What Polland Said
The Anti-Defamation League is disturbed by the remarks attributed to Harris County Republican Party Chair Gary Polland in New York magazine and repeated in your November 13 issue [The Insider, "... And Look Out for the GOPstapo," by Tim Fleck], in which Mr. Polland blamed "liberal Jewish organizations" for "what's wrong with this country."
If the quote is accurate, Mr. Polland should be ashamed for pandering to an extreme conservative constituency with negative stereotypes. However, your comparison of Mr. Polland to Louis Farrakhan and indirectly to Adolph Hitler is also offensive, because it trivializes Farrakhan's latent racism and anti-Semitism and, worse, the horrific impact of Hitler and the Holocaust.
We understand that you need to write colorful pieces, but we encourage you to be mindful of the harm done by diluting the meaning of words like "Gestapo," and by making Farrakhan and Hitler mere devices for sarcastic political reporting.
Jonathan Bernstein, director
Louis E. Silver, chair
Southwest Regional Board of
the Anti-Defamation League
I read with some interest the article in your November 13 edition referencing Gary Polland's speech to the September Toward Tradition conference in Washington, D.C. But as executive director of Toward Tradition, an Orthodox Jew and a relative of Holocaust survivors, I find your comparison of his talk with Farrakhan and Hitler appalling.
Mr. Polland's point was not to demonize Jews -- he is himself a committed Jew and was speaking to a room full of Jews (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and nonaffiliated) whose level of commitment to their Judaism was much higher than at the average Jewish conference. A conference with strictly kosher food, a traditional Jewish Sabbath gathering beforehand and three traditional religious services each day of the conference could hardly be made up of self-hating Jews!
Mr. Polland was merely making two quite simple points. The first was simply a statement of fact: Most Jews are liberal politically, and much of the intellectual leadership for liberalism is inimical to the values of most Americans and to classical Jewish values. This is a point that is open to debate. But to engage in this debate by comparing his position to that of the Nazis is unconscionable.
Yarden Weidenfeld, executive director
Mercer Island, Washington
We are angered by the content of Tim Fleck's column that identified Gary Polland and Edward Blum as Jews and attacked them as Jews. Members of the Jewish and general community may disagree with their positions on the issues, but to suggest that Jews study Mein Kampf and that Jews invoke Hitler's name when explaining their politics is defaming. The Press headline placed Jews in the Gestapo. As we prepare for the 21st century, it is truly a sorry day for your paper.
Journalism requires basic checking of the facts. If the Houston Press had done its homework, it would have learned that New York magazine recently printed a letter from Polland noting that he said nothing along the lines attributed to him. The Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston has faxed and phoned the magazine to learn if there were tapes of the proceedings by the freelance reporter who wrote the story. To date, no one from the magazine has responded. There do not appear to be any sources for that story.
Blum notes that he had an extensive discussion with Fleck months ago to discuss preferences dictated in other countries. At no time, Blum notes, did he ever compare the city's affirmative action program to Hitler's policies in Germany.
Blum and Polland are involved members of Houston's Jewish community. Your words malign our entire community.
An ethical and moral line in the sand has been crossed when Jews are labeled and berated on the basis of their religion. In the Jewish community we do disagree about issues, but when individuals are tagged because of their religion, which has absolutely nothing to do with their political leanings, we recognize their real background.
Mr. Fleck, you don't have to agree with their politics, but you do owe each of them an apology for your use of vicious images and old canards.
Nat Levy, chairman
Randall Czarlinsky, director
Community Relations Committee of
the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston
Editor's reply: Mr. Levy and Mr. Czarlinsky's assertion that Tim Fleck "attacked" or "berated" Gary Polland or Edward Blum for their religion is, quite simply, absurd, and not worthy of a serious rebuttal.
While Mr. Blum's statements may have been somewhat more nuanced than reported, he has repeatedly likened affirmative action to race-based policies that, when carried to an extreme, have led to such odious historical phenomena as the Holocaust, apartheid and the slaughter in Bosnia.
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As for Mr. Polland: Although Polland (who, by the way, serves on the executive committee of the Community Relations Committee that Mr. Levy chairs) has complained to the Press through an intermediary about Fleck's item, as of this writing he has offered no independent proof that he was misquoted or that his remarks were taken out of context by New York in its October 6 issue, and the magazine has issued no clarification or correction regarding the comments it attributed to Polland. Liz Galst, the reporter who attended the Toward Tradition conference and wrote the story for the magazine, "absolutely" stands by the quotes in her article. "One of the reasons I wrote it down," Galst told Fleck, "was that I was so astounded that he would say that."
In regard to Mr. Weidenfield's statement that Polland's intent was "not to demonize Jews": That's no doubt true, but to single out any particular group or subgroup of people as "the enemy" --even in the narrow, politically partisan context in which Mr. Polland operates -- sure sounds like demonization to us. Polland, after all, is not just a conservative Jew --he's the chairman of the Harris County Republican Party, and that is how he was identified by New York magazine.
Fleck made no claim that Polland is anti-Semitic or a "self-hating Jew"; he did, however, attempt to point out that to describe the "liberal Jewish community" as "the intellectual backbone of everything that's wrong with this country" is to conspicuously echo a tenet of programmatic anti-Semitism that can be traced from Louis Farrakhan to Hitler and centuries back into history.
But we agree with Mr. Bernstein and Mr. Silver that we could have made that point in a less incendiary and perhaps more artful manner.