Jewish leaders reject KGO talk-show hosts apology

KGO talk-show host Bernie Ward tried to apologize this week for his on-air criticism of Judaism, but local Jewish leaders aren't buying it.

"I think Ward's apology was weak to begin with — and was further weakened by his repeating the original offense," Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, said Wednesday.

On Dec. 9, the radio talk-show host claimed Judaism was "left in the backwater of history" and Christianity was "morally superior" to it.

On Tuesday night, Ward tried to make amends. "Anybody who was hurt or offended by the comments — I'm sorry about it," said Ward during his 7-to-10 p.m. talk show on KGO Radio-810 AM.

But later in the show, while wrangling with a caller who said Jews were insulted by the original remarks, Ward said:

"Then Jews need to get a thicker skin…You're way too insecure."

Barbara Bergen, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, wasn't impressed.

"From what I've heard so far, I'm disappointed," she said Wednesday.

Ward, a Catholic, did not answer requests for an interview.

The outcry began last week when a KGO caller from Santa Rosa said he didn't think Ward should include Adolf Hitler and President Richard Nixon in the same category — namely, historical figures deserving forgiveness. Victims of the Holocaust could never forgive Hitler, the caller said.

"Well, then, that's one of the real bad parts of Judaism, isn't it?" Ward responded on the air. "That's the part of your tradition that I think you suffer from."

Ward went on to say that Christianity is "morally superior" to Judaism because it's built on the ideas of unconditional forgiveness and redemption.

"Judaism was left in the backwater of history because Judaism could not get beyond the rules and the rituals and the need for revenge," he said.

Last week, S.F.-based Anti-Defamation League fired off a letter to KGO condemning Ward's statements. The S.F.-based JCRC also lodged a private complaint.

Before the Dec. 9 comments became public in a front-page story in Tuesday's San Francisco Examiner, KGO's general manager and Ward arranged to meet with Jewish leaders on Dec. 20 to discuss the broadcast and Judaism.

"I'm much more interested in seeing him come to the conclusion that a number of the statements he uttered were wrong or unfair than in his half-hearted apologies," Kahn said.

Ward referred repeatedly to the Examiner article Tuesday night, particularly berating two local Jewish leaders who criticized him in the story — Bergen and Rabbi David Teitelbaum, director of the Board of Rabbis of Northern California.

Bergen labeled Ward's remarks "unintelligent nonsense" that "cried out for protest." Teitelbaum said: "I don't know if it's anti-Semitic but it certainly sounds anti-Jewish."

On air, Ward quickly turned to what he deemed the heart of the issue: He believes that no one today can be critical of minorities, particularly gays, blacks and Jews.

"It's almost impossible to have a disagreement in our society without being labeled anti-something," he said. "You're allowed to disagree with white men. You can still go after Catholics."

Through most of the show, he refused to recant his belief that Christianity is "morally superior" to Judaism in the area of forgiveness. Toward the end of the show, however, he said that perhaps Christianity is only "more refined and more demanding" on that issue.

The reaction from his callers ranged from absolute support to condemnation.

"You're being demonized," said a Mission District caller who identified himself as Eric.

Manuel in San Lorenzo, said: "Your anti-Semitism showed through…You abused your privilege. Therefore, get off the air."

Others tried to defend Judaism. "There is no morality in Christianity that didn't come from Judaism," said Larry from Fremont.

On Wednesday, Kahn said, he couldn't judge whether or not Ward was an anti-Semite, but said the man needed schooling in Judaism's fundamental principles.

Bergen, however, was no longer sure after Tuesday night that it was worth meeting with Ward if he was turning the incident into a battle between individuals. "I'm just rethinking the whole thing," she said.

Wednesday, Teitelbaum stuck to his comment that Ward's Dec. 9 comments seemed to be "anti-Jewish."

"He is completely wrong in terms of distorting Judaism and having the chutzpah to insult Judaism," Teitelbaum said.

Bergen agreed, and went a step further. KGO should establish its own code or policy and "set a standard so what it broadcasts to millions has some self-control, some semblance of dignity and decency."

"Do you have to call someone a kike for it to be called anti-Semitism, or is giving others an excuse for their bigotry anti-Semitism?" she said.

Meanwhile, KGO President and general manager Michael Luckoff, who is Jewish, said on Tuesday that Ward's only mistake was tying Judeo-Christianity to a discussion of forgiveness. He defended Ward's right to free speech.

"This wasn't a carte blanche anti-Jewish statement. It would have been the same had he compared the Christian view of forgiveness to Hinduism or Islam," Luckoff said.

"Bernie feels Christianity is superior to all other religions in its view of forgiveness. I may not agree with him. But he can say it."