I'm a little troubled by this. Foxman must go, not because he is a genocide denier but because his genocide denial is bad for Jews. But there's more.
Abdullah Gul needed a favor. It was February 5 of this year, and the Turkish foreign minister was fighting a push in the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize the Turkish murder of one million Armenians during World War I. In past years the House had placated Turkey by dropping similar resolutions. But now, with the American-Turkish alliance weakened by the Iraq war, the resolution had found renewed support. Gul summoned representatives from the Anti-Defamation League and several other Jewish-American organizations to his room at the Willard Hotel in Washington. There he asked them, in essence, to perpetuate Turkey’s denial of genocide.
Abraham Foxman’s ADL acquiesced, and in so doing, performed the pièce de résistance of Foxman’s highly effective, if unintentional, decades-long campaign to demoralize Jewish America and send young Jews scurrying for the communal exit doors. The ADL chief is a danger to the future of the community, and it is a scandal that he remains at the head of a major Jewish organization. Foxman must go. And the organization he has done so much to shape must either change or go with him.
Soon after the meeting with Gul, the ADL joined three other American Jewish organizations—the American Jewish Committee, B'nai Brith International, and the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs—to deliver to Congress a written plea from the Jews of Turkey that the U.S. not recognize the Armenian Genocide. Turkish Jews are more vulnerable now than at any time in recent history as they struggle to reassert their place in a society polarized by the competing visions of Turkey’s Islamists and secular nationalists, so it is hardly surprising that they would parrot their government’s denialist claims. By dutifully passing their letter to Congress, the Jewish American groups cynically exploited a small, frightened Jewish minority.Great! So now the Jews of Turkey are at loggerheads with Armenians and the ADL is helping out as best it can. But why would this be? Surely ordinary Jews would want solidarity with survivors of genocide. Well ordinary Jews might but...
What’s surprising is how unabashedly forthright Abraham Foxman has become about what motivates him and his institution. In October of 2005, Foxman addressed a classroom of Jewish students at New York University. Young heads nodded and brows furrowed as Foxman riled them with his customary rhetoric: Isn’t it antisemitic for pro-Palestinian groups to seek divestment only from Israel, ignoring the far greater crimes of regimes like Sudan or North Korea? How do we describe this sort of selective flagellation of the world's only Jewish state, if not as antisemitism?Ok, he represents the donors, but what for exactly?
"What if the campus Free Tibet club campaigned for divestment from China? Would that be anti-Chinese bigotry?" asked Asaf Shtull-Trauring, a 20-year-old student and conscientious objector from the Israeli army.
Of course not, answered Foxman, but it was preposterous to compare the two conflicts, what with the Jews' experience of two millennia of murderous persecution. Shtull-Trauring responded with two questions: Did Foxman mean that selective treatment is okay so long as it's not directed at Jews? And where did the Anti-Defamation League get off telling Jewish university students which opinions about Israel were acceptable and which verboten?
The dialogue spiraled into a confrontation. Shtull-Trauring says Foxman, frustrated and under attack, placed his cards on the table, angrily retorting: “I don’t represent you nor the Jewish community! I represent the donors.”
Without a meaningful mission to pursue, the ADL has resorted to scaremongering to fill its coffers and justify its existence. These efforts have grown increasingly bizarre and damaging. For example, the ADL website surveys the vast changes in Jewish-American life over the past century and offers the grandiose judgment that they “are due, in large measure, to the efforts of the League and its allies.” Yet Foxman also claims that today the Jewish people face as great a threat to their safety and security as they did in the 1930s. In other words, the ADL takes credit for the vast improvements in the circumstances of American Jewry, and then denies that those changes have taken place. It is still 1939. It will always be 1939.Indeed.
When the ADL was born, in the early 20th century, institutional discrimination against American Jews was commonplace at every level of society. Populist politicians employed the most vulgar antisemitic language, and “restricted” hotels and country clubs reassured patrons that Jews would be stopped at the front door. In 1915, 31-year-old factory manager Leo Frank was lynched in Marietta, Georgia after he was accused of raping a Christian girl. But today, American Jews are successful and well-integrated. And unlike in Weimar Germany, where we were accepted only so long as we obscured our Jewishness behind the accoutrements of gentile culture, in America we are accepted even as we celebrate what sets us apart.
Such a reality, however, doesn’t serve the fundraising interests of the ADL. The ADL’s jihad against Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was typical of the organization’s destructive, self-interested efforts. Foxman, as you might remember, fanned fears it would inspire Chmielniki-style pogroms. Yet not a single documented act of violence against Jews resulted from the film, nor even a single verbal assault. A study conducted by Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles indicated some anger among Christians toward Jews—but because of the reaction to the film, rather than its contents. Thanks to the ADL, our strong and self-confident community was made to appear silly and paranoid before the world.