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Midstream Article Accusing Pope of Marxist Leanings Fuels Clash Between Editor, Board Member

June 28, 1985
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A controversy over an article in the World Zionist Organization’s magazine Midstream, which suggested that the attempt on the life of Pope John Paul II was part of a KGB plot to “camouflage” his Marxist leanings, is developing into a bitter battle between the magazine’s editor, who wrote the article, and a longtime member of its editorial board.

Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, an editorial board member for 10 years, said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the article could only serve to damage Christian-Jewish relations, “making the process of negotiations and discussion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Jewish community more difficult.”

He described the article as “weird,” and accused Midstream editor Joel Carmichael of editorial irresponsibility, a view that is apparently shared by Milton Konvitz, chairman of the editorial board. “The question is not editorial freedom, but editorial responsibility,” Konvitz said.


Hertzberg, a vice president of the World Jewish Congress and former president of the American Jewish Congress, repeatedly emphasized in the interview that this is not an ideological battle or a personal confrontation between the rightwing Carmichael and Hertzberg, who describes himself as being on the left of the political scale.

But Carmichael has retorted angrily, charging in an interview with the JTA that Hertzberg was responsible for the controversy and that he had sought out The New York Times as a springboard for bringing the controversy to prominence. Carmichael also has charged that Hertzberg is seeking his removal from the magazine, a post he has held for 10 years. Hertzberg said he will seek Carmichael’s removal from the magazine.


The article, “The Kingdom of God and the KGB,” published as the lead article in the May issue, claimed that the Vatican had issued only a “very mild” condemnation of “liberation theology,” a movement incorporating Marxist teachings popular in Latin America. This mild condemnation is part of an attempt to conceal the Pope’s Marxist leanings, Carmichael alleged.

The Pope “has never of course actually endorsed Marxism,” Carmichael wrote. “The Pope cannot after all, be a Marxist.” The 69-year-old Carmichael also quoted from recent comments by the Pope in which he suggests a need for a fairer and more equitable system of distribution of wealth among the masses.

“An indispensible element in the Pope’s espousal of implicit Marxism is obviously the need for camouflage,” Carmichael said. “It is this need for camouflage that may help explain the apparent attempt on his life” in May, 1981 at St. Peter’s Square in Rome by a Turkish terrorist, Mehmet Ali Agca, an attack “well nigh universally attributed to the KGB and its (Bulgarian) puppets.”

Carmichael, in the interview, defended his article. He said he did not regard it as controversial but as a scholarly work attempting to interpret recent political events. “I don’t think the Pope himself is an outright supporter of Marxist doctrine,” he said.

But, according to Carmichael, the Pope has never supported Israel and also failed to issue a condemnation of Friar Leonardo Boff, who was finally reprimanded by the Vatican for his advocacy of liberation theology. He admitted that the article has its “shortcoming,” but felt it is Midstream’s responsibility to alert the Jewish community of this new “phenomenon.”

Midstream, with a circulation of some 15,000, is published by the Theodor Herzl Foundation of the WZO. A statement of purpose says the magazine is committed to “free inquiry” and hopes to “offer critical interpretation of the past, searching examination of the present and afford a medium for considered and independent opinion and for creative cultural expression.”


It is not intended to serve as an official organ of the WZO, although interviews with Hertzberg and Konvitz suggest that no organization can totally disassociate itself from a magazine it publishes. Kalman Sultanik, chief New York executive of the ZOA and a member of the Midstream board, supported the magazine’s independence.

He said Midstream is an “independent journal. Even the editor has a right to express his own opinion. It is a signed article. Mr. Joel Carmichael expresses his own opinion, not the opinion of the editorial board nor the World Zionist Organization. And we are open to opinions to the contrary,” Sultanik said in a telegram from Jerusalem.

But for Hertzberg, to allow the article’s conclusions “to stand in a responsible Zionist journal gives the Zionist movement a black eye.” The issue, Hertzberg said, “is not him or me. The issue is the article. I refuse to let him make this into a leftwing, rightwing Zionist fight.”

“His rightwing convictions are his own business,” said Hertzberg, “and I have not run after him because of his political views. But he has the right as an editor to print whatever he wants provided that it is responsible. This is editorially irresponsible.”


The editorial board is expected to discuss the controversy created by the article’s publication at its next editorial board meeting, scheduled for September. Konvitz said the editorial board does not review articles prior to publication, and that no one on the editorial board had read the Carmichael article prior to publication.

Konvitz said in a telephone interview from Cornell University where he is professor emeritus that the article does not speak for the WZO and that it represents the personal opinions of the author, “who happened to be the editor.”

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