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Firing Foxman

August 19, 2007

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Firing Foxman

A truly spirited commentary by Jewcy-webmaster Joey Kurtzman entitled Fire Foxman may be the most devastating and pointed attack I have seen on Abe Foxman, who has been National Director of the Anti-Defamation League for the last twenty years. According to Kurtzman, Foxman, a Polish Jew who was saved from the Holocaust by a courageous Catholic nanny, has been a morally outrageous representative of the Jewish community. Most recently he has worked to block congressional action to condemn the mass murder of one million Armenians in 1915 by Turkish military divisions, because such an action would supposedly not have been in the interest of Israel. Foxman’s comment that “€œthe Jewish community should not be the arbiter of that history, nor should the U.S. Congress”€ is indeed startling since Foxman’s career as ADL National Director has been devoted to opening the scabs of bitter historical memories. “€œHe has resorted to scaremongering to fill its [the ADL’s] coffers.”€ Further, “€œFoxman claims that today the Jewish people face as great a threat to their safety and security as they did in the 1930s. It is still 1939. It will always be 1939.”€

Kurtzman notes that Foxman screams day and night about Christian anti-Semites in the U.S., in total obliviousness to what is really happening: “€œWhile Christian groups can”€™t get the ornaments of Christianity placed on government buildings, Chabad [an Hasidic Jewish organization] has succeeded in publicly erecting enormous gaudy menorahs throughout the country.”€ Kurtzman stresses with particular vehemence “€œADL’s jihad against Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ,”€ a film that, according to Foxman, would revive atavistic Christian hatred against Jews and result in pogroms across America. Although absolutely nothing of the kind occurred, neither Foxman nor his group later apologized for their “€œself-destructive”€ hysteria. One might also point out that on July 14, Salon carried an article dealing with Foxman’s latest diatribe against Evangelicals and other members of the Religious Right. Since the mid-nineties this National Director has been commissioning ADL publications depicting Christians who oppose the Left’s social agenda as a grave danger to American Jews. Here Foxman’s hatred of Christians has overcome his sense of Jewish self-interest. Evangelicals, contrary to what Foxman would want us to believe, have been passionate and often irrational Philosemites and Zionists. (The Israeli Right cannot have enough of them.) But even more relevant, as I document in an article for The American Conservative (June 4, 2007), Evangelicals have been moving toward the social left (that is, in Foxman’s direction) on moral issues and is currently fixated on human rights, missionizing for democracy, and the presidential nomination of socially liberal Republican Rudolph Giuliani. Foxman’s continuing attack on the Christian Right seems as bizarre as his knee-jerk attempt to treat any deviation from the agenda of the National Gay and Lesbian Alliance or NOW as an invitation to a second Holocaust.

When Foxman made the dubious observation twelve years ago that American Christians did not show sufficient remorse for Christian atrocities committed against Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition immediately agreed. Reading Reed’s obliging response in the New York Times on April 4, 1995, I had to wonder why this descendant of English Baptists was accepting responsibility for the intolerance of a Spanish government practiced five hundred years earlier against Spanish Jews, some of whom had already converted to Catholicism. And why should Foxman demand that an American Protestant or even an American Catholic treat him with special indulgence for unkind acts that had been done by a third party”€”not against his ancestors in Eastern Europe but against Sephardic Jews in the Iberian Peninsula? What did not surprise me was that an Evangelical leader did the predictable groveling.  

A small reservation about Joey’s fine expose concerns the suggestion that Foxman is blinded by narrow Jewish self-interest. This complaint would seem to have some basis in fact, insofar as Foxman and ADL do try to anticipate the wishes of the Israeli government. Their response to congressional efforts to recognize the killing of Armenians in 1915 was at least partly motivated by concern about the feelings of the Turkish government, which has good relations with the Israeli state. (Although there are other grounds on the basis of which one might challenge the presentation of the mass murder in question as genocide, I see no reason to go into them here.) In his youth and even afterwards, Foxman also identified himself, like his father before him, with the rightwing Zionist Betar, a group that followed Zev Jabotinsky and others Eastern European Jewish nationalists who wished to have a Jewish state on both sides of the Jordan. Moreover, Foxman has never broken his ties, as far as I know, to the Orthodox Jewish community, ties that may well express his strong Jewish ethnic identity.

In this case, however, Jewish self-interest has taken a grotesque form, albeit one that has been prevalent in Jewish organizations in Germany, Italy and until recently, France. Enthusiastic support for Israel, and of a kind that leans toward the Zionist Right, has been paired at the ADL with hatred for Western Christian societies, and unswerving endorsement of anti-Christian leftist agendas, even when such agendas have conflicted with Jewish communal interests. For example, it has been ideologically useful for Jewish victimologists to interpret Muslim anti-Jewish outbreaks”€”to which pro-multicultural Jewish organizations may have contributed by shaming European Christians and by supporting Islamic immigration”€”as a fresh outbreak of European fascist or medieval Christian anti-Semitism. In the U.S., Foxman has done his part to address the fact that we live forever frozen in 1939 by redirecting money coming into his coffers to gay, feminist, and militant secularist causes. How this advances Jewish self-interest is anyone’s guess, and the politics in question has occasioned expressions of irritation from Jewish as well as Christian commentators. Dennis Prager, Ilana Mercer, Don Feder, and Rabbi Daniel Lapin are only a few of the Jewish writers who have repeatedly asked how Foxman and his crowd are helping Jews, whose only allies at this point are devout Christians, both Catholic and Protestant.

I would also question, pace Kurtzman, whether the effect of Foxman’s grotesque behavior has been “€œto demoralize Jewish Americans, sending young Jews scurrying for the communal exit doors.”€ Given the fact that he raised over half a billion dollars last year, as reported by one of Kurtzman’s respondents, and has probably done comparably well as a fundraiser since 1987, when he took charge of the ADL following the death of his less obnoxious predecessor Nathan Perlmutter, it is fair to assume that Foxman’s moonshine has lots of buyers. And judging by the leftist pattern of American Jewish voting and by Jewish responses to Gallup polling on social issues, one would have to conclude that Foxman’s nuttiness is a widely shared phenomenon among American Jews. It also resonates well among liberal Christians and non-Jewish secularists here and in Europe. With few exceptions, every time I pick up a Western European newspaper, I have the impression that the editorial page was produced by a clone of the ADL’s National Director. Foxman stands in the cultural Marxist mainstream and as such, bears a stunning resemblance to the types of self-hating European and American journalists and intellectuals I have written about in books. If only Joey Kurtzman’s subject were a localized Jewish eccentricity or a particularly hateful organizational head, his tics would be far less troubling.

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