George Allen Furious Over Jew Question (Video)
A truly bizarre sequence from last evening’s debate between Senator George Allen and former Navy Secretary Jim Webb: a local reporter asked if Allen’s mother was secretly Jewish, drawing boos from the audience and a tongue-lashing from Allen.
Dana Milbank recounts the event and provides helpful background:
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.
Yes, let’s — but not before we figure out what that was all about. Turns out the Forward, a Jewish newspaper, reported that the senator’s mother, Etty, “comes from the august Sephardic Jewish Lumbroso family” and continued: “If both of Etty’s parents were born Jewish — which, given her age and background, is likely — Senator Allen would be considered Jewish in the eyes of traditional rabbinic law, which traces Judaism through the mother.”
If that’s true, the Presbyterian Allen joins public figures Madeleine Albright and John Kerry in discovering his Jewish roots. Of the three, the 6-foot-4-inch Allen, a down-home former college quarterback known for opposing laws to keep children out of the back of pickups, seems the least likely candidate for inclusion among the Chosen People. It would be no more surprising to learn that Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has Southern Baptist ancestry.
Here’s the video:
I’m not sure what’s stranger: the rather creepy question or the angry reaction.
Jon Henke, Allen’s New Media Coordinator, refers to the question as a “Religious Identity Probe” and believes it part of a plot to smear Allen with innuendo.
Greg Pollowitz, at Sixers, notes that this is not a coincidence — it is the result of a concerted effort among Webb’s allies to question Allen’s religion for political gain:
It’s what they do.
Dean Barnett agrees and thinks this a huge issue:
The crowd booed, and rightly so. Allen responded with angry indignation, again rightly so. And, I must say, he looked good doing so. The problem with a politician as programmed as George Allen is he often appears phony. This question showed the real man, and it was the best I’ve seen him look during the campaign.
A few quick points of personal analysis. As a Jew, I found Fox’s question profoundly offensive. Trust me, the wounded minority card is not one that I play with much frequency. But the attempt to “tar” Allen as a Jew in a southern state was at the very least disturbing, and I actually consider it sickening. Furthermore, I think asking the question was a hanging offense professionally, and I hope whoever employs Peggy Fox has seen enough of her judgment to deeply ponder severing their relationship with her.
Fox’s inquiry had no place in a political debate. How could this question have spurred an exchange? Was Webb supposed to counter Allen’s answer by saying, “Yes, you are a Jew!”
Which brings us to Webb and his missed opportunity. Webb should have jumped on the questioner with the same vigor that Allen did. (If he did, none of the reports I’ve seen have reflected such.) His failure to do so highlights the lack of political instincts that mark him as the neophyte in this race. It also suggests he wasn’t repulsed by the question. That, too, is disturbing.
Allah believes “Barnett considerably overestimates the significance of this incident.” I agree.
As a secularist, perhaps I’m just naive here. I honestly don’t see what the fuss is all about. The question strikes me as mildly weird (Allah’s title nails it: “Reporter asks Allen: So, are you a Jew or what?”) but hardly offensive.
While there’s plenty of character assassination going on in this campaign (see my TCS piece from this morning for more on that) it’s unclear to me why asking about his mother’s religious heritage is an example. I’m sure there’s still anti-Semitism out there but I wouldn’t think Tyson’s Corner a hotbed.
UPDATE: See, “Allen Embraces Jewish Ancestry.”