A Pervasive Fear

Published: 1994-06-09

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From time to time the press reports on polls measuring "anti-Semitism" in America, or recites numbers of "anti-Semitic incidents" (as defined and counted by Jewish organizations). In truth there is little active hostility to Jews in America, which is as it should be. But there is also very little public criticism of Jewish politics, which is another matter.

What polls don't and probably can't measure is the enormous fear of Jews that prevails in some parts of America, particularly in politics and the news media. People don't always admit fear to themselves, let alone to strangers. But it finds expression in many ways, most often in silence. Very few commentators dare to point out the obvious when it may reflect badly on Jews.

This has been true at least since World War II. And to some extent it can be excused as humanitarian concern for the rights of Jews, reinforced by a more specific apprehension of Nazi-like reprisals against all Jews if guilty parties were identified as Jews. But that explanation runs out of gas long before this point on the road. Today we find it rare to find culpable Jews identified as Jews even where it may be appropriate to point out that they are acting consciously as Jews.

A recent example is Pavel Sudaplatov's book Special Tasks, which alleges that J. Robert Oppenheimer and other Jewish scientists were motivated to leak nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union because they were persuaded that the Soviet Union provided a haven for Jews. Like other books that have raised sensitive questions about Jewish loyalties and their consequences for America, such as Victor Ostrovsky's By Way of Deception and Seymour Hersh's The Samson Option, Special Tasks has been the target of an intense discrediting campaign, and even when it has been discussed the Jewish angle has been played down or has even gone totally unmentioned. What makes these books especially explosive is that their authors are either Jewish or, in Sudaplatov's case, pro-Jewish, and can't be dismissed with the anti-Semitic smear.

Joseph Sobran has been a nationally-syndicated columnist since 1979. From 1972 to 1993 he worked for National Review magazine in various capacities, including 18 years as Senior Editor. He is the author of the book, Single Issues: Essays on the Crucial Social Questions. This essay is reprinted from the June 9 issue of The Wanderer, a Roman Catholic weekly.

To cite once more the case I know best, [National Review publisher] Bill Buckley warned me privately and urgently against criticizing Israel and thereby provoking the wrath of the Podhoretz crowd, whose charges of anti-Semitism he dreaded like Jove's thunderbolts; his book In Search of Anti-Semitism is written in the twisted prose of a man who is afraid of saying what he means – afraid of using his own mind, for fear of where it might lead him. And I've mentioned how shabbily he treated his own father in that book. But in fairness I should add that his father's record goes far to explain Bill's present concerns, though not as he describes them.

According to an old and now estranged friend of Bill named Revilo Oliver [a member of this Journal's Editorial Advisory Committee], the elder William Buckley was "well known in certain circles for his discreet subvention of effectively anti-Jewish periodicals and his drastic private opinion about the aliens' perversion of our national life." And others have described Bill as (in the words of one friend) "terrified of his father's anti-Semitism" – terrified, that is, of being tainted by it. In his book, Bill makes it sound as if his father's hatred of Jews vented itself harmlessly in dinner-table talk. Evidently it went much further than that. So Bill may have thought he was protecting his father rather than disgracing him by telling as much (and as little) of the story as he did.

In one thing, though, Bill and his father are in accord; in their shared fear of the Jews. A recent issue of National Review carried an article by Elliott Abrams, Norman Podhoretz's son-in-law, blaming Christianity for anti-Semitism. This is the sort of propaganda Will Buckley was afraid would be disseminated in America if Jewish power continued to expand, but surely he would have been surprised to find it in his own son's magazine. Would Bill allow it into his pages if he weren't afraid to oppose Jewish influence?

And he is far from unique. I could make a long list of Christian conservatives – Judaeo-Christians, so to speak – who are equally timid; some of them mask their timidity behind belligerence against that great evil of our time, anti-Semitism, others pose as brave defenders of poor little beleaguered Israel. People have a way of praising what they fear, as everyone in Russia who dared to speak at all used to celebrate Stalin in the most fulsome terms. Yet looking back, we can now see that the praise itself was nothing but a barometer of inner dread, and the people who uttered it appear in retrospect as despicable, sometimes pitiable cowards. In the future I'm sure that the now-fashionable toadying to Jews will appear equally embarrassing, even to Jews.

