Robert Novak's long tenure as a syndicated columnist and CNN television commentator is sorry proof that extreme anti-Israel animus and sloppy attention to the facts are no deterrent to journalistic prominence. Year after year, Novak has pushed the same ugly themes about the allegedly nefarious workings of the Jewish state and its (Jewish) supporters against the interests of the United States and world peace.
In 1991, for instance, tripping in haste to revive discredited claims that Israel deliberately fired on the USS Liberty, an American Intelligence ship, during the 1967 Six Day War, Novak and his late partner Rowland Evans cited a supposed new source regarding Israeli perfidy and the U.S. vessel. The alleged source, however, flatly denied the journalists' assertions, as detailed by columnist A.M. Rosenthal in the pages of the New York Times. That episode of reckless criticism of Israel did not, regrettably, serve as a caution against future bias.
Recent commentary has underscored Novak's particular affinity for tyrants and terrorists and his indifference to their victims. Thus, he expresses fervent concern for the Saudis facing criticism after 9/11. Outraged over a briefing for Pentagon staff that “upset” the Saudis because the briefer termed that nation the “kernel of evil” and America's “most dangerous opponent,” Novak parroted the Saudi's own line of self-defense (“U.S. Walking Saudi-Israel Tightrope” August 22, 2002).
He deplored those who have “pounded on Saudi customs and mores that had not seriously disturbed a relationship between two dissimilar countries over the last 60 years.” (Novak was clearly untroubled by the aggressive Saudi export across the globe of the “mores” of Wahabism - a version of Islam violently inimical to the West.)
“Israeli-Palestinian violence has undermined old U.S.-Saudi ties,” he insisted.
Indeed, there is virtually no scenario in which Israel is not blamed and vilified — and no sworn enemy of Israel Novak doesn't favor. In November 2001, in the wake of a wave of terrorism against Israelis in discos, pizza parlors and buses, CNN's Capital Gang discussed American policy toward the region. Novak assailed Israel's “audacity” in targeting a Hamas terrorist, demanding to know whether America would “take this conduct by Israel lying down.”
When his fellow commentators said the Israeli action was taken in “self-defense,” he mocked the notion and replied he could not “imagine...anybody worse than Sharon" and "the idea that he's a good guy is just part of the propaganda.”
When Novak's colleagues further interjected that the Hamas official was “himself a terrorist,” he retorted, “Well, why do you call him a terrorist? I mean, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.”
In December 2002, in a story about Christmas in Bethlehem, a CNN colleague again countered Novak's distorted assertions regarding Israeli conduct, this time his claim Israel was not permitting “any Christmas decorations” in Bethlehem. The reporter responded that it was not the Israelis “banning decorations. It is the Palestinians. The local officials have decided, in a form of protest, not to have any holiday decorations...”
Novak offered no apology for the error.
As a potential war with Iraq looms, what continues to most consume Novak is, of course — Israel. Israel is now said to be the primary impetus for the war. But for Israel's manipulations and those of its friends behind the scene, Novak argues, there would be no rush to war.
A December 26, 2002 column referred to a confrontation with Iraq as “Sharon's War,” mocked the Bush administration policy as "Israel-centric" and lauded Senator Chuck Hagel's anti-Israel and anti-war positions.
In a January 5, 2003 “Meet the Press” segment, Novak told Tim Russert, “There's a lot of people who want to use this change of government in Iraq as a reconstruction of the power structure in the Middle East. And that is [the] policy of the present Israeli government. Prime Minister Sharon has said that the way to solve the Palestinian problem is through removing Mr. Saddam in Iraq. And so I think that this is a really serious question that needs serious thought of whether we should have a policy in the Middle East which is centered on what the present government of Israel thinks is proper for its own security.”
In this typically dishonest anti-Israel sleight-of-hand, the fact that Israel would like Saddam Hussein's removal is transmuted by Novak into the US acting against Saddam on Israel's behalf. In fact, the Bush administration believes Saddam Hussein poses a grave threat to the United States.
But in Novak's value system, the priority is sympathizing with Israel's enemies, even if they happen to be America's enemies as well.
Origianally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on January 31, 2003