Abramoff Agonistes

Here's how David Klinghoffer ends his latest column in the Jewish weekly The Forward:

If [Jack] Abramoff were a secular Jew who directed streams of money to left-wing candidates, to liberal think tanks, to charitable causes like Planned Parenthood and PETA, do you think we ever would have heard his name? I don't.

The whole piece is about as good a defense as one can mount of the super-lobbyist who now finds himself in heap of big trouble over a scandal that involves Indian gambling, paid junkets for congressmen, an anti-gambling campaign that Abramoff also had a hand in, and a host of other misadventures.

Klinghoffer admits that Abramoff probably breached Congress' ethics rules by funding some activities out of his own pocket and seeking reimbursement from organizations that he represented (verboten) rather than having the organizations fund the junkets and such directly (allowed), but he doesn't concede that this is anything more than a very technical violation of statute designed to have no teeth.

He also admits that Abramoff said some remarkably stupid and bigoted things in private e-mails, but he asks, "Yet who among us would not be humiliated if a decade's worth of our email were leaked by Senate investigators to be dissected by journalists eager to carve us up like a Thanksgiving roast?"

Klinghoffer quotes a "close friend and ally" of Abramoff as saying, "Jack is not a choir boy. It's funny, though, that there are no Ferraris, women, yachts or mansions in this story, and yet it keeps going." He expounds on the friend's commentary: "Why it keeps going is a question worth pondering."

The charge that the Forward columnist levels isn't anti-Semitism so much as anti-Republicanism and a general distaste by the usual suspects for people who take religion seriously. Frank Rich, for instance, described him as an "Orthodox Jew who in his salad days wore a yarmulke to press interviews." A columnist identified only as a "Washington Post writer with a Jewish name" (Nexis says . . . Ruth Marcus) called Abramoff "an Orthodox Jew who seemed to flaunt his piety (the Christian right loved it) the way other lobbyists flash their Rolexes."

One of the problems with "if the situation were slightly different, do you think people would still be going nuts" criticism is that it is often hard to predict exactly what will catch people's fancy. The criteria for what makes a story a hot issue are not completely random, but I think I'd lose my shirt if I had to predict what the pack of American journalists will decide to obsess on next week. Still, Klinghoffer raises some important questions that are worth chewing on for a bit.

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