Saturday, February 10, 2007

Donohue and the Jews

Bill Donohue, the Catholic League poobah who worked feverishly to get Amanda Marcotte and Melissa McEwan fired by the John Edwards campaign for their supposed "anti-Catholic bigotry", has a rather peculiar take on what actually constitutes "bigotry." Indeed, he seems to have redefined the word to mean "anything I disagree with."

If you wander through the Catholic League archives, you pretty quickly get the idea. Just about everyone in America -- including some other Catholics -- are, evidently, "bigots."

Microsoft. Penn State. Stephen Hawking. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Barbara Walters. Tom Harkin. South Park. Madonna. Arianna Huffington. Rosie O'Donnell. Penn Jillette. All the major networks, at one time or another. The Da Vinci Code. Plus, of course, gays, lesbians, feminists, and anyone else he disagrees with. And that's just in 2006.

But for all this hypersensitivity to anti-Catholic bigotry, Donohue is remarkably deaf to -- and indeed rather readily indulges in -- other kinds of bigotry, including anti-gay and anti-Muslim bigotry, but particularly anti-Semitism. In fact, it's practically undeniable that he is himself just a big, fat bigot of the lowest order.

Frank Cocozzelli at Talk2Action last year put together a remarkably detailed and thorough report on Donohue and the Catholic League. The League's origins were part of the fight against far-right groups like the Ku Klux Klan, which was rabidly anti-Catholic for most of its history. But under Donohue's leadership, it has morphed into its own brand of right-wing extremism. As Cocozzelli puts it:
Donohue and company often act as bullies who seem more concerned with stifling any dissent among progressive American Catholics while injecting ultra-orthodox, theocon-tinged Catholic dogma into American public policy, even if that means stepping on the rights and beliefs of non-Catholic Americans.

Donohue was on CNBC's Kudlow and Company yesterday, where he was confronted by attack poodle Peter Beinart (showing at least a vestige of spine) over his own bigotry.

Notably, Donohue adamantly defended his previous remarks, but in a remarkably substance-free way that failed to counter Beinart at all -- though in the end, as is Donohue's wont, he just capped it off with vaguely threatening bluster:
BEINART: Bill Donohue has made anti-Jewish, anti-gay comments --

DONOHUE: No, I haven't.

BEINART: -- which are as bad as what these women -- you said that the secular Jewish Jews in Hollywood hate Christianity. That's a horrible, bigoted --

DONAHUE: Wait a minute. Wait, wait.

BEINART: -- statement, so it seems to me the question becomes --

DONOHUE: Peter. Peter --

BEINART: -- what is our standard here?

DONOHUE: Peter, the Jewish Forward said in 2004 that Jews run Hollywood. Are they anti-Semitic?

BEINART: You said they hate Christianity, Mr. Donohue.

DONOHUE: Oh, we like the movies that are coming out of Hollywood. They're very nice to Catholics.

BEINART: No, no. Did you say that or not?

DONOHUE: They're very nice to Catholics.

BEINART: You said that secular Jews in Hollywood hate Christianity.

DONOHUE: What world do you live in? What world do you live in? Have you seen what they -- what movies they make about Catholics?

BEINART: Yeah. Do you defend that statement?

DONOHUE: I defend the fact -- there's two parts to the statement. One part is, right out of the Jewish Forward: Jews run Hollywood. If you think it's the Chinese, make your case. And do they make nice movies about Catholics, or do they make lousy movies?

BEINART: You said they hate Christians.

DONOHUE: What kind of a -- well, oh, I'm telling you --

BEINART: You say -- you made a blanket statement about secular Jews in Hollywood that hate Christians.

DONOHUE: No, I'm talking about -- no, I'm talking about the movies that come out of Hollywood, and the predominant ones -- you got [director Martin] Scorsese. He's not Jewish. It's the people in Hollywood. There's a mindset about this, and I think you should talk to The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times, which have said that the Hollywood studios are dominated by Jews. I tried to even qualify it more than that.

BEINART: You're bobbing and weaving more than Edwards.

DONOHUE: I'm not going to put up with it. I'm not the issue here, Peter.

KUDLOW: I want to -- I want to get Frank --

DONOHUE: You want to take me on on this, I'll take you on any day of the week.

Actually, the quote that Beinart references is only the half of it. Donohue is a repeat offender when it comes to smearing Jews and accusing them of polluting American society.

Here's what he actually said in full back in 2004, when he was busy defending Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ before it even came out:
Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. Its about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth. It's about the messiah.

Of course, as we noted at the time, one of the "truths" in The Passion of the Christ is that old favorite of medieval Catholics like Donohue -- namely, that the Jews killed Jesus:
There are many other problems, of course, but the cumulative effect of Gibson's "artistic license" is that it grotesquely distorts not just the crucifixion of Christ but its meaning. His sacrifice becomes not a gift of love but a loss in war, an act of brutality to feel guilt for, a death to be avenged.

