“You are my rabbi,” said the caller who claimed to be a Methodist. “Good,” said the talk show host, “Everybody needs a rabbi.”
This is no shock jock being irreverent — he’s a real rabbi. But make no mistake, this is no jolly rebbe kvetching about marrying a nice Jewish boy, nor a lefty Jew talking about justice, diversity, and the Holocaust. He’s Daniel Lapin, dubbed “the show rabbi of the Christian right” by the New York Times. And now he’s a San Francisco talker, Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. on right-wing radio station KSFO.
But Lapin’s more than a front man. He’s a faith-based political operative who was deeply implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandals when Lapin’s nonprofit, Toward Tradition, was exposed as one of a cluster of tax-exempt organizations through which Abramoff secretly routed tribal Indian and other gambling clients’ funds to an aide to Rep. Tom DeLay in return for favorable legislation.
According to news reports published as recently as last month, Abramoff’s nonprofit money-laundering operations are still under investigation. “It’s not a tax-exempt activity to act as a bagman for Jack Abramoff,” Marcus S. Owens, a tax lawyer and former IRS official, told the Washington Post in June.
The Post piece claims Lapin introduced Abramoff to deposed GOP House leader Tom DeLay, a social feat of epic political proportions. Lapin wrote in a letter to supporters after the scandal broke, “Although I have no clear recollection of having formally introduced them, it is certainly possible.”
Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has called Lapin his “spiritual adviser,” and white supremacist David Duke wrote, “There are so few honest voices like that of Rabbi Lapin.”
A rabbi without a congregation, the 59-year-old Lapin gave up his Seattle talk show in February. He’d been filling in for other KSFO hosts and began his show in April, broadcasting from a Seattle studio. Although Lapin denies it, observers opine that he moved to the Bay Area for a fresh start after national publicity about the Abramoff scandals made him radioactive in Seattle.
Toward Tradition has reportedly fallen on hard times after postscandal donations tanked. Lapin has given up his offices, laid off staff, and works out of his home on Mercer Island, a wealthy suburban enclave outside Seattle. He founded Toward Tradition with film critic and neocon radio talker Michael Medved and Abramoff in the early 1990s. The disgraced lobbyist joined the board and served a few terms as chairman. Lapin calls his organization a coalition of Jews and conservative Christians dedicated to faith-based American principles of constitutional and limited government, the rule of law, representative democracy, free markets, a strong military, and a moral public culture.
Until his recent problems, Toward Tradition allowed Lapin to pay himself a $165,000 annual salary, according to a 2003 IRS filing. He also fetched high speaker’s fees and right-wing Christian street cred that’s taken him to the George W. Bush White House for Shabbat dinners and the speaker’s podium at the 1996 Republican National Convention.
Lapin has been a conduit between the GOP and the fundamentalist “values” crowd, but was also directly involved in Republican fundraising. Newsweek reported last year, “When fundraising began for Bush’s re-election effort, Rabbi Daniel Lapin . . . urged friends and colleagues to steer campaign checks to Bush via Abramoff.” For his loyalty, Bush appointed Lapin to the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which helps protect cemeteries, monuments, and historic buildings in eastern and central Europe. He recently resigned from this post.
Although Lapin can be tedious on the radio, he’s charismatic one-on-one and on the stump. A striking figure in expensive dark suits, bright ties, meticulous ear-to-ear rabbinical beard, and bald pate usually covered with a yarmulke, he is a tall, lanky, ascetic presence.
His mission, as stated on his Web site, is “standing astride America’s secular path to decline, decadence, and depravity.” But his version of Judeo-Christianity looks like a right-wing Republican wish list. Lapin believes that currency and capital markets are revelations granted by God to the Jews and passed on to Christians.
As a man of God, he not only supports stable marriages, family life, faithfulness, and integrity, but (along, he says, with God) favors tax cuts, property rights, sodomy laws, school prayers, school vouchers, arranged marriages, and elimination of government social programs. He opposes promiscuity, abortion, homosexuality, welfare, crime, funding for the arts, gun control, environmental laws, and black people giving their kids “funny” names.
“Recycling,” Lapin told the Guardian, “is the sacred sacrament of secularism.” He told KSFO listeners recently that saying a prayer over your dead pets is sick and bizarre.
According to Lapin’s writings, Terri Schiavo’s death was a “premeditated murder-plot,” and he’s said on the radio that living wills are “suicide notes.” Tattoos, birth control, piercings, abortions, and assisted suicide are all sinful because, as he told the Guardian, it’s not your body, thank you very much, you’re only a tenant. And tenants, in Lapin’s view, have no rights, especially when it comes to moving or evictions.
