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?