British-born muckraker Christopher Hitchens has swapped allies and enemies more than once, most recently by supporting the Iraq War and attacking its critics. Still, he appears to have scaled new heights of unpredictability with his upcoming appearance at a Republican Jewish Coalition event.
Hitchens is slated to take part in a January 18 coalition-sponsored panel discussion on the United Nations oil-for-food scandal. But despite the writer’s newfound hawkishness, one pro-Israel activist tore into the Jewish Republicans for inviting him.
“This is absolutely appalling,” said Morton Klein, national president of the Zionist Organization of America. He said that Hitchens “has publicly stated Israel should not have been created. To give credibility to Hitchens by a Jewish group is unthinkable. They should be attacking him and not giving him a podium.”
In an e-mail to the Forward, Hitchens replied: “Things have not degenerated to the point where I, let alone the RJC, require a kosher stamp from a boorish chauvinist like Morton Klein. It’s true that I have allowed myself to imagine Jewish life without Herzl, and I shall keep trying to imagine it without Klein.”
Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican group, offered a noncommittal response: “All we are doing is supporting a dialogue on this important issue.” He said that the group was not looking to endorse Hitchens or anything that he, or anyone else, had said. “There is no doubt that Christopher Hitchens has been an extremely controversial figure on both the right and the left,” Brooks said.
Controversial is a mild term for a journalist who has attacked Mother Teresa and Elie Wiesel. Hitchens began as an acid-tongued Marxist gadfly but later gained fame as an admirer of George Orwell, leaning left but happily savaging both left and right. Long known as a fierce anti-Zionist, he has moderated his views since the outbreak of the intifada and the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Hitchens has written that after his mother died in 1988, he learned that she had been Jewish. In 2000 he wrote in the Forward that the revelation had not affected his thinking, but after 2001 he began identifying himself as Jewish and attacking Israel’s enemies.
One of his recent targets has been British lawmaker George Galloway, whom Hitchens accuses of enabling the oil-for-food graft and lining his own pockets in the process, citing a Senate investigation led by Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman.
Galloway has denied the charges and challenged Coleman to a debate. It’s a fight that Hitchens plans to take up at the RJC event.
“I am attending to give some account of my long war with the revolting George Galloway,” Hitchens wrote in the e-mail to the Forward. “This covers not just his corrupt relations with Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad, but also his incitement of Islamic jihadism and his recent charge that the British media is ‘Zionist-controlled.’ If Mr. Klein doesn’t recognise an anti-Semitic demagogue, or if he wishes me to be denied a platform on which to denounce one, he is inviting the charge that his own ultra-Zionism is a form of demagogy as well.”