A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Another Catholic anti-Semite?

Uh Oh! Now Im in trouble. I have been declared an anti-Semite in the tradition of Father Charles Coughlin.Joseph Tobin, senior online editor of Commentary, finds my posts on Israel's influence on U.S. foreign policy and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's lobbying our Congress and our president for a U.S. war on Iran to be smack dab in the tradition of Catholic anti-Semitism going back toI dont know, Paul of Tarsus? His analysis of my comments on dotCommonweal is inaccurate and unfair. I plan to address these in a future post.In the meantime, two points:First, Commentary may be of one mind on most matters, but Commonweal is not. Therefore, my views are my own and not necessarily (or unnecessarily) those of the editors, or Father Coughlin, or Paul of Tarsus.Second, read my current column on Netanyahu's demand for red lines and consider whether support for the sanctions and opposition to bombing Iran is anti-Semitic. Or just opposed to another U.S. war in the Middle East.

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

Israel seems to be a democracy within Israel, but outside the country one has to uncritically support its nationalist government even if one holds positions held by some Israelis themselves. That's the proof that it is a Party that is using the charge of antisemitism as a political weapon for their own purposes.

And Tobin can't tell you from Pat Buchanan. Ouch.

Catholics all look alike, you know!

Reminds me of Shaw's "put an Irishman on a spit and you can always find another Irishman one to turn him'

Tobin apparently doesn't understand that it is possible to criticize some members of a group without criticizing all of them, and that includes the group called "Israelis".Another thing he seems to do is to conflate "Jews", "Israelis" and "Zionism". They do not all refer to exactly the same people. And not all Jews agree with him. Be has royally misrepresented Ms. S.

My reaction to this story comes in the form of this blog post defending Margaret. is interesting as well is that when it comes to people like John Hagee, with deeply troubling history of peddling in anti-Jewish material, Commentary is quite gleeful in their support because he is so strongly in line with their foreign policy vision.

Joseph Sobran was demoted and then fired from National Review for anti-semitic views. I'm not saying that Ms. Steinfels' views are the same as Sobran's (a Catholic.) However, I think her views would have come under more scrutiny twenty years ago than they do today.

A Jewish friend of mine was lambasting the Israeli government yesterday -- will someone now drag out the absurd category of "self-hating Jew" or have the good sense to admit that the Israeli government is wide open to criticism?

Oh, if the critic is a neocon, that is just the kind of scurrility expected. They are the real enemies of Judaism, its false friends.

Frank Gibbons: Twenty years ago!! We were all celebrating the Oslo Accords weren't we?

Margaret, you are in good company. Ray Schroth SJ was put down by a fellow Jesuit a while back because he had the nerve to propose a one-state solution. The critic is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and he was one of more than 90 such comments against our friend Ray. Is there a law against piling among the Jesuits?I have no idea who Tobin is but he probably got a phone call from the bishops' secretary warning him that the NYTimes wants to step up the campaign against sex abuse in the RCC. I understand that most of the bishops will be voting for Romney. By the way how does one become a bishop; I suppose my kissing lots of rings.

Peggy, mazel tov! It seems you have broken another gender barrier in the church as all these other anti-Semites are men...Maybe it's the circumcision thing.

Having written in Commonweal about anti-Semitism, I feel I should say flatly that this charge of anti-Semitism regarding both Peg Steinfels and Commonweal is ridiculous. Such phony charges are counter-productive to Israel's cause.The belief that only peaceful means can solve the Middle East's problems is hardly a fringe one in the Catholic Church. It's long been the position of the Holy See.

The reality is that the Israeli government has been callous in its treatment of Palestinians. There certainly is anti-Semitism. But to hide behind the accusation by cruelty to others is worse.

I agree the charge of anti-Semitism is unwarranted, but the constant drumbeat of "51st state" threads unfortunately plays to stereotype.

In the old days this would have been called "character assassination". Shades of Sen. Joe McCarthy. When someone disagreed with him, he accused the person of being a Communist. Dirty pool then, dirty pool now.

I agree with Mark Proska. I wince every time I see "51st" as a thread title. At the very least a Christian criticizing Israel should be respectful.

MP and JC: 51st is a handy headline conveying the close relationship that exists between the United States and Israel. It is close not only on foreign and military policy, but also on economic assistance. It is certainly closer than with our near neighbors, Canada and Mexico. It may well be closer on the economic front than with some of our own 50 states. I venture to say that it is closer than our historic alliance with Great Britain ever was except perhaps before and during World War II.

