Tuesday, September 19, 2006

George Allen's Jewish Problem

What do Madeleine Albright, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Wes Clark all have in common? Besides the obvious that they are all Democrats and three of them are viewed as possible Democratic presidential candidates?

What else all four of them have in common is that they were all raised Christian and consider themselves practicing Christians today. And all of them also have Jewish blood. Jewish relatives. And none of them knew it growing up.

Madeleine Albright’s father made a conscious decision to convert and to have his family also convert to Catholicism before World War II to escape the growing anti-Semitism that was engulfing Europe in a flood of hatred. Because he was a prominent diplomat, he got his family to safety in England and Madeleine never knew until the mid-1990s that she had Jewish ancestors. Although she is still a Christian, she embraced all of her heritage and publicly acknowledged her history.

Basically, John Kerry and Wes Clark did the same. Kerry found out that his grandfather was Jewish and had converted to Catholicism as a young man. In fact, one of Kerry’s brothers converted to Judaism to marry a Jewish woman. When the Kerrys found out their family history, his brother quipped that if he had known earlier, he wouldn’t have had to go through all the ritual and ceremony of a conversion. In fact, he actually would have because according to Rabbinical Law, Judaism is traced through the mother’s family line not the father’s.

Wes Clark also found out as an adult that his father was Jewish. His mother never told him because she didn’t want him to be subject to prejudice while growing up in Arkansas. She raised him as a Baptist, which was her religion.

Hillary Clinton also had a distant relative who was Jewish, which she announced while running for the Senate in New York.

What all of them have in common, however, is that none of them threw a temper tantrum when reporters asked them about their Jewish roots.

George Allen actually would not be considered Jewish because his mother Etty’s father was the one who was alleged to be Jewish. Judaism, again, according to Orthodox Rabbinic Law, is traced through the mother’s line. So unless Etty had a Jewish mother or converted she would not necessarily be considered Jewish.

George Allen can breathe a sigh of relief. He obviously was highly offended when somebody asked about this. At last night's debate between Allen and opponent Jim Webb, WUSA-TV reporter Peggy Fox raised the question, as reported by Dana Milbank, in today's Washington Post

Although I am a staunch Webb supporter, I really, really don’t want to pile onto George Allen about this. Really.

I would like to believe that his anger at Peggy Fox, when she raised the question, at the Allen-Webb debate yesterday, based on an article she saw in the Jewish Forward, about Allen’s mother’s Jewish roots, was because the question followed a previous Fox question that asked whether Allen had ever heard the word Macacca from his French-Tunisian mother.

Macacca is reputed to be a European slur word for blacks, Arabs and other peoples of color. Allen might have taken Fox’s question to imply that Etty was bigoted and used racial slur words while the Allen children were growing up.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Allen could have heard the word innocently enough as a child from a distant relative or acquaintance of Etty’s. In my otherwise liberal family, I heard some foolish relatives use words that my parents would never countenance. My folks wouldn’t have approved such language, but they couldn’t keep me sheltered from those who did use it. You can love your relatives despite their shortcomings. But you sure don’t get to pick them.

So Fox may not have meant to cast any aspersions on Allen’s mother. And Allen had every right to defend his mother from any charge of personal bigotry.

But his anger at the implication that he might have some Jewish relative lurking in a closet somewhere was way out of proportion. It seems almost like he considered the mere suggestion that he might have some Jewish blood a real insult.

Being Jewish myself, I have to wonder about that. A proportionate response to Fox’s question would have been either denial if it wasn’t true or simply admitting that he didn’t know if that was the truth. But getting angry and then staying angry even after the debate suggests that more might have been going on in Allen’s mind.

After all, Fox didn’t accuse him of being a Communist, a money grubbing Shylock, or a traitor. Or did she?

Those are all the stereotypes that bigots have of Jews.

I don’t believe that Allen is a conscious anti-Semite. He is, after all, a big supporter of Israel. He has Jewish political supporters too. And if you asked him, he’d probably be insulted that you would even think such a thing.

