When four leading luminaries of the Jewish conservative media got together for a panel discussion on Dec. 9, it featured the standard fare: rousing rhetoric and cautionary tales of left-wing excess.
But there was one moment during the panel, held at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, where even a dyed-in-the-wool liberal (and there were few in the packed crowd) might get a lump in his throat.
During the question-and-answer session, a young woman — her voice barely audible — asked the panelists if turning to God would help the Jews in Israel survive. The panelist who responded was Dennis Prager, a radio personality and religious Jew.
Prager, who has the mellifluous pipes of a late-night DJ, said the honest answer was that he didn’t know.
“God’s record on protecting his faithful is a mixed one,” Prager continued. “God was put on trial by the rabbis of Auschwitz … and he was found guilty.
“But do you know what happened right after the verdict?” Prager asked. “I’ll tell you. They started praying. And to me, that’s where the true beauty of Judaism lies, in its ability for renewal even under the most dire circumstances.”
The rest of the evening was — despite the ancient bromide about four Jews having eight opinions — relatively uncontentious.
President Bush was lauded by author Mona Charen as the “most pro-Israel president in history.” Nonetheless, Charen likened the recent Annapolis peace talks to a “Peanuts” cartoon, with the Bush administration, like Charlie Brown, foolishly attempting to kick an elusive football called “peace” that was being held in place by a vacillating and dishonest Palestinian government.
John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine, concurred, calling the peace talks farcical from the onset. He made special note of Syria’s representative — the deputy foreign minister — who, according to Podhoretz, spent the entire affair “quaking in his shoes that people would ask him to say anything about anything.”
“He succeeded,” Podhoretz concluded. “He said nothing.”
Podhoretz also lambasted Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as the “weakest and least popular president in Israeli history.”
Talk show host Michael Medved jumped on the bandwagon by adding that Olmert’s popularity rating was about 3 percent — with a margin of error of about three points.
There were a few occasions when the talk — sponsored by the Jewish Policy Center, a Washington, D.C., think tank — went off on some curious tangents.
Prager, for example, said that one of the main obstacles to intelligent leadership was higher education, which he believed facilitates the “age of stupidity” that currently characterizes the American political and cultural landscape.
Prager launched into a diatribe against gender theorists who eschew any talk about inherent differences between the sexes. He cited the example of Harvard President Lawrence Summers, who was fired after making what some people claimed were misogynistic remarks about women’s mathematical abilities.
“The brains of boys and girls function differently,” Prager said. “Give a boy a truck, and he’ll play with it. Give a girl a truck and she’ll give it a name and take care of it.”
Prager’s comment was echoed by Medved, who recalled that his infant son was given a Barbie doll “which he tried to shoot like a gun.”
The candidates for president largely escaped commentary, with the exception of Hillary Clinton, the subject of Podhoretz’s book “Can She be Stopped?” Another notable exception was Mitt Romney, who received kudos from Prager.
Prager commented that Romney’s recent speech attempting to assuage fears about his Mormon faith resonated with profoundly American themes. The big concern, according to Prager, was that Romney’s faith was hugely problematic for evangelical Christians, who Prager said view Mormons the same way Jews view Jews for Jesus.
“I really hope the evangelical community can see beyond that,” Prager said, adding that Romney’s faith might have a salutary effect on the “age of stupidity.”
“There is no wisdom to be found in secularism,” Prager said.