Rev. Jeremiah Wright now says he misspoke when he said "them Jews" -- he now says he meant to say "them Zionists." Apparently, he thought that would help.
In case your attention was elsewhere -- such as the shooting at the Holocaust museum -- over the last two days, a quick review. Wright, President Obama's former pastor who became famous for his controversial remarks about 9/11 and his criticism of Israel during the 2008 campaign, gave an interview to the Daily Press in Hampton Roads, Va., in which he was asked about his relationship with the president:
"Them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me," Wright said. "I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office. ...
"They will not let him to talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is. ... I said from the beginning: He's a politician; I'm a pastor. He's got to do what politicians do."
Wright also said Obama should have sent a U.S. delegation to the World Conference on Racism held recently in Geneva, Switzerland, but that the president did not for fear of offending Jews and Israel. He specifically cited the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel lobbying group.
"Ethnic cleansing is going on in Gaza. Ethnic cleansing (by) the Zionist is a sin and a crime against humanity, and they don't want Barack talking like that because that's anti-Israel," Wright said.
After criticism poured in, Wright went on a Sirius Radio talk show and tried to clarify his comments. From the Chicago Sun-Times, via the Associated Press (You can listen to an excerpt here):
MARK THOMPSON: Of course people are keying in, Dr. Wright, on the statements you made regarding Jews.
REV. WRIGHT: Well let me say…I misspoke. Let me just say, Zionists.
And I quote Jews when I say that… I quoted Jews before the Society of Christian Ethics. I quote Mark Ellis a Jewish rabbi…and I quote Ilan Poppe, a Jewish historian who wrote the book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine…and when I quote Jewish authors… persons who are Zionists call them "self-hating Jews" …. I am not talking about all Jews, all people of the Jewish faith. I'm talking about Zionists.
In fact Mark Ellis' book is entitled Judaism Is Not Israel, and he talks about in his book the ethnic cleansing – Mark Ellis, a Jewish rabbi, the guy who wrote The Jewish Liberation Theology of the Palestinians and refers to Ilan Pappe's book which details the ethnic cleansing that started in 1947 and 1948 and continues to 2009.
I'm talking about fact, historical fact. I'm not talking about emotionally charged words or the fact that like Jimmy Carter's book, because he used the word that Jews themselves use – "apartheid"– and he gets labeled as anti-Semitic. Now they can jump on that one phrase if they want to, but they can't undo history, and they can't undo the facts of Jewish historians and Jewish theologians who write about what's going on.
So I guess what Wright is saying is if Jews write something that he agrees with regarding Israel and the Palestinians, then they're telling the truth and the true Jews -- and everyone else who may not agree are just evil "Zionists." At least I think that's what he's saying, but it is kind of confusing -- just like some of those sermons that he kept claiming were taken out of context.
This whole episode reminded me of a strange incident near the end of last year's presidential campaign. John McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb, who has since returned to his previous job at The Weekly Standard, came on CNN to talk about Palestinian professor Rashid Khalidi and his relationship with Barack Obama. When CNN host Rick Sanchez kept bringing up the fact that McCain chaired an organization that had given close to half a million dollars to an group Khalidi co-founded, Goldfarb retorted, "You are missing the point again, Rick. The point is that Barack Obama has a long track record of being around anti-Semitic and anti-Israel and anti-American rhetoric."
When Sanchez challenged him to name another person who Obama hangs around with who is anti-Semitic, Goldfarb responded, "Rick, we both know who number two is."
Sanchez claimed that he had no idea who Goldfarb was referring to, and 24 hours later did a whole segment on his show puzzling over who Goldfarb was talking about. But it was obvious the McCain aide was referring to Wright -- but wanted Sanchez to bring up the name first because the Republican candidate had said he wasn't going to make Wright an issue in the campaign.
At the time, though, I wrote that "the question of whether Wright should be called an anti-Semite is, at the least, arguable," noting that he had been a critic of Israel and had hung out with Louis Farrakhan but that the ADL had no record of anything he said that would be considered anti-Semitic. After his comments this week, the question is much less arguable.
As Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, wrote in a press release Wednesday:
Rev. Wright's recent press comments that were derogatory toward Jews, contending that President Obama actions are dictated by members of the Jewish community, are unacceptable and worthy of repudiation. Yesterday's events at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum demonstrate that hateful speech can spiral into tragedy and thus cannot go unanswered. Words have consequences, and Rev. Wright has contributed to a dangerous culture of anti-Semitism. Legitimate disagreements about policy differences can never be allowed to spill into ugly religious or ethnic characterizations. As the Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, wisely noted in his response to Rev. Wright's comments, we must remember the importance of respectful disagreement and maintain vigilance against that which diminishes or caricatures others. Rev. Wright would justly not tolerate racist statements about his community and his propagation of anti-Semitism should be condemned from all quarters.