Dubbed “The Prince of Darkness” by friends and admirers because of his trademark pessimism, the late Bob Novak ranked among the more influential journalists of the past half-century. He supported America’s efforts in the Cold War, which he rightfully viewed as an “epochal struggle” aimed at defending nothing less monumental than “our values” as a civilization. As such, Novak influenced many up-and-coming, young journalists, and since his death on August 18, he has been eulogized by friends and co-workers alike for his weighty literary contributions. But the Prince of Darkness did indeed have a very dark side whose shadow extended far beyond mere pessimism, and which merits some serious scrutiny.
Perhaps the most obvious flaw for which Novak can rightfully be criticized was his consistent failure to comprehend the sadistic nature of, and the mortal threat posed by, Islamic terrorists around the world -- including Hamas and Hezbollah. Consider, for example, a November 2001 exchange on CNN between Novak and Time magazine’s Margaret Carlson. After Carlson had criticized Palestinians for “throw[ing] bombs into pizza parlors and cafes and discos,” and had made reference to a then-recent Israeli killing of “a senior official of Hamas [who was], himself, a terrorist,” Novak replied: “Well, why do you call him a terrorist? I mean, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” Novak then characterized the fallen Hamas figure as a leader whose people who were simply “trying to get their own land.” When Carlson retorted that Novak was “the only person who would call Hamas freedom fighters,” Novak shot back: “Oh, no; people all over the world do.”
In a 2007 article titled “Hamas Calling for Peace,” Novak related the details of a sit-down interview he recently had conducted in the Ramallah office of Hamas leader Nasser al-Shaer, education minister and deputy prime minister of the Palestinian Authority’s new coalition government. Assuring his readers that al-Shaer was “no [mere] fringe character,” Novak wrote that the Hamas official “pushed a two-state Israeli-Palestinian solution,” “deplored suicide bombers,” and genuinely wanted to cultivate “a sustained peace” with Israel. But Hamas’s olive branch, Novak lamented, was being obstinately rejected by “Bush administration officials” who “seemingly do not want to hear Hamas calling for peace.” He derided not only “the economic boycott that has devastated the Palestinian Authority” since Hamas had taken control of the PA, but also the policy mandating that “U.S. government officials and contract workers in the Israeli-occupied territories must leave when anybody from Hamas enters a room … [s]ince the State Department lists Hamas as a terrorist organization …” Novak quite deliberately stopped short of calling Hamas a terrorist outfit, going only so far as to dub it an “extremist organization.”
But as far as Novak was concerned, there was evidently nothing precluding such “extremists” from being viable partners with whom one could negotiate for peace. Somehow, he was able to turn a blind eye to a document of whose existence he was surely aware – the Hamas Founding Charter which spells out, in great detail, the organization’s agendas – declaring in no uncertain terms:
“Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it; “[t]here is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad”; “[i]nitiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors”; and “[o]ur struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious … [and] should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized.”
The Charter also cites reverently the Koranic passage that proclaims: “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jew, when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
It is impossible to logically reconcile the foregoing statements, which have been central elements of the Hamas Charter since the organization’s inception, with the notion that Israel would be well-advised to reach out to Hamas as a potential partner in peace.
Novak’s assessment of longtime PLO leader Yasser Arafat was similarly fraught with delusion. He viewed Arafat, a protégé of the Communist bloc and the most prolific Jew-killer since Adolph Hitler, as someone who could be trusted to bargain in good faith, and who would be “willing to accept” a Jewish state as a legitimate, sovereign entity. The chief obstacle to peace, Novak maintained, was not Arafat at all; rather, it was Ariel Sharon: “As long as you have general Sharon as prime minister of Israel,” said Novak, you’ll never make any progress.” When his adversary in a debate told him, “[A]s long as Arafat is there -- Arafat, who would not accept peace in his hands -- there will never be peace,” Novak said: “Well, that isn’t true.”
Novak simply did not appreciate the fact that Arafat was irrevocably committed to Israel’s destruction, as was evidenced beyond any doubt by his rejection of the Oslo Accords even after the Ehud Barak government had offered to meet 97 percent of his demands, including the once-unthinkable concession of turning over parts of Jerusalem to Palestinian control. Novak somehow managed to dismiss the fact that after Oslo, Arafat stole billions of dollars in international aid and used it not for the improvement of Palestinian schools, hospitals, roads, and social services, but rather to fund his terror war against Israel -- and to enrich himself and his political loyalists with vast fortunes stashed in personal bank accounts overseas. Novak also managed to overlook the fact that Arafat was the first national leader since Hitler to set up an education system designed specifically to inculcate its children with the ambition to murder as many members of an ethnic or religious group as they possibly could.
Novak presumably did not think it relevant that Arafat had coordinated countless terrorist attacks with Hamas, whose founder Ahmed Yassin – a man personally responsible for the murders of at least 300 Israeli civilians – was characterized by Arafat as “our dear, dear, dear, dear friend.” Nor was Novak’s worldview influenced by the fact that during the decade that followed September 9, 1993 -- the day Arafat signed the Oslo agreement wherein he pledged to thenceforth forswear terrorism -- Palestinians carried out approximately 28,000 terror attacks. Nearly half of those were perpetrated by Arafat’s own Fatah organization, and the rest by such Arafat allies as Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Tanzim, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hezbollah, and others.
