Lenny Bruce used to tell, in his act, about a Jew who was weary not only of being called a Christ killer but of occasionally being punched in the mouth by disciples of the Prince of Peace. Finally, this beleaguered Jew put a note in his cellar, where it could easily be found. He wanted to absolve all other Jews. It said: “I did it. Morty.”
This question of the Jews’ responsibility for the crucifixion has considerable resonance for me because I grew up in Boston, then the most anti-Semitic city in the country, and lost some teeth after being punched in the mouth by young hooligans whose after-dark sport was invading our ghetto and bashing Jews to avenge that deicide.
My mother told me that in the Old Country, when she was a girl and word spread that the cossacks were coming, her mother popped her into the oven, which fortunately was not lit.
Therefore, I have become much interested in a story out of Washington about a Jewish conservative journalist, Evan Gahr, who has been dismissed from three leading conservative institutions after charging Paul Weyrich with anti-Semitism. Weyrich, a founder of the contemporary conservative movement, was at one point its most successful fundraiser.
Thomas Edsall broke the story in the April 21 Washington Post. He cited an April 13 Paul Weyrich commentary, “Indeed He Is Risen!” on Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation’s Web site.
The Weyrich statement, e-mailed to supporters, said, “Christ was crucified by the Jews who had wanted a temporal ruler to rescue them from the oppressive Roman authorities. Instead God sent them a spiritual leader to rescue them from their sins and despite the fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, performed incredible miracles, even raised people from the dead, He was not what the Jews had expected so they considered him a threat. Thus He was put to death.”
In his article, Edsall quoted Evan Gahr, who had criticized Weyrich on the American Spectator Web site. Gahr called Weyrich “a demented anti-Semite” for that resurrection of Jews as Christ killers.
In Edsall’s Washington Post article, there was further reaction from Marc Stern, a constitutional lawyer at the American Jewish Congress, whom I consult on establishment-clause cases, and Eugene Fisher, director of Catholic-Jewish relations for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Stern noted that, through the centuries, the “blood libel” that we Jews were the ones who killed Christ had ignited pogroms.
And Fisher declared that Weyrich’s accusation “is exactly the type of collective guilt on the Jewish people that the Second Vatican Council specifically condemned in the declaration Nostra Aetate, October 28, 1965.” He added that last year, while in Israel, Pope John Paul II made clear that the Catholic Church is “deeply saddened by the hatred, acts of persecution, and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews.”
In the May 15 Wall Street Journal, David Novak, who teaches Jewish studies at the University of Toronto, noted that Weyrich is a deacon in the Catholic Church, which “has officially repudiated the old charge that the Jews, even the Jews of today, are responsible for Christ’s death.”
Novak added that “the greatest modern Christian theologian, Karl Barth,” emphasized that “Jesus’ death on the cross is atonement for the sins of all humans, even the sins of his followers. Thus, for Christians to deny their complicity in the death of Jesus, by shifting sole blame to the Jews, is to deny their own need for atonement.”
And the head of the Anti-Defamation League, my friend Abe Foxman, with whom I often debate—but not this time—said of Paul Weyrich’s assertion that “such destructive myths stated as fact may well reinforce the bigotry of the ignorant and uninformed, potentially leading to hateful anti-Semitic acts.”
Like the removal of my teeth. But I do not call that a hate crime. Thirty days for assault would have been fine. No extra prison time.
On his Free Congress Web site, Paul Weyrich wrote on April 24 that Evan Gahr’s charge “is absolutely amazing to me and shows how far down the road to political correctness we have come in our society.” (And this response shows that one conservative can accuse another of political correctness.)
About his indictment of the Jews, Weyrich said, “This is historical fact. Are we now to be forbidden to mention historical fact? . . . I was merely quoting Scripture. Scripture is truth. And the truth shall set you free.”
Evan Gahr’s accurate description of what Weyrich wrote in “Indeed He Is Risen!” has set him free of all his writing and research assignments at three conservative organizations. Gahr has been removed from the list of contributing writers at the American Enterprise Institute’s magazine and barred from using its office facilities. The Hudson Institute, where Gahr had been a senior fellow, fired him.
Gahr, who had been writing for David Horowitz’s FrontPage Web site, has also been fired by that very paladin of free speech, who so vigorously attacked those college newspaper editors who refused to run the Horowitz ad denouncing reparations for slavery.
I have read the explanations these conservative warriors have given for letting Gahr go, and I have talked with the Hudson Institute. They all claim that Gahr was fired for other reasons. He does not believe this, nor do I. My congratulations to Linda Chavez, head of the Center for Equal Opportunity, who is not afraid of free speech and has brought in Gahr as an adjunct scholar.
If any of the conservative magazines or high-profile conservative intellectuals have spoken up for him, I haven’t seen it. Stanley Crouch wrote about Gahr and Weyrich in the May 4 Daily News. But Stanley is not a conservative. He’s part of the world of jazz, where free expression is the lodestar.
As Stanley writes: “Dissension in the ranks is a crime among hard-core ideologues, from far right to the far left.”