But at some level, being asked about a Jewish relative was offensive to him. And we know he dislikes being called Felix, which was the name of his supposedly Jewish grandfather. Might there be a connection there?

It sounds to me like George Allen, once again, has some ‘splaining to do. He may be thin skinned. But if something like that insults him, his Jewish supporters have a right to know why.


Allen has indeed admitted his Jewish roots in this updated article from the Washington Post’s website, written by Michael Shear. But why does he still seem so begrudging and angry at Peggy Fox. After all, she didn’t out him for something shameful? Or does he still think she did?


teacherken said...

This is crossposted from the thread on this subject at not larry sabato:

1) both of Etty's parents were Jewish, meaning she was Jewish, which means unless she were baptized (which even were she "raised" Christian is not necessarily the case) she is still halachicly Jewish, which would mean that by birth Allen is Jewish.

2) Allen's statement that he only learned of it from the Forward article is laughable. The issue had previously been raised by Bob Gibson of Charlottesville paper, who has said that Allen called him to complain. That means Allen was at least aware of the possibility at that time, and if he didn't "know" it would have to be because he refused to explore further so that he could deny knowing. And I don't buy it.

3) He regularly makes reference to a grandfather who has a distinguised Jewish name being incarcerated by the Nazis. It is a reasonable question to ask if that gentlemen perhaps was incarcerated because of his being jewish, or even of jewish background - remember, conversion did not exempt you from the treatment received by the Jews at the hands of the Nazis.

4) for all of his complaints yesterday, Allen has never hesitated to talk about his religion when he thought it would benefit him, thus in resorting to the First Amendment only when a question of Jewish heritage was raised is laughable and hypocritical.

5) Allen's press statement says he learned of the Jewish background as a result of the Forward article. But that was published several weeks ago. In describing his mother yesterday he continued to avoid including her Jewish background -- he mentioned Italian, French and Spanish, but NOT Jewish -- thus that statement yesterday and his acknowledgement that he has known as a result of the article shows his unwillingness yesterday to acknowledge his Jewish heritage.

5) I hold no official position with the Webb campaign. I do volunteer for him. It was not in that capacity that around midnight I posted diaries at dailykos and raisingkaine that addressed this issue. I am of Jewish background, underwent bar mitzvah on my 13th birthday in May of 1959, but an a Quaker by persuasion, and thus am not Jewish religiously. Neverthless I took great offense at the way Allen used the phrase 'casting aspersions' in his reaction yesterday to the question - the only way it could be read was that to raise the issue of his (possible) Jewish background was to be casting aspersions on him. Thus any fair reader could well react that Allen thought that to have Jewish background was somehow demeaning or diminishing.

It was about this which I wrote, and which you can read at dailykos here

That Allen's campaign now acknowledges what he tried like all getout to deny yesterday in no way changes the damage he did himself by how he handled the issue. LIke on macaca, he has changed his story several times. Perhaps he now has his story "straight" but I believe that his handling of it will continue to raise questions about him, not because the Webb campaign is raising them (it is not), but because the Allen campaign's handling of these issues has been so inept. When John Podhoretz refers to the junior senator from Virginia as George Macacawitz, you can see the damage he has done to himself.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Thank you Teacherken. I actually wrote my post when the story was first breaking and all the facts were not yet clear - at least not to me.

I wrote it on the fly, literally, right before leaving to board an airplane to Fort Lauderdale to visit my father for, ironically, the Jewish High Holidays.

La Shana Tova to all, by the way!

At the time I penned the piece, it was based on the first report in the WaPo and merely mentioned that Allen's mother's family was the prominent Sephardic Lumbroscos (spelling?) a Portugese family some of whose members had converted to Christianity.

Given the history of the Sephardim of Spain and Portugal, I thought they could be Conversos, families that converted as early as the 1300s and 1400s. Many of those families practiced Judaism secretly. But a lot of those who converted actually became Catholic and their descendents today are still practicing Catholics.

