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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Michael Forrest on "Sungenis and the Jews"

A bit of history is in order . . .

In September, 2002, Robert Sungenis of Catholic Apologetics International (CAI) wrote an article entitled, "Conversion of the Jews Not Necessary? The Apocalyptic Ramifications of a Novel Teaching" in response to the document Reflections on Covenant and Mission, a joint-publication of the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops' Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs.

Sungenis' article caused no small amount of controversy in the online Catholic world -- not because of his criticism of the document itself (indeed, a good number of Catholics found justifiable reason to do so), but rather because of his (unwitting?) citation, and proclaimed agreement with, some rather unsavory charges against the Jews drawn from anti-semitic sources (including neo-Nazis, "white seperatists" and "historical revisionists"). The whole scandalous affair was researched and documented by Bill Cork, first on his blog and subsequently compiled in his investigative report, AntiSemitism and the Catholic Right (August 2002).

One would think that when called out on the matter in 2002, Sungenis would have recognized and apologized for his errors (at most, he removed some of the questionable material "in the interest of peace," claiming that he still stood by it). One might have presumed further that he would exercise greater care in his acceptance and use of ideologically-extremist material in the formulation of his own views on the Jews.

This was not to be, however, as evidenced by the discovery of Matt Anger (Fringe Watch) in April 2006 that CAI had reproduced on their website word-for-word two articles from the racialist, neo-nazi National Vanguard. The articles were ultimately removed after their origins were made known, but again it demonstrates the same disregard for the necessary vetting of sources that got Sungenis into hot water back in 2002.

And now, we come to the release of Robert Sungenis and the Jews, an extensive paper published by Michael Forrest, himself a former associate of CAI, who went so far as to defend Sungenis in 2002 ("While others decided they had to leave, I continued to defend and excuse things that I should not have in retrospect"). Disturbed by Sungenis' increasing preoccupation and negative bias towards the Jews, Michael Forrest now finds himself compelled to step forward publicly.

I should be clear that Mr. Forrest does not charge Sungenis with being an anti-semite -- that is to say, of harboring a personal hatred of Jews. He admits he is "not certain what has created the negative predisposition evident in his writings and at his website." Nevertheless, drawing upon statements by Sungenis, public and private, and material not previously known, he has built a solid case that:

1) Bob Sungenis expresses views in regard to “Jewish issues” in such a way as to explicitly or implicitly convey a level of certainty and authentic scholarship that is materially exaggerated. He is not an authority or expert on these issues.

2) He has repeated verbatim or sometimes merely reformulated slightly writings he has obtained from others on Jewish issues. He has sometimes represented these as his own, without acknowledgment or attribution and has even defended these practices.

3) He continues to evidence a propensity to uncritically seek out and accept unsavory, dubious and/or negatively biased information in regard to Jews and has drawn others with similar proclivities to his website.

4) He maintains a vigorous commitment to expressing and propagating these views and an unwillingness to retract or genuinely apologize for any of them.

At one time an undeniably gifted Catholic apologist and scholar, Bob Sungenis' preoccupation with the Jews and his persistent, indiscriminate acceptance and employment of dubious, anti-semitic sources on this subject continues to remain a source of grave scandal, and should be an issue of concern to those involved in the ministry of Catholic apologetics. It is to their credit that Mr. David Palm, Dr. Art Sippo, Mr. Michael Lopez, Mr. Matthew Anger, Mr. John Novotny, Mr. Jacob Michael and Mr. Patrick Morris have all publicly indicated that they share in this concern and take it seriously.

Having read Michael Forrest's detailed investigation into this matter, together with Sungenis' views on the the conversion of the Jews, and what I would describe as a "hermeneutic of suspicion" towards Jewish converts to the Catholic faith), I wholeheartedly agree with his conclusion:

The kind of persistent, expansively negative rhetoric about and attacks on the Jewish people that appear on Robert Sungenis’ website have no legitimate place in civil discourse at all, much less under the banner “Catholic.” Certainly, there are legitimate criticisms to be made and legitimate discussions to be had regarding various “Jewish issues.” But those who persistently create and repeat the kinds of views he reiterates are manifestly not the ones to lead them. Such discussions and criticisms, if they are to have any hope of bearing godly fruit, must be led in spirit of genuine charity, humility and honesty. It is my heartfelt prayer that all those reading these words will reject the ugly and dangerous approach that demonizes the Jewish people and effectively reduces all the world’s ills to their supposed machinations and nefarious conspiracies.

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Update 9/11/06: In response to Thomas Herron

Ben Douglass has mounted a defense of Sungenis in the Against The Grain combox. And as I had predicted, it was not long before Culture Wars' Thomas Herron would rear his head. While I am reluctant to bore my readers with tedious wallowing in the muck and mire of politics and conspiracy theories, it seems that Herron deserves a brief response (and Forrest a defense). So for those who are so inclined . . . Read more!

  • Herron protests the suggestion that "Raimondo and his web site are 'left wing.'" The war on terror, or should we say the war against Islamic terrorism, has witnessed a radical merging of liberals and "paleoconservatives" (and, to some extent, the extremist fringe as well), united in opposition to the Bush administration and the Global-Zionist-Conspiracy -- hence, it should come as no suprise that the National Vanguard, the Institute for Historical Review and David Duke have all taken an interest in and promote Raimondo's work.

    Now, one could quibble whether and counterpunch are properly described as "left wing" or "right wing." In fact, I believe Michael Forrest refrains from doing so in his paper. Michael's chief concern is that Sungenis is formulating his opinions on Israel, on the Jews, on politics, from websites so far out on the fringe that hey, even the Daily Kos repudiates them.

