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When ‘j’accuse’ is just a smear

The false, malicious attacks on the Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass

July 28, 2020

5:08 PM

28 July 2020

5:08 PM

Last week, the Chicago Tribune’s most prominent writer, John Kass, wrote a column decrying the rise in urban violence. Its compelling title: ‘Something grows in the big cities run by Democrats: an overwhelming sense of lawlessness.’

In today’s woke world, it is risky to speak such hard truths about gang shootings, unprosecuted shoplifting, looting, carjackings and more. This rising lawlessness is often cloaked in the language of protest, racial justice and income equality. Speaking out against it runs real risks. You might be doxxed, your home tagged with graffiti, or your family threatened. If you are a columnist, like John Kass, you might face ostracism from left-wing colleagues, attacks by the reporters’ union, and concessions to the mob by your paper’s editor, Colin McMahon.

The dispute began when the union representing Tribune writers (of which Kass is not a member) decided to go after him, full-bore. Their false charge was…wait for it…Kass’s column was anti-Semitic. Why? Because Kass noted that a major accelerant of urban violence has been the weak response by public officials, especially state and local prosecutors. Some of those prosecutors won office as part of a progressive political movement, specifically focused on winning control of prosecutors’ offices. That quiet movement had met with a lot of electoral success. One of its major supporters and funders is George Soros. Soros’s family background is Jewish.

Kass’s column highlighted Soros’s role, but never mentioned Soros’s religion, never said anything about Jews as prosecutors or donors, and, to my ear, contained no anti-Semitic dog whistles. I have checked with a number of others who are actively engaged in defending Jews from verbal and physical attacks, and they have confirmed my reading. They, too, saw nothing anti-Semitic in Kass’s column. Many have spoken out publicly, defending him.


A few progressive Jews did see things they didn’t like in the column. They have highlighted two: funding for prosecutors was ‘under the radar’ (as Kass put it) and the column attributed too much control to donors and not enough to the prosecutors themselves.

Jews are understandably sensitive about both issues since they echo age-old attacks: rich Jews control everything behind the scenes, using their vast, untold money. Those charges have been poisonous undercurrents of European anti-Semitism for centuries. Jews have died because of them — in the millions in the 20th century — and it is not surprising that their co-religionists worry about such allusions today. That vigilance is essential. What’s reckless and wrong is to smear a specific individual for a column that did nothing of the kind.

Kass’s column made several major points: 

  • Cities have suffered from a major rise in crime
  • Almost all those cities are controlled by Democrats
  • Poor neighborhoods have suffered most from rising lawlessness and will continue to suffer most
  • ‘Justice Democrat’ prosecutors have made matters worse by refusing to crack down on crime against persons and property
  • These prosecutors were elected as part of a progressive political movement; and
  • George Soros, in particular, has focused on electing these prosecutors and devoted a lot of campaign financing to the project

You can debate any of those, but you cannot debate a political columnist’s right to say them plainly without facing charges of religious bigotry.

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Yes, it would be possible to repackage those points in an anti-Semitic screed. That’s not an imaginary danger is today’s venomous politics, where anti-Semitism has risen on both the left and right, in both America and Europe.

The dangers are real, but John Kass did not contribute to them. He shouldn’t be attacked for something he did not do. It’s perfectly fine to debate the substance of his arguments. It’s perfectly despicable to smear the writer with bogus charges.


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