I never met Robert Novak, wasn't influenced by him, and, truth be told, didn't much read his column or see him on TV. I was mainly aware of him as a very famous conservative columnist marked by a reflexive and implacable hostility to Israel. I learned only today at DebbieSchlussel.com that he also had a shocking affinity for Hamas. Having passed away, he is now the subject of quite unstinting appreciations from fellow conservatives, even those who are known for their strong support for Israel.
Particularly when it comes to media figures, it is not "speaking ill of the dead" to discuss their passionately, publicly argued opinions. Why is Novak's support for Hamas now overlooked by so many of his peers?
Here, from a November 24, 2001 episode of the "Capital Gang" noted by Debbie Schlussel, is a stretch of transcript in which Novak's characteristic animosity toward Israel is combined with expressions of support for Hamas. Background: The night before the show, Israeli forces killed Hamas mastermind Abu Hanoud, whose involvement in the massacres of Israeli civilians extended to the infamous Sbarro pizza parlor and the Dolphinarium disco attacks. The assassination took place after then-SecState Powell had given a speech calling on "both sides" in the so-called Middle East peace process to work toward a "viable" Palestinian state.
From the show:
SHIELDS: Bob Novak?
NOVAK: Can you imagine the audacity? Secretary Powell makes a very balanced speech, says they both have to do things, recognize each other's existence. Prime Minister Sharon says, yes, that's fine. Immediately the next day they have this attack on Hamas targeting, as they've been targeting ever since he came in as prime minister, people to be killed.
NOVAK: Now, the question all over the Middle East is: Is the United States going to take this conduct by Israel lying down, or are they going to say this is unacceptable behavior? And the one thing that was very disappointing about the secretary's speech was he didn't criticize the Sharon line that you have to have seven days without violence before he'll sit down to even talk with the Palestinians. You can't have seven days without violence if the Israelis are going to start the provocation. ...
Remember the mass murderer Novak is talking about. Even Al Hunt has to say something:
HUNT: ... And Bob, it wasn't just the Israelis, it was also the Palestinians ...
Now Kate O'Beirne:
O'BEIRNE: Mark, this week Colin Powell called on the Palestinians to remove any doubt that they don't support the right of Israel to exist. It's not a question about which there's any doubt. The PLO explicitly does not accept Israel's right to exist.
Barak, Sharon's predecessor, called Arafat's bluff. He was willing to give more than Arafat ever dreamed he would get -- share governing of Jerusalem. And Arafat either couldn't our wouldn't deliver. So why he remains the head of the PLO -- he apparently can't deliver, and he can't keep down violence or -- as I said, he plays a role in -- or doesn't want to.
Powell also talked to the intifada which, we should remember, Arafat launched last year. He said it's self-defeating violence. Well, we've got to make darn clear that it's self-defeating. All of a sudden this administration's talking about supporting a Palestinian state. They flirt with the notion that terrorism, used as a negotiating tool, does work.
And after September 11, it seems to me, it should be harder and harder for us to urge Israelis to have this incredible restraint when civilians are routinely attacked. Every Israeli family has a gas mask in their home. And they've now slipped into Israel and killed a Cabinet secretary.
NOVAK: I think -- well, of course, the Israelis have been killing all kinds of leaders in the Palestinian movement. But I think...
O'BEIRNE: It was self-defense.
NOVAK: Oh, self-defense? It's an attack.
I can't imagine, Al, anybody worse than Sharon. I mean, the idea that he's a good guy is just part of the propaganda.
But I am just amazed -- I am always amazed how American conservatives can get involved in this absolutely mindless support of the transigent (ph) Israeli policy. And there's one other thing...
O'BEIRNE: They just don't have a right to exist.
NOVAK: No, it...
NOVAK: The thing that General Powell said, which I think is exactly correct, is that the Israelis have to accept a Palestinian state. And they -- and Sharon won't do that, and either will his friends in this country. And that is the main thing that's holding up the whole process.
And he's just warming up. Now Margaret Carlson:
CARLSON: The Palestinians throw bombs into pizza parlors and cafes and discos. They killed a civilian yesterday. The Israelis killed a senior official of Hamas [Abu Hanoud]. He is, himself, a terrorist.
NOVAK: Well, why do you call him a terrorist? I mean, one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.
NOVAK: They're trying to get their own land in the...
CARLSON: Bob, you're the only people (sic) -- you're the only person who would call Hamas freedom fighters.
NOVAK: Oh, no; people all over the world do.
Sure, "people" in Gaza City, Tehran and Damascus and caves in Af-Pak, along with the dense Pali enclaves of Paris, London and Fort Lauderdale. The question is, how does this significant aspect of Novak's political makeup -- repeated over time -- get lost in all the lionizing? At least in the early reactions I have seen, it is as if it has been erased from the record. As far as many conservatives go, to-the-hilt support for a jihad group dedicated to the eradication of Israel just doesn't count for anything at all in the end.