The conservative Jewish coalition Toward Tradition covered a range of weighty social topics at its conference here this week, but delighted in sponsoring a session on the political left's "intolerance."
"I think intolerance is a little mild," Jewish author Harry Stein said to the panel he moderated Monday. "What about 'the viciousness of the left?' It is amazing how furious people on the left get when you call them on this," said Mr. Stein, a former liberal who now sides with conservatives.
The conference, which was founded by Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin of Seattle and has been held every three years since 1994, ended here yesterday. It featured presentations by various prominent Jewish thinkers on the right.
It was billed, among other things, as an effort to build bridges between like-minded Jews and Christians. To that end, conference leaders presented awards to conservative Rep. Tom DeLay, Texas Republican and House majority whip, and to the Rev. Jerry Falwell. Both spoke at the event.
Since founding the group in 1991, Rabbi Lapin has spoken at many conservative Christian events. Frank Rich, the acerbic New York Times columnist, has labeled him part of "a parade of show Jews."
Such derision, it has been said, is never protested by others in the news media ?and that was the point of the forum on liberal intolerance.
Jewish thinkers who are most targeted by the left, Mr. Stein said, are their onetime friends, now often called neoconservatives. Some, such as Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute and Elliot Abrams of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, were among the conference speakers.
One panelist, Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, had written an annual "liberal hate speech" column for the paper. This year, however, his employers silenced the only conservative voice at the paper by suspending him for four months for what his editors called plagiarism.
"My depth of knowledge of intolerance of the left has deepened a little bit," Mr. Jacoby said. He wondered aloud why the national media and vocal activists are so upset when a Republican or conservative makes fun of an opponent while liberals get away with worse.
For example, he said, moviemaker Spike Lee suggested shooting gun-rights advocate Charlton Heston; leftist writer Alexander Cockburn proposed dropping a nuclear bomb on anti-Castro Cubans in Miami; actor Alec Baldwin advocated the mass murder of Republican lawmakers' families, and Washington Post writer Tom Shales said independent counsel Kenneth Starr was "pure evil."
Moreover, he added, Nina Totenberg, a National Public Radio reporter, said Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, would learn something if he acquired AIDS from a transfusion, and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo called the 1994 free election that gave the GOP control of Congress a Nazi-like event led by "Republican storm troopers."
"No one comes in for more venom than black conservatives," Mr. Jacoby said, speaking to about 200 people attending the three-day conference. "When liberals talk this way about conservatives, the media rarely notices."
The cousin of "liberal hate speech," the panelists said, is a political correctness that requires multiculturalism, "victim" politics and fact-falsifying feminism.
In recent years, even medical and counseling professions have become "virtually race and class obsessed," said Dr. Sally Satel, a psychiatrist. "Affirmative action is alive and well in medical schools."
Republican lawyer Gary Pollard of Houston said liberal activists use hate speech to cut off conservatives' funding, scare away supporters and demonize a particular issue.
Still, he said, "Point out liberal hypocrisy where you see it, because I think our best days are ahead."
Christina Hoff-Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute agreed. Despite feminist efforts in public education to change boys into something like cooperative girls, it isn't working, she said. She spoke of the "sustained effort to liberate boys from their masculinity," but noted that "the boys are not cooperating."
Such a feminist movement was accepted by the media culture based on falsified facts about male behavior and women, added Mrs. Hoff-Sommers, author of "Who Stole Feminism?" and "The War on Boys."
"The heart of feminism is a body of egregiously false information," plus constant liberal accusations against conservatives, she explained.
"Grown men can handle it, but little boys cannot," she said. "It's touching every school."
In a keynote speech, Rabbi Lapin said the main divide in American culture and politics is between religious believers and secular liberals.
That latter group, he said, believes that people are "primarily animals who occasionally do spiritual things." The result in social policy is to support state socialism ? much as a farmer would take care of his livestock on a farm.
Believers, who think people "are spiritual beings who sometimes do animal things," are conservative and take responsibility for their own actions, he said.
The conservative view, he said, is hard to sell in the face of secular liberalism, which he characterized as, "Give us your votes, and we will give you things."
The religious and conservative viewpoint makes the past and future as important as the present. It rejects the idea that "every problem is solved with money," and it gives people responsibility.
"Is it any wonder that conservatism has declined in 40 years?" he said.
He noted that the secular liberal movement somehow has remained united on its premise about people "as animals," where conservatives tend to become divided.
"We have been committed to the utter futile attempt of finding a secular avenue to conservatism," he said.
Toward Tradition, which has 10,000 regular supporters and a $550,000 annual budget, is based in Mercer Island, Wash. There, Rabbi Lapin teaches a Friday morning Torah study and twice weekly is on the syndicated talk show "Rabbi's Roundtable."
He is on the road once a month for speaking engagements.
Toward Tradition is the most religion- and morality-oriented of the nation's few conservative Jewish organizations. Others include the National Jewish Coalition, a grass-roots Republican group formed in 1985, and its think tank, the Jewish Policy Center.
Only 12 percent of the nation's voting Jews are Republicans.
Given such a small pool of Jewish religious conservatives ? which Toward Tradition estimated in 1995 to number about 160,000 nationwide ? Rabbi Lapin calls his group's work "putting up sign posts to the road back" to traditional values in America.
That mission pretty much coincides with the group's motto, a 2,000-year-old quote by one Rabbi Tarfon. He said, "It is not upon you to complete the task, but neither are you free to withdraw from it."