Columnist Robert Novak, Israel critic, dies at 78

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Robert Novak, the Jewish-born influential conservative columnist who often criticized Israel, has died.

Novak died Tuesday in Washington after a long struggle with brain cancer. He was 78.

Writing a syndicated column with the late Rowland Evans, Novak worked sources deep inside government and more than once broke news that helped shift the outcome of an election.

The column’s revelation in 1976 that a high-ranking Ford administration official said that Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe was preferable to the nationalism that might otherwise have ensued eventually doomed Gerald Ford’s prospects of retaining the presidency.

Novak ran a running battle with pro-Israel groups, claiming they were unduly influential in Washington and that Israel was principally to blame for the exodus of Palestinian Christians.

He did not identify as Jewish and late in life converted to Roman Catholicism. Novak celebrated his conversion in interviews, but in other writings excoriated Jews in public service who were not shy about their faith.

Novak’s career sputtered because of his involvement in the Bush administration’s retaliatory leaking in 2003 of the name of Valerie Plame, the CIA operative who was married to Joseph Wilson, a prominent Iraq war critic.

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