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Deriding Israel’s Christian Supporters


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The Monitor’s oft-stated rule of thumb is that when a reporter quotes unnamed sources, those sources invariably buttress the reporter’s own viewpoint and agenda. Case in point: James D. Besser, the Washington correspondent for a handful of Jewish newspapers (the New York Jewish Week among them) who for the past several years has lamented the growing ties between members of the Christian Right and pro-Israel activists in the Jewish community.

In an article last week on the mounting woes of lobbyist Jack Abramoff – a Jew closely associated with several leading lights of the Christian Right, including House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and political consultant Ralph Reed – Besser conjured the old boogeyman of right-wing anti-Semitism, painting a stereotypical picture of conservatives whose latent Jew-hatred is so close to the surface that a political scandal is all it might take to unloose the Furies.

Besser kicked things off by stating that “Allegations against super lobbyist Jack Abramoff – almost always identified as an observant Jew in news stories – may play into traditional stereotypes about greedy Jews and revive the traditional anti-Semitism of the religious right, some analysts say…” – before proceeding to name just one such “analyst” in his article.

Put aside for a moment this bigoted notion of conservative Christians and their feelings toward Jews (a notion discredited time and again in recent years, most notably when a much predicted backlash in the wake of the Jonathan Pollard spy scandal never materialized and when fears of movie-goers turning into pogromists after viewing “The Passion of the Christ” proved unfounded).

Focus instead on Besser’s claim that “some analysts” are sounding the alarm over a possible outbreak of anti-Semitism on the religious Right. As mentioned, Besser names just one, University of Richmond political science professor Akiba Covitz, whom Besser quotes as saying, “There will be some who will paint with a broad brush and say, this is what happens when you make coalitions with these cursed people, the Jews.”

(“These cursed people”? Talk about preconceived ideas as to how people think or talk. Anyone who’s had contact with conservative Christian supporters of Israel – whose love of Zion puts most Jews to shame and is hardly affected by the changing fortunes of individual politicians – will recognize the ludicrousness of Covitz’s statement.)

Besides Covitz, here’s how Besser identifies his other critical sources, presumably four separate individuals: “an official with a major Jewish group”; “a veteran Jewish lobbyist”; “a top Jewish activist”; and “an official with a Jewish defense agency.”

Relying on anonymous sources is bad enough, but Besser chooses not even to disclose the political affiliation of his unnamed interviewees. Then again, Besser is hardly a disinterested party in all of this. In an opinion piece last October, Besser worried that “More and more Jewish groups are welcoming the help of groups with which our community has absolutely nothing in common on the home front, while jeopardizing vital coalitions with groups like the Episcopalians and Presbyterians….”

Besser even has a handy excuse for the anti-Israel initiatives pushed by the liberal church groups whose friendship he covets: it’s the fault of the pro-Israel Christian Right. In an article earlier this year on the move by mainline Protestant denominations to impose economic sanctions on Israel, Besser speculated that this “may be one of the prices the Jewish state is paying for the growing and visible support of Evangelical Christians in this country,” and he rounded up several individuals who agreed that an intense dislike of Evangelicals and President Bush was fueling the liberal denominations’ hostility toward Israel.

Never mind what it says about those denominations if that’s all it takes for them to assume such a fiercely anti-Israel stance (these days it seems the epithet “these cursed people” is more likely to come from some trendy leftist clergyman than the Evangelicals who inhabit Besser’s night fevers). What’s really troublesome is the dishonesty or historical illiteracy – it has to be one or the other – inherent in the idea that liberal groups like the Presbyterians are merely reacting to the statements and actions of pro-Israel conservatives.

The anti-Israel mindset of America’s liberal Christian denominations is not at all a new phenomenon, whatever Besser may try to tell his readers to the contrary. It is heavily documented and goes back to the Six-Day War (in some cases even prior to that), well before the Christian Right became a force in American politics.

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About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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