Three cheers for Fareed Zakharia, who yesterday announced he was returning the award and the $10,000 honorarium he got from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) after their abominable support of bigotry and hate in the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy in New York.
The ADL and its leader, Abe Foxman, have come under a great deal of criticism, and a significant amount of it has come from unusual sectors.
It isn’t enough.
The ADL’s hypocrisy when it comes to Israel should have discredited the organization some years ago, after many decades of their being a legitimate leader in the fight for civil rights in America.
Consider these words, which Foxman wrote in 2007: “The Turks and Armenians need to revisit their past. The Jewish community shouldn’t be the arbiter of that history, nor should the U.S. Congress, and a Congressional resolution on such matters is a counterproductive diversion and will not foster reconciliation between Turks and Armenians and may put at risk the Turkish Jewish community and the important multilateral relationship between Turkey, Israel and the United States.”
Do we even have to guess how Foxman (or most any Jew) would react if the Holocaust was spoken about in such a manner? The notion that such political considerations should factor in any way into the acknowledgment of genocide should be profoundly offensive to anyone, certainly to a Jew steeped in Holocaust memory.
But their stance on the mosque is a new low. The ADL has openly sided with bigots on this issue. And, laughably, their defense is that “Just because bigots agree with positions you hold, does that make you a bigot?”
Hey, Abe, remember the book you wrote a few years back, The Deadliest Lies? You know the one where you claim to respond to Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s The Israel Lobby, but in fact hardly addressed the substance of their book at all? How often did you discuss, in the book and in subsequent interviews, all the people who allegedly held (though they almost always did not) the same views as Walt and Mearsheimer? (*NOTE: For a more serious, yet respectful, challenge to W&M’s views, see my piece here as well as the article I wrote with Chris Toensing at Middle East Report Online)
But the problem is not the mealy-mouthed racism of Abe Foxman. No, the problem is how he and others like him have turned a victim identity into a collective identity for so many Jews. In Foxman’s view, we should indulge those people whose bigotry rises from a horribly traumatic experience.
One cannot say how many bigots draw their hatred from such real experiences, but surely it’s many. A man who was deeply wounded by a woman; a person of one skin color who was beaten and robbed by a person of another; a Palestinian whose home was destroyed in the middle of the night by a group of Jewish soldiers. All of these are trargedies, traumas which could have permanent and very serious effects on a person’s life. But if that person then attacks an innocent of the same group as the person who hurt him or her, are these “sensitivities” also to be catered to?
Of course not. Among the most fundamental ideas in anti-racism/sexism/homophobia work, or efforts against bigotry of any kind, is that the actions of an individual, or several, cannot be taken to define the group. If I am robbed by a black man, I am justified in anger against that man. If I have anger against all black men, I am a racist. Would Abe Foxman really dispute that? Maybe he would, but if so, that makes him a bigot.
In my view, this issue goes deeper than Foxman’s brand of Jewish/Israeli exceptionalism. Sure, he obviously clings to this racist theory because it gives Jews and, more to the point, the State of Israel a great deal more latitude for action as long as we wear the mantle of victimhood. And who can deny that Jews are the ultimate victim?
Well, it’s time we Jews did.
The history of anti-Semitism is long and onerous. The fact that before the 20th century, that history was not nearly as bad in the Muslim world as it was in Christendom speaks not to the tolerance in Muslim lands, but to the brutality of historical Christian anti-Semitism. In its secular form, that anti-Semitism found its ultimate expression in the Holocaust.
But since then, we Jews have experienced a period of prosperity that is close to unique in our history. In the US, Europe, Australia, Canada, we are generally accepted, organized and well off. But you wouldn’t know it to listen to Foxman and some other Jewish leaders.
That is not to say anti-Semitism has disappeared. I have personally experienced a good deal and a wide spectrum of it. As a child, I grew up in a housing project in New York, an Orthodox Jewish kid, one of few in the neighborhood and, along with my brother, the only one we knew of in our project. The threat of violence was real enough that the few times I ventured out of doors without an adult, I was immediately set upon, with the assailant kids’ parents sometimes looking on, impassive. Later, in a neighborhood that was more mixed, I and my brother still encountered violence on occasion, our yarmulkes making us targets.
Later, as an adult and activist for peace in the Middle East, I repeatedly encountered bald-faced anti-Semitism, in the form of conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial and just straight out unambiguously bigoted epithets. True, the people whom I encountered it from were very much the exception, in stark contrast to ADL’s bogus “new anti-Semitism” theory, but they serve to remind us that anti-Semitism still loves and sometimes it hides among those who legitimately are working for justice for the Palestinians.
But anti-Semitism is just not with me, or with the overwhelming majority of Jews, every day the way racism is to an African-American or sexism is for a woman. That doesn’t mean we need not be vigilant; this state of affairs can change quickly, as it has in the past. But we should not allow that vigilance to overwhelm our ability to enjoy our freedom as Jewish citizens, or to act responsibly with our fellows.
The notion of “Jew as victim” is the foundation of Foxman’s ideology, and the common thread in his stances against bigotry in the past, against recognizing the Armenian Genocide and his current one against the Ground Zero Mosque. It is a notion that is a subtext in much of the aging Jewish leadership; we, as Jews, will not be truly liberated until we move past it.
And Israel will not be a normal country until it does the same.
Israel faces double standards all the time, as we all hear so often. The trouble is those double standards actually work both ways. Just look at some recent events.
Both Hezbollah (Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah accused Israel of the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005) and Hamas (who just today claimed Israel had fired missiles from Sinai at its own city of Eilat in order to justify more attacks on Gaza) have made rather absurd accusations against Israel which play well to some of their supporters. Some will believe it, just as some jumped on Israel before evidence was in hand in their firefight with Lebanese troops last week.
On the other hand, in a display of what can only be called the most blatant racism, a former member of the US cabinet under Bill Clinton was harassed and delayed at Ben-Gurion airport because her name was Arab. Instead of expressing offense and shock, Donna Shalala expressed her support of Israel’s blatantly racist treatment of her.
Both double standards stand in the way of Israel being treated as a normal country. And they make it difficult to both strongly identify as Jewish and enjoy what remains one of, if not the best, eras to be a Jew in history.
Until we can rid ourselves of leaders like Foxman who embrace the “Jew as victim” identity, we will not, as a people, transcend that identity. Foxman and his ilk cannot disappear from the scene fast enough for the good of the Jewish people, the good of Israel and the good of all who work with us.