Lapin also crusades against homosexuality and is a headliner and co-organizer, with virulent Seattle homophobe Rev. Ken Hutcherson, of the effective, antigay Mayday for Marriage rallies, one of which drew some 150,000 supporters to the Mall in Washington, DC, just before the 2004 elections. He makes appearances on the pulpit of Hutcherson’s megachurch near Seattle and they’re jointly involved in other political activities. (Hutcherson is the evangelical who bullied Microsoft in 2005 into withdrawing support for a gay rights bill before the Washington State Legislature, which effectively killed it.)
There was comic relief at hearings last year before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee provided by e-mails between Lapin and Abramoff, and read by North Dakota senator Byron Dorgan. Abramoff asked Lapin to help him sex up a résumé to help him get into Washington’s exclusive Cosmos Club, whose membership includes Nobel Prize winners and establishment elites.
“Most prospective members have received awards and I have received none,” Abramoff complained, going on to say, “It would be even better, if it were possible, that I received these in years past, if you know what I mean.”
Lapin apparently knew what he meant, writing, “Yes, I just need to know what needs to be produced . . . letters? Plaques? Neither?”
Lapin wrote in a letter to supporters that it was merely a “jocular interchange” that he regrets, but Abramoff later used Toward Tradition’s award of “Scholar of Talmudic Studies” in serious applications, according to investigators.
Lapin also leads an organization called the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, which seems to exist only as a page on his Web site. Its board of advisers shows the company he keeps, such far-right luminaries as James Dobson, the current Christian right’s front man; the scandal-tainted Gary Bauer, a failed 2000 presidential candidate; the came-to-Jesus Watergate convict Charles “Tex” Colson; Michael Medved; and preachers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, whose wacky prophecies and laughable gaffes of the last few years have rendered them useless as national spokesmen for the evangelical right. It also includes hard-right orthodox rabbis like Barry Freundel, David Novak, and Meir Soloveichik.
Many Jews are nervous about such lovey-dovey political alliances with the Christian fundamentalists, considering many evangelicals don’t believe God even answers Jewish prayers. To born-agains, Jews will burn in hell if they don’t accept Jesus as their personal savior. Their support of Israel is not born of Christian love, but of Book of Revelation end-world myths that say Jews must control Israel for Christ to come back.
Lapin reassures Jews that despite evangelicals’ having been some of the most persistent anti-Semites in the past, they are the Jews’ natural allies. “I do not fear a Christian America,” he was quoted as saying in an Eastside Weekly article. “I fear a post-Christian America.”
So why does David Duke — the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard turned Republican congressional candidate — like Lapin? Good question, since Duke’s Christian Identity beliefs hold that Jews are “the children of Satan.” This does not look good on a Judeo-Christian résumé.
In an essay that ran in the Orthodox paper Jewish Press in January, Lapin denounced the silly 2004 movie Meet the Fockers, which starred his old friend Barbra Streisand. He compared its Jewish producers (and such Jews as Howard Stern) with the Jews producing Berlin theater in Weimar Germany, with their “deviant sexuality in all its sordid manifestations.” Lapin quoted Adolf Hitler (the leading voice on “values” of his day) charging that these Jews were responsible for “nine-tenths of all literary filth, artistic trash, and theatrical idiocy.” Apparently, Jews were practically begging to be hauled off to the ovens.
Duke, on his Web site, heartily agreed with Lapin and Hitler, and added that anti-Semitism isn’t just blind hatred, it’s for a darn good reason: “It is revulsion to the actions of the Jewish overseers of our mass media.”
Although he spent time growing up in Britain, Lapin was born and raised in and around white supremacist South Africa in the 1950s. Alongside his Afrikaner accent, it’s easy to detect in Lapin a sense of superiority reflecting the mid-20th-century South African Dutch Reformed Church, whose retributive, racist, and self-righteous worldview justified the apartheid system and provided a sociopolitical framework for his formative years.
Lapin often says non-Judeo-Christian cultures and secular liberalism are more of animals than of God and holds historically contentious theories that Western scientific superiority was developed directly from Judeo-Christianity. “Why didn’t the periodic table surface among the Eskimos?” he asked in a 1996 Eastside Week article. “It doesn’t make sense that Africa hadn’t figured out the wheel by the time England was at the end of the Industrial Revolution.”
The reason, Lapin said in that article, is because they never had the opening lines of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth.”
And that’s not just for third world heathens — it goes for the rest of us who don’t share the rabbi’s opinions. “Modern American liberalism,” he was quoted as saying, “is unquestionably at odds with everything Judeo-Christianity stands for.”
Strange worldview for a Bay Area audience? Maybe, but not for the station that launched Michael Savage and other angry right-wingers. However, the didactic Lapin has never had real broadcasting success, with short stints at Seattle stations and a stab at national syndication that was short lived. He says he’s doing well in the liberal Bay Area, but time will tell. SFBG
For Lapin’s denunciation of Meet the Fockers, see www.towardtradition.org/our_worst_enemy.htm. For David Duke on Lapin and anti-Semitism, see www.davidduke.com/?p=226.