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The Reactionary Utopian
February 23, 2015

“For Fear of the Jews”
(Part One)

A classic by Joseph Sobran
fitzgerald griffin foundation

Publisher’s Note: To commemorate the 69th anniversary of Joe Sobran’s birth today,
we are publishing one of his most famous essays. Below is part one of two parts.

[CLASSIC: August 2002] —The news that I would be addressing the Institute of Historical Review came to some people as ... well, news. It was mentioned in the Jewish newspaper Forward and on the Zionist Wall Street Journal Online. The editors of two conservative magazines called and wrote me to express their concern that I might damage my reputation, such as it is, by speaking to “Holocaust deniers.”

I’m not sure why this should matter. Even positing that I was speaking to a disreputable audience, I expect to be judged by what I say, not whom I say it to. I note that my enemies have written a great deal about me, yet they rarely quote me directly.

I expect to be judged by what I say, not whom I say it to. I note that my enemies have written a great deal about me, yet they rarely quote me directly.



Why not? If I am so disreputable myself, I must at least occasionally say disreputable things. Is it possible that what I say is more cogent than they like to admit?

My enemies are always are welcome to quote anything I say, if they dare. I would say the same things to them, and they may consider my remarks to the IHR as addressed to them too. I wasn’t just speaking to “Holocaust deniers,” but also to Holocaust believers. Because I’ve endured smears and ostracism for my criticism of Israel and its American lobby, some people credit me with courage. I’m flattered, of course, but this compliment, whether or not I deserve it, implies that it’s professionally dangerous for a journalist to criticize Israel. That tells you a lot.

But if I’m “courageous,” what do you call Mark Weber and the Institute for Historical Review? They have been smeared far worse than I have; moreover, they have been seriously threatened with death. Their offices have been firebombed. Do they at least get credit for courage?

Not at all. They remain almost universally vilified.

When I met Mark, many years ago, I expected to meet a raving Jew-hating fanatic, such being the generic reputation of “Holocaust deniers.” I was immediately and subsequently impressed to find that he was just the opposite: a mild-mannered, good-humored, witty, scholarly man who habitually spoke with restraint and measure, even about enemies who would love to see him dead.

The same is true of other members of the Institute. In my many years of acquaintance with them, I have never heard any of them say anything that would strike an unprejudiced listener as unreasonable or bigoted.

It was their enemies who were raving, hate-filled fanatics, unable to discuss “Holocaust deniers” in measured language, without wild hyperbole, loose accusation, and outright lies. I began to wonder: if they can’t tell the truth about “Holocaust deniers,” how can they tell the truth about the Holocaust itself?



“Let truth and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?”
—John Milton

Even if the Holocaust had really happened, as I assumed, maybe it should be studied with a critical rationality most of its believers obviously lacked. After all, even Stalin’s crimes might be exaggerated, quite understandably, by his victims. As Milton puts it, “Let truth and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse in a free and open encounter?” Even those in error might have something to say, some marginal clarification to offer. Why stop our ears against them?

Why on earth is it “anti-Jewish” to conclude from the evidence that the standard numbers of Jews murdered are inaccurate, or that the Hitler regime, bad as it was in many ways, was not, in fact, intent on racial extermination? Surely these are controversial conclusions; but if so, let the controversy rage. There is no danger in permitting it to proceed.

It might be different if denying the Holocaust could somehow affect the course of events, as the denial of Stalin’s crimes by the New York Times in the 1930s helped him to continue committing them. Why is the Institute for Historical Review notorious, while the Times, despite its active support of Stalin at the height of his power, remains a pillar of respectability?

The Holocaust has never been a consuming interest of mine. But as I read the Journal of Historical Review over the years, I found in it the same calm virtue of critical rationality I’d found in Mark himself.

And it was applied to many other subjects besides the question of whether Hitler had tried to exterminate the Jews. An article it carried about Abraham Lincoln some years ago caused me to revise my entire view of Lincoln and stimulated me to write a book about him.

I’m especially indebted to one fascinating article on another taboo subject: Abraham Lincoln’s long pursuit of the policy of sending former Negro slaves outside the United States. This completely reshaped the book on Lincoln I was writing. I realized that you can’t understand Lincoln unless you grasp that he waged the Civil War with a dual goal: to prevent the political separation of North and South, while achieving the racial separation of whites and blacks. His dream was a united white America. He was by no means the color-blind humanitarian we have been taught to revere.

The IHR’s mission can’t be fairly summed up as “Holocaust denial.” Its real mission is criticism of the suffocating progressive ideology that has infected and distorted the telling of history in our time. But of course its specific skepticism of the standard Holocaust story is regarded as blasphemy, and has earned it the dreaded epithet of anti-Semitism.

The IHR’s ... real mission is criticism of the suffocating progressive ideology that has infected and distorted the telling of history in our time.



Not long ago the only label more lethal to one’s reputation was that of child molester, but, as many men of the cloth are now discovering, there is this difference: a child molester may hope for a second chance.

There is also another difference. We have a pretty clear idea what child molestation is. Nobody really knows what “anti-Semitism” is. My old boss Bill Buckley wrote an entire book called In Search of Anti-Semitism without bothering to define anti-Semitism. At the time I thought this was an oversight. I was wrong. The word would lose its utility if it were defined.

As I observed in my own small contribution to the book, an “anti-Semite” used to mean a man who hated Jews. Now it means a man who is hated by Jews.

