WASHINGTON, D.C. — Despite — or perhaps as a result of — repeated charges of anti-Semitism aimed at Republican presidential hopeful Patrick Buchanan and his campaign, the commentator-turned-politician has named an Orthodox rabbi as one of the co-chairs of his presidential bid.
Jewish communal officials seem to know little about Rabbi Yehuda Levin, and the ones who have heard his name respond dismissively, saying he rarely crosses paths with officials or organizations in New York's Jewish community. Levin does not lead a congregation and has "hardly any supporters," according to an official who asked to remain nameless.
An Orthodox rabbi from Brooklyn who has run for mayor and Congress on the Big Apple's Right-to-Life ticket, Levin was one of three rabbis in the greater New York area who backed former President Ronald Reagan's trip to the German war cemetery in Bittberg in 1985 and who condemned author and Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel for his public criticism of the president, according to Anti-Defamation League accounts.
An ardent opponent of abortion and homosexuality, Levin touts "family values" and is associated with organizations in close touch with the Christian right, like Jews for Morality, the Jewish Coalition for Traditional American Values, the Family Defense Council and the Family Defense Coalition, which he founded.
In 1993, Rabbi Levin agreed to distribute the Christian Coalition's school board election voter guides to "several hundred" synagogues and rabbis — a voter guide developed by the Rev. Pat Robertson to support religious right candidates who favored prayer in schools and abstinence-only sex education, according to ADL reports.
ADL literature, compiled from newspaper articles between 1985 and 1995, portrayed Levin as "often an apologist for anti-Semitism." He signed "an ad in the Montreal Gazette for Human Life International…that denied the international anti-choice organization's notorious anti-Semitism [which includes references to the participation of Jewish doctors in `the greatest holocaust in all history, the abortion holocaust']."
"I'm trying to get traditional Christian America to realize that the traditional Jewish community is a bulwark for the issues they're fighting for in the culture wars," Levin was quoted as saying in a Feb. 23 issue of the Jewish Week in New York.
"I believe we have been hidden from view by the Jewish establishment," Levin said. "And I don't mean to pat myself on the back, but I feel I'm on the cutting edge of making these connections."
Jewish leaders have pointed to Buchanan as the only candidate thus far to avoid all outreach to the Jewish community, according to the Jewish Week. In fact, Levin's contact with the presidential hopeful has been only "sporadic.
"I think, for the last couple of years he has been pursuing the presidency, and his interest is greater America," Levin told the Jewish Week of Buchanan. "He's not interested in solving his problems with the Jews."
In an effort to explain some controversial statements of Buchanan's, such as his 1990 questioning of the extent of the Holocaust, Levin said, "It's 45, 50 years after the war already. It's in the books. It's another war. And there were other wars where people were killed and murdered.
"Just like the white man in America doesn't want to be told…and have it pushed on us about how in a way our founding fathers enslaved the black people, I understand that many Christian Americans feel the Holocaust was terrible, but they don't want it to become a special role. There's almost a bit of penance involved.
"I'd say this is a lack of education or sensitivity," Levin said. "But I wouldn't call it anti-Semitism if he rises up and says he doesn't support Holocaust education."
Levin insisted in the article that he had "not seen anything that remotely resembles an anti-Jewish attitude in dealing with Buchanan's campaign or the people surrounding him." The rabbi said he would rate Buchanan "somewhere between uneducated and not sensitive" in his stance toward Jews.
"But that's a far cry from anti-Semitic," he said. "Not educated means he's educable. And he can be made to be sensitive."