An interesting side fact is that Fidel Castro has some Converso blood in his family too, although he was raised a Catholic in Cuba. Many, many prominent Hispanic families had ties to the Conversos, including even St. Teresa of Avila's family. Her father's father's family were Conversos who backslid and ran afoul of the Spanish Inquisition. Teresa's mother's family, however, was always Catholic. St. Teresa was considered to be only a quarter Jewish.

So, I originally thought that Allen too only had one Jewish ancestor. Since then I've learned that, in fact, his mother was a full Jew whose family converted in modern times. But it wasn't unusual for those caught up in the pre-war and World War II Nazi threat to hide their Jewish background.

And as you point out, the Nazis did not care if you were a practicing Christian. For them anti-Semitism wasn't intolerance for a religious belief, as it was historically among European Christians.

For the Nazis it was actual racism. The concentration camps held many people whose ancestors had converted to Christianity generations before. Hitler and his Gestapo were intent to root out anybody who had an ounce of Jewish blood, which they thought was polluting the pure German Aryan race. These were purely racist theories about pure bloodlines.

So, Etty's parents or grandparents might have converted to escape the typical anti-Jewish persecution of pre-war Europe and French Tunisia. And they would have assimilated successfully into the Christian society and culture. But the Nazis were indeed a different story.

But Allen's grandfather also could have been in the Resistance. I had an uncle who was Jewish and also a Resistance fighter in Belgium. He was caught by the Nazis and imprisoned not for being Jewish but for his Resistance activities.

All this is conjecture because I just got back from Florida haven't read more of this unfolding story yet. But it did reach the Florida newspapers and even the Sunday morning TV shows.

In any case, it's obvious that George Allen handled this very badly. What could have been a beautiful narrative that even his most Evangelical supporters would have approved of became a disaster for him among even the staunchest Jewish conservative Republicans like Bill Kristol and John Podheretz. Allen is just plain dumb.

I think his presidential ambitions are pretty well shot. He's proven he's not ready for prime time yet.

Anonymous said...

George Allen needs some serious therapy to deal with his racism, confederate flag obsessions, violent infliction on his family with multiple beatings, domestic violence against women, his latent hatred for Jews, his latent hatred of himself (his Jewishness), having a hangman lynching noose in his law office used to kill blacks in this country, his abject lies to the press and the world, his cowardliness in the face of being stood up to, and his general dumb self.

What a loser this guy is. He should not even be allowed to get coffee for American leaders, let alone be elected one.

Anonymous said...

He was upset because his heritage is no one's business. And yes, Democraps LOVE to play the race/ethnicity game wherever and whenever they can. I don't give a rip about a politicians ethnicity - I care about what they stand for. So...why is his being Jewish an issue? Because your party has become anti-semitic. As far as his "racism, confederate flag obsessions..." that doesn't seem to bother you as it pertains to the only member of the KKK in the Senate: Democraptic Senator Robert Byrd. I don't see you or any of the anti-Semites on Kos bitching about him and his "confederate flag obsession". What a bunch of hypocrites. Are you even from Virginia? No worry - when people start talking about real issues again, I'm sure you people will find more of your friends who are willing to crawl out from under their rock to make something up against the Senator again. That's all you've got. You're losers. You'll always be losers.

Richard Daley said...

The only way that George Allen will win the U.S. Senate election in Virginia is if that asshole is going to CHEAT his ass off somehow.

His opponent Naval Officer Jim Webb needs to, in advance, ensure that the voting is conducted in a totally fair and impartial manner, because, without question, the only way the racist, sexist, loser George Allen is going to win is if he manages to cheat somehow.

Anonymous said...

It is generally understood that Ashkenazi Jews get their Jewishness through the mother and that Sephardic Jews through the father. Inasmuch as Felix Lombroso was a Sephardic Jew, his daughter (Etty) was a Jewess. However,inasmuch as George Allen was not Ashkenazi, then he would not be honored with Jewishness inasmuch as the coach was not.

Anonymous said...

George Allen's father would have had to be Jewish according to Sephardic practice. He was not, therefore Allen is not.