Against whom? The Jews? Well, yes, there is that. The question has hovered over the film for nearly a year before its release.

Is The Passion of the Christ anti-Semitic? In a word: Yes. But not in any kind of obvious fashion, like what you might find in Jud Suss or The International Jew or "The Prioress's Tale" in Canterbury Tales. It's more pernicious than that.

Gibson clearly identifies the Jewish high priests with evil throughout the film -- from the use of ominous music to the Jewish soldiers' presence to the slithering of Satan among the robed set. And he does use ancient stereotypes to depict them -- their hook noses, their conniving manner, their sinister intentions.

What is striking is the narrative choices that Gibson makes throughout. The Gospels, of course, give conflicting accounts of Jesus' death, and Gibson's version borrows freely from each of them and then tosses in his own "details" and rearranged timeline for good measure. At each step, Gibson's choice shape the kind of narrative he tells.

The final shape that emerges is a narrative that places the blame heavily on the Jewish high priests as causing Jesus to be crucified and nearly exonerates Pontius Pilate -- though he, of course, proves to be easily manipulated by the scheming Jews. A more balanced narrative might have noted, for instance, that one of the reasons the Jews may have had to arrest Jesus was the Roman preoccupation with violently suppressing uprisings, and Jesus' teachings had created a revolutionary fervor likely to bring down the wrath of Pontius Pilate. The Romans, in other words, could just as easily have been the chief culprits; but Gibson chose the Jews.

However, the anti-Semitism seems incidental to the larger worldview at play here. And what becomes clear is that Gibson's Catholicism is not merely conservative -- it is positively medieval. In that context, the anti-Semitism is a noxious and fairly constant presence, but it is only a product of its larger thrust, which is a religious politic of domination, the rule by guilt and fear.

Indeed, the brand of Catholicism that Gibson practices, and played out onscreen in The Passion, is unmistakably extremist, as the recent SPLC report examining this wing of Catholicism makes even more clear.

Whether Donohue is among their ranks is less clear, but it's readily apparent that he is extraordinarily eager to defend it. Before The Passion was even released, Donohue not only was defending, he was smearing anyone who dared attack it or Gibson. Back in early 2004 he wrote:
Then there are the smear merchants who attack Mel's father. In an interview that appeared last March in the New York Times Magazine, Hutton Gibson questioned the figure of 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, something many Jewish scholars have done. He did not deny the Holocaust, though it has often been reported that way.

Actually, one only needs to look at what Hutton Gibson actually told the New York Times that made people question son Mel's beliefs, in no small part because the son has consistently claimed that his father "has never lied" and warning anyone raising questions about the relationship of his own beliefs to is father's not to do so. Hutton Gibson, who has in fact made something of a career out of Holocaust denial, was doing the same thing for the Times:
He moved on to the Holocaust, dismissing historical accounts that six million Jews were exterminated. ''Go and ask an undertaker or the guy who operates the crematorium what it takes to get rid of a dead body,'' he said. ''It takes one liter of petrol and 20 minutes. Now, six million?''

Across the table, Joye suddenly looked up from her plate. She was dressed in a stylish outfit for church, wearing a leather patchwork blazer and a felt beret in place of the traditional headdress. She had kept quiet most of the day, so it was a surprise when she cheerfully piped in. ''There weren't even that many Jews in all of Europe,'' she said.

''Anyway, there were more after the war than before,'' Hutton added.

The entire catastrophe was manufactured, said Hutton, as part of an arrangement between Hitler and ''financiers'' to move Jews out of Germany. Hitler ''had this deal where he was supposed to make it rough on them so they would all get out and migrate to Israel because they needed people there to fight the Arabs,'' he said.

That was just for starters. A few months later, Hutton Gibson really removed any lingering doubts about his conspiracy-mongering and eliminationist anti-Semitism:
... According to a transcript released by the network, Hutton Gibson said, "It's all -- maybe not all fiction -- but most of it is,'' when asked about his views on the Holocaust.

He added: "They claimed that there were 6.2 million (Jews) in Poland before the war and after the war there were 200,000, therefore he (Hitler) must have killed 6 million of them. They simply got up and left. They were all over the Bronx and Brooklyn and Sydney and Los Angeles.''

... In this latest interview, Gibson said Jews want to take over the world. He did not know why Jews would want to achieve that, but said "it's all about control. They're after one world religion and one world government.''

... Gibson repeatedly smeared prominent Jews as money-grubbing power-mongers.

"Greenspan tells us what to do. Someone should take him out and hang him."