  • "Blosser and Forrest are making the same mistakes that National Review is making in saying that any one who opposes the Iraq war is a left winger." Actually, I'm not (Herron is invited to tell me where I make such a reduction). One has only to read IHS Press' compilation Neo-Conned to see a merging of the full ideological spectrum on this matter. Besides, not even the National Review is uniform in its position on the war.
  • Forrest, contrary to his claim in the introduction, that it is legitimate to criticize Israel and Zionism, attacks everyone who opposes their policies as essentially neo-Nazis, e.g. the Christansons, whom he mentions in his piece, are retired CIA agents and know about the neocon/Zionist subversion of American foreign policy first hand. Gilead Atzmon, is an Israeli who served in the IDF now living in London, who has turned against Zionism. Mike Jones will do an article on him in the October issue of CW. Does this make them all anti-Semites?

    Mere service in the CIA does not alone an qualified expert make. See Steven Plaut's CIA Renegades Frontpagemag Sept. 29, 2005. After giving some brief reasons why Forrest finds their work suspect, he points out that the Christisons are remarkly popular and well-received among the kind of ideological circles (David Duke, Stormfront, National Vanguard, Institute for Historical Review) one would naturally be cautious about, and that Sungenis has displayed little caution in posting from these sources on CAI.

    In a talk to college students, Gilad Atzmon is reported to have said "'I'm not going to say whether it is right or not to burn down a synagogue, I can see that it is a rational act.'" [The Guardian April 17, 2005]. Atzmon, an associate of Israel Shamir, is so openly anti-semitic that he (like Shamir) has been repudicated by fellow pro-Palestinian activists as liabilities to the cause -- see Tony Greenstein's debate with Gilad Atzmon, himself denounced by Atzmon as an "'undercover Zionist agents of influence'. Greenstein confronts Atzmon for having distributed Paul Eisen's The Holocaust Wars ("which denies, in the course of defending Ernest Zundel, that there ever was a holocaust or extermination of European Jewry by the Nazis") -- Atzmon's response: "Holocaust Denial is in itself a Zionist terminology and I refuse to accept it or to use it."

    If Thomas Herron fails to see something amiss with this character, I'm at a loss. (Somehow, it does not suprise me in the least that Culture Wars will be publishing a piece on Atzmon in their October issue).

    Does this make them all anti-Semites? -- To answer Herron, no. This does not mean that all who oppose the Iraq war or are critical of Israel are anti-semitic, and Michael Forrest clearly recognizes that. He does, however, call into question what motivates some of Sungenis' "reliable sources" on this matter.

  • Herron pauses to lay into Bill Cork, Mark Shea, Sandra Meisel -- the latter whom he faults for "Judaizing", which is to say having a Jewish father, attending a Passover sedar, and baking hamentashen for Purim. Perish the thought that Sandra Meisel should judaize in such a fashion with her family.

  • Mr. Anger is a shadowy figure from Virginia and appears to be largely the creation of Chris Blosser who is always at the center of these exposes of "anti-Semitism" among conservative Catholics. . . . As I said Anger apparently attacked Sharpe over opposing the Iraq war with these books of essays but C. Blosser has taken over his blog to widen the attacks.

    Actually, from what I understand Matt circulated his expose on John Sharpe in traditionalist circles long before I ever happened across his work. I took an interest in his blog FringeWatch and collaborated on an investigative piece called IHS Press, Potential Fascist & Antisemitic Connections, Etc.: A Chronicle of Disturbing Patterns. February 27, 2006. It is not an indictment on Neo-Conned (which isn't the focus of the article, and would be too massive to tackle in a single post) but rather the ideological background and connections of the publishers, and the fact that, were this background known, good Catholic authors probably would have second thoughts about contributing to the volumes and Sharpe / Holland's publishing house. Readers can judge for themselves whether this is cause for concern.

    As for Matt, I assure you he is no literary creation but a real, live individual. Matthew currently blogs at Imlac's Journal and has recently edited a volume of short stories by Hilaire Belloc.

  • Herron pauses to lay into a number of people for their criticism of Dale Vree. You can search the archives of this blog for references to this topic, which is superflous to this post. Herron alleges that the only reason myself and others have faulted Vree is that Vree is against the war in Iraq. This is plainly not the case.

  • Herron mentions his own run-in with Stephen Hand of Stephen and I don't see eye on the Iraq war or any number of issues. Herron and Hand used to collaborate with each other, but had a parting of ways. Mr. Hand and I are mutually agreed (and came about said conclusion independently of each other) that something is more than a tad wrong with Herron and Jones' obsession with the Jews. Perhaps even Stephen Hand himself is an "undercover Zionist agent of influence."

  • Herron concludes:
    So, to sum up, I think there really is a conspiracy here to beat conservative Catholics into line on questions like total support of American-Israeli aggression in the Middle East or be smeared as a Nazi. We know who's doing this, their tactics are always the same, Lenin, Trotsky and Hitler would have applauded . . .
    Conspiracies, conspiracies, conspiracies. I suppose this will only validate Herron's prior suspicion that I'm on the payroll of Jewish capitalists, along with First Things and Crisis magazine. But somehow it is oddly fitting with the general tone and atmosphere of CAI.

    Nevertheless, I commend Ben Douglas for at least carrying on a comparatively more civil defense of Sungenis in the combox of this blog.


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