I doubt, in fact I can’t imagine, that anyone associated with the IHR has ever done harm to another human being because he was Jewish. In fact the IHR has never been accused of anything but thought-crimes.

The same is true of me. Nobody has ever accused me of the slightest personal indecency to a Jew. My chief offense, it appears, has been to insist that the state of Israel has been a costly and treacherous “ally” to the United States. As of last September 11, I should think that is undeniable. But I have yet to receive a single apology for having been correct.

If I were to hate Jews en masse, without distinction, I would be guilty of many things. Obviously I’d be guilty of injustice and uncharity to Jews as human beings. I would also be guilty of willful stupidity. More personally, I’d be guilty of ingratitude to my benefactors — which Dante, in his Inferno, ranks the worst of all sins — since many of my benefactors, in large ways and small, have been Jewish.

Moreover, I would be becoming exactly the man my Zionist enemies would like me to be; a man like them, in whom ethnic hostilities take priority over all other values and considerations. I would justify them in treating me as an enemy. In fact I’d go so far as to say that I would be helping to justify the state of Israel. I consider that if I fight these people on their terms, they have already won.

What, exactly, is “anti-Semitism”? One standard dictionary definition is “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious or racial group.” How this applies to me has never been explained. My “hostility” toward Israel is a desire not for war, but for neutrality — out of a sense of betrayal, waste, and shame. Our venal politicians have aligned us with a foreign country that behaves dishonorably. Most alleged “anti-Semites” would wince if Jews anywhere were treated as Israel treats its Arab subjects. Moreover, Israel has repeatedly betrayed its only benefactor, the United States. I have already alluded to the place Dante reserves for those who betray their benefactors.

These are obvious moral facts. Yet it’s not only politicians who are afraid to point them out; so are most journalists — the people who are supposed to be independent enough to say the things politicians can’t afford to say. In my thirty years in journalism, nothing has amazed me more than the prevalent fear in the profession of offending Jews, especially Zionist Jews.

The fear of the label anti-Semitic is a fear of the power that is believed to lie behind it: Jewish power. Yet this is still pretty much unmentionable in journalism. It’s rather as if sportswriters covering pro basketball were prohibited from mentioning that the Los Angeles Lakers were in first place.

In my 21 years at National Review, I had a front-row seat. I watched closely as Bill Buckley changed from a jaunty critic of Israel to what I can only call a servile appeaser. In its early days, the magazine published robust editorials blasting politicians who sacrificed American to Israeli interests in order to pander to the Jewish vote; in those days it was considered risqué to suggest that there was a “Jewish vote.” Today Bill’s magazine supports Israel with embarrassing sycophancy, never daring to intimate that Israeli and American interests may occasionally diverge. It has forgotten its own principles; today it would never dare to publish the editorials written by its great geopolitical thinker of those early days, James Burnham.

There has been a qualitative change that is downright eerie — not only in Bill Buckley and National Review, but in American conservatism generally. The “fear of the Jews,” to use the phrase so often repeated in the Gospel according to John, seems to have wrought a reorientation of the tone, the very principles, of today’s conservatism. The hardy skepticism, critical intelligence, and healthy irony of men like James Burnham, Willmoore Kendall, and the young Buckley have given way to the uncritical philo-Semitism of George Will, Cal Thomas, Rush Limbaugh, and of course the later Buckley — men who will go to any lengths, even absurd and dishonorable lengths, to avoid the terrorizing label anti-Semite.

It was once considered “anti-Semitic” to impute “dual loyalty” to Jews — that is, to assert that most American Jews divide their loyalty between the United States and Israel. This is now passé.



...an “anti-Semite” used to mean a man who hated Jews. Now it means a man who is hated by Jews.

Today most politicians assume, as a matter of course, that Israel commands the primary loyalty of Jewish voters. Are they accused of “anti-Semitism” for doing so? Does this assumption cost them Jewish votes? Not at all! Dual loyalty nothing! Dual loyalty would be an improvement!

Once again, it’s a practical necessity to know what it would be professional suicide to say. No politician in his right mind would accuse Jews of giving their primary loyalty to Israel; but most politicians act as if this were the case. And they succeed.

You can read Jewish publications like Commentary for years, and you’ll read interminable discussions about what’s good for Israel, but you’ll never encounter the slightest suggestion that what’s good for Israel might not be good for America. The possibility simply never comes up.

The only discernible duty of Jews, it seems, is to look out for Israel. They never have to choose between Israel and the United States. So much for the “canard” of dual loyalty.

The very word “anti-Semite” is reminiscent of the term “anti-Soviet.” It serves a similar function of facilitating imputations of ill-defined guilt.

See part two

This is part one of an article published in the August 2002 issue of Sobran’s: The Real News of the Month. It is taken from a speech given by Joe Sobran at an Institute for Historical Review conference held in Los Angeles on June 21–23, 2002.

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Copyright © 2015 by the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved.This will be included in a new collection of Sobran columns titled Subtracting Christianity: Essays on American Culture and Society (fgfBooks, 2015). It was published by Griffin Internet Syndicate on January 23, 2003.

Joe Sobran was an author and a syndicated columnist. See bio and archives of some of his columns.

Watch Sobran's last TV appearance on YouTube.

Learn how to get a tape of his last speech during the FGF Tribute to Joe Sobran in December 2009.

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