I read Novak’s enormous memoir. We agreed on most things, but not about things Jewish. Bob Novak was a relentless critic of Israel. Why?
Meanwhile, much of the Jewish pundit class has treated news of Novak’s passing delicately. While noting that Novak had Jewish “issues,” Commentary editor John Podhoretz eulogized him as “a difficult man in many ways, but I always found him interesting, lively, and friendly.” My colleague John Judis at The New Republic was even more nostalgic: “I miss Novak as a columnist, and miss the kind of columnist he was, who wasn’t content to air his hallowed opinion of facts that were already drearily familiar to readers.” According to Barnes, Novak’s polemical and charged attitude toward Israel and his embrace of less-than-philo-Semitic figures at home wasn’t enough to alienate him from all of American Jewry. While working at The Boston Herald in the late 1980s, Barnes befriended some conservative students at Brandeis University. “They asked me if Novak would come speak at Brandeis, of all places,” Barnes said. “And he did! I thought it was pretty gutsy. Most of the students there were Jewish and though I didn’t take notes of what he said that night, I remember him talking about the Middle East. By and large, he was civilly received. There was no guerrilla theater. Imagine that.”