The obvious question raised by such craven conduct is whether the prevalent "fear of the Jews" the phrase recurs in the Acts of the Apostles – is rational or irrational. The news media certainly don't shy away from critical reporting on the Christian right or the Catholic Church, nor should they. But this is also to acknowledge that the Christian right and the Catholic Church accept criticism as legitimate or, at least, lack the clout to make it taboo. The organized though amorphous Jewish power does neither. (It is of course important to bear in mind that most Jews aren't responsible for this, and it is morally and intellectually wrong to blame them indiscriminately; but I assume I am speaking to grown-up Christians here.)

When I criticize Israel from the most obvious considerations of conservative principle and Christian-American interest, I find that other Christians regard me as either notably courageous or as simply foolhardy. I don't think I'm either (I generally dive for cover as quickly as the next man), but both opinions do show how dangerous people think the Jewish influence is – dangerous, at least, to anyone who wants a career in politics or journalism.

This intuition is basically correct. Bill in effect warned me that Jewish power would try to wreck my career if I didn't shut up. I didn't and it did. I found a great many markets quietly closed to me, certain invitations to write and speak ceased to come, and a lot of dark rumors got back to me. There have been many compensations, chief of which has been the sifting of true friends from false (I found Jews who were ready to help me when some of my Judaeo-Christian friends were in full flight), and I have found new markets for my services; but believe me, that bunch will do their best to ruin you if you suggest that Israel is anything but the best friend this country ever had.

This means that American public disclosure is being quietly and constantly warped by unseen pressures. It would be one thing if we simply had an explicit rule that criticism of Israel and Jewish political power is taboo. But an open taboo is almost a contradiction in terms: The essence of a taboo is the pretense that no subject is really being avoided, that (so to speak) there is no subject there. The power is immensely increased because it goes unmentioned, unmeasured, uncriticized. You can't even talk back to it if you can't talk about it. And public debate is obviously bound to be distorted if Jews may say things about Christians which Christians may not say about Jews; the Holocaust can be blamed on Christianity, but it might cause a certain disturbance if the Communist slaughters of Christians, or even Israeli treatment of non-Jews, were similarly linked to the Talmud's teaching about Gentiles, or to its blasphemies against Christ.

The older I get, the more I am impressed by this pervasive fear of the Jews – or rather, pervasive in some critical power centers, unfelt in other places. It is a huge factor, invisible and incalculable, in American culture and politics.

Half-truth, hypocrisy and hate are departments in the art of demagogues. The polite phrase for all this is intellectual dishonesty.
—Herbert Hoover

The Martyrdom of the Russian Church Under Communism

As more archival material comes to light, it becomes clearer that no other Christian community in modern times suffered a greater martyrdom than Russian Orthodox believers endured during the Soviet era. The destruction of religion was a central, early fixation of Lenin – not just a Stalinist aberration. One of a large number of bloodthirsty orders of Lenin that have recently emerged includes, for example, the reluctance of a local church to hand over its religious treasures to the state. Lenin ordered that 100 priests be rounded up immediately, hanged and left to putrefy in public as a lesson to the nation. The church, which had re-established an independent patriarchate during the 1917 revolution, was subjected to prolonged humiliation. Nearly every major Russian religious thinker or leader was either exiled in the 1920s or killed in the 1930s. Old women in the gulags who wanted to conduct Easter services were forced to hold them kneedeep in water that was freezing around them.

The Russian Church defeated early Bolshevik efforts to supplant it by a puppet "renovationist" church, but made its Faustian bargain with communism in 1927, accepting a narrowly liturgical survival in return for docile support of Soviet policies ...

After a brief revival during the [Second World] war, the Russian Church was brutalized anew by Khrushchev, who shut half of the remaining churches and most of its surviving seminaries between 1959 and 1962. The survivors were forced into a firmer support of Soviet political positions in the World Council of Churches. Recently released archival materials show that there were links between the KGB and many members of the ruling synod of the Church during the last quarter-century of communism.
—James H. Billington in The New Republic, May 30, 1994, p. 25

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Joseph Sobran
Title: A Pervasive Fear
Sources: The Journal of Historical Review, vol. 14, no. 4 (July/August 1994), pp. 40f., reprinted from The Wanderer, June 9, 1994.
Published: 1994-06-09
First posted on CODOH: Dec. 9, 2012, 6 p.m.
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