Joseph Sobran died last week. Regular readers may recall the Monitor devoting a handful of columns over the years to Sobran’s malicious commentary on Jews and Israel. He was a supremely talented writer with a prose style smooth as silk, but sometime in the mid-1980’s he descended deep into the fever swamps of anti-Semitism and never resurfaced.
Sobran was the kind of man who could complain that “Hitler died in 1945, but anti-Hitler hysteria is still going strong”; who cautioned against “the excessive moral prestige Jews have in the media and the public square”; who decried, in a column following the release of “Schindler’s List,” what he called “all this Holocaust-harping”; and who characterized Nazi genocide as basically an overreaction to the crimes of “Jewish-led communist movements.”
He was also someone who really believed that, as he once wrote, “History is replete with the lesson that a country in which the Jews get the upper hand is in danger. Such was the experience of Europe during Jewish-led Communist revolutions in Russia, Hungary, Romania and Germany.”
And he was a person whose deep-seated hostility to Israel caused him to harbor particular scorn for non-Jewish writers sympathetic to the Jewish state, as when he lamented that “Israel’s journalistic partisans include so many gentiles – lapsed goyim, you might say.”
Though Sobran’s work over the final decade and a half of his life was relegated mainly to the Internet, before that he had enjoyed a remarkably mainstream career as a syndicated columnist, a regular commentator, from 1979 to 1991, on the CBS radio network’s “Spectrum” series, and as a longtime senior editor at National Review.
Sobran’s increasingly negative focus on Jews and Israel led National Review’s late editor William F. Buckley to start distancing himself from Sobran before finally booting him from the magazine in 1990.
In 2002 Sobran wrote a rather lengthy letter to the Monitor responding to a column that had highlighted some of his more outrageous comments on Jews and Israel. It must be said that the tone of the letter was cordial throughout and even charming in terms of its candor, as when he owned up to the realization that he “may sound like an unpleasant sorehead” and confessed, “I wish I thought I had more to be grateful for.”
He also lamented, rather cryptically, that if he had a theme song it would probably be “I’ll Never Smile Again,” and added, disarmingly, “I don’t blame you or anyone else who finds me hard to put up with.”
Obviously this was not a very happy man.
While Sobran chose not to address the Monitor’s concerns about his feelings toward Jews in general, he showed no such reticence in discussing his attitude toward Israel.
“I can’t accept [Israel’s] claims,” he wrote. “How could I? I’m a Catholic. I don’t think a U.S.-Israeli alliance is good for the U.S., and particularly for any Sobran boys who may wind up in another war. I’m not especially pro-Palestinian; in some ways I admire the Israelis; but mostly I want to stay OUT of their quarrel. As they say, I don’t have a dog in that fight; I just want to protect my own puppies.”
His argument sounded reasonable enough on its face – a concerned father worried for the welfare of his sons, fearful of losing them over a dispute far removed from his sphere of interest or concern.
Until, that is, one recalled all his comments about Jews being such a negative, even destructive, force and his flirtation with out and out Holocaust denial – he actually addressed the Holocaust revisionist Institute for Historical Review in 2002, asking the audience, “Why on earth is it ‘anti-Jewish’ to conclude from the evidence that the standard numbers of Jews murdered are inaccurate, or that the Hitler regime, bad as it was in many ways, was not, in fact, intent on racial extermination?”
And his claims that his feelings about Israel stemmed from his not wanting “any Sobran boys” to be caught up in Middle East wars rang hollow when one recalled that he had once written: “Israel exemplifies most of the ‘anti-Semitic stereotypes’ of yore: it is exclusivist, belligerent, parasitic, amoral and underhanded. It feels no obligation to non-Jews, even those who have befriended it.”
No, this was not mere protective parental instinct. Something much, much darker was at work there.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org