It’s hard to know exactly how to respond to Vladimir Putin’s op-ed essay in Thursday’s New York Times. On the one hand, polls show that most Americans agree with his call to avoid American military engagement in Syria. On the other hand, very few of us want to come out and agree with Putin. Apparently we don’t like dictators telling us what to do, even when we think they’re right.
Bloomberg News probably hit the note that would resonate with most people, declaring in an editorial that while much of what Putin wrote was misleading, self-serving or downright false, it advances a plan that could disarm Syria’s poison gas without war. “In other words: Vladimir Putin is that rare writer whose actions matter more—and certainly must be more persuasive—than his words.” Go Vlad.
Some went a bit further, into what most of us might consider uncomfortable territory. Former Reagan White House aide Pat Buchanan told Greta Van Sustern Wednesday evening on Fox News, responding to the Times piece, that “in the last week Vladimir Putin looks like a statesman.”
But Buchanan is someone who knows a thing or two about uncomfortable territory. He’s the guy who once called Congress “Israeli-occupied territory.” He also, it’s generally believed, was the Reagan aide who pushed hardest for the Gipper to visit that Nazi military cemetery at Bitburg in 1985. So hearing that he’s Putin’s most prominent defender in the public square at this point is, somehow, not surprising.
That’s the funny thing. The blogosphere was filled with cheers for Putin from folks you never heard of at outlets like policymic and Daily Kos, but virtually all the mainstream pols and pundits were falling in line behind Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who apparently spoke for all of us when he told CNN that on hearing about Putin’s op-ed during dinner “I almost wanted to vomit.” After all, Menendez said,
I worry when someone who came up through the KGB tells us what is in our national interests and what is not. It really raises the question of how serious the Russian proposal is.
Menendez is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, so he’ll be in the driver’s seat when Congress takes up President Obama’s war powers request. In a democracy like ours, decisions about our national interest are placed in the secure hands of our own elected representatives, as Obama wisely did when he asked Congress to decide whether to take us into another war in the Middle East. We trust Congress.
That’s why I look to Robert Menendez when I want to know how to judge a foreign dictator’s announcements. The idea that a former spook from the KGB should be taken seriously as a world leader is, well, spooky. A former head of the CIA like our 41st president, George H.W. Bush—now that’s a different story. But the KGB? Perish etc. I always leave my big thinking to guys from Jersey.
And the idea that the New York Times would put itself in the service of the president of Russia so he can reach over the heads of our government and talk directly to the American people, as though he owned the place, must raise the question of which side the Times is on. Freedom of the press is one thing, but that doesn’t mean it should let its opinion pages be the plaything of foreign bullies.
It tells you something about the Times—that “it’s REALLY Pravda-on-the-Hudson,” as John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary and former opinion editor and current columnist of Australian-British-American media bully Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post, tweeted on Thursday.
Unfortunately, Putin has a sorry track record in this appalling behavior. Usually, though, it’s been more subtle. When he’s tried in the past to manipulate American public opinion, he’s usually written his op-eds in his former capacity as prime minister of Russia rather than president. I guess that’s different. For example:
1144: 12-year-old William of Norwich, England, found dead. A priest accuses local Jews, but king’s sheriff dismisses charges, leading to uprising, canonization of William by local bishop. At coronation of King Richard II, 1189, mob turns on Jews; massacres follow in London, York.
1255: 8-year-old Hugh of Lincoln, England, found mutilated. 19 Jews executed.
1475: 2-year-old Simon of Trent, Italy, found dead. 15 local Jews burned at stake. Simon canonized 1588 by Pope Sixtus V; rescinded by Paul VI, 1965.
1491: 4-year-old Christopher of Toledo, Spain, “the Holy Child of La Guardia,” found dead; eight local Jews and Conversos executed by Inquisition. Christopher is canonized 1805 by Pope Pius VII.
1690: 6-year-old Gavriil Belostoksky of Zverki, Poland, found dead. Shutko, a local Jewish rent-collector, accused of draining blood for matzo. Gavriil canonized 1820 by Russian Orthodox Church, reaffirmed by Belarus state TV, 1997.
