Memo: To Richard Cohen, Washington Post
From Jude Wanniski
Re Your Lieberman/Farrakhan column
Of course, Richard, I disagree with your column (“Lieberman Fails a Test” 10-03-00), blasting Senator Joseph Lieberman for showing a willingness to meet with Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan. I was in fact delighted to see Lieberman say he respected Farrakhan and would be open to meeting with him. It will happen before the Million Family March, I gather, as Leonard Muhammad [Nation of Islam chief-of-staff] advises me the discussions are proceeding. You say "Farrakhan is an anti-Semite," but have you done any due diligence as a journalist to make sure you are not simply following the party line of the ADL and American Jewish Congress? If these two important Jewish organizations say he is anti-Semitic, is that enough for you? Do you put your Jewishness ahead of your responsibilities as a journalist?
Farrakhan insists he is not anti-Semitic and as I continue to advise you, the only complaint that American Jews might have about him is that he is Muslim and does not agree with the two important Jewish organizations on a few points regarding the political status of Israel -- although he does support Israeli statehood. Hardly anyone knows that, although he has said so publicly, including even a 1998 interview with the Jewish weekly Forward.
In his statement following the appointment of Lieberman, Farrakhan praised the Democratic Party for breaking down this barrier by putting a Jew on the ticket. You may be aware that he was much more generous in his statement than other black leaders, who are still irked that Gore never mentioned even the possibility of a black on the ticket. Farrakhan did raise a question about whether Lieberman might be "more faithful" to Israel than to the U.S., but that is precisely the point that Lieberman said he would discuss with Farrakhan.
You may recall me telling you in the past that Minister Farrakhan is most unusual in that he is a "truth-teller," i.e., he says what is on his mind. Other black leaders only say what is on their mind when they are talking to other blacks, with no reporters around. Jesse Jackson got burned, remember, when he mentioned "Hymietown" in a dinner conversation that included Milton Coleman of The Washington Post. You are naive, Richard, if you do not understand that political blacks do not trust political whites, Jewish or Christian, and say what suits them. Those political blacks who have been truth-tellers in the past have been assassinated, demonized or exiled.
As for Lieberman's loyalty, it is not only Farrakhan's concern, but the concern of a great many other folks who understand that Israel has a special claim on U.S. foreign policy and that the Israeli Lobby fuels both political parties with money to protect that claim. There was indeed concern in 1960 about JFK's allegiance -- not to "Ireland" as you put it -- but to the Vatican. American Jews did not fully trust JFK because of his support of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, another Irish Catholic, at a time when anti-Communism was dominant in the RC church. It was in this period that I left the church -- a period in which too frequently political Catholics identified American Communists with American Jews and when some priests routinely referred to Jews as "Christ-killers." My support as a youngster for Adlai Stevenson, in 1952 and 1956, was accompanied by a similar suspicion of John Kennedy. Political Catholics had dirtied their religion. Or maybe you did not know all that about the 1950's? It was not until Vatican II cleaned up the church's political act that I came back.
I was cultivated in my earliest political years -- from age 13 -- with a suspicion of anyone who demonized his political opposition -- which is why I made such an effort to meet Minister Farrakhan, to research his background, to listen to hundreds of hours of audio and videotapes of his speeches. I've never been able to find anything remotely resembling an "anti-Catholic" statement. The press corps routinely -- and without evidence -- cites him as having called the Pope the "anti-Christ," which I finally persuaded the NYTimes to correct when one of its Metro reporters made that mistake. I've not yet succeeded in getting the Times or the Associated Press to stop reporting Minister Farrakhan once said "Judaism is a gutter religion." There is a tape where he mentioned "dirty religion," but nowhere near that term does the word "Judaism" appear. Notice in the full-page ad in the NYT last week paid for by the American Jewish Committee, they insist Farrakhan once called Judaism "a gutter religion," but the word "Judaism" does not appear within the quote marks. There are many occasions when Farrakhan has cited Christians and Muslims as practicing a "dirty religion" when they politicize their “faith” at the expense of other people.
In the same sense, he has never said a single word against "gays." His criticism is precisely the same as that of all fundamentalists, Christians and Jews, who find homosexuality "sinful" as a life style. Yet he never fails to say he condemns only the sin, not the sinner, because he himself is not without sin.
Finally, you note that he has "a cozy relationship with Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi.” Well, you could note that they are fellow Muslims and that they have also been in the crosshairs of the Israeli Lobby over the years of our nation's conflict with them. Please note that Farrakhan has never taken sides with Saddam Hussein or with Gadhafi in a purely political contest with the United States. As the most important Muslim in the United States, Farrakhan offers not coziness to these other leaders, but only his ear. He has never ever said a word against the United States in these foreign capitals. He does not dirty his religion or behave more faithfully to Islamic political interests abroad than he does to his own country. He does question the use of economic embargoes, as do many Christians, on the grounds that they attempt to produce a political result by making ordinary people suffer and even die. Am I wrong, Richard?
I take the trouble to go over this ground with you again because I do respect your work as a journalist -- in almost all other regards. Indeed, I did not see your Post column that chastised Lieberman until a friend of mine who is also a regular reader and fan of your column gave me a clipping of it -- and asked how I could square my support of Farrakhan with your declamations. I told him it really can't be done as long as your mind is made up, Richard, as it seems to have been for a long time.
Two years ago, when Seth Lipsky was still editor/publisher of the Forward, I asked him if he would be willing to meet with Farrakhan in the offices of the Forward -- as Farrakhan said he would do it if I could arrange it. Seth told me it would be impossible. Even as the leading Jewish newspaper in the world, he could not break ranks and permit that kind of proximity. He did, though, ask Jeffrey Goldberg, who then wrote for the Forward and continues to write for the NYT Magazine, to take me up on my offer to visit Farrakhan at his home in Chicago. As it happens, as a run-up to the Million Family March next Monday, I had transcribed the interview tape which Min. Farrakhan gave me at the time. I'm going to run it in two pieces, editing out only the meaningless side chatter between Farrakhan and Goldberg. It was an excellent interview that never really saw the light of day, because it did not fit the conventional paradigm. I'm not suggesting you do anything about it, only read it. Eventually you may come around to believing as I do that Min. Farrakhan is not part of the problem, but a key to the solution.
* * * * *
Min. Farrakhan will be in the news for the next week as the Million Family March will take place in Washington, D.C. next Monday, and he has said he will at that time announce his intention to vote for one of the presidential candidates. The 1998 interview will run this week, on Wednesday and Thursday.