There was even more:
They are the people with an eye for eye and tooth for a tooth. They must have revenge. You know they (the Jews) caused the Roman persecutions too. They called attention to the fact that the Christians were refusing to offer incense to the emperors when the emperors became gods. The Jews were notable for getting the wood to burn the Christians...a labor of love you could say.

To a Jew a Christian commits idolatry every time he looks at a crucifix and says a prayer. You know there in control and they're going to get in control the way things are going. Because they get all of our people...They killed several generations of us Americans (referring to WWWI, WWII)...The Jews weren't in the army much in WWI that because they were fomenting a revolt in Russia. America had no right to fight in foreign wars (in reference to WWI and WWII)

Yet, in the peculiar Bizarro Universe that is Donohue's vision of the world, the resulting questions about Mel Gibson's relationship to his father were the fault of the Jews, declaring that the "ADL Seeks to Poison Catholic-Jewish Relations, rather than Catholic extremists like Gibson who were doing so:
Abe Foxman is seeking to poison relations between Catholics and Jews. His attacks on Mel Gibson have little to do with some off-the-cuff quips and everything to do with waging a frontal assault against all those people -- Catholics, Protestants, Jews et al. -- who have seen 'The Passion' and love it.

"To attack Gibson's 85 year-old father shows that the ADL knows no bounds of decency. Moreover, if Gibson's father, and by implication Mel himself, is guilty of anti-Semitism for questioning the figure of 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, then that makes Jewish historian Raul Hilberg an anti-Semite as well: he puts the figure at 5.1 million.

Donohue, of course, was being as disingenuous as Mel Gibson on this point: There's a big difference between 5.1 million and 200,000, which is the common figure given by Holocaust deniers for the numbers of Jews killed by the Nazis.

A little later, after the film did well at the box office, his tone even became vaguely threatening regarding its critics:
Many thanks to the ad hoc committee of Catholic and Jewish theologians who blasted the movie after reading a stolen copy of the script, as well as to the ADL, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and all the other critics who have given the film such unprecedented publicity. Their motives may be ignoble, but the consequences of their action are nonetheless meritorious. We surely won't forget them.

Donohue was similarly exultant a little later, appearing on MSNBC:
"Well, first they (critics of the film) said The Passion of the Christ was anti-Semitic. That didn't work. Then they said it was too violent. That didn't work. Then they said it was S&M. That didn't work. Then they said it was pornography. That didn't work. Now they're saying it's fascistic queer-bashing. That kind of language would ordinarily get somebody taken away in a straitjacket and -- put you in the asylum. I don't know what about -- the queer-bashing is all about. I'm pretty good about picking out who queers are and I didn't see any in the movie. I'm usually pretty good at that."

Later, when Mel Gibson's anti-Semitism became irrevocably self-evident after his DUI arrest and subsequent notorious rant -- one that was almost a perfect echo of his father's earlier public rants -- Donohue was not just solicitous of Gibson's feelings, he was again vicious in attacking his critics, again with a conspiracist sort of frame:
Mel's enemies will never cut him a break. Their real goal is to discredit The Passion of the Christ,’ and that is why their propaganda machine is in full gear.

Donohue went on to attack those critics with another release titled
"Look Who's Hammering Mel"
(namely, people Donohue has criticized as "anti-Catholic") and another titled "Mel's Apology is a Model of Contrition" (when in fact it fell far short of addressing the issues involved, including his own long record of similar remarks).

This is how Donohue and the Catholic League operate. Their notion of what constitutes bigotry is an extraordinarily broad one when it comes to Catholicism -- all one needs to do, apparently, is criticize the Church, even for its handling of the molestation of children by priests -- and virtually nonexistent when it comes to non-conservative Catholics and non-Catholics. Indeed, it not only is blind to other kinds of bigotry -- including the kind with the longest history in the West, anti-Semitism -- it positively indulges them.

There is a reason why, whenever he appears on TV, Donohue almost reflexively coughs up some hairball of naked bigotry, as he did this week while attacking Edwards: he is, as Beinart suggested, himself a bigot of the worst kind.

He is also a rather crass opportunist, an operator, and a liar. The purpose of the Catholic League is not to legitimately fight bigotry, but rather to weasel money out of unsuspecting Catholics and for the purpose of promoting a conservative political agenda. He's not interested in changing society for the better, but rather getting people fired for insuffuciently agreeing with his personal beliefs.

He gets away with it by pretending to represent all Catholics, but in reality the League increasingly represents only a fraction of American Catholics. And as it becomes more deeply bigoted and adopts extremist beliefs, that fraction is growing smaller.

At some point, perhaps, the journalists who have been duped by this schtick will figure that out. But until then, it's clear that Donohue has found a way to promote bigotry while pretending to fight it.

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