Approaching the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, the upscale New York Synagogue (yes, that’s its actual name) announced that Sabbath services would feature a distinguished guest: Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, the storied civil rights group. Morial’s appearance isn’t happenstance: The synagogue’s Rabbi Marc Schneier has made a virtual second career fostering intergroup relations. Founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, he works with rap stars and imams, visits the Vatican and the White House and serves on the Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta, King’s alma mater. He’s a tireless coalition-builder and a fierce advocate for Muslim-Jewish dialogue. Morial’s visit is another sign of Schneier’s growing reputation.
Now consider another synagogue speaker, Irwin Graulich, marketing executive and self-described “motivational speaker and author on morality, ethics, religion and politics.” Graulich told me that during that same Shabbat he has been asked by the synagogue to give an after-lunch talk on the topic “What Jews Can Learn from Christians, and What Christians Can Learn From Jews.”
Graulich has been commenting on Jewish affairs for years in various habitual venues, including Schneier’s synagogue and JewishIndy.com, a far-right Jewish Web site. One of his recent online offerings, “Drop Dead Jimmy Carter,” skewers Carter’s plea for Jewish forgiveness. He likens the plea to Jeffrey Dahmer’s apology.
Carter, Graulich writes, joins “the list of well known historical antisemites” forever updating the “Jewish Blood Libel.” It was “pretty much Jimmy Carter who created the modern day scenario which spurred attacks on Jews in France, England, Spain, Belgium, Mumbai, and many other countries.” (Who knew?) “Only non-Jewish Jews like Abe Foxman of the ADL, who have almost no knowledge of Judaism, will forgive Carter for his massive evil.” What’s Carter’s offense, again? Ah, yes: slanderous defamation.
Graulich isn’t subtle. During the Gaza incursion a year ago, he accused CNN of willingly serving Palestinian propaganda, adding: “What did you expect would emerge from the sick soul of Ted Turner, one of the most twisted minds in America today.” A few months earlier, denouncing a July 2008 prisoners-for-bodies swap, he wrote of Israel’s then-prime minister: “Olmert (pronounced ‘all merde’) and his socialist brethren, including Shimon ‘Karl Marx’ Peres, have thrown Judaism into the toilet in exchange for their worship of secular media bibles like The New York Times and Ha’Aretz.”
Alert readers might wonder why an eccentric like Graulich is holding forth at Rabbi Schneier’s temple of tolerance. There are several answers, but here’s the key: This stuff isn’t so eccentric anymore. In some important sectors of the Jewish community, this is what the mainstream sounds like. These voices speak out at Jewish gatherings. They join committees and phone congressmen. They aren’t the majority, but they’re growing. They’re rarely challenged, because Jews are often loath to appear like they’re defending Israel’s enemies. Increasingly, it seems, the eccentrics are those who openly question this sort of vitriol.
Another JewishIndy.com regular, Emanuel Winston, is wont to spout about secret plots by Peres, Olmert, Ariel Sharon and now Benjamin Netanyahu, in league with the “Arabist State Department,” to encourage Palestinian terrorism in order to weaken the Jewish state. For years he’s called for Israeli leaders to be tried on “capital charges” of “high treason.” On December 20 he wrote that governments like Israel’s “must be overthrown by whatever means necessary.” He’s no secret: His milder columns appear weekly in the mass-circulation Brooklyn-based tabloid The Jewish Press. Another veteran Jewish Press-JewishIndy.com crossover, Paul Eidelberg, wrote January 4 that the “essence” of Islam is “necrophilia.” There are dozens of others, all with their own followings from Scarsdale to Skokie.
You may have read conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks warning January 4 of the growing influence of “tea party” extremists on the American national stage. Suspicious of government, media and “the educated class,” they might well “shape the coming decade” by gaining sway in the GOP. The Anti-Defamation League issued a similar warning last November in a controversial report, “Rage in America,” describing a growing trend of conspiracy-minded “anti-government hostility.” It drew clear lines from the tea partiers and birthers to Fox News host Glenn Beck and a revived, far-right militia movement.
Some of these characters are already players in Republican politics. Best known is South Carolina Rep. Joe “You lie!” Wilson, but he’s not alone. Allen Quist, a congressional primary hopeful in Minnesota, told a party gathering in December that fighting terrorism is less crucial than defeating the Democrats. The Florida GOP’s chairman, Jim Greer, who warned in September that schoolchildren were being indoctrinated in “President Obama’s socialist ideology,” now says he’s been forced from office by dissidents further to the right. And then there are the celebrities already angling to lead the big tea party, including Sarah Palin and former House GOP leader Dick Armey.
Both the general American tea partiers and the Jewish community’s version represent a fraying of the bonds of civility and decency that undergird democracy. The difference is that the national tea partiers must contend with scrutiny and open opposition. The Jewish ones just need to wait until their opponents wander off or fall back asleep.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).