Catholic League president Bill Donohue, a vocal conservative voice who recently warred with The Daily Show over a "vagina manger," has infuriated prominent Jewish leaders with a private email last week to Philadelphia Rabbi Arthur Waskow.
Waskow, a progressive rabbi involved in the Jewish Renewal movement, had criticized the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in a Huffington Post op-ed for "attacking the religious freedom of millions of American women and the religious freedom of American nuns" over contraception.
Donohue responded with a note to Waskow that launched an email exchange that ended with a warning, forwarded to BuzzFeed by a source close to the rabbi, that "Jews had better not make enemies of their Catholic friends since they have so few of them" (Donohue writes that this is a saying of Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York). Donohue also includes a postscript saying, "I do not have a long nose."
Donahue also raised a recent child abuse scandal in Orthodox Jewish communities.
"You need to do something about this epidemic right now," he told Waskow, who is not Orthodox, suggesting that Jews follow the Catholic Church's reforms in dealing with clerical abuse.
In an interview with BuzzFeed, Donohue defended his words.
"Waskow is a man full of hate," he said, calling Waskow's op-ed "the kind of thing I'd expect from Bill Maher, not from a rabbi."
"Who the hell is he?" Donohue said. "I don't tell Jews what to do when they have people who are miscreants in their community."
Donohue's "long nose" comment was in reference to something Waskow said in the previous email: "Would you also suggest I keep my long Jewish nose out of some Catholic priests’ rape of Catholic children and some Catholic bishops’ protection of those priests from the law, because I’m not a Catholic? Perhaps you would." (Donohue had told him "you have stuck your nose in where you don’t belong.")
Koch, the former mayor of New York, said that he never said the quote Donohue attributes to him.
"My comments have always been about fostering good feelings between Jews and Catholics toward mutual understanding of our shared interests," Koch said in a statement. "However, I certainly do not believe that Jews, or Catholics, should be threatened for making critical remarks, nor should my name be used when doing so. While I do have a high regard for Bill, his references to me and my remarks were inappropriate and different in substance and tone than what I said on an earlier occasion. My remarks did not and do not refer to the Rabbi's comments."
Donohue told BuzzFeed that Koch "has said that many times. I just heard from Ed last week." He provided BuzzFeed with the first two emails in the exchange with Waskow.
In a statement, Waskow said “Bill Keller of the New York Times reported on Monday morning, ‘The official church has moved far enough to the right that Donohue now speaks for its mainstream.’ Now we will find out whether that includes threatening Jews for disagreeing with the Church hierarchy."
Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center, a prominent figure in the Jewish Reform movement, voiced support for Waskow in a statement, calling Donohue's email "disheartening."
"Certainly, the importance of both the health care rights of women and the social justice passion of the Catholic nuns who serve on the front lines of our neediest citizens’ struggles for economic justice deserve a more respectful response," Saperstein said.
The email exchange:
From: Catholic Lea g ue
Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2012 16:15:48 -0400
Subject: Rabbi Waskow
Your latest snide attack on the Catholic Church (“Whose Religious Freedom Is Under Attack”) exhibits appalling ignorance. The issue is not contraception—it is the right of a religious institution not to be forced to pay for services it deems immoral. In other words, the First Amendment is in play. Indeed, the Obama administration is redefining what qualifies as a Catholic organization as any entity that hires and serves mostly people of its own religion. Would you prefer that we discriminate against non-Catholics in our social service agencies, hospitals and schools?
Moreover, since when is it the business of any religious leader to condemn the strictures of another religion? You are not only clueless about the situation concerning nuns, you have stuck your nose in where you don’t belong.
From: Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Date: Tue, 12 Jun 2012 18:30:59 -0400
To: Catholic League
Subject: Re: The Catholic League, Bishops, the Nuns, & Women
(In your letter (which I have included below), you say you are concerned about where my nose is.
Here is where my nose is, and where it belongs:
Tens of thousands of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu women work for or study at various Catholic-sponsored universities and hospitals that involve and hire them -- and that receive my/ our tax money. (They are quite different from fully religious Catholic institutions, like churches, dioceses, or the NCCB, that do NOT receive tax money.)
Many many of those women who are hired by or are students of these tax-supported non-religious institutions need contraception, but can’t afford it without insurance.
They are being pressured by -- not your Church, since most of the nuns utterly disagree and they too are part of your Church, thanks be to God -- but by your NCCB, to forego contraception because they can’t afford it without insurance.
And they are being pressured even though the President has agreed that the cost of that insurance will NOT come from the pockets of the Catholic hierarchy or these Catholic-sponsored institutions.
Those women are my business. All of them, including the Catholic women who in shaping their own religious consciences (did you know that women are capable of doing that?) have concluded that contraception is ethical and moral.
Would you also suggest I keep my long Jewish nose out of some Catholic priests’ rape of Catholic children and some Catholic bishops’ protection of those priests from the law, because I’m not a Catholic? Perhaps you would.
In any case, the last I heard, God is ONE, and I try to live by that principle. That means I am obligated to act when any person or institution (of any religion) is perpetrating injustice on anyone (of any religion).
Blessings to you of sharing, shalom, and salaam; of healing and wholeness --
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Ph. D.
All of those non-Catholics who work at Catholic centers are free to leave whenever they find our strictures disagreeable. What they are not free to do is to demand that Catholic institutions make reforms that suit them. The very demand is despotic.
You unwittingly make my point about the Obama administration: they are telling Catholic entities that they are not really Catholic if they hire and serve people of other faiths. In other words, if we discriminate, we’re okay. Amazing logic.
Contraception is free from Planned Parenthood for anyone who can’t afford it, so your position implodes.
Since you are interested in the subject of rape, I hope you are following the unbelievable explosion of child rape in the Orthodox Jewish community and the intimidation—by family members—of victims. The pressure put on the D.A. to deep six these rapes is sickening. You need to do something about this epidemic right now. Suggestion: follow the reforms of the Catholic Church and you won’t have these problems.
Ed Koch, my friend, once said that Jews had better not make enemies of their Catholic friends since they have so few of them. Think about that the next time you feel compelled to attack my religion.
P.S. I do not have a long nose
Update 6/21: Donohue has responded on the Catholic League website, and identified the Ed Koch quote that he misquoted in his email to Waskow:
My comment about Ed Koch saying Jews should not make enemies with their Catholic friends was a summation of Mayor Koch’s statement made in January before a Jewish audience [click here]: “We’re 13 million Jews in the whole world—less than one-tenth of 1 percent. And we need allies. The best ally we can have is the Catholic Church.” On January 30, I publicly commended him for his remark [click here], adding, “The Catholic League is proud to stand with the Jewish community in this time of unrelenting attacks on both Catholics and Jews.” I also said that Ed Koch was “one of the greatest friends that Catholics have ever had.”
Donohue finishes by writing that "It should be obvious that Rabbi Waskow has a Catholic problem."