WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 (JTA) — In recent weeks, Jewish groups have publicly criticized the views expressed by Pat Buchanan that Nazi Germany posed no threat to the United States and that America did not have to enter World War II.
But when Buchanan announced this week that he was leaving the Republican Party to seek the Reform Party’s presidential nomination — and staked out a strong isolationist stance in his announcement — there was little Jewish reaction.
The relative silence illustrates the delicate line Jewish groups — which because of their non-profit status cannot engage in partisan politics or electioneering — have to walk when it comes to taking on candidates whose views they disagree with.
Buchanan, a conservative columnist who ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 and 1996, has long been accused of anti-Semitism by columnists, politicians and Jewish organizations. It is a charge he denies.
In announcing his decision and unveiling his agenda Monday to several hundred supporters chanting “Go, Pat, Go,” Buchanan said the United States should phase out foreign aid, curtail its intervention overseas and implement a “timeout” in legal immigration.
It was a “very difficult day” for Jewish groups who could not respond, one Jewish activist said.
It is “difficult to know how far you can go and where exactly you have to stop,” said an attorney for the Anti-Defamation League.
The Internal Revenue Service can strip a nonprofit organization of its tax-exempt status if it determines that the group engaged in election politics, the attorney said, adding that the IRS “does not provide a lot of guidance.”
Indeed, officials at Jewish organizations such as the ADL and the American Jewish Congress, which have publicly criticized Buchanan’s views, would not comment on Buchanan’s party switch, saying that as nonprofit, nonpolitical groups, they could not comment on such matters.
Phil Baum, executive director of the AJCongress, noted that the group’s recent half-page ad in The New York Times denouncing Buchanan’s writings did not refer to the presidential election. At the time of the ad, Buchanan was seeking the Republican presidential nomination.
After Buchanan’s book, “A Republic, Not an Empire,” came out last month, the ADL put out a news release saying that “we find it extremely disturbing that Pat Buchanan continues to find mainstream political acceptance when his views place him far outside the mainstream.”
The release did not mention that Buchanan was seeking the Republican nomination, but it did say that it had asked all the other Republican nominees to “denounce Pat Buchanan’s anti-Semitism and bigotry.”
This week the ADL put out a backgrounder on the Reform Party itself and two of the party’s activists, Fred Newman and Lenora Fulani, who the ADL said have espoused anti-Semitism in the years they were involved with the now-defunct New Alliance Party.
It also has a “special report” on its Web site entitled “Pat Buchanan: In His Own Words.”
Gail Gans, director of the ADL’s Civil Rights Information Center, said that since it is classified as a 501c(3) by the IRS, the group can’t appear to be supporting or opposing individual candidates but can discuss issues within the political parties.
Representatives of Democratic and Republican Jewish groups, as political activists, do not have to be as restrained.
Ira Forman, the executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, said if Buchanan wins the Reform Party nomination, “he will have a platform to spew his anti-Semitism and other xenophobic policies.”
“You don’t have the luxury of ignoring this guy anymore,” Forman said, noting that Buchanan, if he is the nominee, will have access to nearly $13 million in matching federal funds and could be included in the presidential debates.
However, Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, cautioned against making Buchanan into a Jewish issue.
“Pat Buchanan is an American problem, not a Jewish problem,” he said.
Brooks said Republicans and Democrats will likely ignore Buchanan if he is the Reform nominee until he proves he is gaining significant support. Various polls have shown Buchanan receiving 5 to 9 percent of the vote.
“You focus on your real opponents, not your imagined opponents,” Brooks said.
In his speech, Buchanan also called for an end to affirmative action and said all Americans should learn English and a common history of American heroes.
“The backsliding toward hyphenated Americanism must end,” he said.
Buchanan also appeared to call for school vouchers, which give parents funds to send their children to private or parochial schools. Jewish groups are split over the voucher issue.
“If I’m elected president, the bureaucrats at the Department of Education are not going to be testing kids, they’re going to be testing the magic of the marketplace,” he said.
When asked for his reaction to Buchanan’s call to halt legal immigration, Leonard Glickman, executive vice president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, said it was “shortsighted” and failed to recognize the contributions immigrants can and have made to the country.
“This kind of nativism really has no place on our country’s agenda,” he said.