Ann is right that Tobin conflates a lot of terms.I understand the "51st state" moniker, and I appreciate Margaret Steinfels' warnings that U.S. politicians are often way too cozy with Israel, particularly those who believe that Israel will play a special role in the imminent coming of the Rapture. (See Jack Chick tracts for the role the Vatican will play in double-crossing the Jews!) That said, it has often occurred to me that, taken cumulatively, these posts seem to be more scrutiny on Israel than on other nations with whom we are nominal allies but have rather vexed relations, e.g., China, Pakistan, Russia, etc. The cumulative message might be that Israeli governmental policies are the chief problem.It's a big leap from there to "anti-Semitism," I think, particularly of the Fr. Coughlin variety. Coughlin, to whom my mother's Irish aunties used to send money, thought Hitler and Mussolini had some good ideas viz a viz the Jews. I see nothing like that here.And it's an even bigger leap to assume that the 51st blog posts necessarily reflect any implicit foreign policy endorsement on the part of Commonweal.

Jean Raber: Do you think that Israel is a "nominal all[y]" with whom we have rather vexed relations? Wouldn't more vexed relations between the U.S. and Israel be to everyone's benefit?

I guess that would depend on what you mean by "more vexed."I don't think I--or most members of the Obama administration--could be much more vexed when Bibi Netanyahu gets on TV and swaggers around demanding that the U.S set deadlines on Iranian nuclear programs. Some administrations (Carter, Clinton) have been able to parley the U.S.'s vexation into peace talks, though many of these have yielded only small or temporary benefits. (It will be interesting to see where the Israel/Egypt accord goes now that there has been a regime change in Egypt.)But these efforts are always heralded with a good deal of fanfare and serve to "de-vex" American foreign policy re Israel.It may be that one of the reasons Usrael doesn't vex us to the point it should is because we like the Israeli style. I'm not sure I entirely buy Andrew Bacevich's claim that the U.S. is undergoing "Israelification" in seeing peace as military domination; rather, I think that Israel went through "Amerification" in weaving it's national myth--a young nation of immigrants surrounded by hostile natives, makes the desert bloom with ingenuity and grit. And, while that might not be much more accurate than "How the West Was Won," well, it certainly sounds a lot like it.(Apologies if you already have covered Bacevich's essay in a previous post that I didn't read: it might be salubrious to look very dispassionately at *how* it best serves our national interest to unreservedly support the right of Israel to exist as a state. Does supporting Israel at our current levels of monetary and military aid help keep peace in the Middle East? Does supporting Israel improve the cause of human rights around the world? Does supporting Israel enhance the American mission of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?I dunno, though. I'm not an expert.

Sorry, "Israel," not "Usreal." Freudian? Weird!

Jean Raber: "But it might be salubrious to look very dispassionately at *how* it best serves our national interest to unreservedly support the right of Israel to exist as a state. Does supporting Israel at our current levels of monetary and military aid help keep peace in the Middle East? Does supporting Israel improve the cause of human rights around the world? Does supporting Israel enhance the American mission of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?"Our history for support of Israel has served our national interest, and I think it could serve our national interest now and in the future. If "unreserved" support is what we're talking about now and in the future, I think that needs some critical thinking and adjustment. As long as the Palestinian "entities" fester in the West Bank and Gaza and as long as we support, implicitly if not always explicitly, Israeli policies and practices there, the United States and Israel will be at war with many parts of the Arab world, and some parts of the Muslim world. Is that in anyone's national interest? The new Prime Minister of Egypt Muhammed Morsi, has yet to prove himself, even as leader of his country, yet he usefully reminds the United States in an interview: "If Washington is asking Egypt to honor its treaty with Israel, he said, Washington should also live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian self-rule." We committed to that?? Wow! A useful reminder. What else did we commit to in order to bring peace? Interview here:

Thanks for the link to the Morsi interview. He takes some pains to seem practical and open but firm, making clear distinctions between his own personal views and the Egyptian constitution re women and Christians. (Not sure he hasn't overstated the cultural significance of Hooters in the U.S., though.)To what extent is foreign aid well spent in Egypt? Time will tell. On the other hand, Israel collects something like three times the amount of foreign aid (it's the top foreign aid recipient) that Egypt does and has less than a tenth of Egypt's population. would be interesting to know a) how much Americans know about foreign aid to Israel (or any other country), and b) whether they support it. Certainly politicians (except for Ron Paul) assume that supporting Israel translates into big votes. Does it, though? Here's a poll from 2011 from Pew about foreign affairs by political affiliation, which seems to suggest that Americans expect U.S. foreign policy to favor Israel over other interests in the region. Not sure that what's popular, however, is always the best course in foreign policy ...

Ms. S. --"Unreserved support" is an immoral notion. We should not support any group automatically. To claim that the secular Israel has the right to such support weakens its rightful claims. And to confuse the secular Israel with the spiritual one could be disastrous. When Israel is unjust, it has no right to special help. When Bibi insists the U. S. should support him regardless of his recklessness, he merely proves his incompetence.

Thanks Jean for the link to Pew data. Found this interesting:

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment