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Sunday, December 19, 2004
If Hillary Clinton was right and there really is a vast right-wing conspiracy, William Donohue, who leads an outfit called the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, is a charter member. Donohue, whose organization purports to be a grass-roots association of Catholics, performs several useful functions for the right wing: (1) he articulates the fallacious argument that prohibiting the government from endorsing religion is the same thing as discriminating against Christians; (2) he is good at getting on television and getting his name in the papers, ensuring that the "spokesperson" for Catholics on many issues is a person with a very right wing perspective on Catholicism (i.e., Mel Gibson is a saint, abortion and gay rights are evil, the death penalty, war, and poverty are issues on which the Church has no definitive teachings and thus Catholics have every right and obligation to disregard everything the Pope says about them, and sex abuse by priests is either completely legally protected activity shielded by the First Amendment right of free exercise of religion or all the fault of homosexuals in the priesthood); (3) by complaining of anti-Catholic and anti-Christian bias all the time, usually with respect to rather unimportant things like art exhibits, he reinforces the feeling that many Americans have that Christians, rather than being a privileged majority, are put upon and face massive discrimination; (4) he promotes "The Passion of the Christ", a film almost designed to make liberals who object to its content look like anti-religious heathen; and (5) he keeps the media focused on issues of "decency" and "moral values", which plays to the Republicans' benefit because they are seen as the party more likely to restrict sexual expression in the media.

In other words, this guy is a hack-- obviously on assignment from GOP central-- and the media, which either has no appreciation of the difference between a hack and a serious conservative thinker, or, in the case of Fox News and right-wing outlets, actually works hard to blur that distinction, take him seriously as a spokesman for millions of American Catholics instead of taking him for what he is.

Here's the thing, though. Donohue, in defending "The Passion of the Christ" and in engaging in another current right-wing pet project, defending Christmas (I'll post something on this subject shortly), said some blatantly anti-Semitic things. Specifically, on cable television recently, he repeated the old canard that "the Jews control Hollywood", even singling out Harvey Weinstein when it was pointed out to him by another guest that there were all sorts of non-Jews who were major players in Hollywood. That would be bad enough, but Donohue managed to put his foot further into his mouth by remarking that the reason he thought "The Passion of the Christ" would not win Academy Awards was because Hollywood Jews didn't like the movie because these Hollywood Jews, according to Donohue, hate Christians and further because the movie is about Jesus Christ and is "about truth".

Now Donohue has gotten a fair amount of bad press for his statements. My local paper, the LA Times, has written about it (though the article is in the paid section of their website so I can't link to it), and this excellent Frank Rich column ran in the New York Times about the statements. Still, these comments aren't getting the buzz I think they should. I think this is a nice opportunity for my side to take Donohue down. He has, after all, clearly made anti-Semitic comments, but there's more to it than that. Taking him down would take down a guy who does very important grunt work for the right, as noted above. If Donohue becomes known as an anti-Semite or at least someone who has those leanings, the way Pat Buchanan is viewed, he may still get on cable television but never as the purported spokesman of all Catholics. The media would have to find someone else, and maybe that someone else won't be as much of a fascist hack as Donohue is.

But most importantly, making an issue of Donohue's statements will help to remind American Jews of something that they need to hear after over a decade of being courted by the religious right and the Republican Party in general. These people aren't your friends. At best, the religious right supports Israel because it wants to bring on the second coming of Jesus, which they believe will result in either the conversion or the death of all Jews. Hardly an agenda that Jews would want to sign on to. Further, conservatives may agree with some of the more conservative sects of Judaism on some cultural issues like gay marriage, and conservatives are willing to moderate their pitch to increase governmental endorsement of religion by invoking "God" rather than "Jesus" in public ceremonies, in order to be inclusive of Jews. But it wasn't that long ago that everyone understood the religious right and conservativism in general as having substantial anti-Semitic elements. Calling attention to Dononhue's statements should be a way for liberals to remind Jews that the Republicans have never purged these elements from their party and don't plan to, because they represent very important constituencies. In the same way, making an issue of Donohue will remind more moderate and mainline religious voters, and more tolerant evangelicals, that the Republicans still tolerate this stuff and that for significant segments of the Republican party, there is a very specific religious agenda that goes well beyond generic invocations of God at public functions.

I see this as a no-lose scenario for Democrats. So let's get on the horn and get this done!


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