Let us assume for a moment that an American public figure were to call Jesus Christ a Nazi war criminal. Can't you just hear the outcry, the denunciations from Church leaders and conservative Republicans? Let us assume further that the miscreant in question was a prominent television personality who regularly comments on the events of the day. How long do you think he'd last? The Catholic League would be picketing outside the studio. Rudy Giuliani would return from his political Siberia to organize a boycott. Heads would roll.
Well, this is pretty much what Patrick Buchanan did. The MSNBC political analyst and erstwhile reactionary candidate for the Republican presidential nomination has compared Nazi war criminal John Demjanjuk, who is about be deported to Germany to stand trial for his role in the murder of 29,000 Jews at the Sobibor death camp, to Jesus.
I'm not kidding. In his syndicated column of April 17, 2009, Buchanan not only called Demjanjuk "the sacrificial lamb whose blood washes away the stain of Germany's sins," but he wrote that the "spirit" behind the U.S. Justice Department's efforts to bring Demjanjuk to justice is "the same satanic brew of hate and revenge that drove another innocent Man up Calvary that first Good Friday 2,000 years ago."
Some innocent man. Among the findings of facts set forth by the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in February of 2002 are that "The primary purpose of Trawniki Training Camp was to train men to assist the Nazi government of Germany in implementing its racially motivated policies, including and in particular 'Operation Reinhard;'" that "Operation Reinhard was the Nazi program to dispossess, exploit, and murder Jews in Poland;" that "Upon his arrival at Trawniki Training Camp, Defendant [Demjanjuk] entered service in the Guard Forces of the SS and Police Leader in Lublin District;" that "by January 18, 1943, while a member of the Guard Forces of the SS and Police Leader in Lublin District, Defendant was serving as an armed guard at the concentration camp located near Lublin, commonly known as the Majdanek Concentration Camp;" that "Defendant began serving at the Sobibor extermination camp no later than March 27, 1943;" that "In serving at Sobibor, Defendant contributed to the process by which thousands of Jews were murdered by asphyxiation with carbon monoxide;" and that "Defendant misrepresented and concealed his wartime residences and activities, which constituted misrepresentations and concealments of his wartime employment and residences for the purpose of gaining admission into the United States."
None of this matters to Buchanan whose long-time public support for a succession of Nazi war criminals is a constitutionally protected perversion. He even admires Adolf Hitler. In 1977, Buchanan wrote that, "Though Hitler was indeed racist and anti-Semitic to the core, a man who without compunction could commit murder and genocide, he was also an individual of great courage, a soldier's soldier... a political organizer of the first rank, a leader steeped in the history of Europe, who possessed oratorical powers that could awe even those who despised him."
Buchanan has never bothered to hide his offensive views on Israel and Jews. After the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, Buchanan said on national television that, "There are only two groups that are beating the drums right now for war in the Middle East, and that is the Israeli defense ministry and its amen corner in the United States." He has referred to Capitol Hill as "Israeli-occupied territory," and he considers the State of Israel to be "a strategic albatross draped around the neck of the United States."
In a September 1993 speech to the Christian Coalition, Buchanan said that, "Our culture is superior because our religion is Christianity and that is the truth that makes men free." After John Cardinal O'Connor had deplored Roman Catholic anti-Semitism, Buchanan declared, "If U.S. Jewry takes the clucking appeasement of the Catholic cardinalate as indicative of our submission, it is mistaken. When Cardinal O'Connor of New York seeks to soothe the always irate Elie Wiesel by reassuring him 'there are many Catholics who are anti-Semitic'... he speaks for himself. Be not afraid, Your Eminence; just step aside, there are bishops and priests ready to assume the role of defender of the faith."
Buchanan has also been a reliable ally of Holocaust deniers and other Nazi sympathizers. In his March 17, 1990, syndicated column, he wrote that it would have been impossible for Jews to perish in the gas chambers of the Treblinka death camp, and referred to a "so-called Holocaust survivor syndrome" which he described as involving "group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics."
Two years ago, Don Imus was unceremoniously dumped by MSNBC after making racially insensitive remarks about the Rutgers University women's basketball team. Buchanan's colleagues at MSNBC have consistently tolerated and overlooked his bigoted worldview. So have Christian fundamentalists and the Roman Catholic establishment since he strongly opposes abortion rights.
Imagine Rush Limbaugh's or Bill O'Reilly's apoplexy if a Jew or a liberal -- say Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow -- had referred disparagingly to Jesus. And what about Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson, all of whom see themselves as defenders of what they consider to be Christian values? But then again, none of Buchanan's MSNBC colleagues have called him to task in the more than 10 days since his loathsome column appeared -- not Joe Scarborough, or Mika Brzezinski, or Chris Matthews, or Andrea Mitchell.
It will be interesting to see if any Church leaders will now be shamed into condemning Buchanan's obscene comparison of Demjanjuk to Jesus. And while I realize that the victims of Sobibor and Majdanek are not in a position to affect MSNBC's ratings, the cable news channel's executives should at the very least explain how they justify Buchanan's continued appearances on their programs.
Menachem Rosensaft is General Counsel of the World Jewish Congress and Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School
(This article was first published in slightly different form by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency)