NEW YORK (Sep. 27)
Jewish community leaders have repudiated conservative commentator Patrick Buchanan’s recent remarks, characterized by many as anti-Semitic, but do not, on the whole, think that any coordinated response by the Jewish community is required.
The opinions of Buchanan, who served as a White House aide during the Nixon and Reagan administrations, are heard nightly on the Cable News Network show “Crossfire,” which he hosts, and weekly, as a moderator on the network’s show “Capital Gang.” Buchanan also appears regularly on the weekly NBC program “The McLaughlin Group” and writes a twice-weekly column syndicated in 180 newspapers.
His comments began attracting widespread attention after the Aug. 26 “McLaughlin Group” broadcast.
During that show, Buchanan said that the only groups “beating the drums” for war in the Middle East are the Israeli Defense Ministry “and its ‘Amen corner’ in the United States.”
On the McLaughlin show taped Sept. 14, Buchanan said that Israel’s “Amen corner” included the Wall Street Journal and the National Review.
Days later, in his Sept. 19 syndicated column, Buchanan charged New York Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal, who had accused Buchanan of being an anti-Semite in his Sept. 14 Times column, with acting in “collusion” with the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith in an effort to silence his views.
ORCHESTRATING A SMEAR CAMPAIGN
And on last Sunday’s “McLaughlin Group,” Buchanan said that Rosenthal was “orchestrating a pre-planned smear campaign against me. What they’re trying to do is an effort to silence me,” he said, adding that they’re “they’re calling names of any editor around the country now. They say ‘If you carry Buchanan, we’re going to call you the same thing.’”
Abraham Foxman, national director of ADL, denied Buchanan’s accusations, and said that his organization “has not called a single editor to request removal of Buchanan’s column, nor would we.” Rosenthal was not available for comment.
Jewish community leaders, when asked what they believe the Jewish community’s response to Buchanan should be, repeatedly defended his freedom of expression.
“The organized Jewish community does not feel that Pat Buchanan should be muzzled,” said Jerome Chanes, co-director for domestic concerns for the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council.
“We favor a policy which leads to an educated constituency,” Chanes said, reflecting the view shared by many community leaders. “I’m very unhappy about what Pat Buchanan says, but the place to counteract it is in the marketplace of ideas.”
Alan Dershowitz, professor of law at Harvard University and vehement defender of First Amendment rights, took an uncompromising stand against Buchanan and said the press should also.
“CNN should take him off the air, and major American newspapers should stop running him,” Dershowitz said, “for the same reason that they would not give a TV show to Meir Kahane or Louis Farrakhan. Pat Buchanan is every bit as much a bigot.”
Dershowitz has been writing articles in the Boston Herald for several years, accusing Buchanan of “special solicitude for Nazi war criminals.” The Herald also carries Buchanan’s column.
Dershowitz points out that “Buchanan has been a vicious Jew-baiter for many years. His anti-Semitism is beyond dispute.”
Buchanan’s remarks have garnered wide attention in New York and in Washington, where newspaper columnists have been using their space to agree or disagree with Rosenthal’s assertion that the pundit is a true anti-Semite.
In a move considered unusual for a newspaper, the New York Post used up its entire space on the editorial page Sept. 19 to denounce Buchanan, whose incendiary column was run that same day on the paper’s op-ed page.
NOT GASSED AT TREBLINKA
The Post pointed out that Buchanan has said in an earlier column that Jews were not even gassed at Treblinka, and that he believes John Demjanjuk, sentenced to die in Israel for Nazi war crimes, to be innocent.
“When it comes to Jews as a group,” the Post concludes, “not Israel, not U.S.-Israeli relations, not individual Jews, Pat Buchanan betrays an all-too-familiar hostility.”
Jewish leaders feel that the more Buchanan exposes his opinions, the deeper he is going to bury himself.
They noted that he is alienating himself from mainstream political opinion, even from the conservative right wing, and that he is probably doing more damage to his own credibility than anyone else could do.
And at the same time, Buchanan’s commentary will be more closely monitored by the Jewish community, for more evidence of objectionable views.
“Buchanan’s venomous streak, which knows no bounds, cannot be ignored,” according to David Harris, director of the American Jewish Committee’s office of government and international affairs in Washington.
“The challenge is to take Buchanan on, particularly on the facts, and to strike a balance so as not to give him the excessive attention on which he thrives,” Harris said.
Buchanan, who enjoys a large audience through his regular television appearances and newspaper columns, wields some amount of influence, even if he is considered politically marginal by most and morally objectionable by many.