Tuesday, September 19, 2006

THE JEWISH QUESTION It's been a busy few days at CONTRAPOSITIVE world headquarters, so I missed this development in the George Allen ancestry story:
At a debate in Tysons Corner yesterday between Republican Allen and Democrat Webb, WUSA-TV's Peggy Fox asked Allen, the tobacco-chewing, cowboy-boot-wearing son of a pro football coach, if his Tunisian-born mother has Jewish blood.

"It has been reported," said Fox, that "your grandfather Felix, whom you were given your middle name for, was Jewish. Could you please tell us whether your forebears include Jews and, if so, at which point Jewish identity might have ended?"

Allen recoiled as if he had been struck. His supporters in the audience booed and hissed. "To be getting into what religion my mother is, I don't think is relevant," Allen said, furiously. "Why is that relevant--my religion, Jim's religion or the religious beliefs of anyone out there?"

"Honesty, that's all," questioner Fox answered, looking a bit frightened.

"Oh, that's just all? That's just all," the senator mocked, pressing his attack. He directed Fox to "ask questions about issues that really matter to people here in Virginia" and refrain from "making aspersions."

"Let's move on," proposed the moderator, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.


But Allen turned on the questioner with ferocity. He may have been irked that the question was a follow-up to one noting that "macaca" was a racial slur that his mother may have learned in Tunisia. He may have been concerned that Jewish roots wouldn't play well in parts of Virginia.


"I'm glad you all have that reaction," Allen said to the audience as people jeered the questioner. Allen lectured Fox about the importance of "freedom of religion and not making aspersions about people because of their religious beliefs."

In between his heckling of Fox, Allen reported that "my mother is French-Italian with a little bit of Spanish blood in her, and I've been raised, and she was, as far as I know, raised as a Christian."


"I was shocked," she said after the event. Disclosing that her great-grandfather was a Mormon polygamist, she added: "Why would he get so angry at the suggestion there might be something in your background that's Jewish? I don't think that's a bad thing at all."


Allen, surrounded by cameras and microphones after the event, hadn't cooled down. "What do you mean, 'make me so angry'?" he demanded angrily when asked why Fox's query had made him so angry.

"To make whatever sort of comment that was, you just don't judge people by their ethnicity or their religion," Allen said, fuming that Fox would "drag my mother into this." The senator said his mother was the one who taught him about tolerance. "Because," he repeated, "my mother's father was incarcerated by the Nazis in World War II."
To condense and recap: Allen is queried about his Jewish heritage and reacts as if the moderator, by posing the question, has dragged his family's name through the mud.

Naturally, Allen's handlers couldn't let that awkward impression stand. So this afternoon, there was this:

Republican Virginia Sen. George Allen said for the first time today that he is part Jewish, a day after responding angrily during a campaign debate to a question about whether his family has Jewish roots.

In a statement released by his campaign, Allen denounced the TV reporter who asked the question but said he is proud to have recently discovered that his grandfather, a Nazi resistance fighter in North Africa, was part of a well-known Jewish family.

"I was raised as a Christian and my mother was raised as a Christian," Allen said. "And I embrace and take great pride in every aspect of my diverse heritage, including my Lumbroso family line's Jewish heritage, which I learned about from a recent magazine article and my mother confirmed."


In the statement issued today, Allen called Fox's questions "especially reprehensible" and "deeply offensive."

But he said a recent magazine article, which raised the question of his Jewish heritage, had prompted him to ask his mother.

"Some may find it odd that I have not probed deeply into the details of my family history, but it's a fact," he said. "Whenever we would ask my mother through the years about our family background on her side, the answer always was, 'Who cares about that?' "
Left unanswered is why a man so proud of his Jewish ancestry finds a question that drew attention to that heritage so offensive.

Given Allen's newfound ethnic pride, it's also not clear why Allen's campaign manager dodged a reporter's question about the subject as recently as last month.

Bottom line: Whatever is at work in Allen's mind can't rightly be described as anti-semitism. But that doesn't make it any less ugly.

Video here.

UPDATE: Senator Allen wants you to know--just to be clear--that he isn't that Jewish:

Speaking with The Times-Dispatch, Allen said the disclosure is "just an interesting nuance to my background." He added, "I still had a ham sandwich for lunch. And my mother made great pork chops."
Glad we've got that sorted out.

What a schmuck.

CONTRAPOSITIVE is edited by Dan Aibel. Dan's a playwright. He lives in New York City.