As much as Novak showed himself to be a flawed judge of character when it came to foreign Jew-haters like Hamas and Arafat, his judgment of domestic anti-Semites was no better. In 1997, for instance, he penned a series of columns urging the Republican Party to pursue some type of political alliance with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Farrakhan, you may recall, is well known for his virulent hatred of the Jewish “bloodsuckers” and “wicked deceivers” who had “raped and robbed” black people since the days of the transatlantic slave trade. But Novak nonetheless praised the self-help program that Farrakhan was promoting, and said that the NOI leader “seemed [to be] a man attempting to transcend his past” and “knocking on the GOP’s door.” A Republican alliance with Farrakhan, said Novak, could have “vast future implications” that would help the party over the long haul.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 gave Novak yet another occasion to demonstrate his inability to come to terms with Islamic terrorism. In a column titled “This is No Pearl Harbor,” published two days after the attacks, Novak wrote: “Security experts and airline officials agree privately that the simultaneous hijacking of four jetliners was an ‘inside job,’ probably indicating complicity beyond malfeasance…. At a minimum, the blame can be put on ill-trained, incompetent personnel performing the screening of passengers. At the worst, security experts fear collusion with terrorists, possibly even extending to the cockpit. This is a subject that the airlines are loath to discuss.”
At the heart of the motives underlying the 9/11 Islamic terror attacks, Novak saw an Israeli connection: “Unlike Nazi Germany's and Imperial Japan's drive for a new world order, … the hatred toward the U.S. by the terrorists is an extension of its hatred of Israel rather than world dominion.” He quoted the private intelligence company Stratfor.com’s assertion that “the big winner” on 9/11, “intentionally or not, is the state of Israel” – the implication being that, chiefly because of America’s relationship with Israel -- a relationship that had antagonized most of the Arab world for decades -- the U.S. would now be suckered into a large-scale conflict with some of Israel’s most significant enemies in the Middle East. “The United States and Israel,” said Novak, “are brought ever closer in a way that cannot improve long-term U.S. policy objectives.”
As the March 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq approached, Novak again suggested that had it not been for Israel, no war would be necessary at all. In a December 2002 column titled “Sharon’s War?” he wrote that then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon “leaves no doubt that the greatest U.S. assistance to Israel would be to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime. That view is widely shared inside the Bush administration, and is a major reason U.S. forces today are assembling for war.”
Novak consistently got it wrong with regard to Israel. When Israel and Lebanon-based Hezbollah were engaged in a fevered war during the summer of 2006, for instance, Novak wrote that under normal circumstances, the “Israeli air attacks on Qana in Lebanon [which killed] at least 28 people including 19 children” would have “threatened Israel with an American public relations calamity.” But to his chagrin, the story of this incident “soon was eclipsed on cable television and front pages of many newspapers by actor Mel Gibson’s [recent] drunken anti-Semitic rant.” Added Novak:
“The attention by much of the news media turned from Lebanon to Gibson attempting an apology sufficiently abject to satisfy the Anti-Defamation League. Only a conspiracy theorist might claim this was an intentional escape route for American politicians to avoid a possible Israeli atrocity, but it certainly served that purpose. Washington remains largely a bipartisan, criticism-free zone for Israel.”
Novak was unsparing in his condemnations of Israel. In a 2007 column titled “Worse than Apartheid,” he asserted that the separation barrier that Israel had constructed to halt the influx of Palestinian terrorists from the West Bank was, “in most places … a big, ugly and intimidating wall, not merely a fence.” He further contended that the Palestinians who lived behind that wall suffered hardships even worse than those that had afflicted black South Africans living under oppressive white rule.
Apart from ignoring the fact that the squalor of Palestinians was entirely the result of the corrupt, terrorist government under which they lived, Novak’s assessment also ignored the context of the terrorism in response to which the barrier had been constructed.
Even with regard to the physical characteristics of the barrier, Novak got it wrong. Contrary to his claim, less than 3 percent of the barrier actually takes the form of a high concrete wall – a necessity in those places, so as to ensure Palestinian snipers hailing from the terrorist breeding grounds of Kalkilya and Tul Karm could not shoot at cars along the heavily traveled Trans-Israel Highway. As the Jewish Virtual Library points out, the rest of the barrier is “a chain-link type fence combined with underground and long-range sensors, unmanned aerial vehicles, trenches, landmines and guard paths.”
For all his merits as a journalist and a devoted Cold Warrior, the “Prince of Darkness” had a major flaw: his inability – or was it his stubborn refusal? – to distinguish genocidal Islamists from partners in peace. He routinely blamed Israel for the ongoing Mideast conflict, while turning a deaf ear to the murderous pronouncements of those whose chief objective was to destroy the Jewish state by any means necessary.