Thursday, December 16, 2004

Another Holiday Tradition

What would the holiday season be without some loud-mouth making a big stink about the lack of “Christ in Christmas”? This year that task falls to Bill O’Reilly. Eric Boehlart reports in

“All over the country, Christmas is taking flak,” O’Reilly recently announced, as he complained about “the anti-Christmas jihad” that’s gripping the nation. “If they could, secularists would cancel Christmas as a holiday. That’s how much they fear the exposition of the philosophy of Jesus.” During his syndicated radio show O’Reilly intoned darkly, “The small minority that is trying to impose its will on the majority is so vicious, so dishonest — and has to be dealt with.”


Since O’Reilly began chronicling how Christmas was “under siege,” the host has been using a slew of vague catchphrases — “those people,” “these creeps,” “secular progressives,” “the secular bunch,” “extremists” — to describe the lurking, godless forces who want to take Christ out of Christmas.

But during his Dec. 3 radio show, O’Reilly got more specific. When a caller identified himself as Jewish and began to complain about “the secularization of Jews and about Christmas going into schools,” O’Reilly shot back that “overwhelmingly, America is Christian. And the holiday is a federal holiday honoring the philosopher Jesus. So, you don’t wanna hear about it? Impossible. And that is an affront to the majority. You know, the majority can be insulted, too. And that’s what this anti-Christmas thing is all about.”

At one point, O’Reilly told the caller, “Come on, if you are really offended, you gotta go to Israel then.” (Media Matters for America, a liberal media monitoring organization, quickly posted transcripts from the radio show.) “It was offensive and over the top,” says Steven Freeman, associate director of the civil liberties division at the Anti-Defamation League, a leading Jewish civil rights organization.


“O’Reilly crossed the line to overt anti-Semitism,” adds Michael Lerner, head of the progressive Jewish organization Tikkun. “He’s trying to tell his audience that Jews have no legitimate role in public life except as second-class citizens.”


Aside from baiting Jews, who continued to vote overwhelmingly Democratic in November, despite elaborate efforts by Republicans to sway their votes this year, the larger target in the Christmas crusade is the progressive movement and the Democratic Party. “There’s no question that some sections of the political right think it’s time to finish off liberal and progressive forces forever,” says Lerner. “And they’re not restrained by any sense of fairness. They’re sore winners. They won and now they want to beat up on the people they’ve already defeated. ”

Who are the defeated? O’Reilly laid out his conspiracy theory for Fox News guest Newt Gingrich on Dec. 10: “It’s like the MoveOn people [saying], ‘We’re never going to get gay marriage, euthanasia, partial birth if we have a Christian nation. We’ve got to get rid of that Christian nation designation like Canada has, and then we can get our agenda through.’ And what’s the biggest display of Christian? It’s Christmas.”

“These guys are nuts, simply nuts,” answers Ira Foreman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “Either they’re woefully ignorant or it’s the worst kind of demagoguery. If Jews or progressives or Democrats are supposed to be behind this plot to ruin Christmas, somehow they left me out.”

In a gesture of good will, I’d like to give Bill O’Reilly the biggest Christmas tree I can find and show him exactly where I’d like to put it.

Frank Rich has his own take on this latest persecution complex displayed by the sore winners.

Will it be the Jews’ fault if “The Passion of the Christ,” ignored by the Golden Globes this week, comes up empty in the Oscar nominations next month? Why, of course.

“Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular,” William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, explained in a colloquy on the subject recently convened by Pat Buchanan on MSNBC. “It’s not a secret, O.K.?” Mr. Donohue continued. “And I’m not afraid to say it. That’s why they hate this movie. It’s about Jesus Christ, and it’s about truth.” After the show’s token (and conservative) Jewish panelist, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, pointed out that “Michael Moore is certainly not a Jew” and that Scorsese, Coppola and Lucas are not “Jewish names,” Mr. Donohue responded: “I like Harvey Weinstein. How’s that? Harvey Weinstein is my friend.”

How’s that? Not quite good enough. Surely Mr. Donohue knows that decorum in these situations requires that he cite a Jew as one of his “best friends,” not merely a friend. For shame.

As we close the books on 2004, and not a moment too soon, it’s clear that, as far as the culture goes, this year belonged to Mel Gibson’s mammoth hit. Its prurient and interminable wallow in the Crucifixion, to the point where Jesus’ actual teachings become mere passing footnotes to the sumptuously depicted mutilation of his flesh, is as representative of our time as “Godspell” was of terminal-stage hippiedom 30 years ago. The Gibson conflation of religion with violence reflects the universal order of the day — whether the verbal fisticuffs of the culture war within America, as exemplified by Mr. Donohue’s rant on national television or, far more lethally, the savagery of the actual war that radical Islam brought to our doorstep on 9/11.


Toss the issue of religion into that 24/7 wrestling match, as into any conflict in human history, and the incendiary possibilities are limitless. When even phenomena as innocuous as Oscar nominations or the lighting of a Christmas tree can be inflated into divisive religious warfare, it’s only a matter of time before someone uncovers an anti-Christian plot in “White Christmas.” It avoids any mention of religion and it was, as William Donohue might be the first to point out, written by a secular Jew.