Monday, August 2, 2010

The Sad State of The Anti-Defamation League

A few weeks ago, Mr. Foxman took a righteous beating in an exchange with Peter Beinhart in the New York Review of Books. Beinhart took Foxman to task over the failure of the American Jewish left to speak out against Israeli aggression. But at the heart of his piece was a frustration with the current state of the ADL as a whole.

To see the ADL, one of the primer organizations in the world to target bigotry, oppression, and discrimination all people lose some of its street cred is devastating. The ADL has always been so much more than a New York based Diaspora outfit aimed at Jewish self-protection. It's goals have always been much higher, it's reach has always stretched so much further. But it's main goal, it's charter is has never been too complicated. Stop all hate. Stop all discrimination. Stop all intolerance.

Granted, they've stepped up to Nazi's and the Klan, two opponents a Jewish group should wisely put first. But they didn't shy away from Father Charles Coughlin or Henry Ford at a time when their words, hate, and intolerance seemed a lot more American than the acceptance the ADL demanded. And when the rest of America wanted to speak out, but worried their names would be on McCarthy's list and waved in front of congress, the ADL was there, screaming from the mountaintops.

And now, the ADL has its sights on intelligent design and creationism, arguing in court teaching such nonsense is a clear infringement on the separation of Church And State. In Arizona, the ADL has fought what it argues is an unconstitutional and racist set of laws and taken on the Minutemen, even though we all know type to walk the desert with guns aimed at Mexicans would probably be happy to point em at the Jews too.

But then, in 2007, Abraham Foxman, the then and current head of the ADL did something funny. The Armenians, long seeking recognition of the genocide committed against them in WWI, finally managed to get a bill to Congress asking for just that. Only that. Foxman came out against it, saying the ADL had no place getting somewhere between Congress, the Armenians, and the Turks. He said the Turks and the Aremians need to seriously revisit their history and likened the ADL's intrusion into the issue as an "unwelcome diversion." And though this may be the case, it was the wrong stance for the organization--an organization devoted to protecting civil rights and ending intolerance--to take.

Things continue to spin off course with all sorts or Israel related tomfoolery. Foxman guided the ADL into embracing the views of the country's right wing and has shown a complete lack of empathy to the plight of the Palestinians.

Which brings us to today. Foxman, for some reason no one, decided to throw his hat into the ring and tell the world what the ADL thinks about putting a mosque up at ground zero. Out of nowhere, Foxman has ignored everything the ADL stands for and opposed the building of the mosque. The gist of his stance is in the following quote:

"In our judgment, building an Islamic Center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain--unnecessarily--and that is not right."

And the thing is, Foxman is absolutely correct about this. Building an Islamic Center will in fact cause a great deal of pain to victims families. Foxman correctly added survivors (and their family members) have a right to irrational emotions. And I agree with Foxman, and I feel for the families. I feel for the irrationality, and I fully believe they are entitled to wild emotions and illogical grief.

The problem is, the ADL is not their advocate. As Marc Tracy put it, the ADL "is not to advocate for survivors’ rights; it is to advocate (as its mission statement says) for “democratic ideals” and “civil rights.” With this decision, Foxman allowed his personal beliefs to steer the ADL in the opposite direction of its charter and chip away at the ADL’s legacy of promoting tolerance.

Is the desire to build a mosque at Ground Zero a provocation? Is accepting the proposal proof of just how open-minded and all inclusive America is? Is there no current place for the ADL in this debate?

But Foxman can’t keep the ADL out. And in process, the organization has changed. Once a groundbreaking institution aimed at tackling hatred world-wide, we now have a Jewish group with a singular goal: protect the Jews.

It’s hearbreaking. Because the very existence of the ADL kept a long-standing tradition of left-wing Jewish activism. It's very existence proved a central tenant to modern Judaism was the restless pursuit of human rights for all people. It showed the passion of the Jewish people to learn from their own history oppression and help end it for all other people. It is not enough to end anti-Semitism, all hatred must be eliminated. And it is this idea that every Jew with half a mind for history must keep alive. And no matter what the ADL does, by ignoring this idea, we are not protected and the ADL will fail on all counts. To ignore it is to fail to protect us as a people. It is to turn a blind eye to our history and show a lack of vision for our future.


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