Jews for Malek
The rise of a cult.
A new religious cult is growing, one that seeks purification through acts and statements of self-abasement. Its members are Jews who love Jew-bashers, and, like Jews for Jesus, it embraces contradiction. The group does not have a name, and thus far its members are united chiefly by their fealty to a single cult leader who commands their loyalty through steadfast support for Israel and the writing of big checks. I hereby dub this evolving cult Jews for Malek.
Fred Malek is managing partner of the Washington Baseball Club, the investment group with the inside track on acquiring the Washington Nationals. As you may have heard me point out once or twice—what the hell, nobody else besides Sally Jenkins and Marc Fisher of the Washington Post finds this particularly interesting, and Marc's overdue for a column—Malek was ordered by then-President Richard Nixon to count the number of Jews in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (because the Jews, of course, had formed a "cabal" bent on manipulating economic indicators to make Nixon's administration look like a failure). Malek is not himself an anti-Semite, apparently; he is (or at least was) something worse: an opportunist willing, albeit reluctantly, to gratify the anti-Semitic impulses of his superior. Malek counted the Jews (or rather, guessed according to surnames) and passed the names and number—13 out of 35—up the chain of command. Within two months, two of the "Jews" were demoted. Malek has long insisted that he had nothing to do with that.
Now the leaders of a number of Jewish organizations—the Jews for Malek to whom I referred earlier—are rallying to Malek's defense. Writing in Washington Jewish Week under the headline, "Don't Count Malek Out for Counting Jews," Eric Fingerhut reports that Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, "both contacted WJW to defend Malek after being alerted to the issue by Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matthew Brooks, who called recent criticism of Malek 'character assassination.' " (What interest the Republican Jewish Coalition has on matters relating to Major League Baseball is anybody's guess.)
This "character assassination," I gather, has consisted of repeating undisputed facts concerning Malek's former conduct as a government official, and as far as I'm concerned there's been far too little of it; the Washington Jewish Week piece cites Slate, the Post (whose print edition has mentioned this precisely once during the past two years), and unnamed "liberal bloggers." Some witch hunt! Washington Jewish Week might also have cited the Boston Globe, whose sports page weighed in July 5, and the early (but not late) editions of the June 30 New York Times. But the latter two stories mentioned only that Nixon ordered Malek to count Jews; they failed to note the crucial fact that Malek complied, and that not long after, by sheerest coincidence, two of those named were reassigned.
Foxman told Washington Jewish Week, "One mistake does not an anti-Semite make." This is obviously some sort of cult incantation, because Foxman has uttered precisely the same words about Malek before. Since we're repeating ourselves, my earlier rejoinder was: "[O]ne mistake a penitent contributor to Jewish causes makes!" Hoenlein more or less admits this outright (Malek "has done wonderful things in terms of the Jewish community"), as does Marshall Breger, a law professor at Catholic University's Columbus School of Law, who thinks I'm making "a mountain out of a molehill. … It's hard to say no to the president of the United States." Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, says I should lay off, too, noting that Malek has apologized. This is all starting to make me feel like Kevin McCarthy at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. ("You're next! You're next!")
Is there even one Jewish leader who will resist the Jews for Malek? Can we hear from Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles? Or is he too busy dispensing indulgences to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger?
[Update, 2 p.m.: I neglected to observe (and am pleased to report) that Hendrick Hertzberg discussed Malek's Jew-counting in the New Yorker of July 11 and 14. Also, I'm grateful to the Web log Canonist for pointing out that Foxman was a Malek apologist as far back as September 1988, when a WashingtonPost piece revealed that two BLS "Jews" were demoted after Malek compiled his list for Nixon. That story forced Malek to give up his job as deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee (not, as Canonist reports, Malek's assignment to run the Republican National Convention, which had already occurred). Foxman told Maureen Dowd of the New YorkTimes that Malek shouldn't have to resign:
'As a result of his public statements and some he has made privately, I think it is sufficiently clear that he did not do it with animus, bigotry or prejudice in his heart or mind,'' Mr. Foxman said. He added that Mr. Malek was merely ''carrying out the instructions of an individual who had some of those feelings.''
And that makes it better?]
Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.