"Christ was crucified by the Jews."
The image expressed by that phrase has incited innumerable atrocities and indescribable suffering for the Jewish people over the past 20 centuries. It represents an ancient theological doctrine that has been invoked by bigots of all varieties to justify anti-Semitic outrages. It is a notion disavowed by Christian leaders who take responsibility for ending the persecution of Jews that has disfigured their own faith, an inflammatory statement unlikely to be made by anyone who cares about tolerance and goodwill.
It is also the kind of remark that reliably angers conservatives when uttered by a black, a Palestinian or any other figure nominally associated with the left. But not when, as happened at Easter time, it is said by one of America's most prominent conservatives.
The conservative in question is Paul Weyrich, a powerful figure in American right-wing circles for three decades, who included those six words in an April 13 essay celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to Weyrich, who describes himself as a "Melkite Greek Catholic deacon," Jesus was "crucified by the Jews who had wanted a temporal ruler to rescue them from the oppressive Roman authorities ... He was not what the Jews expected so they considered Him a threat. Thus He was put to death."
The only conservative to publicly take exception to Weyrich's essay was Evan Gahr, a journalist who quickly composed a response that criticized him for circulating a "classical anti-Semitic lie." Gahr submitted his critique of Weyrich to FrontPage, the political news Web site maintained by fellow Salon columnist David Horowitz, where he was a regular contributor.
Not only did Horowitz reject the article (which Gahr then placed with the American Spectator Web site), but then, a few days later, went so far as to ban Gahr permanently from writing for FrontPage after the writer was quoted in the Washington Post calling Weyrich "a demented anti-Semite." At that point, this embarrassing confrontation more or less ended.
Of course, American Jews are in no serious danger from Paul Weyrich. The primitive religious prejudices of a particular right-wing leader -- even one as important as Weyrich -- are more distasteful than threatening. Yet this flare-up should concern decent conservatives, because their movement's double standard on religious bigotry remains disgraceful.
Given the historical association of right-wing politics with anti-Semitism in America, conscientious conservatives might feel obliged to expose and expunge that noxious creed from their ranks wherever it emerges. With a few notable exceptions, however, their efforts to do so have been inconsistent and opportunistic. Political expedience has often dictated silence in the face of outrageous comments and conduct.
The Jews in the Nixon White House endured their president's coarse anti-Semitism without a peep, and even made excuses for him when the Watergate tapes later proved the old crook to be a horrifying bigot as well. During the Reagan era, few on the right objected to the anti-Jewish bias of Patrick Buchanan, which had been painfully obvious for years. They held their fire until Buchanan made himself a political nuisance by running for president.
On the fundamentalist right, Jew-baiting frequently surfaces in polemics against immoral movie producers, Wall Street capitalists and abortion doctors. Again, conservatives have rarely greeted such evidence of anti-Semitism in their own ranks with the fury they expressed about the infamous slurs by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.
Indeed, if Jackson or Sharpton had delivered an Easter sermon dwelling on alleged Jewish responsibility for the death of Christ, the response from the right would have been explosive. Last year, when Hillary Clinton was accused, rather implausibly, of having used an anti-Jewish expletive more than 20 years ago, her conservative enemies instantly went nuclear.
But Weyrich -- a Horowitz ally funded by the same foundations and individuals -- apparently merits not only a free pass but an impassioned defense. Other conservatives have averted their eyes from the controversy.
That discreet impulse is understandable. Veteran conservatives know that Weyrich is a fairly unsavory character. His habit of flirting with racists and anti-Semites dates back to his early involvement with George Wallace's American Independent Party.
Among the many odious characters affiliated over the years with Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation is Laszlo Pastor, convicted of Nazi collaboration for his World War II role in the violently anti-Semitic and pro-Hitler Hungarian Arrow Cross party. Pastor was thrown out of the Bush-Quayle campaign in 1988, along with several other émigré fascists, when their exposure humiliated the GOP.
Another longtime Weyrich aide served on the editorial board of the Ukrainian Quarterly, an ethnic rightist publication strongly influenced by former Nazi collaborators. With encouragement from Pastor, Weyrich and Buchanan, those same émigré extremists campaigned to shut down the Justice Department's ongoing pursuit of suspected Nazi war criminals. Weyrich was put on the defensive again when yet another of his associates was nominated for a position in the Reagan administration -- and was then revealed to have been an official of the Liberty Lobby, the nation's largest anti-Semitic propaganda outlet.
To friends of Weyrich, like Horowitz, all that unpleasantness must seem like ancient history. They may be sincere when they insist that he bears no personal animus against Jews. But it is more difficult for them to defend what he wrote, and not just because its hostile theology has been repudiated by the Catholic hierarchy. Even Horowitz admits that "Weyrich unquestionably knew what he was doing and probably inserted the phrase as an in-your-face to the [politically correct] Church, regardless of consequences." To him, that urge to inflame doesn't matter nearly as much as the possible damage to Weyrich's good name.
Had anyone on the left said something so reckless and ugly about the Jews, conservatives like Horowitz would have reacted quickly, loudly and harshly. They would have demanded a retraction and an apology from the offending liberal.
But by now, we should all know that being conservative means never having to say you're sorry.