The Magazine

ANTI-SEMITISM AND A PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDACY

Mar 11, 1996, Vol. 1, No. 25 • By NORMAN PODHORETZ
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts


Aconsensus seems to be developing among conservatives opposed to Patrick J. Buchanan that the best way to express their opposition is to avoid "name- calling" and "ad hominem attacks," to treat him with "respect," to acknowledge the validity of the issues through which he seems to have struck a responsive chord, and to provide better solutions than his to the problems he has succeeded in placing at the very center of this presidential campaign.


In other words, we are to cease and desist from bringing up Buchanan's record of hostility toward Jews, and not only are we to stop denouncing him as an anti-Semite, we are even to avoid such euphemisms as "extremist" in describing that record.


A few of the people who offer us this counsel privately believe that Buchanan is an anti-Semite, but they think that saying so will at best do no good and at worst will drive his supporters out of the Republican coalition and make Bill Clinton's reelection even more probable than it already is. There are, however, others who, while sharing this fear of alienating Buchanan's constituency, at the same time flatly deny that he is an anti- Semite, or declare themselves unconvinced.


My own impolite opinion is that deep down (or maybe not so deep) many of these conservative denlets and putative skeptics know very well that Buchanan is an anti-Semite. But if so, why are they reluctant to admit it? One reason, ! would guess, is that they like his stand on abortion or some other issue and do not wish to see those stands tarnished by association with anti- Semitism. Another reason is that some of them may even be preparing to support him in the no longer inconceivable event that he becomes the Republican candidate for president in 1996--something they would be unable to bring themselves to do if they admitted, even or perhaps especially to themselves, that he is an anti-Semite.


Four years ago, the charge of anti-Semitism against Buchanan was so thoroughly documented in articles by ]oshua uraxzchik, ]acob Weisberg, William E Buckley, Jr., and others that no one who remained, or chose to remain, unpersuaded then is likely to be persuaded. Nevertheless it is important, if only for of mistaken identity, he would have been justified in claiming to have been right all along. In the course of those efforts, however, Buchanan went way beyond any such limited objective as protesting against a miscarraiage of justice.


For example, he pushed the crackpot theory that the exhaust from the diesel engines used in the Treblinka gas chambers did not "emit enough carbon monoxide to kill anybody." And in one of his columns, he endorsed the vile concept of a "Holocaust Survivors Syndrome" involving "group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics." The implications were spelled out by Joshua Muravchik in an article in Commentary:

 

Diesel exhaust fumes were used not only at Treblinka but also at Chelmno, Sobibor, and Belzec, and were moreover employed extensively by the Nazi killing squads... inside the USSR. If such fumes cannot kill, then a good part of what has generally been accepted as having happened to the Jews at the hands of the Nazis cannot have happened. And if the testimony t)f survivors is inherently unreliable because of a " syndrome" that manifests itself in "fantasies," then much that we think we know may not be true.


In short, Buchanan used the Demjanjuk case as a way of lending plausibility to the main contention of the blatantly anti-Semitic Holocaust revisionists-- that the number of Jews slaughtered by the Nazis had been vastly exaggerated.


Never, not once, did Buchanan retreat from or apologize for any of these anti-Semitic outbursts. On the contrary, falsely alleging that he was the victim of a "preplanned orchestrated smear campaign" by the Anti-Defamation League, he demanded that "the Jews" apologize to him. And only last week, when the Jewish Action Alliance challenged him to disavow his past anti- Semitic statements, he responded by accusing it of anti-Catholic bias.


Not so long ago the price of giving open expression to anti-Semitic ideas or sentiments was relegation to the margins of American political life. Certainly in the first three decades or so after World War II, no person who had said the things about Jews that Buchanan has said would have been considered fit for respectable political society, let alone qualified to run for high political offce. Yet Buchanan has emerged as a serious contender for the Republican nomination for President of the United States.