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February 19, 2021 12:04 pm
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The Jewish Debate About Rush Limbaugh

avatar by Jonathan S. Tobin / JNS.org

Opinion

Rush Limbaugh gives an introductory speech before US President Donald Trump’s remarks at the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. December 21, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

JNS – In this most partisan moment in living memory, everything — including and perhaps most especially — the deaths of famous people, are perceived through a political lens and provide fodder for abusive exchanges on Twitter. So it comes as little surprise that the passing of conservative talk-radio icon Rush Limbaugh, who spent his career engaging in no-holds-barred polemics, would trigger an overheated debate about his life and work. For conservatives, Limbaugh, who turned talk radio into a vital part of American politics, was a hero and a source of inspiration. For liberals, he was a despicable person whose death has inspired many of his detractors literally to wish they could dance on his grave.

Equally unsurprising is that American Jews and Israelis are just as divided about him.

Conservatives are lauding his consistent support for Israel and philo-Semitism. Liberals say that praise for a man who said abusive things about minorities and women is a disgrace. The fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent condolences to Limbaugh’s family sent some on the left off the deep end with one writing in Haaretz that this courtesy was spitting in the faces of President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party. When columnist Caroline Glick tweeted that the deceased was an “angel” who should rest in peace, it set off an exchange with historian Daniel Gordis. He responded with an article in which he claimed via a lengthy Talmudic lesson that Limbaugh was a model of “impure” speech that Jews should reject.

Gordis deplores the all-or-nothing view of the issues, which in a Jewish context can mean that anyone who is a friend of Israel automatically gets a pass for anything else they did. As a general rule, he’s right to deplore political discourse discussed only in absolutes. But to use this as the only lens through which we view Limbaugh is a bit misleading. The reason why he’s important enough to inspire all of these arguments is that his impact was about more than just a few catchphrases or the examples that his detractors always cite as evidence for his bad character. If, as even some of his foes admit, Limbaugh revolutionized not just radio but political commentary, it’s worth understanding why the question of his support for Israel is not merely one of conservatives giving a get-out-of-jail-free card to a political ally.

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