It was not that long ago that Jewish leaders, and the Jewish media, for that matter, were captivated by the idea that Jews had to speak up against e-mails suggesting Barack Obama was anti-Israel or a closet Muslim, even though there was no evidence that those e-mails originated in the Jewish community.
When The New Yorker ran its now famous cover cartoon (July 21) satirizing the Obamas as Islamic militants, flag burning, gun toting black power-types, again not specifically a Jewish issue, there were nevertheless an outcry from Jewish leaders and Jewish journalists across the country. We, at The Jewish Week (July 16) warned that this campaign was taking place within a "volatile political climate…. Prejudice, distortions and rumors [have] crept into mainstream discussions."
vice presidential nomination of Gov. Sarah Palin, the volatility has increased exponentially. At the St. Petersburg Times, their political blog reported (Sept. 2), "There’s a lot of buzz out there" about Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), a prominent Jewish supporter of Obama, who launched an "over the top" charge that the choice of Palin, who supposedly once "endorsed Pat Buchanan for president… is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans. Pat Buchanan is a Nazi sympathizer…. [Palin] has aligned herself with a leading anti-Israel voice [who] embodies vitriolic anti-Israel sentiments."
According to the St. Pete Times, "After Barack Obama’s Florida communications director Mark Bubriski defended the comment, Joe Scarborough [MSNBC’s morning anchor, on whose program Buchanan is a regular guest] trashed Bubriski as a ‘jackass’ and ‘pathetic human being.’ "
Time magazine’s political blog (Sept. 2) added, "this gross error of judgment by the Obama camp gives Republicans an excuse to revisit the issue of Rev. Wright, which is not a door Obama wants to open."
On Google, there were more than 49,000 hits for "Wexler Nazi Palin." Wexler’s Nazi cracks were repeated in newspapers from Miami to the Middle East.
Time’s blog (Sept. 3) noticed more "Nazi" charges flying on CNN (Sept. 2), when former Gov. Jesse Ventura told Larry King, "the Republicans have been pushing really Hermann Goering on us, the Nazi, since 2001."
D.L. Hughley, the black entertainer told King that watching the Republican convention, "when I saw those ‘Country First’ signs, it reminded me of Nazis."
On Nextbook, an online journal that calls itself "a new read on Jewish culture," an article (Aug. 28) by Rachel Shukert, bemoaning the e-mails smearing Obama, decided to smear Sen. Joseph Lieberman for praising McCain.
Lieberman had said, in standard convention boilerplate, the choice is between "one candidate [McCain] who has always put the country first…and the one candidate who has not."
It was nothing that Woodrow Wilson didn’t say about William Howard Taft, or that every Republican didn’t say every four years about Franklin Roosevelt, and he about them.
There was not a word about Islam. Not a word about Jews. And yet Shukert picked up on an "eloquent" item by Marty Kaplan in the Huffington Post that asked: "Does Joe Lieberman not realize he is using one of the oldest anti-Semitic tricks in the book to paint Obama as the Islamic candidate?"
Shukert warned, somewhat overheatedly, that Lieberman’s "propaganda" can "flare into a full-scale infection," like what happened to "the Germans of the 1920s and ’30s" that unleashed "the brutal streak of nationalism and bigotry [that came from] laying blame for their current woes at the doorstep of a shadowy Other, a parasitic race… whose essential rottenness could not be renounced or repented for…. And we know how that turned out."
When Palin’s preacher suggested that Palin, a Miss Alaska runner-up, might be like the biblical Esther, who was able to serve God after ascending via a beauty contest, Nextbook’s editorial (Sept. 9) was outraged: "That may be where it stops; God is never mentioned in the biblical tale, and Palin slings the word around like mud."
The coverage of religion in this campaign has had a strange evolution. In late 2007, although Obama was already generating tremendous excitement, and while still a congregant of Jeremiah Wright, whom Obama was months away from repudiating, the most covered religion story of the campaign (according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs) was not Obama’s religion but Mitt Romney being a Mormon.
In January, leaders of nine major Jewish organizations released a highly publicized statement, carried in the Jewish and general media, condemning e-mails using "falsehood and innuendo to mischaracterize Sen. Barack Obama’s religious beliefs and who he is as a person."
In the nearly two weeks since Palin was introduced, she’s been the victim of nearly a dozen smears, from being linked to a "Nazi" (in fact, she supported Steve Forbes, not Buchanan); to endorsing Jews for Jesus, although the ADL said there is "no evidence" that Palin shares those views; to censoring library books as a function of her Christianity, although the Anchorage Daily News (Sept. 4) found that she never proposed banning a single book; to seeking to have creationism taught in public schools, although she took no such action; to throwing around God’s name like "mud"; to the smear that her party is home to fascists; to Atlantic Monthly blogs and a cover story in Us weekly suggesting Palin lied about mothering a Down Syndrome baby (the smears said it was her daughter’s); to being called names like MILF and bimbo by television hosts such as Bill Maher.
The January statement from the nine leaders changed the media landscape, particularly in the Jewish media, where smears against Obama were discredited and discontinued. But there has been no similar statement that might stop Palin’s bleeding from smears in September.
The ADL has a finely tuned antenna to the wrong usage of "Nazi," castigating even a basketball player on the Albany Patroons for clearly unintentional anti-Semitic remarks made to an Albany paper.
An ADL spokesman said the ADL was unaware of Wexler’s "Nazi" cracks. The Jewish Week e-mailed the evidence and the ADL e-mailed back: "The use of Nazi analogies and Nazi imagery in the presidential campaign… is unacceptable. Cavalier comparisons to Nazis, Hitler and the Holocaust to make political points are inappropriate, offensive and show a lack of respect for the victims of Nazism and those who fought against it."
Two Jewish leaders, who signed the January statement, speaking off the record, said they hadn’t thought about the smears or bias against Palin but "the point was well-taken," smears were getting out of hand.
Nathan Diament of the Orthodox Union, who signed the January statement, told The Jewish Week, "It’s an unfortunate aspect of the 24/7 cable-Internet-email media maelstrom that rumors and smears and stories that have nothing to do with substance" can spread with such speed. A recent article in Salon, he said, was particularly "heinous" for comparing Palin to Hamas and Islamic fundamentalists. And Salon’s comparison was savage, not satirical as was The New Yorker.
In this week of 9/11, seven years after, few in the public eye want to come right out and say that our worst enemies are Islamic, but Palin? There’s no shortage of folks willing to say anything at all about her.