1840 February: Catholic priest found murdered in Damascus, Syria; 13 Jewish community leaders arrested, tortured on ritual murder charges. Worldwide protest campaign organized by Sir Moses Montefiore, Rothschild son-in-law and president of Board of Deputies of British Jews, ends in their release in September. (Incident includes first-ever mass action by American Jews for overseas aid, as N.Y. rally is held at B’nai Jeshurun synagogue Aug. 17. Rally follows months of debate over propriety of collective Jewish action. Protesters demand State Department issue a statement, unaware it had done so Aug. 14 at request of British ambassador.)
1903: 14-year-old Mikhail Rybachenko found murdered near Kishinev, Bessarabia (now Moldova). Newspaper accusation of ritual murder sparks 3-day pogrom, 49 Jews killed by mobs.
1910: Jews of Shiraz, Iran, accused of ritually killing Muslim girl. Mobs pillage Jewish quarter, 12 Jews killed.
1911: 11-year-old Andrei Yushchinsky found murdered in Kiev, Ukraine. Jewish nightwatchman Mendel Beilis arrested; chief police investigator who questions indictment is fired, arrested for dereliction of duty. Beilis trial ends in acquittal 1913.
1928: 4-year-old Barbara Griffiths disappears in Massena, N.Y. State police interrogate Rabbi Berel Brenglass on suspicion of ritual murder. Barbara is found wandering in woods the next day.
1980 November: Iraq accuses Israel of complicity in bungled Iranian air raid on Osirak nuclear reactor. Deputy Defense Minister Mordechai Zippori calls accusation “blood libel.”
1982 Sept. 19: Israeli Cabinet issues a statement on Sabra-Shatila massacres, terms accusations of Israeli responsibililty “blood libel.” A year later, Israeli state judicial commission finds then-defense minister Ariel Sharon bears “indirect responsibility.”
1987: Simon & Schuster publishes “Blood libel: The Inside Story of General Ariel Sharon’s History-Making Suit Against Time Magazine,” by journalist/Sharon sidekick Uri Dan.
1990 Sept. 14: N.Y. Times columnist A.M. Rosenthal accuses CNN pundit Pat Buchanan of “blood libel” for claiming that the “only two groups that are beating the drums for war” in Iraq are “the Israeli Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.” Oct. 22, Jacob Weisberg counters in The New Republic that Buchanan’s “implied” charge of dual loyalty is “far from the fanatical hatred of Jews connoted by the term blood libel.”
The Anti-Defamation League reports in an October 15 press release that it has received an apology from the president of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Liberty Commission, Richard Land, for a September 26 speech to the Christian Coalition in which he described the congressional Democrats’ health care reforms as “exactly what the Nazis did.” In the same speech Land also quipped that he had given “the Dr. Josef Mengele Award” to Ezekiel Emanuel, President Obama’s chief health care adviser (and Rahm’s brother), for his “advocacy of health care rationing.”
In an October 14 letter to ADL national director Abraham Foxman, Land said he had been “using hyperbole for effect and never intended to actually equate anyone in the Obama administration with Dr. Mengele.” He promised to “refrain from making such references in the future,” and added: “I apologize to everyone who found such references hurtful.”
Land was responding to an October 9 letter from Foxman, complaining that the “Nazi comparison is inappropriate, insensitive and unjustified. As a Holocaust survivor, I take particular offense. Such comparisons diminish the history and the memory of the 6 million Jews and 5 million others who died at the hands of the Nazis and insults those who fought bravely against Hitler.”
Foxman had a busy summer on the health-care-is-Nazism front. Among those he scolded was Rush Limbaugh, who, among other things, repeated Glenn Beck’s riff about the Obama health-care logo looking Hitlerian. Another scoldee was syndicated radio talk jockey Bill Press, who had accused opponents of health care reform of using tactics that were “straight out of the Nazi playbook.”
The battle didn’t start this summer, though. Holocaust abuse is a continuing theme among Jewish community advocates. Sometimes, as in the case of Land, it yields results. Other abusers, like Limbaugh, remain unbowed.
One of the most celebrated successes was the 1998 campaign by the Zionist Organization of America to derail the appointment of Holocaust scholar John Roth as chief historian of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial