things that matter are the sequence in which the two pieces I singled out for discussion were published—and there of course I did “get the dates right”—and the relative impact they made, which I also got right. (I did, however, get the title of one of these imperishable masterpieces slightly wrong. Mea maxima culpa)
Messrs. Lind and Heilbrunn are both talented young men, but the sad truth is that in migrating to the Left they have sunk to a level of intellectual vulgarity that I do not recall either of them exhibiting when they were still under the tutelage of the neoconservative elders on whom they have now so ferociously turned. I am not easily shocked by such things, but I must admit that I was taken aback by the coarseness of their summaries of what neoconservatism stands for (with Mr. Heilbrunn once again outdoing Mr. Lind): these malicious caricatures would be unworthy even of an unusually cheap left-wing demagogue. And it is certain that when they were eagerly trying to write for COMMENTARY they would not have been allowed to get away with the kind of intellectual dishonesty they permit themselves here in the desperate effort to score polemical points.
For example, they both accuse me and other neoconservatives of adopting a “cynical no-enemies-to-the-Right” policy. Yet, as they must know, when the so-called paleoconservatives some years ago began pushing a nativist line, the neoconservatives split with them in no uncertain terms. Moreover, as they also know (and as Dennis Prager notes above), it was in this very magazine that the case for denouncing right-wingers like Pat Buchanan and Joseph Sobran as anti-Semites was most fully and carefully developed. In fact, after absolving Robertson of anti-Semitism in the very article to which they are responding, I end with the following sentence: “If only the same thing could be said of the other Pat, the secular one, who has now, alas, become rather more prominent on the Right than Robertson himself.” So much for a “no-enemies-to-the-Right” policy.
Another sign of intellectual dishonesty is the refusal to acknowledge and then contend with the differences between Pat Robertson and Louis Farrakhan (differences which, as I showed in my article, are not confined to the issue of Israel, decisive though that is). Of this refusal the Anti-Defamation League turns out not to be guilty. Like many other readers of its report on the religious Right, I came away with the impression that the ADL, which had rightly attacked Farrakhan as an anti-Semite, was lodging the same charge against Robertson. But I am glad to see from Abraham H. Foxman’s letter that the ADL agrees with me in concluding that Robertson is not in fact an anti-Semite.
Daniel M. Groden, Ernie Lazar, Mordecai Shelef, and Samuel Zomber all elaborate on points I myself made and then took into account in rendering my verdict on the charge of anti-Semitism against Robertson. Clearly I did not succeed in persuading them that Robertson’s crackpot conspiracy theories, his reliance on books by Nesta Webster and Eustace Mullins, and his apocalyptic theological expectations concerning the ultimate conversion of the Jews are far outweighed by his political, moral, and financial support for Israel (as well as for other Jewish causes). Since I have nothing new to add, I will not attempt to persuade them now. I would, however, like to register my view that the Jews have enemies enough without looking for another in a man who, whatever his ideas about the distant past and the remote future, professes and concretely demonstrates friendship for them and solicitude for their interests in the present.
Peter John Kirsch raises the question of whether Robertson is really committed to the separation of church and state and cites statements that are at odds with the passage I quoted on that issue. Here again, as with Robertson’s crackpot theories, I myself alluded to such statements and took them into account. Since, as Mr. Kirsch indicates, they were made back in 1980-81, whereas the one I highlighted dates from a year or so ago, he assumes that Robertson is now “prevaricating.” But I think, giving Robertson the benefit of the doubt (and why should we not?), that there has been an evolution in his thinking. That is, he has moved away from his earlier notions of America as a “Christian nation” and toward a better understanding of the First Amendment, though one that permits much more latitude for religious expression in the public square than most Jews (mistakenly, in my opinion) believe desirable.
Finally, I want to thank Jacob Weissman, Barry A. Solomon, Yehuda Rostker, Jerald Udinsky, Charles Terner, Jeffrey C. Scharfen, Janice Wijnen, Robert Jastrow, Ruth S. King, and Dennis Prager for their thoughtful and generous remarks.