Ron Radosh

What Robert Novak Got Wrong

Now that the expected plaudits about the late Robert Novak have all appeared, it is good to report that some journalists are finally writing about the dark side of the “Prince of Darkness.” Especially powerful is the article appearing today in Tablet by Jamie Kirchick.

As Kirchick writes, one of Novak’s most pronounced traits was “his unrelenting criticism of Israel.” In Novak’s eyes, Israel could do no good. He was “one of Israel’s harshest critics in establishment Washington.”  This has been known for quite some time. What Kirchick contributes is an investigation into what led Novak, born into a Jewish family, in this direction.  The first answer is that Novak was influenced by his long-time partner, Rowland Evans, whose views slowly rubbed off on Novak.  However, as Kirchick points out, Evans retired in 1993 and died in 2001; yet during the past 15 years, Novak kept up his intense criticism of Israel.

He even attempted to resuscitate the reputation of the leader of the Nation of Islam, the black extremist and anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. In this effort, he was following the obsession of his friend Jude Wanniski, who befriended Farrakhan and even saw the radical leader as a mechanism for entrée of American blacks into the ranks of the Republican Party.

After September 11th, Novak wrote that the “hatred of the United States today by the terrorists is an extension of hatred of Israel” and that “the united States and Israel are brought ever closer in a way that cannot improve long-term U.S. policy objectives.” Then, later the same month, he called a senior Hamas terrorist a “freedom fighter” on CNN.  And finally, Novak attributed US entry into the war on Iraq- a war he opposed- as one fought on behalf of Israel. Novak ignored the many signals from Israel indicating that most Israelis, and Israeli policy-makers, saw Iran as the major enemy of the West and did not favor going to war against Saddam Hussein.  And like Jimmy Carter, Novak called Israel “Worse Than Apartheid,” the name he gave to a column written in 2007.

There is one other area that Novak covered as  a very young man that revealed more short-sightedness. That was his myopic view of the 1960’s civil rights movement. In a column titled “Danger From the Left” appearing in The Washington Post on March 18, 1965, Evans and Novak attacked Martin Luther King Jr. for surrendering “valuable ground to leftist extremists in the drive for control of the civil rights movement.” Students of Dr. King- and both David Garrow and Taylor Branch have written definitive biographies of the civil rights leader- have written in detail about the tensions between King- who advocated Ghandian non-violence – and younger militants who favored “black power” and eschewed and ridiculed King’s idea of a “beloved community.”

But King did not surrender to them which is one reason it is his legacy that is celebrated today and not that of the militants like the late Stokely Carmichael.  But in their column, Evans and Novak called John Lewis—then a moderate in the leadership of The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)- part of a group of  “hothead extremists,” and tied him up with James Forman, who was indeed a far-left radical who opposed the serious moderation of Lewis- (now a Democratic member of Congress from Georgia)-and who with his faction soon ousted Lewis from the SNCC leadership.

The civil rights movement had its problems; sadly, SNCC’s turn to the far Left and its alliance with Third World revolutionaries and totalitarians at home led to its eventual isolation and collapse. Had Evans and Novak written as profusely about the need for an end to segregation in the South and on behalf of civil rights, as they did of Communist involvement in the civil rights movement, perhaps their warnings about the perfidy of the Communists might have had an impact. But the way in which they made their point only served to have the civil rights activists ignore their warnings, and to even extend their hand further to those who had their own leftist agenda.