Joseph Sobran, 64, conservative columnist and editor

Joseph Sobran was a former editor of National Review and a fiery conservative columnist with a wide following.
Joseph Sobran was a former editor of National Review and a fiery conservative columnist with a wide following. (Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 2, 2010; 7:38 PM

Joseph Sobran, 64, a fiery conservative columnist and magazine editor whose hostile views toward Israel and Jews led to his ouster as a top editor of National Review magazine in 1993, died Sept. 30 at Fairfax Nursing Center in Fairfax County. He had complications from diabetes.

In the mid-1980s, Mr. Sobran was a rising star of the intellectual right. He was a senior editor at National Review, personally recruited by the magazine's founder, William F. Buckley Jr., and had a wide following as a syndicated newspaper columnist, essayist and speaker.

Motivated by a strong Catholic faith, Mr. Sobran (pronounced SOH-brun) hardened his social views and cultivated a growing belief in U.S. isolationism in international affairs. He began to clash with Buckley on foreign policy matters during the Reagan administration and developed a deep antipathy toward Israel and Jewish lobbying interests in the United States.

Mr. Sobran later objected to what he considered executive overreaching by the administration of George H.W. Bush, writing that Bush was "the sort of politician our Founding Fathers were tying to prevent." Mr. Sobran was among the few conservatives opposed to the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

By late 1991, Buckley had had enough of his fractious protege and published a series of articles about right-wing anti-Semitism. Without overtly calling Mr. Sobran an anti-Semite, Buckley left that clear impression. Other leading thinkers on the right, including neoconservative author and editor Norman Podhoretz, didn't mince words in condemning Mr. Sobran's views.

After Mr. Sobran retaliated with essays critical of Buckley in 1993, he was fired from National Review in 1993.

Over the years, Mr. Sobran's views veered ever more wildly to the right, beyond the ken of National Review and anything resembling the mainstream. He praised an unabashedly racist publications called Instauration, which, in Mr. Sobran's own words, was "openly and almost unremittingly hostile to blacks, Jews, and Mexican and Oriental immigrants."

With little substantiation, he wrote of centuries of Jewish persecution of Christians and denounced Israel as an untrustworthy "tiny, faraway socialist ethnocracy." He wrote that the New York Times "really ought to change its name to Holocaust Update."

He claimed the attacks of Sept. 11 were caused at least in part by U.S. policies toward the Middle East, which he said were shaped by "Jewish-Zionist powers that be in the United States." He spoke at conferences organized by by British Holocaust denier David Irving.

Increasingly isolated on the right, Mr. Sobran wrote for publications of the Catholic Church and the arch-conservative John Birch Society. He also turned his attention to his lifelong interest in the works of William Shakespeare.

In 1997, he published "Alias Shakespeare: Solving the Greatest Literary Mystery of All Time," in which he contended that Shakespeare's plays were actually written by Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford.

Mr. Sobran was hardly the first person to make the claim, which has been widely debunked by literary scholars. Even a critic for the conservative Washington Times dismissed Mr. Sobran's argument as "balderdash."

Michael Joseph Sobran Jr. was born in Ypsilanti, Mich., on Feb. 23, 1946. After graduating from Eastern Michigan University, he stayed on at the university to study English literature in graduate school.

In 1972, Mr. Sobran voiced support for a campus visit by Buckley, which was opposed by many faculty members. Buckley saw Mr. Sobran's letter to the school paper and hired him for National Review.

After leaving National Review, Mr. Sobran - who sometimes wrote under the bylines of M.J. Sobran and M. Joseph Sobran Jr. - edited a monthly newsletter, Sobran's, containing his essays. He published "Hustler: The Clinton Legacy" in 2000 and was at work on books about Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln at the time of his death.

Mr. Sobran had lived in Northern Virginia since 1983.

His marriages to Janet Schnabel Sobran and Jeanne Walker ended in divorce.

Survivors include four children, Christina Sobran of Waterville, Maine, Vanessa Williams of Virginia Beach, Kent Sobran of Toledo and Michael Sobran of Alexandria; a brother; several half-siblings; and 10 grandchildren.

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