Gag order on Wright’s name?

Back a couple weeks ago, John McCain was directly asked in a “tele-town hall” meeting with Jewish leaders why he wasn’t bringing up Barack Obama’s 20-year association with his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He said then that the “issue of Pastor Wright is pretty well known by the American people.” On the other hand, he said, “We need to know more about” the Ayers and ACORN matters.

Did McCain’s decision to not bring up Wright come with some sort of gag order for the rest of the campaign staff? Because that seems to be the best explanation for the strange exchange that took place Thursday afternoon on CNN between anchor Rick Sanchez and McCain-Palin spokesman Michael Goldfarb.

The exchange began with a discussion about McCain’s chairmanship of the International Republican Institute’s and the $448,000 it gave to an organization co-founded by Rashid Khalidi — even though the campaign has been criticizing Obama’s relationship with Khalidi when the two were professors at the University of Chicago. But Goldfarb focused on the farewell party Obama attended for Khalidi, which the Los Angeles Times has reported included some speakers who harshly criticize Israel.

“You are missing the point again, Rick,” said Goldfarb. “The point is that Barack Obama has a long track record of being around anti-Semitic and anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric.”

So Sanchez challenged Goldfarb to “name one other person besides Khalidi” who Obama “hangs around that is anti-Semitic?”

After Goldfarb throws out the name of William Ayers and Sanchez rejects that answer and presses him to “name one person,” the campaign spokesman replies, “Rick, we both know who number two is.” That brought this exchange:

SANCHEZ: Who? Would you tell us?

GOLDFARB: No, Rick, I think we all know who we are talking about here.

SANCHEZ: Somebody who is anti-Semitic that he hangs around with.

GOLDFARB: I think we all know who we are talking about.

SANCHEZ: Say it.

GOLDFARB: I think we all know who we’re talking about, Rick.

There seems no other explanation for that bizarre exchange other than that Goldfarb was referring to Wright–and hoping that Sanchez would bring it up first.

Now the question of whether Wright should be called an anti-Semite is, at the least, arguable. (That’s leaving aside the dubious allegation that Khalidi is anti-Semitic, which you can read more about here.)

Wright has without question “palled around” with an anti-Semite, traveling to Libya in 1984 with Louis Farrakhan and honoring the Nation of Islam leader with his Trinity United Church of Christ’s top award. And he’s certainly been critical of Israeli policies — the church reprinted an Los Angeles Times op-ed by a top official of Hamas in its bulletin. But while his publicly released sermons and other media appearances may have contained plenty of anti-American rhetoric, they haven’t included anything that could be construed as anti-Semitic. And Wright has even worked with the American Jewish Committee in Chicago. In addition, the ADL has said that they have no evidence of anti-Semtism from the pastor.

So was Goldfarb referring to Wright, or some mysterious, unnamed anti-Semite? He wouldn’t say afterwards, telling JTA, “You watched the interview” and suggesting that viewers could draw their own conclusions.

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